“Platformer games” are an extremely broad category. There are games just about getting from point A to point B by climbing and jumping like the classic Super Mario Bros. Then, there are action games like Megaman, and the more specific Metroidvania subcategory. For this article, I’ll be excluding Metroidvania-type games and focusing on either action/platformer or classic platformer games. These are some of the best titles indie studios have to offer:
Cuphead is a gorgeous game. It looks like an old, old 1930s rubber hose-style Disney cartoon, complete with grainy film artifacts on the screen and vinyl crackle in the audio. However, despite the beautiful and familiar art design, the game itself is a menace. Each level – even the very first one – is a maze of enemies that may take a few attempts to navigate successfully. At the end of each level is an even more challenging boss fight. The game is very difficult, but not so much that it feels punishing. It’s a lot of fun, and it’s gorgeous, so it’s definitely worth playing.
Super Meat Boy
Super Meat Boy is a pretty straightforward platformer – your only goal is to slide, jump, and splat your way from one end of the level to another, avoiding traps and hazards. The sound effects are a little gross, but you’ll get used to it. Once you’re finished, you can turn to the sequel Super Meat Boy Forever for another 7,200 levels.
Salt And Sanctuary
When Salt and Sanctuary’s trailer came out, it was often compared to a “2D Dark Souls”. It’s an apt comparison. Salt and Sanctuary is set in grim, dark, dismal environments, and pits the player against hordes of disfigured ghouls and monsters. It’s punishingly difficult, and bosses can kill quickly. It looks good, and aside from the platforming action, it’s a great RPG with all the usual features.
Rogue Legacy is a fantastic rogue-lite game where every time you die, you respawn as your avatar’s child. New skills and upgrades that you purchase persist across generations, allowing you to make slow but steady progress through the game’s procedurally generated castle. It’s a fairly simple game, but it’s constant action – climb the castle, die, buy some upgrades, repeat. It’s an addictive grind, and I highly recommend it.
Celeste is a story-driven adventure game where players control Madeline on a treacherous journey to the top of Celeste Mountain. The pixel art is charming and colorful, and the environments you’ll see throughout the journey have a lot of variation. The game is difficult, and you’ll die often, but respawns are instant and deaths aren’t interruptive, so it never gets too frustrating.
This game calls itself a “stylish neo-noir action-platformer,” and stylish is right. The game looks great, and the particle effects and blood splatters are both visually appealing and satisfying. Action is extremely fast paced: a single blow from your sword can kill an enemy, but a single bullet can end your run just as easily. It’s a lot of fun, and easily worth playing through a second time with mastery of the controls and familiarity with the levels, just to breeze through everything in style.
Platformer games are interesting because while every good game innovates in some small way, they play now in much the same way they did years and even decades ago. They look pretty much the same, too, with many games opting for a somewhat simple retro 16-bit look. Perhaps the fact that the basic mechanics remain so simple makes it easier for indie developers to compete in this genre. Whatever the cause is, there are tons of great indie platformer games out there. Give some of the ones on this list a try!