These five games show how the PC is a great platform for platformers

Articles: Gaming
Nov 07, 2020 Written by:Eric Born

I’m a little late to this party, but I’ve been learning this last month that there’s an absolute wealth of great platformers available on PC. Call it stubbornness, but I used to ignore any game that I couldn’t play comfortably with my trusty mouse and keyboard. But game after game launched where a controller was a superior choice: Ori and the Will of the Wisps. Microsoft Flight Simulator. Star Wars: Squadrons. I finally gave in a few weeks ago and purchased an Xbox controller, and it’s totally changed my gaming habits. I’m digging into platformers like a ‘90s kid who just got a Super Nintendo for Christmas, and it’s been an absolute blast. Here are a few of my favorites thus far.

In Dead Cells, dead doesn’t mean gone

Back when I was kid, games had no chill when it came to player deaths. Run out of lives? Game over, man. Game over! Start all over again, and don’t screw up this time. You’ll still find a title or two out there that’s just as merciless as those classics, but there’s also a growing list of games that rethink the entire death mechanic.


Image source: Gamesplanet

One of those is Dead Cells. In it, your character is a pile of re-animated cells. You can’t die, but the body that you inhabit for each run can. As you hack and slash your way through the game’s levels, you’ll find new weapons to wield against your enemies. Sooner or later, your host will probably die, and you’ll lose your gear and have to start over with a fresh body.

You won’t be back to square one, though. Throughout each run, you’ll collect cells that you can turn in for weapon drops, buffs, and skills that persist even after death. You’re always getting more powerful, even when you die. That makes for a satisfying progression, even when you keep running up against a boss that you can’t quite take down.

Thanks to the magic of procedural generation, the levels are never the same between deaths. You’ll never just blast through one on muscle memory. That joy of exploration, of finding a new treasure chest, of deploying a new strategy against a roomful of enemies, never goes away.

With its ever-changing levels and constant character progression, Dead Cells rewards experimentation. What’s the worst that can happen? There’s always a new body lying around to take over, so you always feel free to pick a new weapon or try a new approach.

Ori and the Blind Forest is a masterclass in game design

As far as I can tell, there are only two kinds of people in the world: people who love Ori and the Blind Forest, and people who haven’t played it yet. Okay, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but it’s close enough to the truth. Ori is to platformers what Spirited Away is to feature-length anime: a modern classic that takes the raw materials of the genre and elevates them to fine art.


Image source: Gamesplanet

What makes it stand out? I could start with its gorgeous visuals and captivating soundtrack. Right from the start, painstakingly illustrated panoramas fill the screen. You play as Ori, a guardian spirit who fell as a newborn from the Spirit Tree during a violent storm. Experience it on an ROG monitor with a local dimming backlight if at all possible, because Ori makes vivid use of contrast to draw your attention across the screen and to your glowing white protagonist. Orchestral music brings out the emotional depth in the story as you meet and then lose your adopted mother. As in a good Pixar movie, you’re emotionally invested right from the start.

For me, the make-or-break point for any platformer is the quality of its controls, and Ori is as good as any out there. As a spirit, your character dances lightly and quickly across the screen, yet there’s none of the “floatiness” that can plague the genre. Ori’s jumps feel like jumps, not ridiculous feats of levitation that send you careening unpredictably.


Image source: Gamesplanet

One key design choice makes this quite the accessible game. Instead of fixed checkpoints, the game gives you the freedom to make your own. As you explore, you’ll find energy cells that you can use to make a Soul Link wherever you like. This saves the game and provides a checkpoint that you’ll return to upon death. The energy cells are a limited resource, so you do need to place the Soul Links prudently.

Time will tell, but it’s looking like Ori and the Blind Forest is my breakaway favorite of all the games in this list. I just can’t praise its artwork, gameplay, and story highly enough. Don’t miss out on this one.

Hollow Knight stands with the best of the genre

I’m jealous of anyone who has the opportunity to play Super Metroid for the first time. I vividly remember the sense of isolation and danger as I took my first steps on an apparently uninhabited planet, followed by the growing realization of just how much there was to explore, of all the secrets hidden in its labyrinthine corridors. And the mounting terror of my first plunge into the lava-filled depths of Norfair to hunt down Ripley? All these elements made my first run through that legendary game an unforgettable experience.

