One of the oldest gaming genres of all time is side-scrolling platformers. This is primarily due to the fact that making games in the 1980s and 1990s was unquestionably more accessible in 2D. Nonetheless, even for its time developers created timeless masterpieces, some of which are included in this list of the best side-scrolling platformers of all time. It just appears to be one of those genres that never dies, and we're pleading with our computers and consoles that it never does. But, thanks to some newer titles that are maintaining the genre's popularity, even against games with limitless genre restrictions, we don't have to do so just yet.
It's also a result of those games that the public's perception of the best side-scrolling platformers of all time is constantly changing. As we look at the genre today, these are the old classics we believe still deserve their title, as well as the newer titles that we feel have earned their spot on the roster as well. However, there is zero doubt that any side-scrolling platform that has been or will be released will ever overtake our number one spot.
When Celeste first came out in 2018, critics labelled it the “side-scrolling platformer of the year,” or “Easily one of the genre's best”. All critics and reviewers appeared to agree on that point, which is unusual in the gaming world; reaching an agreement on whether a game is good or bad. That alone is a difficult feat, but for Celeste, it wasn't unjustified since the game really hit out of the park in both aspects of gameplay and narrative.
In the game, you play as protagonist Madeline who is attempting to climb Mount Celeste, a notoriously dangerous mountain. While attempting to overcome this threat, Madeline is also battling her inner demons. This is where the gameplay and story parallel, as both aspects are delivered on all fronts, resulting in what we can only describe as a beautiful piece of art in and of itself. Without question, Celeste has earned a seat among the best side-scrolling platformers of all time.
4. Ori and the Blind Forest / Ori and the Will of the Whisp
Speaking of story-driven side-scrolling platformers, there is another title that came before Celeste that we believe deserves a higher ranking. That game is 2015's release of Ori and the Blind Forest and also its second installment, Ori and the Will of the Whisp. This is primarily due to the game's ability to deliver a captivating title not only with the first game but also with the second. With that, having delivered an even better game with the second installment. And the first entry set a very high bar.
If you've played either game, you'll probably agree that both titles were executed with flying colors, figuratively and literally. By that we mean, both titles really are art and poetry in motion. And we'll argue this for story, gameplay, visuals, level designs, you name it. There is so much going on in both entries that simply describing their gameplay and stories is insufficient. The only way to understand why their so great is simply by playing and experiencing the games. And just thinking about it makes us want to go back in for another go. But this time, we'll be prepared with tissues, since both games are irresistibly emotional. For all these reasons and more, we're awarding fourth place to both entries featuring the adorable little spirit Ori.
3. Raymen Legends
One of the longest-running side-scrolling platformers, that has also been envisioned in many other genres, is the Rayman series. That's right, no matter what gaming era you grew up in, you're bound to remember and enjoy playing a Raymen game. Whether it was a spin-off or an entry that was introduced in a new genre. But in terms of the best side-scrolling platformers, the game's main genre, no one has hit us harder than Raymen Legends.
Although the story had its moments, it wasn't that aspect that did it for us. To be honest, it was the immersive and addictive nature of the gameplay, level design, and combat. It was at its peak in this entry, which made it a highly enjoyable surprise that the game also included 40 re-crafted levels from Raymen Origins. It simply showcases the true potential side-scrolling platformers have in terms of creating entertaining gameplay from beginning to end – a prominent feature of our top two entries.
2. Sonic the Hedgehog 2
We'd love to see another game in this day and age try to incorporate the Sonic games concept of an extremely fast-paced side-scrolling platformer into an original idea. Because, to be honest, no game has come close to delivering comparable gameplay to Sonic the Hedgehog 2. This game is truly the best display of the addicting gameplay side-scrolling platformers are known for.
The levels in this game are truly masterfully designed. Playing them as Sonic, or his worthy companion Tails, makes you feel like a pinball shooting out of a slingshot with a million different paths to take. Although that analogy may be a bit exaggerated, that's truly how the game felt back on the Sega Genesis. There's just something about Sonic the Hedgehog 2's gameplay and level design that is so special and expertly crafted, that we're beginning to wonder if any future release will ever be able to deliver a more enjoyable fast-paced action side-scrolling platformer.
1. Super Mario World
Improving a sequel to a game with a successful first installment is difficult. Then it's nearly impossible to top both of these games with a third entry. Finally, doing it a fourth time and having that game outperform all others seems implausible. Well, that's exactly what Super Mario World did. What we're referring to are the three games that make up the Super Mario Bros. series that came before Super Mario World.
The game seamlessly topped all its predecessors. First, it's full of hidden paths and quirky-level features to explore. A huge reason why we love side-scrolling platformers in the first place. We also saw a series-defining character in Yoshi, who was first introduced in this game. This expanded the gameplay and movement even further, giving the player more options for combating levels. If you love the side-scrolling platformer genre, Super Mario World is a must-play. Even over 30 years after its release, we still consider it the best side-scrolling platformer of all time.