It’s time for another SwitchArcade Special, and that means we’ve got another batch of our favorite Nintendo Switch games for you to check out. This time around, we’re looking at the 2D platformer. Once the dominant genre in the world of consoles, it saw a big fall in the fifth and sixth console generations only to come roaring back with the rise of indies. The Switch plays host to quite a few of them, and the genre has become incredibly messy over time. As such, I will explain my criteria.
This list consists of games where the primary gameplay mechanic involves navigating challenging arrangements of platforms. We will do a list for the run-and-gun/action games in due time, so you won’t find them here. This list is presented in no particular order, and is simply our favorites in the genre. Feel free to share yours in the comments.
New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe ($59.99)
A list like this wouldn’t be complete without an appearance from Mario. There’s a lot of disagreement about where New Super Mario Bros. U belongs in the overall 2D Mario pantheon, but you can accept every issue with the game and still acknowledge it as the incredible 2D platformer that it is. Whether you’re playing solo or with friends, there is a wealth of fun to be had with this game. Should clearing all the levels and finding all the Star Coins not prove challenging enough, New Super Luigi U is waiting there as bonus helping of pain.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze ($59.99)
Donkey Kong has his own beloved series of 2D platformers, and his latest may well be the best of the bunch. Originally released on the Wii U, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze was the second kick at the can by the folks at Retro Studios. It has a very different feel from Mario’s adventures, and tends to appeal to more skilled players thanks to its intricate, challenging level designs. Most of the additions to this Nintendo Switch port center around making the game more accessible to newcomers, so regardless of your familiarity with the Kongs you should be able to have a good time here. It sure doesn’t hurt that it looks and sounds like a million bucks.
Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair ($29.99)
But wait, what about those folks at Rare who worked on the original Donkey Kong Country games? What are they up to? Well, some of them were up to this follow-up to the controversial 3D platformer Yooka-Laylee. While the game offers its own flavors, there’s a strong feeling of classic 1990s 16-bit platformers running through it from start to finish. Its final level is at once terrifying and an awesome sight to behold. If you play the game with the rules it launched with, the titular Impossible Lair is a singular challenge that any 2D platformer fan needs to experience. And hey, the levels leading up to that aren’t too shabby either. Easily the better of the two Yooka-Laylee games.
When you think of big indie hits on the Switch, Celeste is one of the first to come to mind. You play as a young woman named Madeline who is trying to climb Mount Celeste, a challenge that is as much mental as it is physical. And that goes for the player too, as you’ll be asked to pull off increasingly tense mid-air maneuvers and split-second movements to make your way through each section. Most players will be able to see the story through, but those who seek a further challenge can try to collect all of the bonus strawberries or tackle the extra B-Side and C-Side stages. You get an incredible amount of game for your money here, and a really sweet and uplifting story to boot.
Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove ($39.99)
Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove is an absolute feast of 2D joy. The original campaign, Shovel of Hope, was a perfect homage to 8-bit classics while still maintaining its own feel. Each subsequent campaign added new, clever ways to play, forcing you to reexamine how you move through the game’s world. It’s a little bit Mega Man, a little bit DuckTales, and an all-around great time. The levels are well-designed and just challenging enough, the boss encounters are satisfying, and perhaps most important of all, just moving around feels terrific. Handily one of the best Kickstarter successes in video games.
Sonic Mania ($19.99)
In a just world, every list with a great Mario game on it would have a great Sonic game to match. Sadly, there haven’t been many opportunities to relive one of gaming’s classic rivalries in the last couple of decades. Thanks to Christian Whitehead and his team, this is one list where we can flash back to the glory days. Sonic Mania serves as both a “best-of" and revival of Sonic’s 2D peak, and I wouldn’t make a big fuss about anyone saying it’s their favorite game in the Sonic series. It spends a fair bit of its time throwing back, but it does so in a smart way that just about any SEGA fan should be able to appreciate. One can only hope this won’t be the last time SEGA’s mascot can go toe-to-toe with his old nemesis.
Super Meat Boy ($14.99)
When it comes to hardcore platforming action, few games get their hands dirty as well as Super Meat Boy does. With hundreds of levels of aggravating but oh-so-satisfying action, this game will keep you cursing and cheering for hours on end. Each and every death leaves a little bit of the hero behind, which may seem a bit grisly but also serves as a helpful reminder of where you’ve messed up. As with Celeste, there’s an extra challenge waiting here for those seeking one. Unlocking and completing all of the bonus levels and dark world levels is a task worthy of a master.
The template that Super Meat Boy followed was established by a game called N, arguably one of the most important pioneers of the “masocore" platformer. N++ is the third game in the series, and while it seems to have flown under the radar it is absolutely worth the time and money of any platformer fan. It features more than 4,300 levels and an extra hardcore mode if you’re somehow still pining for more. Wait, that’s still not enough? How about a stage creator where you can build your own challenges and share them with others? Which naturally means you can access the creations of other players. If you dive into N++, you may well never find your way out of it.
While at first blush Horace may not seem like much of a platformer, give it a little time to get going and you’ll soon see that it more than earns its spot on this list. As a bonus, you’ll also get a wonderful story that will keep you glued to your Switch until the very end. It follows the story of a humble little robot and its tumultuous life as the world goes to pieces around it. The gameplay more than holds up its end of things, with plenty of inventive gimmicks and set pieces that will test your nerves. An excellent package all-around, and one that should not be missed by any Switch owner.
Rayman Legends Definitive Edition ($39.99)
Another decades-old face in the platforming genre, Rayman enjoyed a brief but highly memorable renaissance with the release of Rayman Origins in 2011. That game went over very well, and so in 2013 Rayman Legends followed. The game looks absolutely gorgeous, and the gameplay handily matches it. The rhythm of the platforming is pitch-perfect, and the game just keeps throwing one inventive idea after another at you. Not all of them land perfectly, but you can’t help but appreciate the sheer creativity going on here. And when those ideas land? Outstanding. There may never be another Rayman game like this again, but if that does turn out to be the case, he at least went out with a bang.
Truth be told, this list could have been three times as long and we still wouldn’t have run out of amazing games to talk about. But hey, that’s where you can come in. Got a favorite 2D platformer that you don’t see listed here? Drop it in the comments for the sake of posterity!
Interested in more lists? Check out our other recommendations!
- The 10 Best Western RPGs on Nintendo Switch
- The 10 Best Shoot-Em-Ups on Nintendo Switch
- The Best Nintendo Switch Fighting Games
- The 10 Best Action-RPGs on Nintendo Switch
- The 10 Best Rhythm Games on Nintendo Switch
- The 10 Best Visual Novel Games on Nintendo Switch
- The 10 Best JRPGs on Nintendo Switch
- The 10 Best 3D Platformers on Nintendo Switch
- The 10 Best Metroidvanias on Nintendo Switch