Feature Article

Which Nintendo Platformer Is Right For You?

There's more than one way to jump.

Nintendo's consoles are littered with platformers. And not only are there scores of games that focus on navigating 2D worlds, but they often sport a cartoony, family-friendly aesthetic that makes it difficult to distinguish one from another at a glance. Seriously, is there a major difference between Mario and Donkey Kong? They do both run from left to right, after all, and have a penchant for jumping. They're practically clones! Well, I don't buy into that reductionist belief one bit. Nintendo's franchises each fill a different gaming need, so I happily play new offerings to see what direction my favorite characters will go next.

So let's explore how Nintendo's four biggest platforming series compare to each other, and figure out which one to play depending on your gaming mood.

Super Mario Bros.

  • Super Mario World
  • New Super Mario Bros. Wii
  • New Super Mario Bros. U

The quintessential platforming franchise has remained true to what it first represented almost 30 years ago. The predominant appeal comes from the sheer joy of movement that Nintendo has injected into every one of these koopa-bashing adventures. Mario has a gravity-defying jump so you can bound effortlessly on top of goomba heads and across cavernous expanses. In-air control lets you adjust Mario's placement down to the pixel, and such free-flowing acrobatics just make me smile. Nothing defines Mario more than his incredible movement, and that is the core reason I've spent so many hours playing his many games.

We see Nintendo highlight this strength through the varied suits that each game employs. Soaring through the air with the cape in Super Mario World is still one of my favorite things to do in any game, and the squirrel suit in New Super Mario Bros. U furthers the argument that Mario is at his best far above the ground. It's in the strongest games that we see level design that forces you to take advantage of Mario's prodigious talents. Pulling off a precise series of leaps is eminently rewarding, so much so that we still love each new addition even after all these years.

Who is this for: Everyone! Seriously, Mario games are so empowering, and so freeing, that anyone who wants to bounce through imaginative locales will love spending time in the Mushroom Kingdom.

Donkey Kong Country

  • Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest
  • Donkey Kong Country Returns
  • Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

If Donkey Kong Country has taught me anything, it's that gorillas aren't nearly as agile as humans. Oh, and they look better in neckwear than I ever could. Unlike Super Mario Bros., Donkey Kong's movement is so heavy, so methodical, that the appeal must come from something outside of the core action. And the strength of Donkey Kong Country is firmly in its level design. We first saw how impressive stage construction could offset limited movement back in Donkey Kong Country 2. Expansive locales rewarded anyone willing to venture off the beaten path, and the collectibles dotting the landscapes weren't needless busywork, but tokens proving our cunning.

Retro Studios has taken over development duties from Rare, though the switch hasn't affected the focus of the franchise. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze contains some of the most masterful, varied, and downright exciting levels that I have ever seen. Even something as seemingly mundane as mine carting has been elevated because of how expertly each element has been placed. We use the term "roller-coaster ride" far too often to explain thrilling sequences in games, but no term better fits the events of these fantastic stages. Throw in consistently amazing visual design and a top-notch score, and it's easy to understand why Donkey Kong Country has remained as popular as it has for so many games.

Who is this for: Are you methodical? Do you find it difficult to connect to plumbers? Then Donkey Kong Country is the franchise for you. Oh, and if you're one of those people who listens to gaming music when you're doing other things, point your ears toward these soundtracks.

Yoshi's Island

  • Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island
  • Yoshi's Story
  • Yoshi's Island DS

Even though Yoshi's Island was first categorized as a sequel to Super Mario World, it's so different from its progenitor that it soon became clear that it's a separate franchise. So why would you spend time on board Yoshi instead of venturing forth in another platformer? Because of the aesthetics, of course. There's nothing else that looks quite like Yoshi's Island. By employing coloring-book sensibilities, it creates a world that evokes a familiar feeling of childlike joy. And that feeling is further communicated through the docile action sequences. Unlike Mario Bros. and Donkey Kong Country, Yoshi's adventures steer away from dexterous challenges. It's the fanciful visuals that draw you in, the eye-catching worlds that keep you invested.

