Indie platformer extravaganza!
June 24, 2008 3:28 AM   Subscribe

Do you enjoy classic 2D platformers? Then boy, are you in luck! The indie game community is thriving, and a good majority of its games are exactly that. I've spent many hours playing these unique, beautiful, and often exceptional projects, and there's quite a few - more than I can count on my fingers! - that could stand toe-to-toe with the finest contemporary games. Inside is a list of some of the greatest indie platformers, based on community recommendations and my own experience. Enjoy!

Technical notes: most of these games are Windows-only. A lot of them are made using Game Maker, which sometimes requires a patch to work with Vista. If a game doesn't start when you run it but still shows up in task manager, use this patching tool.

Here are some important contributors to the indie scene. Their games are renown for their quality:
  • Pixel: a reclusive Japanese software developer idolized for making the amazing Cave Story. (Note: Pixel's website is currently being remodeled. You'd normally find links to all his games there.)
    • Cave Story [DL]: a metroidvania-style side-scroller with amazing music and art, great story, and smooth gameplay. If you don't speak Japanese, install this translation patch.
    • Ikachan: similar to Cave Story, but set underwater and released earlier.

  • Nifflas: famous for making unique exploration platformers. Within a Deep Forest and the Knytt series are set in the same (beautiful!) universe, and emphasize ambience and exploration over action (although there's plenty of that too!).

  • Cactus: an extremely prolific developer who mostly makes abstract shooters.
    • Cactus Arcade: a collection of Cactus's 17 greatest hits. (Includes the 3 games below.)
    • Clean Asia!: an abstract shmup with a unique control scheme. Won the Autofire 2007 competition.
    • Psychosomnium: a humorous and surreal side-scroller. Story-based.
    • Shotgun Ninja: a quick-paced side-scroller that resembles a C64 game.

  • Ikiki: a quirky Japanese developer who's probably made as many games as Cactus. If you're getting errors, rename the EXEs to something English.
    • Nikujin: a side-scrolling slice-em-up. Your ninja can perform several interesting stunts, including hanging onto the ceiling and running up walls.
    • Tekkyuuman: a stage-based action platformer. You play a guy with a giant flail.

  • Matthew Thorson: specializes in difficult puzzle platformers.
    • Jumper: Redux, Jumper 2 (for screenshots and download links, see Matthew Thorson link): stage-based puzzle platformer series. Very challenging level design, mainly focused on jumping.
    • FLaiL (for screenshots and download link, see Matthew Thorson link): a stage-based puzzle platformer. Interesting elements include slow-down zones, gravity reversal powerups, and the ability to fly in one direction for a brief period of time. Excellent engine.
    • An Untitled Story (for screenshots and download link, see Matthew Thorson link): a metroidvania-style side-scroller. Widely acclaimed. (mentioned previously)

  • Messhof: famous for sadistic, minimalistic, semi-arthouse platformers.
    • Punishment: basic platformer. Watch out for the headache-inducing screen rotators and direction-switching powerups.
    • Punishment: The Punishing: another platformer with a cruel twist.
    • Flywrench: you're a bird-like creature. Flap through the levels and avoid touching areas that aren't the same color as you.
    • You Found the Grappling Hook!: a side-scroller based around grappling hook gameplay.

  • Joakim Sandberg: makes side-scrolling beat-em-ups.
    • Chalk: draw chalk lines to kill enemies, deflect bullets, and do other interesting stuff.
    • Noitu Love 2 (commercial): mouse is used to attack and throw. Exceptional art. Full version costs $20.

  • Metanet Software
    • N: the precursor to N+ on the XBLA. Stage-based action/puzzle platformer. Collect gold to add time and hit the main switch to open the exit. Excellent controls, but very difficult. Lots of user created levels available online. (mentioned previously)

