The platformer genre is one that has thrived since the dawn of video games, with dozens of brilliant games rife with fantastic characters and fun gameplay. Many of these titles are the most loved video games of all-time, with a number of the main characters going on to become “mascots” for the industry. Mario, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Crash Bandicoot are a few of the best known and most beloved games and characters (and for good reason), but what about the games that flew under the radar? Here are the 10 most underrated platformers of all-time.
Crystal Dynamics are famed for developing the immensely popular and influential Tomb Raider franchise, but they also developed a very fun and wacky platformer in 2003 called Whiplash, which was darker, funnier, and more deranged than most games in the genre. Released on PS2 and Xbox, Whiplash had players control a weasel chained to a rabbit, who must work together to escape an animal testing facility. The weasel, Spanx, is the main character and the crazier of the two, while the rabbit, Redmond, is more of a tool and provides sarcastic humor. Although the game was deemed “average” by the majority of critics, the unique set-up, darker tone, and humor made this a game that was still great fun to play and very different to other games in the genre (which have a tendency to be very similar).
9. Kao the Kangaroo
It may not be up there with Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon, but Kao the Kangaroo is a fun platformer series nonetheless, which progressively got better with each new installment (although the last installment has no English language release). Unlike the majority of platformer games which are very fast paced, Kao was slightly slower and this enabled you to fully take in the impressive and detailed world. The user controls Kao, a bulgy eyed kangaroo who must drive invaders from his home and save his family, who have been captured by a hunter and his goons. The first installment arrived in 2000, with Kao the Kangaroo Round 2 being released in 2005, and Kao the Kangaroo: Mystery of the Volcano landing in 2006. He may not be as famous as some other platformer main characters, but Kao deserves recognition and is another fun and challenging series in the genre.
8. Ty the Tasmanian Tiger
Ty the Tasmanian Tiger was developed by Krome Studios and released on PS2, Xbox, and GameCube in 2002. Building on the success of many similar platformers before hand (such as Crash Bandicoot and Spyro), Ty does not quite reach the heights of those aforementioned series but is still a very fun and charming game in its own right and managed to spawn three sequels. Travelling through a stylish and visually pleasing fictionalized Australian island, Ty searches for Thunder Eggs, which will help to free his family from a dreamland. Armed with different boomerangs, Ty can use these to solve environmental challenges and defeat foes along the way. A game that is fun for all ages and one praised for its graphics and gameplay, Ty the Tasmanian Devil’s relative failure can be attributed to it borrowing heavily from more popular platformers, but was not quite up to the same standard.
7. Croc: Legend of the Gobbos
Croc: Legend of the Gobbos had all the making of a great platformer, but never quite reached the popularity of the leading names in the genre. Cute characters, fun gameplay, beautiful and varied worlds, challenging boss levels, and excellent music; this 1997 game from Argonaut Software was great fun to play. The game follows Croc, a crocodile raised by small furry creatures called Gobbos. One day, the evil Baron Dante invades and imprisons many of the Gobbos, seeing Croc embark on a quest to save all of the Gobbos and take down Baron Dante. Croc travels through many beautiful and colorful areas with many classic platformer environmental challenges along the way, as well as enemies and two bosses on each island. There are Gobbos and gems to collect along the way, with many extras and bonus levels to keep things interesting.
6. Space Station Silicon Valley
DMA Design, now known as Rockstar North, are best known for developing the legendary Grand Theft Auto games, but they have also made an enormous impact on the platformer genre with Lemmings (1991). In 1998, and shortly after the release of the first GTA, they released a very fun and distinctive platformer with Space Station Silicon Valley. This game separated itself from others in the genre with British humor, B-Movies-inspired music, and a unique premise that sees the player control a crawling microchip, who takes control of various animals and then defeats enemies and solves puzzles as the animal. Being able to play as various animals (each with different characteristics and abilities) and fun gameplay makes this an excellent platformer, which received critical acclaim. Ultimately, Space Station Silicon Valley performed poorly commercially, making it an often forgotten addition to the genre.
