This might be an incredibly awkward and personal question, but have you ever jumped on a turtle? In a video game I mean. If you have, chances are you played a platformer, one of the oldest and most memorable genre of video games for many fans. Their mechanics have you using your character’s body as a weapon, as well as traversing complicated maps at a brisk pace.
Platformers have grown in complexity since they took the scene by storm, and each new generation has brought with it mechanics that surpass their previous iterations. Like anything, there have been some classics and great hits along the way, but which ones paved the way for our favorites now? Today, we’re going to explore the Top 10 longest running platformer franchises, and like the games themselves, we won’t stop until we reach the end.
10. Crash Bandicoot 1996
When the maniacal evil genius Dr. Neo Cortex captures and experiments on two bandicoots giving them abnormal strength and intelligence, he unwittingly sows the seeds for his own destruction. After rebelling against the scientist, Crash Bandicoot escapes. By completing various stages and fighting island bosses, Crash plans to return and free the female bandicoot Coco from the evil lab.
Ask any 90’s kid who the world’s coolest bandicoot was and they’ll unanimously name Crash. If they tell you another, cooler bandicoot, they’re lying. Nobody even knew what a bandicoot was before Crash Bandicoot released. In fact, it’s debatable whether even scientists did. Still, the Crash series helped cement the Playstation as big player in the console wars to come. The series spawned many sequels, but none quite as special as the first trilogy from rockstar developer Naughty Dog.
9. Rayman - 1995
The brainchild of the acclaimed Michel Ancel, the Rayman series has evolved for decades. At 22 years old, the series has seen many releases between the Rayman series and the spin off franchise Raving Rabbids. Beginning as a 2D platformer on the original Playstation, Sega Saturn and Atari Jaguar, the titular Rayman has changed just as much as trends in the industry have. The first game was praised for its detailed 2D backgrounds, and its sequel Rayman 2 was cited for pushing 3D platforming mechanics forward. Ubisoft and Rayman have been synonymous with each other since early 3D gaming, and thankfully they haven’t let the series slide too far from fans’ reach.
8. Donkey Kong Country - 1994
Donkey Kong Country is not the first game to feature Donkey Kong, but it was the first platformer he starred in. Ask those who grew up with the Super Nintendo what their favorite 2D sidescrolling platformer was growing up, and many will answer Donkey Kong Country instead of Nintendo’s other classics. The series, initially developed by Rare when they were still under Nintendo’s ownership, has seen some ups and downs. It never quite flourished in 3D the same way asit did in 2D with the release of Donkey Kong 64. After the Banjo-Kazooie inspired title, Retro Studios brought the series back to its roots in Donkey Kong Country Returns on the Nintendo Wii. It’s hard to imagine platformers without Donkey Kong Country, and thankfully, we’ll never have to.
7. Bubsy Bobcat - 1993
Bubsy Bobcat is a name that many probably aren’t too familiar with. As the odd duckling on this list, he hasn’t really ever had a breakout success to cement his name. He starred in a series of parody based platformers, beginning with Bubsy in Claws Encounters of the Furred Kind for the SNES. After the first release, Accolade kept releasing titles featuring the awkward mascot with mixed results. Its best received and most popular title, Bubsy 3D in Furbitten Planet, released on the Playstion in 1996. Never quite matching the success of other competing games, the series has been stagnant for decades, with Bubsy himself only having a handful of appearances since. As someone who actually played the series, some things are indeed best only kept as memories.
6. Kirby - 1992
He eats, and boy does he eat. Thought of as being one of the most destructive beings in all of gaming, Kirby’s cutesy facade belies a terrible, sinister hunger. He took the scene first in the original Gameboy game Kirby’s Dream Land and proceeded to become a staple of Nintendo’s AAA franchise roster. In 2000, Kirby saw a second release on the home console with Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards. Gamers were greeted with a 2.5D platforming adventure that had familiar mechanics and enhanced visuals. Kirby has endured as a beloved Nintendo character, appearing in Smash Bros, as well as his own series on later consoles and Nintendo’s handhelds. While his innards must truly be the stuff of nightmares, he’ll probably never be somewhere that Nintendo fans can only visit in their dreams.