In many ways, Yoshi's Island works as an entry-level platformer for those who have never mastered the precise demands of its more challenging counterparts. That's why its impressive artistic design defines it. Your attention is focused more on how the game looks than how it plays, and Yoshi's Island uses that fact to showcase some truly fantastic set designs. The levels work as guided tours that let you experience all of the lovely sights, and a catchy musical score keeps you humming along as you bop toward the finish line. This sightseeing focus is taken too far in Yoshi's New Island at times, though the better offerings provide just enough engagement from an action perspective to keep you from growing bored as you stroll through the many worlds.

Who is this for: Video games are hard. What with all the button presses and stick wiggling, a person can be overwhelmed in a pinch. But Yoshi's Island? It welcomes everyone. Warm your icy heart in the colorful worlds of this lovely franchise.

Kirby's Adventure

  • Kirby's Return to Dreamland
  • Kirby: Squeak Squad
  • Kirby Super Star

Kirby looks more like a monster than a hero, and his actions only further the argument that he's not natural. But the main draw of his many games stems from his horrific talents. That pink blob can inhale the many baddies that populate his world, but unlike Yoshi, who merely turns his enemies into eggs, he absorbs their souls. Well, maybe not their souls, but at least he devours their powers. And so you venture through each stage with the intent of inhaling the many feeble foes to see what new abilities you can add to your repertoire.

Such a unique draw forces you to look inward. The emphasis of Kirby's games is on the versatile protagonist instead of the many background elements. Experimentation feeds your determination as you realize the strengths and weaknesses that come with each power. And because so much of Kirby's appeal is built upon the varied abilities you earn, each sequel has a ready-made hook that quickly communicates exactly why you should once again embody that marshmallow puff. With new enemies, there's the inherent promise of new powers, and seeing what else Kirby is capable of is reason enough to face off against King Dedede one more time.

Who is this for: Kirby rewards those who love to experiment. Mixing between elemental attacks or juggling weapon types ensures that there's tons of variety in both traversal and combat, so these games are ideal for anyone who wants to dictate progress on their own terms.

Spin-offs

  • Kirby: Canvas Curse
  • Super Princess Peach
  • Wario Land: Shake It

Just about every mainline entry in these franchise has been worth playing, and they're often borderline classics. However, we're a jaded bunch, so Nintendo has to keep things fresh or else we would soon grow tired of the expected. That's where spin-offs come in. By throwing familiar characters into unexpected endeavors, we keep them in our hands alongside our hearts, and we're even more eager to dive into the next proper sequel. It's one of smartest strategies that Nintendo has. By turning Luigi from a platforming star into a ghostbuster (hello, Luigi's Mansion!) or letting your control Donkey Kong by banging on a drum (I miss you, Jungle Beat), we're given a new look at old franchises.

So, Nintendo does have lots of games starring their lovable mascots, but they fit so many different needs, and come in so many different forms, than they've been able to stay fresh even as the decades roll by.

Written By

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Kirby: Triple Deluxe

Discussion

103 comments
fadersdream
fadersdream

God, if there is a Pro-Nintendo discussion it will always be McShea.

There will always be SOMEONE trying to sale you a Beta Max or a Rotary phone.

hotdiddykong
hotdiddykong

They are unique in their aspects, which makes them all fun honestly.

Yoshi especially is one of the more bizarre cases, he has been in more obscure games than anyone else in terms of his own games. Each Yoshi's Island varies and his other games like Topsy Turvy and Yoshi Story are flat out bizarre. 

Im frankly anxious about Yarn Yoshi.

kwaleed232
kwaleed232

ALL of them are awesome

solid platforming

gametastic games

pure fun ...

Halloll
Halloll

Wario Land 4, seriously that game is awesome.

