Who says you need three dimensions to make a great platformer when two dimensions work just fine? 2D platformers have been the backbone of video games, from the Atari 2600 to the Nintendo Switch in the palm of your hand. The Nintendo Switch has no shortage of great platformers, especially if you like your platformers with only an X- and Y-axis. It’s hard to choose the best, so we’ve done it for you. It’s easily Super Mario Maker 2. After years of enjoying Mario platformers, Nintendo has finally offered us the tools to do it ourselves. It has given us endless hours of content, thanks to the creativity of the internet.
Best overall: Super Mario Maker 2
A best platformer discussion for any Nintendo console would be remiss without a Mario game, and this is no exception. Nintendo is a company that consistently pumps out quality 2D and 3D platformers that almost always strike a balance between accessible and challenging. Super Mario Maker 2 is no different and takes it a step further by allowing users to create their own Mario levels.
Super Mario Maker 2 comes pre-packaged with 100 levels in its story mode. The story mode is what you’d expect from a Mario game. Undo Dog has accidentally deleted Princess Peach’s castle, and it’s up to Mario to fix it. What follows is a series of increasingly difficult stages that you must beat to earn coins to repair the castle.
The 100 levels could be a full game on their own. Levels are made from classic Mario DNA and use the new building elements to consistently keep gamers on their toes. The creative ways Nintendo themselves remix levels are constantly a treat and are some of the most challenging and creative levels put into a Mario game. That is, of course, before you start to build levels yourself.
Super Mario Maker 2 offers players the tools necessary to make their own Mario levels. Blocks, enemies, power-ups, slopes, and even clear conditions can be customized to be as simple or as difficult as you’d like them to be. You can also select Mario’s different styles if you want to play an 8-bit game or something akin to the New Super Mario Bros games. All of this and more are at your fingertips.
Accessing user-generated content is this game’s bread and butter. The game does an excellent job of explaining how to build, as well as discovering other people’s creations to upload on your own levels. There’s a seemingly endless amount of content to be found in Super Mario Maker 2, and that’s why it’s our best overall pick.
Level creator tools are intuitive and easy to use
Endless amount of user-created content
The pre-made levels are great
Multiplayer is cumbersome
Super Mario Maker 2 for Nintendo Switch
Make the most with the best
Play 100 creative pre-made levels, and then make and upload your own. The possibilities are endless.
Best collection: Mega Man Legacy Collection 1 + 2
Another herald of the 8-bit generation, Mega Man, was a game-changer when first released on the NES thanks to its nonlinear level structure, upgradeable protagonist, and ridiculous difficulty. The Mega Man Legacy Collection gathers the Blue Bomber’s first 10 adventures into one collection. Be warned, though, the second part of the collection is a download code and not included on the cartridge.
These classic platformers are recreated just as you remembered them. Fans might have their favorites, but every Mega Man game follows the same formula. Evil robots with unique powers are causing trouble, and Mega Man must defeat them to face off against his archnemesis, Dr. Wily. Levels can be accessed in any order, and once you defeat the boss of that level, you collect their power. These powers often give you an advantage over the next robot master.
The games are just as challenging as you remember but made much easier thanks to a new rewind feature that gives players the option to reverse gameplay instantly. You can also access a challenge mode to compete against friends for the fastest completion time. Combine all that with rare concept art and promotional materials in the game’s Museum Mode, and you have a package that’ll make any old-school platforming fan smile.
10 classic games
Lots of extras for fans of Mega Man
New rewind feature helps curve some of the game’s difficulty
Old-school difficulty still stings
The physical copy includes Legacy Collection 2 as a download code
Mega Man Legacy Collection 1+ 2 for Nintendo Switch
The Blue Bomber’s History
Megaman Legacy Collection 1+ 2 features 10 of Megaman’s earliest adventures. While most are classics, some hold up better than others.
Best WiiU port: Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze
The Donkey Kong Country games for the SNES were some of the best 16-bit platformers made, combining impressive visuals, challenging gameplay, and catchy music into one complete package. The games went unmatched for decades until Retro Studios, known for their work on Metroid Prime, took over the series.
What they did was take those three pillars that made Donkey Kong Country such a memorable experience and built upon them to create an experience that feels in line with those 20-year-old classic platformers. The only problem was that this greatness was locked on the WiiU.
