One of the very best and easiest to get into gaming genres is the platformer, specifically, 2D platformers. This area of gaming has been around since the early days with the likes of Super Mario Bros. and Sonic the Hedgehog. However, as the industry has evolved over the decades, the market is now flooded with hundreds of 2D platformers. There is sure to be a 2D platformer for every type of player no matter if you are looking for a casual experience or a punishing one.
For those of you that are new to the 2D platforming scene, the harvest is ripe for the picking. With the combination of the likes of Nintendo as well as the renaissance of indie games, 2D platformers are easier than ever to jump into. The following games are some of the best ones to pick up and play if you are new to this beloved genre.
Updated January 14, 2023 by Branden Lizardi: The 2D Platformer genre is one of the biggest in the entire game industry. From Triple-A corporations to small-team indie studios, there’s a nearly endless supply of games to choose from. To ensure that you have all of the best options possible, we’ve updated this list to include some can’t-miss classics we think newcomers might want to try. Enjoy!
Kirby’s Epic Yarn
Easily one of the most charming and wholesome 2D platformers is the Nintendo Wii exclusive, Kirby’s Epic Yarn. If the name alone doesn’t give it away, this fresh outing in the voracious pink blob’s long-running series is all centered around yarn, knitting, and crafted items. Even if the gameplay didn’t hold up (which it unequivocally does) the aesthetic alone will keep you glued to the screen during this positively enjoyable adventure.
What makes this title stand out from other Kirby games is that our puffy character can’t actually use his inhaling ability due to the fact that he has been turned into yarn. This 2D sidescrolling platformer is fantastic for beginners to the genre since it gently guides you through new stages with Kirby’s yarn moves unlocking at specific intervals. Plus, the game can easily and seamlessly be played in local 2-player co-op for added fun and whimsy.
Spelunky 1 And 2
A long-time indie king, the Spelunky games feature a charming blend of Super Mario Bros, Tomb Raider, and randomly generated roguelike. In both games, you control an intrepid adventurer as you dive deeper and deeper underground. Armed with a whip and some good jumping skills, you need to fend off monsters, unearth treasure, and discover untold mysteries. Each run will be different from the last, providing near-endless entertainment.
The controls are simple, and the rules are clear: everything hurts you. The try-and-die nature of roguelikes means that failure is a normal part of the experience, too. So even the newest of gamers will be able to get the hang of Spelunky in no time. It also supports up to four players in co-op mode, allowing you or another experienced player to act as a helpful guide along the way.
Have you ever wanted to play a 2D platformer as a plump radish who also just so happens to be a dad? The answer to that oddly specific question should absolutely be yes since Dadish, as well as its two follow-up games, needs to be experienced for fans of the genre. The first Dadish is easily the best game to play for those who happen to be new to the genre.
Dadish is a fairly bog standard 2D platformer where your ultimate goal is to hop, jump, and bounce on baddies in order to make it to the end of each stage to rescue one of your radish children. Sure, the game’s design and overall mechanics are simple as you move from stage to stage on a world map, however, it’s the game’s surprisingly witty and humorous writing that makes this one stand out from similar games of its ilk.
Sonic Mania, apart from being one of the best 2D Sonic games, is a literal treasure trove of nostalgia, charm, and enticing gameplay. If for some reason you missed out on the 90s era of Sonic games then you owe it to yourself to try out the incredibly polished, fan-inspired Sonic Mania. This game takes the blazing speeds of Sonic and fast-paced ring collecting with perfectly tuned levels, some of which are updated versions of their 90s-era counterparts.
Sonic Mania oozes style and substance with the developers clearly understanding what makes Sonic fans enjoy the 2D version of his games, namely, the frantic and speedy nature of the gameplay. Beginners to the genre have a lot to enjoy here since the game ramps up the difficulty as the stages progress.
If for some reason you haven’t heard of the 2D platforming indie darling Wunderling then worry not since you will find out why this game is perfect for fans of the genre and newcomers alike. Wunderling stars an adorable yellow creature who must navigate colorful puzzle-like stages. However, the unique gameplay premise comes in the form of your character constantly moving either left or right, with you, the player, having to navigate his movements through intricate levels.
