Platformers, especially the more mechanically pure entries in the genre, seem to be going somewhat out of fashion these days, but 2014 wasn't without a few gems, as this list shows...
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
What we said: Others have reviewed this one pretty highly.
What we said: LEGO Batman 3's irrepressible love for the universe and amazing attention to detail make for an essential DC experience, but the gameplay feels like a step sideways and even backwards for the LEGO series.
What we said: LittleBigPlanet 3 is an impressive game, stuffed with more imagination than ever before, and presented in a manner that makes user creation supremely accessible even as the toolset deepens. Though the Adventure mode is sadly short-lived, and the platform differences are fairly negligible, LBP 3 will surely prove to be a must-have game for PlayStation or series newcomers this winter.
What we said: Never Alone manages to overcome its technical hiccups with an enchanting setting supported with a pair of adorable characters and some interesting cultural insights into the Iñupiat community. The basic puzzle/platforming gameplay is family-friendly and works even better when played in co-op.
What we said: Dodgy pricing aside, there’s a lot to enjoy in this remake that is remarkably faithful to the original, while implementing new features that actively improve the experience. The game’s as challenging as ever, but it’s hard to resist trying to save every modoken from the clutches of the glukkons. Fingers crossed JAW are working on the second game already.
What we said: Shovel Knight is a nigh-perfect retro throwback that manages to go beyond nostalgia by being a legitimately exquisite platformer in its own right. We're thrilled that it finally made its way to Europe after a staggered launch.
What we said: Futurlabs have nailed two genres here with retro side-scrolling shoot em’ ups and platforming thrown together to fantastic effect. Play the game at speed and you’ll struggle to find a slicker experience on your PS4.
Winner: Shovel Knight
It's not enough to simply slap on some 8-bit graphics and hope that one's hipster indie platformer can make it through on aesthetic nostalgia alone. We expect more than misty-eyed whimsy, and Shovel Knight delivered in spades (pun absolutely intended) this year. The simplicity of the graphics and the setup served to underline one thing that many modern platformers seem to forget: gameplay and design are everything.
With Shovel Knight that means simple, effective controls that allow for experimentation. The titular shovel is a tool that allows for an array of motions and movements, when it comes to both attacking and evading; enemies come thick and fast, varied in range and type and risk presented; and then there are the epic boss battles too. Shovel Knight is the glorious lovechild of Dark Souls and Super Mario World, hell you even have to pick up gold from your corpse after you die. And you will die.
Shovel Knight missed out on a big audience because it released on Nintendo's platforms and PC only, but it remains the best platformer of the year -- a game that manages to blend old sensibilities with new, fresh ideas, paying homage to the finest platformers of yesteryear with a backwards-looking but forward-thinking romp of exceptional quality.