10 of the best platforming games that don’t star Mario

10 of the best platforming games that don’t star Mario

Nintendo fans are spoiled for choice when it comes to platformers. On the Switch alone, there are more than a dozen games in the Super Mario franchise from across console generations that illustrate why Nintendo developers are the masters of the platforming genre — and that’s not even including games starring Donkey Kong, Kirby, and Nintendo’s smaller stars, like BoxBoy.

But there are plenty of great platforming games, on a wide range of systems, that don’t star Mario, his friends, and his rivals. Here are some of the best 2D and 3D platformers you can enjoy on PC, PlayStation, Xbox, and Nintendo Switch — games that are more “pure” platformers, as opposed to combat-focused and exploratory Metroidvania-style games.

Pizza Tower

Peppino Spaghetti charges at a tomato boss in a screenshot from Pizza Tower Image: Tour De Pizza

Where to play: Windows PC

Many platforming games try to be Mario. Pizza Tower strives to be his chaotic mirror-world version, Wario, and this fast-paced 2D platformer from indie dev Tour De Pizza is an homage to Nintendo’s Wario Land games. As hero and restaurateur Peppino Spaghetti, you explore and destroy the titular Pizza Tower by sprinting, jumping, and bashing your way through a stack of levels.

There’s an incredible amount of variety in those levels. Many come with their own gameplay gimmick that must be learned, under a certain amount of speed-platforming duress, to progress through and escape. Paired with a soundtrack infested with earworms and a ’90s Nicktoons aesthetic, Pizza Tower is one of the most inventive and finely crafted platformers in years. Not bad for an homage.

Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove

Shovel Knight lunges through the sky toward a gem in a screenshot from Shovel Knight Image: Yacht Club Games

Where to play: Mac, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Windows PC, Xbox One

Shovel Knight is the most authentic retro game ever made, mining 8- and 16-bit nostalgia for classic platformers — most notably, the beloved 1989 NES game Ducktales — and smithing that memorial ore into a sharp, finely honed adventure. Shovel Knight uses its titular tool to great effect, letting the player flip over enemies, dig up treasure, and bounce over obstacles, enemies, and pits of spikes.

Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove is actually a collection, and represents one of the best deals on games. Alongside the original Shovel Knight: Shovel of Hope, Treasure Trove includes spinoffs Shovel Knight: Plague of Shadows, Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment, and Shovel Knight: King of Cards, as well as the multiplayer platform-fighter Shovel Knight Showdown.

Penny’s Big Breakaway

Penny launches Yo-Yo outward in a screenshot from Penny’s Big Breakaway Image: Evening Star/Private Division

Where to play: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox Series X

Created by developers behind Sonic Mania, ​​Penny’s Big Breakaway builds its 3D platforming mechanics around a single tool: a yo-yo. Penny’s yo-yo (named Yo-Yo) accidentally becomes sentient and extremely hungry for snacks. Yo-Yo offers Penny a variety of traversal methods, acting as a sort of grappling hook, a high-speed Segway, and a helicopter to help her navigate a series of colorful worlds and avoid an army of vengeful penguins.

​​Penny’s Big Breakaway has a retro aesthetic that doesn’t feel dated — its visual style harkens back to the cover art of 16- and 32-bit platformers, helping developer Evening Star’s 3D adventure stand out from the hand-drawn and pixelated styles of other platforming games.


Madeline air-dashes over a spike-topped platform in a screenshot from Celeste Image: Maddy Makes Games

Where to play: Mac, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Windows PC, Xbox One

Celeste is a 2D platformer that boils the genre down to its essence. It features chunky, pixelated artwork and characters and a simple set of moves. As Madeline, you can run, jump, climb walls, and air-dash. There are no power-ups or unlockable skills. But as you climb the mountain of Celeste, the game throws increasingly difficult challenges at you to test your ability to run, jump, climb walls, and air-dash.

In some ways, Celeste is a throwback. It is intensely difficult in the vein of “masocore” games like Super Meat Boy. Making your way through a level, let alone a single screen, requires both quick reflexes and remaining calm under pressure. But Celeste is also thoroughly modern. It tells a compelling, personal story, and includes a variety of accessibility and difficulty features that can turn Celeste from impossibly hard to a moderate challenge. It’s forgiving, so if you mess up, you’re not dragged back to the beginning of a level. You’re given the chance to try, try, and try again.

