The side-scroller was once the gold standard visual style in gaming. Platformers, adventure games and even some great puzzlers were done in a side-scrolling format.
Then came the Nintendo 64 and the era of 3D gaming on home consoles. Side-scrollers became a sign of age, outdatedness and niche, unfortunately. Now, this current generation of machines steps up to the plate. Side-scrollers, both on the Wii and downloadable marketplaces, are enjoying a great resurgence in popularity.
That explains the idea for this list. Is it definitive? No. But these are what I would consider the 10 best side-scrollers for this console generation.
Muramasa: The Demon Blade
Out of this whole list, I assume that this little Wii title is probably the most unexpected entry. Yes, this space probably could have been occupied by several other of your favorite games that I’m ignoring, but understand that Muramasa was an exceptionally under-supported product.
This sequel did everything from the original and more. Hop into the community section of the game and play some of the best rated levels to get an idea of what spirited design and platforming can be. The controls are a bit wonky, but the creativity factor wins out in the end.
Built using the Unreal Engine, Shadow Complex is a well made side-scroller that harkens back to classics like Metroid. Unlocks are needed to advance the story, and Chair Entertainment (the studio responsible for the production) were clever enough to create all sorts of hidden paths and extra goodies for those that wanted to explore.
Donkey Kong Country Returns
This, and one other game on the list, mark Nintendo’s return to past glories. The Wii hit a major drought in software two or three years ago. Nintendo addressed that game absence at 2010’s E3 when they unveiled a train of revitalized classics that included Kirby and Donkey Kong Country Returns.
While this game is a challenging blast from start to finish, it also serves as one of the last strong titles before the next surge of dry gaming. Nintendo needs to release more side-scrollers like this.
Limbo is beautiful. This once Xbox LIVE Arcade exclusive won downloadable game of the year from several gaming coverage outlets across print and online platforms. The story was darkly inspiring, the gameplay was treacherously difficult (for relying so much on trial and error) and the art design was superb.
Limbo haunted its players, and it’s a masterwork for it.
Ms. ‘Splosion Man
‘Splosion Man was Twisted Pixel’s first breakout hit. It became a cult classic within weeks of its release and has since gone on to garner tons of critical acclaim. I chose Ms. ‘Splosion Man because, in my opinion, it does everything the original did except bigger, smoother and faster.
If you’re a fan of the franchise, then you know those three qualities are some of its best.
Braid serves as one of the smartest, well designed, twisted and pretty 2D platformers to come out in, well, ever. The puzzle-based gameplay coupled with plot surprises make it an unforgettable experience.
Mega Man 9
Keep the classic graphics, up the difficulty and add an insane roster of Achievements and Trophies to make this entry in the classic Mega Man franchise a pure standout. Mega Man 9 whipped out the gaming genre dictionary and redefined what it means to be a classic revisitation.
This was absolutely one of the best side-scrollers to drop this generation. Castle Crashers is hilarious and addictive, two things that combine to make the game a must own for anyone with friends. Yep, the co-op here pushed the experience over the top and made it an indie smash.
New Super Mario Bros. Wii
Nintendo’s triumphant return to the side-scrolling platform genre starred Mario, Luigi and two versions of Toad. Why they didn’t go with Waluigi and Wario, I’ll never understand. The story is absent, the levels can be challenging and the atmosphere is top notch.
Honorable Mention: Kirby’s Epic Yarn, Bionic Commando: Re-armed and Super Meat Boy.
What did I miss?