PyreofKoL
PyreofKoL

It's a toss up between Super Mario Bros 3 and Super Mario 3D World. SMB 3 is just...it's the definition of a classic. Very few platformers can compare to it in size, it still looks beautiful even today, and I adore the soundtrack. Super Mario 3D World is a great nod to every previous Mario platformer. They took the best of all of it and put in SM3DW and created something amazing. It's hard to choose between the two.

Cellpwn
Cellpwn

I haven't played Tropical Freeze yet but the original Donkey Kong Country trilogy blows Returns out of the water. Those games still hold up today and the soundtracks are fantastic.

redmario217
redmario217

Super Mario Bros. - Super Mario Bros. 3, New Super Mario Bros., Super Mario World

Kirby - Kirby's Return to Dream Land, Kirby's Adventure, Kirby's Dream Land 3


I will look forward to play Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze (which is out now) and Kirby's Triple Deluxe.

abHS4L88
abHS4L88

While Kirby seems to be the least well received of the bunch, Kirby 2D platformers are my absolute favorite from Nintendo. I've played a few 2D Mario games and never finished a single one (except Super Mario Land 2 on the Gameboy), love the 3D platformers though, I tried Donkey Kong Country Returns (and sort of played through Country) but never got into it, although I am considering getting Tropical Freeze later on. I'll try Yoshi's Island when it comes to Virtual Console but I don't really care for Yoshi's Island DS. Even though Kirby games are easier than Mario and Donkey Kong, I like the puzzle solving element and the ability stealing mechanics of the games, plus Kirby's adorable :D

19James89
19James89

I try to like Tom McShea, but I find it difficult when all he does is type through his ring piece.

Dieknochenblume
Dieknochenblume

Kirby Superstar 8 games in 1 for the SNES is simply awesome. You had a lot of different types of platformers in a single cartridge, with Kirby playing quite different in each one. 

Mario entertains me, DK Country marveled me to no end, but that Kirby game totally rocked my world. It was co-op before co-op came to all the other Nintendo platformers.

Anthrizacks
Anthrizacks

"Who is this for: Video games are hard. What with all the button presses and stick wiggling, a person can be overwhelmed in a pinch. But Yoshi's Island? It welcomes everyone. Warm your icy heart in the colorful worlds of this lovely franchise."

Clearly this person hasn't played Yoshi's Island DS. That game is hard.

RSM-HQ
RSM-HQ

I always found Mario or Kirby to be my personal favourites. Liked the variety of abilities.

AuronAXE
AuronAXE

My mind flashes back to when Tom McShea was trying out OOT 3DS and didn't know how to activate Gohma's boss battle.

krbrown10
krbrown10

I cannot express how much I enjoyed this article, but I can try.  


I have been getting so sick and repulsed by all the negative articles towards Nintendo, when they are trying so hard to bring positive content to an otherwise negative industry.  When I play Nintendo, I feel like a kid again, but not from the nostalgia factor that people like to throw around.  I legitimately feel like a kid.  All those bright alive colors, lovable, adorable, and personable characters. The lively, joyful soundtracks that wash away the stresses of work, the stresses of raising a family, and the stresses of all the shit that is happening in politics.  And this is such a good thing. Because when we were kids we lived, we loved unconditionally, we played, we laughed, we ran, we sang, without a care in the world, without a flicker of despair.  


Read any positive Nintendo article and you will notice the same feelings coming through with almost all of the comments (minus the occasional troll) and this is an amazing moment.  We need to bring positive back into the gaming media, so that our community can grow and be something truely special.


Once again THANK YOU TOM ...this was a breath of fresh air.  

SloganYams
SloganYams

Why couldn't Tom McShea have reviewed Tropical Freeze? From his praises, it sounds like he would've given it the score it really deserved (9).

gameboy8877
gameboy8877

I really think that Wario Land should have warranted its own section in this article, as it actually has more titles than Yoshi's Island (6:4 if you include Story) and spinoffs like Master of Disguise. Besides being very dear to me, its also incredibly unique in the genre, and Wario Land 3 may be one of the greatest platformers of all time!


