Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Top Ten Underrated 2D Platformers of the Past 20 Years

The 2D platformer is one of my favorite genres, and there are so many that are well known and loved. But what about those ones that have slipped through the cracks, or just haven't got their fair share of spotlight and fanfare from the gaming public? That's exactly the point of this top ten list, to talk about those 2D (sometimes 2.5D) platformers that while fun to play, didn't exactly get the best sales or the most attention. Even big stars like Mega Man and Donkey Kong make an appearance on this underrated 2D platformer top ten. After you've scoped out my picks, feel free to offer your own in the comment section.

10) Mega Man ZX Advent (DS) - 2007

The original Mega Man ZX started a new Mega Man sub-series, and it attempted to go the so-called Metroidvania route. While the overall game was enjoyable, the execution left something to be desired. With Mega Man ZX Advent, the end result is much better, offering an easier-to-understand map, more Mega Man forms to transform into, bigger boss battles, and two protagonists. You still have the classic, action-packed, high throttle gameplay of the Mega Man X and Zero sub-series while offering a new twist on the then-much worn formula the Mega Man series had already established. Overall, what you get with Mega Man ZX Advent is tremendous action platformer deserving of more attention.

9) Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash (3DS) - 2015

Often maligned for not sticking with the genre the series was known for, Chibi-Robo tried its hand in the platforming genre, and before it was even released it wasn't popular. Of course this was because Nintendo said that if Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash sold poorly, that'd probably be the last fans would see of the helpful miniature robot. Still, the actual game is a terrific 2D platformer, sporting the use of Chibi-Robo using his plug to whip enemies, grab onto faraway ledges to pull itself across chasms, and ricochet off walls. While the level roulette system is questionable in its delivery, it can easily be cheesed (which is the exact reason it's questionable in its delivery). Regardless, if you're looking for a platformer that really has creativity in it from its levels to its boss battles, then Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash is definitely worth looking at.

8) Prinny: Can I Really Be the Hero? (PSP) - 2009

The wonderfully titled Prinny: Can I Really Be the Hero? takes the dood-speaking Disgaea series penguin and puts him inside a brutal 2D platformer for the PSP. The game makes no attempts to hide its difficulty, giving the player 1000 lives to tool around with. Each mission has an in-game clock that, as the time of day moves between day and night, the challenges, such as bosses and enemies, and designs of levels change. If you can stomach the challenge, then you'll find yourself enjoying and being put to the test to a highly creative platformer that saw a sequel two years later in Japan and PAL territories and three years later in North America.

7) Puppeteer (PS3) - 2013

Doomed to fall through the cracks in the PlayStation 3 library due to releasing around the time of the PS4's big, long-awaited launch and being a 2D (technically 2.5D, close enough) platformer on a system that didn't cater to that genre much, Puppeteer is a masterful platforming adventure. Once a boy turned to a headless puppet, Kutaro runs and jumps around levels, collecting different heads that possess different powers. Between the brilliant presentation (though some might feel the constant interruptions to gameplay by the story elements are too frequent) and exquisite charm and ideas brought forth by the game, Puppeteer may not have got much sales success, but it's loved by a select few who actually played it.

6) LocoRoco (PSP) - 2006

LocoRoco is a PSP franchise that plays unlike any other platformer out there. In the game, you're not directly controlling the group or accumulative blob of LocoRoco. Instead, you're tilting the playing field, guiding the LocoRoco through hazard-filled levels. The goal is to amass as many LocoRoco as possible, surviving each of the challenging levels, and finding hidden collectibles in secret alcoves and tough-to-find areas. The intuitive controls and innovative gameplay are accentuated by a lovely art style and gloriously zany music. Two sequels would be released for the series, one a direct sequel, and one a more action-packed affair. Regardless of where you start with the franchise, you'll find something wonderful.