Thankfully, the Nintendo Switch has given WiiU games a second shot at glory, and a larger audience can enjoy Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze at home or on the go. The same excellent game released on the WiiU has returned here, with one important new feature—Funky Mode. The newest Kong might be a glorified easy mode, but he’s also the perfect entry point for players who were frozen in place by the game’s difficulty.
Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze isn’t much different than the WiiU version that came out a few years ago. For those who haven’t experienced it yet, you’ll be getting one of Nintendo’s finest platformers with an additional character. For returning fans, aside from Funky Kong, there’s nothing new for you here.
Funky Mode is a great way to introduce inexperienced gamers
One of Nintendo’s most challenging platformers
It’s mostly unchanged from the WiiU version
Co-op feels like an afterthought
Best WiiU port
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze – Nintendo Switch
Donkey Kong hasn’t aged a day
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze was an amazing platformer in 2014 and remains great six years later.
Best action platformer: Cuphead
If you told me a few years ago that a Microsoft game would find its way to a Nintendo console, I’d call you crazy. Well, now there are four Microsoft games on the Switch, and two are on this list. The first is Cuphead, the beautifully animated run and gun platformer that debuted on Xbox in 2017. Now on the Nintendo Switch, Cuphead brings its gorgeous art and brutal difficulty to the hands of Nintendo fans. Thanks, Microsoft!
Cuphead’s visuals are a sight to behold. Hand-drawn and animated to emulate classic 1930s animation, Cuphead is absolutely gorgeous. The only downside is that it juxtaposes beauty with brutal difficulty. It’s hard, and you will die a lot. Thankfully, it’s not unfair. The game expects you to memorize and recognize patterns in enemy movement and placement to “get good.” On the other hand, Boss fights are more random and might make you want to fling your Switch across the room.
Studio MDHR did a great job of bringing Cuphead to the Nintendo Switch. Visually, it’s as gorgeous as it is on the Xbox One and PC, and the performance clocks in at a stable 60 fps, with minor drops throughout. Cuphead feels at home on the Nintendo Switch.
Gorgeous art and animation
Fast-paced run and gun gameplay
Co-op is a blast
Difficulty might turn players off
Bosses are tough
Best action platformer
Cuphead – Nintendo Switch
A great game and then some
Cuphead is a thing of beauty. Gorgeous animation and art complement this game’s intense difficulty.
Best Metroidvania: Ori and the Blind Forest: Definitive Edition
The second of Microsoft’s platform offerings come to the Nintendo Switch in the form of Ori and the Blind Forest: Definitive Edition, a game that’s gorgeous and fun to play, too. Ori and the Blind Forest takes inspiration from movies like the Lion King and The Iron Giant to craft a somber story that’s told in few words but delivers on multiple levels.
Ori and the Blind Forest is a Metroidvania-style game or a nonlinear platformer. As you explore the world, you’ll find that parts of it are locked away and require you to find certain abilities to open them. The game is free of loading screens, and you can progress through the world seamlessly, occasionally using teleports when you need to travel great distances.
Ori is insanely detailed and looks amazing on the Nintendo Switch, both in docked and handheld mode. Its color pop, the animation is fluid, and the game world Ori moves through is one of the prettiest I’ve seen in recent years. Microsoft truly blessed Nintendo Switch when it shared two of its platformers with the system. And once you’re done with the original, find your way to the equally excellent sequel, Ori and the Will of the Wisp, which has also been released on the Nintendo Switch.
A somber story on par with some of the best-animated movies
Challenging nonlinear platforming
Difficult to navigate if you’re not used to the genre
Ori and the Blind Forest – Nintendo Switch
Microsoft’s finest platformer on the Switch
Microsoft has blessed the Nintendo Switch with a truly excellent Metroidvania-style platformer.
Best rouge-lite: Dead Cells
Run. Slash. Dodge. Upgrade. Die. Repeat. This is the mantra of Dead Cells. It’s an aggressive, fast-paced rogue-lite made for quick bursts of play, making it a perfect platformer for the Nintendo Switch. Dead Cells is a Frankenstein monster comprised of popular indie genres that somehow works so well. It’s insanely replayable and packed full of content to boot.