I’ll never get to play Super Metroid for the first time all over again, but I’m getting the same vibes from Hollow Knight. It dropped me into the ruins of Hallownest, an ancient underground kingdom. There’s a rich and interesting story hidden within, but it’s not one that I learn through enforced cutscenes. Instead, the game slowly rewards me with secrets as I explore. What disaster befell this land? What called my hero here? Why do I have horns on my head? After a few hours of exploration, I have more questions than answers, but I’m eager to learn more.

What I do have right from the start is an excellent melee combat system that rewards patient observation of enemies and well-timed directional strikes. I’ve faced off against a bewildering array of bug-like creatures, and I know I haven’t even scratched the surface of Hollow Knight’s bestiary. Large bosses with unique attack mechanics lurk around unexpected corners. Battles with these fearsome creatures are regular events, not infrequent interruptions. Hallownest is such a large world, though, that if a particular enemy causes me so much trouble that I can almost always find a different direction to explore as I improve my skills and prepare for the next bout.

Hollow Knight isn’t an easy game by any stretch, but it does have one mechanic that takes the frustration out of the process of learning its systems. Slain enemies drop a resource called Soul. At any time, players can pause and channel Soul to recover health. When I find myself badly wounded after a tough encounter, I just take a quick swing through some easier passages, build up Soul to recover my health, and circle back to keep progressing.

Carrion is a gruesome romp like none other

I have a weakness for games that let me take on the role of the bad guy. Whether I’m romping as the vampire Alucard through Dracula’s castle in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night or channeling my inner Sith Lord in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, I always jump at the opportunity to play the villain.


Image source: Gamesplanet

That’s why I’m having such a blast with Carrion. You play as an amorphous nightmare of tentacles and gaping mouths as it rampages through an underground laboratory. Movement is sheer unfettered joy. Push the left stick in any direction you please, and tentacle arms will automatically extend to drag your increasing bulk wherever you want to go—no jump button necessary.


Image source: Gamesplanet

The movement controls and animations are extraordinary, but it’s the endlessly creative opportunities for carnage that keep me glued to the screen. Initially, you take down enemies by grabbing them with a tentacle and slamming them repeatedly on the walls. Eat their broken bodies piece by piece, and you’ll grow in strength. As the game progresses, you’ll add new skills to your toolkit, such as the ability to shoot webs and trap your victims from a distance. By the game’s end, you’ll be parasitically controlling your victims to engineer satisfying takedowns. Within moments of loading this game, I was giggling like Dr. Evil. If you also have a taste for villainy, get this game in your library.

Embrace failure in the punishing yet glorious Super Meat Boy

In Super Meat Boy, you are a cube of raw meat that leaves smears of blood on every surface you touch. Its “story” is ridiculous and delightful all at once. Your girlfriend, a bandage, has been abducted by a monocle-and-tuxedo-wearing fetus in a bottle. Your mission is to rescue your beloved in level after level, only to see her whisked away at your moment of triumph.


Image source: Gamesplanet

The story has its laugh-out-loud moments, but Super Meat Boy’s main attraction is its downright devious level design. The game is a parade of infuriating difficulty, a series of small rooms densely packed with spinning saw blades, broken needles, and fiery pits. It’s a compendium of all the dirty platforming tricks that ever made you throw down your controller in exasperated rage, and it’s an absolute blast.

How is that possible? First, you have no “lives” in Super Meat Boy. You can retry a level as many times as you want, no restart required. Second, the game doesn’t reload levels between deaths. Should you die, your hero disintegrates into meaty bits and then immediately appears back at the start of the level, ready to fling himself back into the fray. There’s absolutely no downtime between failure and trying again.

Best of all, there’s an incredible moment at the end of every level. When you finally reach your lady-love and the level ends, you get to watch all of your attempts through the level—simultaneously. Did you make it through in one attempt? You’ll get to rewatch your brilliant acrobatic feat. Did you make through on your hundredth attempt? You’ll get to behold a crowd of 99 Meat Boys fling themselves to their doom in a glorious red splatter of gore, all the while one victorious cube of meat wall-jumps his way to soggy victory.


These are just a few of the excellent platformers available on the PC platform. If I didn’t write about your favorite here, that’s only because I have a long list of intriguing titles yet to play. If you have a hankering for some old-school side-scrolling action, grab yourself a controller and get started. There’s a world of adventure ahead of you.