Pay no attention to the man behind the moustache
Platform games are one of gaming's most enduring staples, and you can't really mention them without talking about Mario. Except I am. Put simply, there's no point in me trying to list the best platform games of all time because, like it or not, Mario titles would take up at least 50% of the entries. The best platform game ever made is probably Super Mario Galaxy 2 (so says our Best Games Ever list list). But let's not argue about that. Let's look at the challengers.
There's more to the competition than just Sonic the Hedgehog. In fact, you're about to read about 25 amazing platform games that don't have Mario in them. And they're in order too, so let's start with 25 and work our way up to the top. Let's-a go! *Gunshot*.
25. Crash Bandicoot (PSone)
Ah, a familiar face. Crash is surely one of PSone's most enduring icons and his first adventure is arguably his best. The tight, corridor-like nature of the levels mean Naughty Dog (yes, of Uncharted fame) was able to cram loads of polygonal detail into every frame, making this still look surprisingly lush, especially on a PSP or Vita's screen.
The gameplay is much harder than most people remember, and finding all of the wumpa fruit (there's a blast from the past) requires some pretty serious skills and searching on later levels. It's true that non-homing jumping in 3D space doesn't work very well a lot of the time, but Crash's shadow at least allows you to see where you're landing. It's still fun, charming and easy to get hold of via PSN.
24. Voodoo Vince (Xbox)
It's rare for a platform game to out-concept the infamous Glover in the 'most ridiculous premise for a platform game' contest. But Vince is the third-best voodoo doll belonging to the owner of a magic shop in New Orleans, who comes to life when zombie dust is spilled during a robbery/kidnapping.
Vince himself is a wisecracking platform hero (no, wait - come back!) who can defeat his enemies by inflicting pain on himself. Chuck yourself in a fire if it helps (and it probably will). From the world design to the N'orleans Jazz-influenced soundtrack, Voodoo Vince has a ton of personality to go alongside the tight 3D platforming design. Still surprisingly good-looking, too. That original Xbox has still got some clout, I'm tellin' ya...
23. Shantae and the Pirate's Curse (3DS)
Shantae is one of those games that hardly anyone talks about, but deserves much more acclaim. Shantae herself is a Middle-Eastern belly dancer and in this, her third game, she must team up with her former enemy, Risky Boots (great name love it) and save her town from a typically pantomime-evil threat.
What follows is classic platform action, where new abilities unlock secrets in previously-visited areas. It's very similar to an old (unrelated) game called Monster World IV in fact, it could feasibly pass as a sequel to that game. But this is better. Some might be put off by the ridiculous moments of cartoon fan-service (those costume changes are gratuitous to say the least), but it's all tame and feels good-natured. Look out for the new-gen sequel currently in development.
22. Treasure Island Dizzy (ZX Spectrum, C64, Amiga)
It's remarkable how well the oldest game on this list has stood the test of time. While you could boil this first Dizzy sequel down to an overly-punishing 'fetch and carry' quest, you'd be doing it a massive disservice. The design of this static-screened world is still a treat for the imagination. A desert island with pirate gold lying beneath the surface of the water, complete with a treehouse village, a sub-aquatic world (with a shipwreck) and cursed treasure to boot.
The one-hit-and-you-have-to-restart 'feature' is cruel, but it actually gives the game an immense feeling of peril. Every jump near a hazard be it a jellyfish or burning torch must be judged perfectly, or you have to start again. And each moment of discovery when you work out where an item goes is a moment of air-punching glee. Even though the whole game fits into 48k of RAM, it's still brilliant.
21. Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams (Wii U, PS3, 360, PC)
Channeling the likes of Rocket Knight Adventures, Giana Sisters is a fast-paced, flowing and beautiful platformer. It's dripping with classic platform iconography, too. Coloured jewels floating the air, begging to be collected. Lush forest backgrounds glistening water it's exactly like the platformers of the 1990s, only rendered in spectacular modern detail.
It is, however, extremely difficult. It is certainly possible to master its versatile moveset, but doing so will take a lot of time and patience. Fortunately, it's totally worth the effort, so it won't feel like a chore. And when you're dashing, spinning and leaping around like you own the place, you'll feel amazing.
20. The Lucky Dime Caper Starring Donald Duck (MS/GG)
Disney platformers in the early 1990s were pretty much universally brilliant, whether on 16-bit or 8-bit machines. The Lucky Dime Caper may be an 8-bit title, but it's got everything you could want. Donald himself is beautifully drawn, full of personality and charm. The movement is solid and smooth and the mallet attack feels suitably meaty.
The levels are now the stuff of clich, what with a water area, a forest, an ice zone and desert, but you can tackle the first three in any order, then the next three in any order, too. The soundtrack is superb and the sense of drama it creates by the time you reach the final level is palpable, followed by some of the most celebratory music ever committed to cartridge. Such a pity the game isn't more readily-available today.
19. Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse (XBLA, PSN, iOS, An)
It's very rare to have something from your childhood remade in a way that's sympathetic to what you remember, but Castle of Illusion's HD redux is exactly that. Some moments, like the leaves in the spiders' webs, look and sound exactly how you remember them although if you go back and play the original now, you'll be amazed at quite how old it feels.
From the over-sized library to the confectionary-filled sweet level, everything is lovingly-rendered and delivered in an organic-looking, non-regimented way. Mickey looks superb in 3D and the scattering of collectible items is challenging enough to be rewarding, but certainly not impossible. Whether you play on PSN or iOS, the experience is the same. This is quality, retro-styled gaming, only modern enough to feel fresh and relevant today. Just a shame the 'bottom bounce' has been replaced with a standard jump attack. Ah well, can't have everything.
18. Mega Man 2 (NES)
Obviously there are many Mega Man games that have a special place in a lot of hearts, but Mega Man 2 is the most iconic. It's also one of the most hardcore platforming experiences around, with ultra-precise and solid controls, fearsome enemy patterns, and carefully rationed upgrades that come to you as you swear your way through screen after screen of chunky scenery.
It also sounds magnificent, with a classic soundtrack made up of bleeps, bloops and fizzes. Forget its actual age, there is a timelessness to Mega Man 2. It's a distillation of the joy of pressing a button to interact with a little sprite on your TV screen. The game design is spectacularly great, with an understanding of timing and challenge far beyond many games, even today.
17. Aladdin (Genesis/Mega Drive)
After Mario and Sonic made platformers THE genre to play, everyone wanted in on the action. By 1993, there was an element of platformer fatigue. But even the biggest critics of the fad would have to concede that Aladdin is a very special video game. With sprites designed by Disney animators themselves, this was as close as you could get to actually playing an animated movie on your home console.
It's the Genesis/Mega Drive version, of course, that we're championing here. The SNES version, while still good, simply doesn't have that authentic feel of the Mega Drive version. With MIDI-fied versions of the feature film's classic songs, technically astonishing collision detection (knives split apples mid-air) and a tonne of gameplay variation, this is how you do a movie tie-in.