  • Jason Rohrer: maker of arthouse games. Uses conventional gameplay mechanics to make an artistic point. Read the Creator's Statments after you've played the games!
"Masocore", a term popularized by Auntie Pixelante, is a genre of games that trifles with the player's complacency about game mechanics. As such, they are often fiendishly difficult but occasionally fun to play (and definitely fun to watch!). Gamma256 was a game design event that required all featured games to use a very low resolution. Although these aren't platformers per se, I thought they might be worth mentioning due to their sheer experimental excellence.
  • Dive: see how far down you can dive. Exploration based.
  • StdBits: very abstract action-adventure game. Exploration based.
Some of my other favorites:
  • Mighty Jill Off: a short BDSM-themed jumping platformer with great pixel art. Made by Auntie Pixelante, a fairly famous indie game journalist and critic. (mentioned previously)
  • Alex Adventure: a game design experiment by a new developer. Rough around the edges, but interesting nonetheless. Quite surrealistic. (mentioned previously)
  • EverEternal WinterWorld: a Cave Story-like game designed for The Daily Click's Christmas Competition.
  • Love (semi-commercial): a simple minimalistic platformer. The environments are spectacular and never repeat. Costs $1 for the full version.
  • Aquaria (commercial): recently released metroidvania-style game. Uses high-resolution artwork. Similar to Nifflas's games in that it's also very much about exploration and ambience. Full version costs $30.
  • Seiklus: an early exploration-based platformer. Inspired Nifflas and many other indie developers.
  • Warning Forever: a series of Raiden-like boss battles, except the bosses change according to your playing style after every victory.
  • La Mulana: an extremely difficult metroidvania-style platformer. Made to look like a MSX game. You'll probably need the translation patch. (mentioned previously)
There are many more indie platformers out there. Browse TIGSource (who also have an excellent, albeit incomplete, indie game database) and the IndieGames blog if you're interested.
posted by archagon (48 comments total) 274 users marked this as a favorite
Great post - now what was the name of that game where you're a little egg to begin with, and you collect power ups that make you jump higher, fly and fire little bullets? "A Story Without End", or somesuch? Now that was a game.
posted by Jofus at 3:42 AM on June 24, 2008

Great post.
posted by chuckdarwin at 4:05 AM on June 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Soldat Many maps, customizable, great weapon selection - or run around and use throwing knives., cloaking, jet boots, mmp/bot matches. Win.
posted by greenskpr at 4:14 AM on June 24, 2008

Nifflas's games are all fantastic, definitely play them if nothing else. Knytt Stories first, I guess.
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot at 4:16 AM on June 24, 2008

Wow, impressive post. Coincidentally, I was thinking of mentioning Game Maker in a post about programming environments for non-programmers. Another good one, but more for education than actual game making, is Scratch.
posted by DU at 4:26 AM on June 24, 2008

Any of these run on Mac?
posted by popcassady at 4:27 AM on June 24, 2008

I know a Mac version of Cave Story exists, at least, and there's a reason it's the first in this list (not to belittle the rest at all. Great post, indeed!)
posted by squidlarkin at 4:33 AM on June 24, 2008

Do you enjoy classic 2D platformers?

Yes. Yes I do. Thank you very much for this post.
posted by Otis at 4:54 AM on June 24, 2008

I was playing Lyle in Cube Sector the other day and it's great: sort of like Klonoa meets Metroid.

Also, I can't recommend Seiklus enough. It's a unique and beautiful game.
posted by aparrish at 5:26 AM on June 24, 2008

Now I can't wait to get home and check these out. Thanks archagon for making my workday feel that much longer.
posted by genefinder at 5:50 AM on June 24, 2008

Great post - now what was the name of that game where you're a little egg to begin with, and you collect power ups that make you jump higher, fly and fire little bullets? "A Story Without End", or somesuch? Now that was a game.

I think you are looking for An Untitled Story. Well worth checking out for anyone who enjoys indie platformers.
posted by bjrn at 6:04 AM on June 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

what genefinder said. Great post, thanks.
posted by xbonesgt at 6:09 AM on June 24, 2008

bjrn. I love you! (In a rugged and masculine way.)
posted by Jofus at 6:14 AM on June 24, 2008

I sort of hate platformers--I mean, I played them when they were the only game in town, so to speak, but I wouldn't go out of my way for one--but this is a really great post. I may even play some of these. Here at work, of course, where we run Windows. Rock on.
posted by uncleozzy at 6:24 AM on June 24, 2008

What an awesome post, you got all my faves and some I didn't know about. It will be the first thing I link to from now on when indie-evangelizing. Mefi-evangelizing too! (Hi, friends and coworkers!)
posted by jake at 6:28 AM on June 24, 2008

I'll need more details before I feel safe clicking on these links.

(Haha - just kidding. Awesome post!) My daughter and I will have a blast with some of these. Thanks!
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 6:39 AM on June 24, 2008

I was going to bust you out for a stupid one-link wikipedia post on the front page, then I saw the more inside.... Just the sort of underhanded shiftiness I've come to expect from you. Excellent post.
posted by absalom at 6:47 AM on June 24, 2008

It's too bad that making these games cross-platform hasn't been a priority. I'd love to try some of these, but I rarely use a Windows PC. With toolkits like SDL and languages like Python, you'd think making old-school games that run everywhere would be pretty easy.
posted by knave at 6:51 AM on June 24, 2008

Also: How could you forget Alley Cat?!?
posted by absalom at 6:58 AM on June 24, 2008

With toolkits like SDL and languages like Python...

posted by DU at 7:02 AM on June 24, 2008

Nice post, but no love for Gish?
posted by cog_nate at 7:41 AM on June 24, 2008

I love that "Metroidvania" is now a real word.
posted by autodidact at 7:49 AM on June 24, 2008

greenskpr: d'oh! How could I forget Soldat?