But a fantastic article, Tom! I'm glad to hear your thoughts on Tropical Freeze and just for anyone to talk up the 2D platformer in this way. What a beautiful and varied genre it is! Can't get enough of it!

Daian
Daian

I'm kinda tired of most 2D Nintendo platformers, I did however enjoy the Galaxy games.

LinkLuigi
LinkLuigi

People keep saying that Yoshi's Island (the first one) was easy, but that isn't really the case. That game did difficulty right - you could breeze through it, but more dedicated gamers could gain extra challenge by collecting all of the collectibles per level. Finding 20 red coins, gathering all 5 flowers, hell, avoid getting hit. And your reward? Hellishly difficult levels that expanded the gameplay.


That is how you make a platformer accessible to all gamer types.

el_marto2003
el_marto2003

donkey kong country  games are best nintendo 2D platformer in my opinion. Mario has the best 3D platforming games, but the combination of the outstanding music, the challenging levels and the gorgeous level designs, make DKC games the best in its genre. I honestly think tropical freeze is better than returns. 

There are stages that are so fun, and where the music is so enjoyable (world 3 for example), that you just want to play them over and over.

Rotondi
Rotondi

I took a break from platformers for awhile. A big break. A break of that kit kat bar. Then I played both recent Rayman games and liked them, they were both solid. But tropical freeze is on another level and has made me fall in love with the genre all over again.

bunchanumbers
bunchanumbers

my favorites were

Super Mario 2 (marios dream version)

New Super Mario Bros.

Donkey Kong Country


As much as I wish I could say I got into Kirby when I was younger I can't. I know people swear by him, and he's adorable but something about swallowing your enemies and absorbing their powers is a bit unwholesome.


adsparky
adsparky

Mine are:

Super Mario World

Diddy's Kong Quest

Yoshi's Island

In that order, I love the SNES; almost all the platformers in it were good, the disney ones were awesome too.


EasyComeEasyGo
EasyComeEasyGo

Question Tom. Why on earth did you not include DK N64? DK on Nintendo 64 was one of the last great DK game made by Rare that I feel it should've been on your list and not only that, I had fun with that game but trying to find the tag barrols were a pain and the but I had fun with it and it took me 3 months to beat it. [only because I was still in school at the time] DK N64 will be remember as one of Rares last DK game they made. I still dig the DK Rap lol.

amaneuvering
amaneuvering

  • Super Mario World (by a country mile)
  • Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
  • Super Mario Bros. 2: Yoshi's Island (by a billion miles)
  • Kirby Triple Deluxe (F**K knows why that isn't on your list)
  • Wario Land: Shake It

Karlinel
Karlinel

@PyreofKoL  I hate Mario and dislike anything Nintendo, and even I have to admit that SMB3 was amazing & impressive. 3D Mario games are not up to it, simply.

gordanchoong
gordanchoong

@abHS4L88  What is great about Donkey Kong is the asthetics and gameplay, but that makes up for its brutal difficulty and unforgivingness towards the player. Mario has creative level design but bad asthetics. Kirby has great asthectics and gamplay, but the level design and diffuculty is way too simple.

TomMcShea
TomMcShea moderator

@AuronAXE I don't think I've ever played the 3D update to Ocarina.

gordanchoong
gordanchoong

@SloganYams  Maybe because Gamespot likes to troll people by purposely giving games that people hate in order to give them a negative review maybe?

gordanchoong
gordanchoong

@gameboy8877  Super Mario Land 3: Wario Land, Wario Virtual Boy, WarioWare: Micro Games, WarioWare: Mega Micro-Games, WarioWare DIY, Wario-Land:Shake It!, WarioWare: Smooth Moves, and also Game & Wario are all the games i know of when it comes to the WarioWare franchise.

