There was a time when platformers of all shapes and sizes were some of the most dominant games around. Alas, these days the genre is pretty much dead in the big-budget scene. Yes, there are regular spurts from Nintendo’s Super Mario production line, but even indie developers trying to capture the old magic have a habit of falling into old traps rather than moving the genre forward. So to celebrate this increasingly old-fashioned flavour of gaming goodness, here’s my personal pick in no particular order for the top 5 bounciest platformers.
There’s something like seventy-eight Ratchet & Clank games nowadays along with a long-rumoured movie, but I vividly remember playing a demo for the original. And at the risk of sounding crude, discovering Ratchet & Clank was probably the moment my balls dropped. Along with a dizzying selection of fun weaponry from fairly straightforward entries like flamethrowers to a gun that turns your foes into freaking adorable chickens, the game also offers memorable environments and enemies that drip charm from their various unspeakable orifices. The sequels would bolt on more features like weapon upgrades and a retcon that famously made Ratchet’s character less of an insufferable git, but the original is still the best place to start.
Toy Story 2: Buzz Lightyear to the Rescue (1999)
Developed by Traveller’s Tales, published by Activision
A rare instance of a licensed game that’s legitimately great, Toy Story 2 uses its source material as a springboard for antics across weird and wonderful levels that take advantage of Buzz’s small stature, with highlights including a vast recreation of Andy’s house and the many hazards of Al’s Toy Barn. Buzz’s plastic gadgets prove surprisingly potent as well, from the now-functional laser blaster to rocket boots that truly let you fall with style. The challenges are repetitive in format but get increasingly demanding up until the end, making it seriously tempting to beat every boss and hoover up every collectable in order to unlock the final stage. If anyone ever asks you to name a tie-in game that isn’t utter pants, look no further.
Controversially I’d recommend the two direct Jak & Daxter sequels as well, but the clumsily-named original is the most immediately charming. One of the first PlayStation 2 games to garner serious buzz, Jak & Daxter brought the platformer genre kicking and screaming into a new generation. The open-ended world lets you explore without sacrificing structure, the gameplay is immediately understandable but still surprisingly merciless beyond the early sections, and collecting items to progress rarely feels like a chore because the challenges are so varied and fun to complete. Finally it has to be said that the writing hits more funny notes than it misses, with the titular team of man and rodent coming off as a loveable double-act you’ll do your best not to drop in a pool of lava. Though Daxter would have it coming.
You can’t go wrong with any part of the classic Spyro trilogy, but Spyro 2 marks the moment that the wise-cracking purple reptile first took flight. Offering a dizzying array of imaginative levels with their own little stories and unique goons to burn or impale, Spyro 2 is just plain fun for everybody even if the challenge doesn’t hold up once you’re old enough to know right from left. Finally, the lovingly animated cartoon visuals stand the test of time better than some games from just a few years back, making Spyro 2 as easy to love today as it was fifteen years and three console generations ago.
The original Rayman was a 2D platforming powerhouse in its own right, but the franchise made the jump to three dimensions far more elegantly than most. The bizarre world of Rayman allows for strange and iconic sequences, like riding a sentient bomb or getting your friend to do a rain dance to disable traps, and the levels are designed well enough that you don’t mind seeing old tropes like lava flows and swamps. What’s more interesting though is the genuinely creepy moments, like an odyssey into some sort of voodoo nightmare realm and a surprise encounter with a giant spider that probably put me off arachnids for the rest of my gaming life. As a final note, it would be criminal not to point out that Rayman 2’s primary adversaries are robot pirates. Robot gosh-darn pirates.
All the above games are available to buy now, often on multiple systems.