The 2017 Platformer of the Year
Platformers may not be as popular as they once were amid the sea of military shooters and fantasy RPGs, but 2017 brought fantastic entries in both 2D and 3D categories, across consoles and PC, and in just about every style you can imagine.
The developers of these wonderful titles combined nostalgia and new technology in delightful ways. Some paid homage to the platformers of yesteryear, while others soldiered ahead with inventive new approaches to the genre.
This was one of the best years for platformers in recent memory, so whittling it down to a top five was difficult.
The unceasingly gorgeous Sundered (PS4, PC) was a favorite around the office. This Metroidvania style game had some of the most beautiful hand drawn art we’ve seen, along with challenging and unique gameplay mechanics. It’s not easy, but it is a visual treat, with some compelling gameplay to back it up.
Yooka-Laylee (PlayStation 4, Switch, Xbox One, PC) also deserves a mention. This unabashed tribute to Banjo-Kazooie was a loving throwback to the golden age of N64 3D platformers. Everything about Yooka-Laylee, from the name to the collectathon style of gameplay was designed to remind us of those simpler days, when bright colors, talking animals, and trinkets to collect were all we needed. Add a fantastic current-gen facelift, and you have yourself a wonderful modern platformer, even if it is sometimes hampered by the aged design choices of that era.
The remake Metroid: Samus Returns (3DS) also made a strong showing. Everything there is to love about classic Metroid was accounted for. The sense of exploration, the satisfaction of obtaining a new item like the morph ball to gain entry to previously inaccessible areas, the excellent atmosphere, and the challenging combat are all present. There is also a new emphasis on combat, and a few twists to keep things interesting. It’s nice to see the 3DS still getting some love in 2017.
Now, onto the Runner-Ups!
Runner-Up: Hollow Knight (PC, Switch in 2018)
Hollow Knight is an unapologetic Metroidvania platformer, but as with the aforementioned Sundered, is more than simply that.
Hollow Knight is a joy to play. It’s controls are spot on (just make sure you disable V-Sync on PC,) the Charm upgrade system is a blast, and the combat, while simple, is satisfying and never really gets old.
The story is enigmatic yet compelling, and lends itself to one of the most original and beautiful video game worlds ever created. The bug ridden world of Hollow Knight is incredibly vast. New secrets and areas are throughout the detailed environments. The gorgeous hand drawn art style is jaw dropping throughout, and the unique aesthetic gives Hollow Knight a feeling that’s completely unique.
It’s a beautiful, fun, masterfully created platformer that would be an absolute tragedy to overlook. Not only that, but it’s getting continued support, and it’s only $14.99. There’s no excuse not to play Hollow Knight.
Runner-Up: Sonic Mania (PC, Switch, PS4, Xbox One)
Everything that people don’t like about the 3D Sonic games, Sonic Mania does the opposite. 3D Sonic games are often criticized for simultaneously trying too hard, and also completely missing what makes Sonic fun in the first place.
Sonic Mania avoids these pitfalls by being an unapologetic celebration of the 16-Bit, 2D Sonic we remember so fondly. Not only did the developers reproduce the graphical style, but they also kept the same root gameplay while adding interesting new twists like blocks that freeze Sonic, and bosses from other games in the franchise like Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine.
Throw that in with remixed classic franchise music and excellent retreads of familiar levels, and you have a heady cocktail of nostalgia and new ideas wrapped in a traditional Sonic package.
To quote our review, “The odds were always going to be against a game like this getting made, but the decades of persistence from Sonic fans has finally paid off. Sonic Mania is the new 2D Sonic title fans have wanted for many years, and it delivers on every bit of its promise both as a piece of nostalgia and a new Sonic title in its own right.”
If you like Sonic at all, Sonic Mania is going to bring a smile to your face. Everything good about the franchise is represented here, with all of the unnecessary modern mechanics stipped away.
Sonic Mania is the purest Sonic experience around, and it turns out that’s still just as awesome now as it was in the good old days of blast processing.
