Lest we forget, while Mario is responsible largely for the invention of (Donkey Kong) and perfection of (Super Mario Bros) the platforming genre, he is by no means the only character to have good games in said genre. What follows is a list of some of the best platforming games not to feature Mario. To be fair, we are also excluding games that are spun-off from the Mario canon, meaning games featuring Yoshi, Wario, or other somewhat related Mario characters.
Prince of Persia (Multiplatform): This is the original, PC version, not The Sands of Time or related sequels, worthy though they might be as well. The original game involved scaling walls and floors amongst a dungeon, palace, and other environs, and while it wasn’t as twitchy as the Japanese counterparts of its era, it is one of the most singular games of its time, and is largely responsible for what Ubisoft is now.
Metroid Prime (GCN): While most of us usually treat Samus’ 3D adventures as part of the first-person shooter genre, the truth is that in Metroid Prime and its follow-ups, there is far more precision jumping than the average FPS in this package, and the simple fact is that it works far better than it should for the point of view that Metroid Prime espouses. From the Pirate Frigate to the Phendrana Drifts, there is plenty of platforming to be had here.
Mega Man 3 (NES): Singling out any entry in the Mega Man series is difficult, but Mega Man 3 is one of the most polished entries in the series, and it shows. In addition to the eight action-packed stages, there are four additional expanded levels, not to mention the (SPOILERS) Dr. Wily stage at the end. (EVEN MORE SPOILERS) The final battle involves platform jumping as well, as Mega Man must hop onto giant robot Gamma’s arms in order to hop high enough to toss a Search Snake into the robot’s cranium.
Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi (Genesis): All of the Shinobi games are pretty fun, butShadow Dancer upped the ante by including multi-stage platforming, jump-themed bosses, and an awesome dog sidekick, Yamato, who could disable opponents while you sneaked up and attacked them. Plus, to really up the challenge, you could turn off the ability to throw shuriken, maximizing the strategic use of Yamato. Arf!
Klonoa (PSX/Wii): Klonoa: Door to Phantomile— which, as you may recall, was remade for the Wii titled simply as Klonoa — was one of the first “2.5D” platformers to emerge with the upswing in 3D graphics. While most developers were focused on making new 3D games in the vein of Super Mario 64 (which, you’ll recall, is disqualified from the list for starring Mario), Namco went a different way with Klonoa, using the 3D graphics to form a traditional 3D sidescrolling game, while still utilizing visual tricks to show the game’s true 3D depth. The Wii version is one of the most underappreciated gems on the system.
Banjo-Kazooie (N64): Rare was nearly famous for taking Nintendo’s ideas and “aping” them– see Donkey Kong 64— but Banjo-Kazooie was the company’s attempt at “bearing” the formula? Just kidding, that pun was horrible. Anyway, despite all that, the game was pretty fun, featured some unusual characters, as well as Banjo and Kazooie working in tandem to surmount obstacles, and featured the ability for Banjo to transform into other creatures, such as an alligator or a bumblebee– yes, even before Bee Mario!
Rocket Knight Adventures (Genesis): You didn’t really think I’d let an list like this slide without mentioning Rocket Knight Adventures, did you? Yeah. It combines elements of Contra and Gradius, and was directed by the guy who worked on both of those great series (I’m sure Nester64x would agree). It’s funny, charming, and has a new spin on platforming, as Sparkster has a jet pack he can use to ricochet off walls and reach higher areas. There is nothing bad about this game, unless you play it on Hard difficulty, where you have one life and no continues. Don’t worry, in Japan this was called “Crazy Hard” mode and no one tried it there, either.
Kirby: Canvas Curse (DS): This was one of the most oddball platformers of, well, ever. While Kirby games are generally platformers, Canvas Curse changes things up by keeping Kirby out of the player’s direct control. Instead, he is guided haphazardly forward through the ever-so-rounded environs by a tap, then by drawing lines for which Kirby can roll upon. Despite barely being related to the Kirby main series, Canvas Curse is a game that really rolls out the great gameplay. HAH!
The Lost Vikings (Super NES): This was great, and while technically only Erik the Swift was able to jump and do traditional platforming stuff, his brother Olaf could also use his shield to glide off of cliffs, and, lest we forget, there were the numerous anti-gravity machines in the first and last levels. The puzzle-platformer was never more perfected than it was here, and, did you know these guys went on to form Blizzard, which is reponsible for a little thing called World of Warcraft, amongst other things?
A Boy And His Blob (Wii): This game is as close to a masterpiece as games get. The art style is fantastic, the music is superb, and oh, did I mention it’s a platformer. Sure, more of a puzzle-platformer, but the truth is still there, nonetheless. In addition to a small natural jump (which the Boy could not do in the NES version), the Blob also enables a whole bunch of other 2D platforming goodness with items like the Parachute, Trampoline, Bubble, and more. No Wii collection is complete without this game.
And that’s our list! Have your own favorite sans-Mario platformer? Be sure to tell us all about it in the comments!