popcassady: unfortunately, not that many. Mac versions: Cave Story, N, Passage, Gravitation, Syobon Action Java version, Dive

absalom: Alley Cat? Oh dear! That's a classic PC game, not an indie game. A list of those would probably be substantially longer than this...
posted by archagon at 7:52 AM on June 24, 2008

cog_nate: yes, Gish is quite good. If anyone wants to check it out, there's a demo available on the website cog_nate linked.
posted by archagon at 8:00 AM on June 24, 2008

La Mulana has great music, but you might not be able to hear it in Vista!
posted by archagon at 8:41 AM on June 24, 2008

this is a pretty seriously impressive post. hot damn. thanks.
posted by shmegegge at 9:07 AM on June 24, 2008

cactus' upcoming platformer (demo on that page) looks awesome too.
posted by juv3nal at 9:38 AM on June 24, 2008

I love these. Growing up with games on the CPC and Spectrum, I've always had a fondness for games with simple graphics.

I'd write one myself -- I have so many ideas -- but I'm stupid when it comes to programming. I'm jealous of people with such powers.
posted by popcassady at 10:14 AM on June 24, 2008

Don't forget Fly Guy!
posted by bertrandom at 10:42 AM on June 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Dear GOD this is an epic post of awesome.
posted by eurasian at 10:45 AM on June 24, 2008

nice work. I appreciate all the awesome and will experience it forthwith.
posted by zennoshinjou at 10:58 AM on June 24, 2008

Maybe some supporting links would have helped this post...
posted by joelf at 12:02 PM on June 24, 2008

For Mac people, I enjoyed the Flash game MindScape (not linked here maybe?), which plays with variable gravity. I seem to recall it starts getting interesting around the second or third level.
posted by jhc at 12:24 PM on June 24, 2008

I love you.
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 1:28 PM on June 24, 2008

I played Cave Story on my GP2X. It's brilliant. I'm stuck on the last boss...

I'll def. check the rest of these out, thanks!
posted by TechnoLustLuddite at 3:26 PM on June 24, 2008

I played Cave Story on my GP2X. It's brilliant. I'm stuck on the last boss...

BTW if anyone has a psp, cave story was ported to it.
posted by juv3nal at 4:12 PM on June 24, 2008

Fez hasn't been released yet, but was demoed at this year's Game Developers Conference. Based on the released gameplay videos, the 2D-3D mechanic looks like it could be a lot of fun.
posted by teraflop at 4:51 PM on June 24, 2008

'Within a Deep Forest' came with an added bonus - a trojan - when I downloaded a few months ago.

Have not been tempted to try another Nifflas game since
posted by JustAsItSounds at 6:21 PM on June 24, 2008

Nice one, Archagon. If I get you as a target in Dominator, I totally won't pull the trigger.

No, wait, I will. But I'll hesitate ever so slightly.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:47 PM on June 24, 2008

Damn you, Archagon, damn you.

Amazing all this experimental activity. The innovation in gaming hasn't been on the big platforms for some time now.
posted by davemee at 12:37 PM on June 25, 2008

Lots of game picks at Good Experience Games, including many platformers.
posted by mark7570 at 2:51 PM on June 25, 2008

If anybody's interested, the website of the guy who made Seiklus is here. It has some other games he's worked on (including a couple in [url=]Epic's[/url] ancient DOS game creator, ZZT. (Interestingly enough, cly5m's site is one of the first half-dozen to come up in a google search for ZZT. Probably because he's had it at the same address since 1996.)
posted by Target Practice at 3:30 PM on June 25, 2008

D'oh! Looks like I regressed into BBCode there. Oh well.
posted by Target Practice at 3:31 PM on June 25, 2008

popcassady: the reason these kinds of games are so numerous is largely because of Game Maker. You don't have to know much programming to use it.

I avoided mentioning Flash game because I don't really think they're considered part of the indie community. (At least, I rarely see them on indie blogs.)

Also, that last link should be
posted by archagon at 8:32 PM on June 25, 2008

Thanks for the tip. I've decided to take the plunge and learn to code. I raised a question on the Green, and -- after having a look round -- I found that pyglet was a good way to go.

Concerning 'Game Maker', I used have something similar -- I think it was called Multimedia Creator. I made one game with it, but found it too much of a hassle. I felt that the programme was too limiting.
posted by popcassady at 4:27 AM on June 26, 2008

posted by DU at 10:02 AM on June 24 [+] [!]

Except, as far as I can tell, most of those games are crap.
posted by knave at 4:51 AM on June 26, 2008

Does Free Rider 2 count as a platformer? 'Cause it's awesome.
posted by anthill at 1:39 PM on June 27, 2008

Awesome post, dude. I've already played a lot of these but there are a bunch of new ones as well. I love the indie scene right now!
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 4:20 PM on June 29, 2008

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