Runner-Up: A Hat in Time (PC, PS4, Xbox One)
Recently, it seemed liked the heydey of the collectathon platformer was gone. I spent hours and hours of my youth hunting down music notes in Banjo Kazooie and all 120 stars in Mario 64. The bright colors, deceivingly simple mechanics, and over the top stories always held a very special charm for me, which is why I frequently revisit those golden-age 3D platformers despite being well past the target age demographic.
That’s why A Hat in Time is such a treat. This original IP surprised us all with its absolutely adorable mix of bright, modern graphics and classic 3D platforming gameplay. If Yooka-Laylee was designed to mimic the N64 days, A Hat in Time was meant to modernize it.
There’s not much story to speak of, but that’s not really the point. What is here is joyful platforming, running and jumping and special abilities in colorful, intricately designed levels.
It’s got personality to spare, and though it doesn’t reinvent the genre by any means, A Hat In Time is a lovely, charming tribute that will scratch your N64 platformer itch.
Runner-Up: Cuphead (PC, Xbox One)
Do you love the borderline insane challenge of Contra? Do you like old school animation? How about upbeat, big band jazz? If so, Cuphead is absolutely the game for you, and probably the only one that will ever hit all of those notes so perfectly.
Cuphead has been in development for several years, and it shows. It’s a simple, but chaotic game and like any good platformer/shooter, its mechanics are easy to pick up, but profoundly difficult to master. Switching between weapons as you navigate bullet-hell bosses and jump over non-stop death traps will have you seeing the death screen over and over, but you’ll love every second of it.
And those visuals. The 1930’s style hand drawn animation is absolutely incredible. The painstaking detail that went into this aesthetic is jaw dropping, and the result is a triumph of visual design that’s both unique and beautiful.
Couple that with an extraordinary soundtrack by Kristofer Maddigan that’s unlike anything heard in a video game. The combination of live instruments and original compositions that sound absolutely like big band hits from the 30s result in one of the greatest soundtracks of the year.
Every second you play Cuphead is a reminder of why this game took years to create. The attention to detail from the gameplay, to the art, to the music just oozes dedication and time well spent by the developers.
It’s not an easy game, and the challenge level might not be for everyone, but you owe it to yourself to try Cuphead for the visuals and music alone.
Winner: Super Mario Odyssey (Switch)
This was a tough one. Normally a game as polished, utterly joyful, and fun to play as Super Mario Odyssey is a no brainer for platformer of the year, but the other entries were so strong it required some deliberation. But at the end of the day, as amazing as the other games on this list were, none could quite stand up to the pure platforming perfection that is Super Mario Odyssey.
I've been a fan of the 3D Mario games since Mario 64, but even without that experience it’s easy to see that Nintendo has once again pushed the envelope of what the genre is capable of. In addition to the typically perfect controls and polished gameplay, the addition of a hat that can possess virtually every enemy in the game imbues this entry in the historied franchise with a much needed freshness.
Couple the delightful mechanics with beautiful graphics that look like an animated film come to life, environments that are as varied as they are beautiful, and you have arguably the best Mario game ever made, and one for the best platformers of all time.
Whether you like Nintendo or not, whether you think the Switch is a gimmick or not, there’s no denying that Super Mario Odyssey is an incredibly polished platformer that’s an absolute blast to play.
Also, it’s portable. Also, you can dress Mario up like a skeleton, or put him in a suit.
A great year for platforming
So there you have it, our favorite platformers of the year. Though Super Mario Odyssey is an incredible entry in the mother of all platforming games, the strength of the other contenders made this decision far harder than it could have been.
All of these games vary dramatically in style and gameplay, but all of them, including the honorable mentions, deserve to be played whether you’re a fan of the genre or not.
Plus, it’s kinda neat that we have a Mario and a Sonic game nominated in the same year. Blast from the past isn’t it?
Congratulations to Super Mario Odyssey, GameCrate’s 2017 Platformer of the Year!
Check out our full 2017 award list for more.