While that premise may sound complicated on the surface, it actually makes for a smooth platforming experience, one that sort of acts as an auto-runner but with slower, more methodical movements. The game has a plethora of diverse stages with tons of secrets, collectibles, and goofy moments.
Rayman Origins was originally released in 2011 for Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and Nintendo Wii, with other platforms the following year. While its sequel, Rayman Legends, seems to get more acclaim, Origins is easily the best Rayman game to hop into for beginners to the 2D platforming genre. Even a decade on, Rayman Origins provides thoughtful level design, a difficulty level that ramps up as you master your platforming skills, and some of the best visuals in the medium.
Rayman Origins features some traditional platforming stages where you run and jump, find collectibles, and simply make it to the end of the stage. However, you can also play more challenging rhythm-based stages which will really test your mettle once you get to grips with the game’s mechanics. Either way, Rayman Origins offers up a fantastically crafted 2D experience that newcomers will find quite welcoming.
Yooka-Laylee And The Impossible Lair
Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is the 2D follow-up from the original Yooka-Laylee. The original game was a 3D platformer and provided a lot of nostalgic fun for fans of Banjo-Kazooie or Super Mario 64. Interestingly, developers Playtonic decided to mix up the formula for their second outing with the titular duo. The Impossible Lair is a 2D platformer with some downright creative stages, puzzles, and an enjoyable overworld area to explore.
While you might be scared off by the impossible lair moniker in the game’s title, there’s no need to worry. The majority of the game has you platforming across a diverse array of stages while collecting butterflies. These butterflies essentially give you an extra hit from enemies or traps if you decide to take on the lair. Fortunately, and due to the punishing difficulty of the lair, Playtonic updated the game to make this final zone much easier to tackle with plenty of assists and you can avoid it altogether if you want.
Super Mario World
Super Mario World might be the oldest game on this list but it’s for good reason. This landmark release from the Super Nintendo still remains one of the very best 2D platformers to date. For the uninitiated, Super Mario World follows up from the outstanding Super Mario Bros 3. This entry features a more robust overworld map, tons of innovative new stages, and the inclusion of Yoshi.
Super Mario World is a fantastic place to start if you are looking to learn about the importance of the genre in the games industry as a whole. This game slowly teaches you how to navigate through each new world, collecting coins, saving Princess Peach, and ultimately defeating Bowser. Yes, the later stages can be downright brutal at times, however, you are given plenty of time to get to grips with the moves Mario and Yoshi have to offer you. Simply put, don’t miss this one if you are new to the genre.
The Adventure Pals
Have you heard of The Adventure Pals? If you answered no, then you need to add this game to your wishlist right away, especially if you are a newcomer to the 2D platforming genre. The Adventure Pals is a highly enjoyable and easy to get into indie platforming game starring a young boy, Wilton, his pet rock, and a zany giraffe with a whirly tongue. If all of that sounds silly and bonkers, then you would be right.
Underneath the silliness lies a heartwarming story of the importance of family, facing your fears, and overcoming the odds. Plus, the platforming in this game combines fast-paced movement, light environmental puzzle solving, some tasty boss fights, and the ability to collect cupcakes to obtain hats for your lovable characters. The Adventure Pals was crafted with so much care and it’s a game that takes its time to teach you the ropes and then eventually lets you fly free.
Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze
Okay, the Donkey Kong platforming games might not be known for being the most accessible platformers, however, Tropical Freeze is both an incredible game and accessible to newcomers. The game started out life on the Wii U but was later ported to the Nintendo Switch where many more people discovered its platforming magnificence.
The reason Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze is a great game for platforming beginners is that it always gives you the tools to make it through each stage. Plus, you can buy items to give you an advantage and when all else fails, you can play the game in Funky Kong mode to really make it a breeze to navigate through.
If you want a 2D platforming experience that’s equal parts unique and nostalgic, then you want Shovel Knight. This indie platform adventure game follows the exploits of the titular Shovel Knight as they use their armor and ‘weapon’ to explore the land to rescue their partner, Shield Knight. It has creative characters, an engaging plot, and a tremendously satisfying level design perfect for players of all levels of experience.
The art and music are based on the original king of consoles: the Nintendo Entertainment System, offering a tremendously authentic retro style with modern design quality. Between the art, music, writing, and gameplay, it’s almost impossible to escape this game’s powerful charm. It even offers a co-op mode for those that don’t want to play alone.