Poodger
Poodger

@Daian The Galaxy games are the only Mario games I have ever truly disliked.

nl_skipper
nl_skipper

@LinkLuigi   Exactly how I remember Yoshi's Island on the SNES.  Not that difficult to complete, but getting 100% on each level was impressive!

arrow2thekneeXD
arrow2thekneeXD

Yupp. Nintendo needs to use DK Tropical freeze as the base for all their platformers.Challenging,anazing art,and incredible music.

Daian
Daian

@Rotondi  I think most people would agree that recent Rayman games are far better than the underwhelming Tropical Freeze.

gordanchoong
gordanchoong

@bunchanumbers  Mine were Super Mario World, Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, Super Mario Galaxy, Super Mario 3D Land, and Super Mario 3D World. The New! Super Mario bros. games just sucked and weren't as great as the originals on the NES, GameBoy, and the SNES altogether. And I haven't played much of the original and arcade Mario games, so I won't know if i like them or not. I also like Donkey Kong Country, Donkey Kong Country 2, Donkey Kong 64, Donkey Kong Country Returns, and even Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. I also like playing Sonic and I've played almost every single Sonic game on the Genesis and some on the Saturn; they were Sonic The Hedgehog, Sonic The Hedgehog 2, Sonic The Hedgehog 3, Sonic & Knuckles, Sonic 3 & Knuckles, Sonic 2 & Knuckles, Sonic 3D Blast, Sonic Spinball, and Dr.Robotnik's MeanBean Machine. I also played Sonic The Hedgehog 4: Episode I and Sonic & Sega-All Stars Racing. I just got Sonic Colors and trying that out once I beat Mario Kart Wii.

TomMcShea
TomMcShea moderator

@EasyComeEasyGo This piece was just about 2D platformers. So I didn't include Super Mario Galaxy, Donkey Kong 64, or any other alternate series.


Also, I somehow never played DK64. It's crazy considering Rare is my favorite developer and I adored the N64. I was waiting for it to come to the VC but it never did.

deadpen
deadpen

@faizanhd No (well 2 sort of was) but that is why I have "piss on this 2d crap" cause platformer games have become the CoD of their design.

gordanchoong
gordanchoong

@Karlinel Why do you hate Mario though? I understand why you hate Nintendo. I used to love Nintendo back in the day of the Nintendo 64 and Game-Cube! Now that they made the Wii and WiiU, I'm beginning to lose faith and dislike Nintendo as I am now open to Sony and Microsoft's products now.

abHS4L88
abHS4L88

@gordanchoong

For some reason, challenging 2D platformers don't resonate that well with me, I do enjoy them, but not as much as challenging 3D platformers. I know Kirby games have traditionally been pretty easy but I think that because it's more action focused along with the abilities, is why I enjoy it more than Donkey Kong and 2D Mario games. Also I get tired of "trial & error" type gameplay, which is a lot of what challenging 2D platformers rely on.

gordanchoong
gordanchoong

@TomMcShea Oh damn, the moderator arrives! I chhose you ReviewTech USA and challenge you to a Pokemon battle!

abHS4L88
abHS4L88

@Daian

That's what you think, but don't act like your opinion matches the majority. The user score for both Donkey Kong games are higher than both Rayman games (and yes, I considered all platforms the Rayman games are on).

Laki-Magi
Laki-Magi

@TomMcShea @EasyComeEasyGo  It's not completely surprising, since DK64 was one of those games that required the expansion pak, and I think it came with it so it was extra expensive.

Sepewrath
Sepewrath

@deadpen @faizanhd Whatever your on, you need to lay off it. The 2D platformer is one of the last(and still most substantial) bastions of creativity in the industry. 

abHS4L88
abHS4L88

@deadpen

Uh hardly, unless you approach every 2D game as a game where all you do is run and jump then I guess. Tom explains clearly how different each of these games are from each other, all while still being 2D platformers, have very different things that make them appealing. 


If you dislike 2D platformers, why are you on this article?