5) Mischief Makers (N64) - 1997

One of the few 2D games on the Nintendo 64, Mischief Makers released to many calling the game a short romp, hard to learn, short, and too easy. Now, gamers and even critics look back on the game with a more positive light. Mischief Makers uses pre-rendered sprites similar to the ones found in the Donkey Kong Country series on the Super Nintendo. The game has a trifecta of awesomeness: pure-blooded platforming, intense action sequences, and clever puzzles to solve. Our hero Marina runs, jumps, boosts through the air via her jet pack, and grabs and shakes enemies into submission. Mischief Makers is much desired to see a re-release for a reason, and that would give so many more gamers the chance to find out what they've been missing with Treasure's... well, treasure!

4) Drill Dozer (GBA) - 2006

Made by the same folks known for their work on Pokemon and to a much lesser extent Tempo the Badass Elephant, Drill Dozer has you piloting the eponymous machine as Jill, a treasure hunter seeking a prized family jewel that was stolen by a pack of mean-spirited bandits. Using the Drill Dozer, you can power through blocks, use various machinery to progress through levels such as lifts that rise Jill up once she hooks her Drill Dozer up to them, and defeat savage foes both small and large. Each level starts off with you only being able to drill through weaker objects. When you find new upgrades, you can drill longer and through harder objects, up to level three. This is an atypical platforming adventure, but Drill Dozer shines in all of its creative ideas. Certainly releasing near the end of the Game Boy Advance's life didn't help, but if you can track down a copy (it has a built in rumble feature directly in the cartridge), then you'll find a game that is absolutely brilliant.

3) Klonoa (Wii) - 2009

Do your ears hang low, do they wobble to and fro? Can you tie them in a knot? Can you tie them a bow? For most of us, the answer is no, but for Namco's Klonoa, that answer is very much yes. This cheerful rabbit's first adventure originally released on the PS1 as Klonoa: Door to Phantomile in 1998. This version, simply titled Klonoa in the West, is a remake on the Wii with glorious new visuals and added challenges. The gameplay has Klonoa grabbing enemies and using them to propel himself higher, essentially using them as a double jump opportunity. Klonoa is full of charm, creatively designed levels that wrap around themselves, and fun. It's quite a shame that even on a platform that was very kind to the platforming genre that Klonoa didn't sell hardly at all, effectively killing any hopes of future entries. Sad, but at least Klonoa ended on a very good note quality-wise.

2) Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat (GCN) - 2005

The most non-traditional 2D platformer on this list, Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat used the GameCube's bongo drum peripheral to control Donkey Kong. Through pounding the left and right bongos, sometimes together, sometimes not, players moved the sensational simian through colorful levels, defeating enemies, gathering bananas, and scoring killer combos, sometimes one giant combo from the start of one level to its finish. The battles against other apes in Punch-Out-styled Kong-frontations (hee-hee) played out marvelously with the bongos, really letting you pound on your foes while pounding on the drums. A highly innovative and most of all incredibly fun platformer, Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat is a greatly underrated title for the GameCube. It received a New Play Control version on Wii, eliminating the bongos and adding the shaking of the Wii Remote and Nunchuk to replicate the controls. Which ever version you go for, you'll get an amazing game.

1) Yoshi's Woolly World (Wii U) - 2015

Currently at an astonishingly low (for its actual level of quality) 78 on Metacritic, Yoshi's Woolly World was criticized for being more of the same and yet another Wii U 2D platformer. However, calling it just that is an amazing disservice to the game. Woolly World is finally the Yoshi's Island game fans have been clamoring for, with the highest amount of quality and polish to it, sometimes even outdoing the critically acclaimed SNES original in multiple aspects. From the endearing yarn and fabric visuals to the fantastic level design, to the massive amount of optional collectibles that just further enhance how good said level design is, it's a crime that Yoshi's Woolly World was given so much ho-hum feedback from critics. For me, Yoshi's Woolly World isn't just worthy to be in the same level as the SNES's Yoshi's Island, it is a better game overall.

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