Platformers have been around for almost as long as the video game industry itself. Players of a certain age will no doubt have fond memories of Pitfall, Manic Miner and a barrel-tossing ape called Donkey Kong, while others discovered home consoles when Mario and Sonic went head to head for genre dominance in the years that followed.
On mobile, platformers come in all shapes and sizes, from auto-runners to retro revivals, and these games have brought some of the biggest names in the genre to iOS and Android. Looking for one to jump right into? Here are 10 of the best on the app stores.
When it comes to mobile platformers, developers have to get creative since touchscreen controls can present challenges in this genre. Duke Dashington is a good example of platforming innovation on tablets and smartphones as it makes the right cutbacks without sacrificing playability.
Players take control of the titular Duke and pillage trap-filled tombs via simple screen swipes. Swipe left, and the moustached hero will fly in that direction until he crashes into something. Levels are short, sweet and often challenging, making them compelling and ideal for playing on the go. It also earns bonus points for making us nostalgic for Wario Land.
Thomas Was Alone is the most fun anyone’s ever had with blocks since Jenga was first invented way back when. The game combines platforming and puzzle elements seamlessly and follows a bunch of minimalistic coloured rectangles as they team up to navigate a strange world.
Who would ever have thought mere rectangles could have so much personality? Along with boasting clever problem-solving tasks, this indie classic also works as a powerful ode to friendship and teamwork.
Monochromatic platformer Limbo is a work of art, as much for its infinitely inventive puzzles as its stylish noir visuals. Playdead’s slick side-scroller follows a young boy who ventures into to purgatory in search of his lost sister, and players must help him avoid deadly traps, giant spiders and other fatal hazards along the way.
Limbo debuted on home consoles during the previous hardware generation but it still holds up on mobile today thanks to those timeless puzzles. The gameplay evolves as you progress, first hitting you with simple block-pushing conundrums before throwing anti-gravity machines and rooms that spin around in circles into the mix.
When Sega announced it was working on a project dubbed ‘Sega Forever’, the early reports suggested a Netflix-style streaming service full of retro games was on its way to mobile devices. It was an anti-climax when it turned out to be an initiative to optimise a bunch of games the studio had released on the app stores once before.
Nevertheless, at least Sega Forever brought us a decent version of Sonic the Hedgehog 2, one of the finest platformers of the 16-bit era. New features include save game support, bonus materials and refined controls. The virtual thumbstick doesn’t offer quite as much precision as a Mega Drive D-pad, but this is otherwise the Sonic 2 you know and love.
Many mobile platformers take on the form of auto-runners as they are a great fit for touchscreen controls. There are countless examples of these on the app store, but Vector 2 is a cut above the competition. Nekki’s dystopian sequel puts is own spin on the concept by incorporating parkour elements and dark, science fiction-themed backdrops.
The action is fast-paced and dynamic and offers more substance than most auto-runners. Moreover, the stages are procedurally-generated to keep the sense of deja vu at bay during repeat playthroughs.
Rayman Jungle Run is another fine example of an auto-runner done right. With its gorgeous cartoon visuals and increasingly-sophisticated gameplay, the Ubisoft title has as much depth as some of the flagship side-scrollers found on home consoles.
Whether you’re leaping, floating or soaring your way across its colourful backdrops, Rayman Jungle Run is never less than a carnival of platforming fun, and the way it drip-feeds new abilities and challenges throughout will keep you hooked. Give it a whirl. If it strikes a chord, there’s plenty more Rayman on the app stores to sink your teeth into, with Fiesta Run and Adventures offering more of the same.
A platformer where you can’t jump might sound like a shoot-em-up where you can’t shoot, but VVVVVV works surprisingly well. Instead of leaping over obstacles, players flip the world upside down with a tap of the screen. If there’s a pit of spikes in your way, the path to progression is dancing on the ceiling. Well, walking, but you get the picture.
With its gravity-bending mechanics, Terry Cavanagh’s indie gem pits platform fans against unique challenges. What’s more, the ZX Spectrum-esque visuals give VVVVVV a retro edge.
One minute evoking Super Mario Bros 3 with its overworld map, the next taking a leaf out of LucasArts’ book on adventure games with its zany, item-based puzzles, Vulture Island is a cocktail of retro delights.
At its core is an 8-bit-style platformer, but with so much hidden depth. Vulture Island is a surprisingly liberating, non-linear experience with multiple playable characters and puzzles that will test your ability to think laterally.
Terraria has been drawing Minecraft comparisons since it crafted its way onto mobile devices back in 2013, but to say it’s basically the Mojang game reimagined as a platformer sells it short. Sure, you can build things and mine raw materials, but that’s where the similarities end.
Terraria is about unbridled exploration. It dumps players in the middle of a randomly-generated world and encourages them to explore every nook and cranny of it. There are always weird and wonderful sights to see, from mountains and underground jungles, to flying cyclops monsters and RPG-style dungeons. The game may look like a platformer, and at times feel like side-scrolling Minecraft, but there’s so much more to it than that.
Mario on mobile! What a time to be alive! When Nintendo brought its dungaree-clad mascot to mobile devices, it took many of the concepts from his more recent 2D adventures and repackaged them for smartphones. This was done by reverse engineering Super Mario Bros as an auto-runner, but it lost none of its magic along the way.
Although it can be played one-handed, Super Mario Run feels like something close to the full-fat Mario experience. The graphics look beautifully polished and the gameplay flows nicely. The only real difference is that you can’t backtrack, though Nintendo has thrown in extra features to compensate for the necessary streamlining.
Toad Rally, in which players race against the ghosts of other users online, and the chance to build your own mini Mushroom Kingdom outside of the mainline campaign add stacks of longevity, and there’s bound to be further content updates in the plumber’s pipeline.