In Dead Cells, you play as a reanimated corpse locked away in prison. Given just a plain weapon to defend yourself, you travel through the catacombs of a decrepit castle, killing monsters and finding loot as your progress through the game. The kicker is—if you die, you lose it all. Well, most of it. As you repeat levels, you earn Cells, which act as currency in the game. Using Cells, you can buy permanent upgrades to help you last a little longer each run. You will die a lot on this game, but you’re meant to. Thanks to procedurally generated levels, every run is brand new, but you’ll constantly be learning enemy movements and patterns with every replay.
We love Dead Cells. Every playthrough might last between five minutes and 60 minutes, but there’s no other game that makes you feel so powerful and so fragile at the same time. It’s a great game with great pixel art that’s a perfect addition to your Switch library, as long as you don’t mind the occasional frame-rate hiccup.
Perfect for a quick playthrough on the go
An awesome mix of popular indie genres
You will die. A lot.
It doesn’t run as well as it does on other consoles
Dead Cells – Nintendo Switch
Knock ’em dead
Dead Cells is a fast and furious rogue-lite that blends other genres’ elements to create a hybrid of platforming goodness.
Best story: Horace
Going into Horace, I didn’t expect much from the indie platformer, but what I left with was an emotional rollercoaster of an adventure that stars a loyal robot butler who experiences both the ugly and beautiful parts of humanity through his robotic lenses. Horace just wants to go back to how things were, and it’s his nostalgia for a time long gone that powers the narrative through the game’s lengthy playtime.
Horace’s gameplay is not what you’d expect as well. What starts as a simple platformer gradually expands to a full-blown, gravity-bending Metroidvania, as Horace learns new powers that give him a glimpse of what he was made to be. And players will want to return to these places, as Horace’s puzzles, minigames, and overall gameplay is just as good as its story.
Horace is not for everyone. It’s a difficult platformer as its core, and it’s seeped in British-isms and references, which may go over the heads of some players. But Horace is endlessly charming and one of the best platformers on the Switch.
A compelling story and surprising length
Challenging Metroidvania with lots of puzzles and mini-games
Charming from beginning to end
May be too difficult for some
It’s very British — may not resonate with some players
Horace – Nintendo Switch
Try not to shed a tear
Horace tells a great story and offers a surprising challenge to go along with it. It may be unassuming, but it’s worth your time and effort.
Best for beginners: Yoshi’s Crafted World
Yoshi has held many roles since he first hatched onto the scene in Super Mario World. In addition to being Mario’s trusted steed, Yoshi has also been a babysitter, a frequent guest of Mario’s parties, and has been known to swing a tennis racket. Still, occasionally, Yoshi helms his own adventure. In Yoshi’s Crafted World, Yoshi sets out to recover shards of the Sundream Stone, shattered by the nefarious Baby Bowser and his goon, Kamek.
What sets Yoshi’s adventure apart from Mario’s is its art style. Like the title implies, Yoshi’s Crafted World looks like a grade school diorama come to life. Yoshi looks like he’s made of felt; the world around him is made up of cardboard, construction paper, and other everyday objects that give players the feeling of playing in a toy box complete with handmade figurines. And the aesthetic is not just for show; Yoshi has to interact with the environment to solve many of the game’s puzzles. When a level is completed, return to the Flip-Side to explore the stage backward and find even more secrets hidden behind it.
Yoshi’s Crafted World earns our recommendation because of its colorful, creative visuals, two-player co-op, and easy-going difficulty. Yoshi’s Crafted World is perfect for younger gamers or those who aren’t skilled at platformers. A Mellow Mode also gives Yoshi wings and offers a leisurely, relaxing way to traverse through levels. Yoshi’s Crafted World is yet another fantastic platformer that joins the Nintendo Switch’s library.
A colorful and creative new art style
Perfect for new players or those looking for a stress-free game
Too simple for experienced platforming fans
Best for beginners
Yoshi’s Crafted World for Nintendo Switch
A leisurely stroll
Yoshi’s Crafter World is colorful and bright and is a perfect introduction to the genre.
Best multiplayer: New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe
The “New” Super Mario Bros. games aren’t exactly new, but they seek to offer classic Mario Platforming with a fresh coat of paint. New Super Mario Bros U Deluxe is a port of the WiiU launch title and is a 1:1 port of the game. This isn’t a bad thing — New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe holds its own and offers a solid challenge throughout. The selling point of this release is the multiplayer.