5. Prince of Persia - 1989
Far more than a confusing Jake Gyllenhaal film, Prince of Persia has been a part of gaming history for 28 years. The original trilogy began as a release on the Apple II computer system, and ran through PC in 1999. Rebooted by Ubisoft in 2003, Prince of Persia: Sands of Time featured mechanics which were revolutionary. The combat was engaging, and the ability to control time to reach areas of levels was a dynamic that left many speechless. Combining action combat mechanics with platforming levels, the series has evolved over the years into something many modern action games have emulated.
4. Megaman - 1987
The sidescrolling action platformer was originally known as Rockman when it was released by Capcom in Japan. Megaman, as it came to be called in the United States, has been revered as a challenging series even to veteran fans. Catering to gamers who have a lot of patience and excel at pattern recognition, the games mix in shooting action and epic boss fights. Beginning on the NES in 1987, the series spawned 10 games in the mainline series, and several spinoffs and off-shoots. The Megaman Legends series, as well as the spin off title The Misadventures of Tron Bonne, both had highly developed 3D action mechanics, a far cry from their 2D platforming roots. Having spawned so many games over the years, even though it’s not being actively utilized, the franchise still feels full of life.
3. Metroid - 1986
Nintendo’s popular Metroid game franchise began as a 2D action sidescroller for the NES in 1986. Since then, the series has evolved tremendously, as each game introduces us to more and more of space bounty hunter Samus Aran. Outfitted with her classic biomechanical suit, the Metroid series has seen her taking on the most cunning and ruthless enemies in the known galaxy. As the series has evolved from 2D platforming into fully realized 3D exploration, the core gameplay mechanics have been transitioned and adapted, without losing that creative spark which made gamers fall in love decades ago.
Retro Studios took up the task of reimagining Metroid, just as they had Donkey Kong Country. In Metroid Prime, Samus revived herself to become a part of modern gaming in her first ever first person shooter adventure. With that move, Nintendo gained a first person action franchise to call its own, and gamers who put Nintendo first got an amazing series to keep up with. The series has been a major part of every Nintendo console since the original NES, so fans have little reason to doubt Nintendo has big things in store for Samus in the future.
2. Pitfall! - 1982
Many would probably cite Nathan Drake as gaming’s first Indiana Jones-reminiscent treasure hunter, but they’d be forgetting good ole Pitfall Harry. Comparatively, he may not have had as exciting a life as some other action platforming heroes, but what he went through throughout the Pitfall series surely counts as adventurous. The original Pitfall! was released on the Atati 2600, achieving great success. It sold 4 million copies initially, and went down as the 2nd best selling game on the console, right behind Pac-Man. The series had five main line releases, spanning all the way to its last entry which debuted on Playstation 2, Gamecube, and the original Xbox. Subsequent titles were remade and spinoffs were created on mobile devices, but nothing quite as significant as its early releases.
1. Super Mario Bros - 1981
Believe it or not, the former plumber turned mushroom muncher didn’t get even get a debut in his own video game. Ironically, his first entry was as the star in 1981’s Donkey Kong. Super Mario Bros. may have started as a 2D platformer which saw the siblings turning turtle carnage into coins later on, but the franchise has exploded from its roots. Mario became the icon of Nintendo. Mario Kart, Golf, Tennis, Party and Smash Bros have all become staples of the entire brand. But even still, his platforming games have always been the crown jewels of each Nintendo console. From the revolutionary Mario 64, to the treasured Mario Galaxy series and beyond, this platformer series has redefined gaming.
From their 2D sidescrolling roots, all the way to highly detailed 3D worlds, platformers have come a long way to entertain us. Many of these franchises are still fan favorites, and we’re looking forward to playing many more from them. Do you have a favorite platformer series from this list? Think we might have missed an absolute classic or aren’t giving enough love to another series? We’d love to know, so make sure you tell us in the comments section!