Whiplash was not the only underrated platformer created by Crystal Dynamics, as the studio is also known for creating the Gex series. In these games, the user controls a wise-cracking gecko (voiced by Dana Gould) who was the mascot for the company before they became a subsidiary of Square Enix. The original 1995 version was released for the 3DO and was a side-scrolling platformer, where Gex traverses through worlds which are based on different genres (horror, martial arts, adventure, and animation) where he must travel through to defeat Rez, the overlord of the Media Dimension. 1998’s Gex: Enter the Gecko was also an excellent but sometimes forgotten game, this time in 3D. Although very well received, many have forgotten about the Gex series with so many brilliant platformers that followed the release of the original.
4. Jumping Flash!
Holding the Guinness World Record for the “first platform video game in true 3D,” 1995’s Jumping Flash! is often referred to as an ancestor for 3D graphics in console gaming. Despite this acclaim, the game is underrated as it quickly became overshadowed by the 3D platformers of the fifth console generation, most notably Nintendo’s Super Mario 64. Co-developed by Exact and Ultra, Jumping Flash! is first-person and see the user control a robotic rabbit called “Robbit.” Robbit explores different sections of Crater Planet to retrieve missing jet pods which are scattered by the game’s villain, Baron Aloha (if you haven’t noticed, the naming in this game is fantastic). Ultimately, Robbit must stop Aloha and save the world from being destroyed. By being able to leap while in mid-air, the game gives the ability to explore many different areas at different heights. Despite being very imaginative and influential on the genre, Jumping Flash! is now an overlooked and underrated edition to the platformer genre.
3. Rocket: Robot on Wheels
Sucker Punch are best known for creating the Sly Cooper and Infamous series, but before this they developed a fantastic platformer for N64 which hit shelves in 1999. Featuring levels with a wide variety of tasks and challenges, Rocket: Robot on Wheels was great fun to play. Comparable to Super Mario 64 and Banjo-Kazooie in terms of design, the game sees you control a small robot (on wheels, unsurprisingly) who rolls around six differently themed worlds which are all connected by a crazy amusement park. Along the way, you learn new moves from another robot in exchange for tokens which are found throughout the park. Rocket: Robot on Wheels may not be Sucker Punch’s greatest game, but it was a unique, fun, and charming platformer in its own right.
2. Mischief Makers
Released on the N64 in 1997, Treasure’s Mischief Makers stuck to classic platformer roots as a two-dimensional side scrolling game at a time when many platformers were opting for 3-D. Quirky and unique visuals, fun and quick gameplay, and excellent boss fights made this a distinctive and highly entertaining game which stood out from the crowd (for those who actually played it, that is). Players assume control of Marina, a robotic maid who goes on a journey to rescue her creator from the Emperor of Planet Clancer. With 52 levels over 5 different worlds, the user advances by grabbing, throwing, and shaking various objects which include weapons, environmental objects, and enemies who stand in the way. While many loved the game and some still hope for a reissue or sequel, it ultimately was not a huge hit as players were more interested in 3D games at the time.
While it may not be “underrated” per se, Psychonauts is a game which more people need to know about. Despite being a commercial flop, the 2005 platformer developed by Double Fine Productions now has a cult following and has since been republished and earned industry awards (in fact, Double Fine is currently working on a sequel). It is a brilliant game which sees the user control Raz, a young psychic boy who attempts to sneak into a camp to become a “psychonaut” (psychic spy). He explores the minds of different characters in his training and helps them to overcome fears, consequently earning their trust. He soon finds that there is something sinister happening at the camp, and only he can stop it. As he progresses, he learns more skills that include levitation, invisibility and telekinesis. The quirky characters, humor, artistic worlds and fun gameplay make Psychonauts a terrific and very distinctive game which is a fine contribution to the genre.