You and up to three players can play through the levels together, and what was once a simple platforming affair becomes an all-out brawl as players try to earn the most points at the end of the match. It’s simple, but it works very well. This version of the game includes two new characters – Toadette and Nabbit, which act as an easy and easier mode, respectively. Toadette transforms into Princess Peach when she grabs a mushroom, allowing her to float over obstacles with ease. Nabbit has it even easier – he’s impervious to attacks in general. Both act as a great entry point for new and inexperienced players.
New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe also includes New Super Luigi U., the much harder DLC that stars Mario’s taller brother, Luigi, for players looking for a challenge. All in all, this is a great buy for Switch owners who are looking for a fun multiplayer game to play with players of any skill level.
Two new characters are good entry points for inexperienced gamers
Includes all of the DLC
Those who played the Wii U version can expect pretty much the same game
New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe for Nintendo Switch
A new way to experience classic Mario platforming
New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe includes two full games and two new characters that make the multiplayer chaos a little easier for inexperienced gamers.
Best challenge: Celeste
Celeste is a masterclass in game design, managing to tell a sad, compelling story while also remaining fun and challenging to play. And when I say challenging, I mean really challenging. Like, throw my controller against the wall challenging.
You play as Madeline, a young woman who sets out to scale Celeste Mountain to find herself. The game’s story is poignant and relatable, and underneath the allegory is an unforgiving precision platformer that will put your platforming skills to the test. Players will guide Madeline over huge chasms, with only a simple mid-air dash to assist. Celeste is punishing with levels that range from hard to insanely hard, but players never have to contend with any pesky loading screens, so when they die, they can get back in the action as quickly as possible.
Celeste is a rare platformer that tells a compelling narrative while never relenting on its difficulty. The game is hard, and the unlockable B-side and C-side levels are even most so. But if players stick through it, they’ll find Celeste immensely compelling and well worth the time of platformer fans.
A rewarding and challenging platformer
A compelling story
Gorgeous presentation and soundtrack
The difficulty may be too much for casual players
Celeste – Nintendo Switch
Make the jump
Celeste lays a deep story over hardcore platforming and creates something incredibly unique.
Best retro platformer: Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island
Nintendo Switch Online is Nintendo’s online service, and while on the surface it seems pretty bare-bones, being a subscriber gets your access to over 100 NES and SNES games, including many Nintendo classics from the 8 and 16-bit era. Older gamers will remember that those classic consoles were flush with platformers, but choosing the best of the best? Well, it’s not as easy as it seems.
With such an esteemed collection of platformers, choosing the best is difficult but not impossible. Our favorite retro platformer available on NSO is Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island. Why? Well, just take a look at it. The cartoon visuals pulled right out of a coloring book still look great today, and even the rudimentary 3D effects still add to the game’s seemingly endless charm. This also mark’s Yoshi’s first playable appearance and cemented his caretaking character for years to come.
Now the infectious music, colorful visuals, and just the sheer brilliant creativity of it all don’t come without a few blemishes. For one, handling baby Mario (and his cries) is still as annoying as ever, and the game’s difficulty is sometimes all over the place, though this can be remedied using save states. Overall, Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island is a great introduction to the SNES platforming library and can be enjoyed by young and old alike.
Charming 16-bit visuals
Perfect introduction to platformers
The difficulty can sometimes be lopsided
Baby Mario is still annoying
Best retro platformer
Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island (Nintendo Switch Online)
Just one subscription
Nintendo Switch Online is the easiest way to play classic SNES and NES games on your Switch. Sign up for a year for just $20 or 3 months at $8.
Most 2D platformers are an evergreen experience. They’re the perfect entry point into gaming for some and invoke memories of past gaming experiences for others. Often balancing skill-based challenges with a simple learning curve, you wouldn’t go wrong with any of the choices on this list. Still, our top choice is Super Mario Maker 2. It’s classic Nintendo, ripe with their familiar platforming formula that is then spun out in a variety of different unique directions.
With 100 levels to play through, the game would already be worth the full price, but the creative tools offered open up endless gameplay possibilities. Play with friends through a ridiculously hard level that tests your reflexes or enjoy a ride that requires little input. It’s all up to you, and that’s why it’s the best 2D platformer for Nintendo Switch to date.
Credits — The team that worked on this guide
Zackery Cuevas loves talking about video games, complaining about video games, praising video games, and writing about video games. You can find guides, editorials, and reviews written by him on iMore, Android Central, and Windows Central. If you’re cool, you can follow him at @Zackzackzackery on Twitter.