Snake Pass

Noodle the Snake coils around a bamboo structure over a pit of spikes in a screenshot from Snake Pass Image: Sumo Digital

Where to play: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Windows PC, Xbox One

Sumo Digital’s 2017 game Snake Pass differentiates itself from every other game on this list for being a platformer without a jump button. As Noodle the snake, players instead slither, coil, and climb through the world of Haven Tor. Joined by animal friend Doodle the Hummingbird, Noodle is charged with gathering a series of keystones by puzzling out physics-based challenges.

Snake Pass’ controls can take some getting used to; you are playing with snake locomotion, not a bipedal mascot, after all. But Snake Pass is such an inventive and handsome platformer that it’s worth sticking with until it clicks.

Rayman Legends

Rayman and Globox pose on a stone platform while a quartet of flying V guitar-playing rock out around them in a screenshot from Rayman Legends Image: Ubisoft Montpelier/Ubisoft

Where to play: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox Series X

Rayman Legends’ impressive variety, masterful stage design, and gorgeous art make it a confident, unfussy platformer. It is mechanically simple; as Rayman or one of his hero pals, you run, jump, and hit things. But it is also a precise platformer with great variety in its levels and hidden secrets that urge players to explore.

Legends is cute and charming. It may look and sound like a living cartoon world, but it is definitely aimed at experienced players of the genre. Players who are up for the challenge will find a diverse series of worlds with an equally diverse set of activities: swimming, flying, stealth, combat, racing, and even musical rhythm games.

Sonic Mania

Sonic the Hedgehog balances precariously on a moving platform while Tails hovers overhead in a screenshot from Sonic Mania Image: Christian Whitehead, Headcannon, PagodaWest Games/Sega

Where to play: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox Series X

To create one of the best Sonic the Hedgehog games released in the past decade, Sega turned to some of its biggest fans. Sonic Mania is a devotee of the old-school branch of Sonic gameplay and design. It takes the series’ Genesis-era ideas to logical extremes, while still being slavish to old Sonic the Hedgehog design rules. If you have any affection for Sonic (and friends), particularly of the 16-bit flavor, Sonic Mania is for you. This is a game that loves Sonic the Hedgehog, too.

Psychonauts 2

Raz runs toward a lush, psychedelic level covered in eyeballs in a screenshot from Psychonauts 2 Image: Double Fine Productions/Xbox Game Studios

Where to play: Mac, PlayStation 4, Windows PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X

We called Psychonauts 2 “one of the most imaginative platforming games out there, with an absolute flood of joyous ideas and images” in our review of Double Fine’s 2021 platformer adventure game. It also boasts one of the most engaging and inventive stories of any game on this list.

As the Psychonaut Raz, you’ll dive into people’s brains, which manifest as weird, creative worlds, to help them battle their inner demons, unlock hidden memories, and resolve their emotional baggage using an array of psychic powers. Psychonauts 2 deals with weighty themes and complex psychological issues with warmth, compassion, and humor — while also serving as a capable, consistently enjoyable platformer.

Klonoa Phantasy Reverie Series

Klonoa runs around a ring-shaped level, trying to avoid a boss’ swipe attack, in a screenshot from Klonoa Phantasy Reveries Series Image: Bandai Namco

Where to play: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X

This collection brings the original PlayStation game Klonoa: Door to Phantomile and its PlayStation 2 sequel Klonoa 2: Lunatea’s Veil into the modern age, with updated visuals and a few quality-of-life features. These underrated platformers sit somewhere between 2D and 3D, letting players explore a cute and colorful world as Klonoa, who can use his Wind Ring to snatch and throw enemies. The Klonoa games are not particularly complex, but require puzzling out level geography and thoughtful use of jumping abilities to conquer each world.

Astro’s Playroom

Astro swims in the beach area of Astro’s Playroom Image: Team Asobi/Sony Interactive Entertainment

Where to play: PlayStation 5

Ostensibly a tech demo for the PlayStation 5’s DualSense controller, Astro’s Playroom is an excellent 3D platformer that also serves as a nostalgic tour of PlayStation history. And to be blunt, Astro’s Playroom really has no business being as good as it is; it’s free, after all, and included with the PlayStation 5. But it’s an excellent platforming game that boasts tight controls, enjoyable movement mechanics, and thoughtful design touches. Playing through it, you might wonder why Sony isn’t making more of these games on a frequent basis (and charging for them).