I love platformers, they take me back to my childhood playing Super Mario Bros. with my sister on our NES, each struggling to reach the next level in the classic Nintendo title and all but whistling the 1-1 tune out of memory months later.
When it came time to pick our genres for the Gamely Giving Gameblast marathon a few months ago, I went with the platformer genre, not only because of how I felt about it but also because it’s a fun genre to watch and usually very family friendly, which was important with my broadcasting shift times.
During the Gamely Giving marathon, I played Super Mario Galaxy 2 and the stage I have in mind is in the Tall Trunk galaxy, the super fun slide, but specifically the one you do once the Comet passes by it. The stage is then not only about going through the already challenging and super-fast slide but to collect 100 purple coins along the way.
It’s extremely fast and hard as nails, and it took me a few tries to get it, but at no point was I frustrated. I was having too much fun.
It was the same with the other platformers I did during the event, with Mekazoo’s fast-paced and hardcore levels, a few of them taking me quite some time to finish, enough to have most likely bored some people. And then by the end of the marathon, Little Big Planet 3, which surprised me on its later levels on how insane it could get.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that I love the Metroidvania genre, as it combines not only platforming but adventure-like exploration and often a high skill cap, meaning some really challenging segments where failure is not only a possibility but almost a certainty until you figure out the right way to approach the challenge.
In the past few months I’ve been desperate for new platformers, specifically the Metroidvania kind, playing through any title that will offer me the experiences I’m looking for, particularly the tricky platforming. I can’t really explain it beyond a simple case of gaming masochism, but I thoroughly enjoy playing through those insane segments in platforming titles where one mistake will cost you deeply.
In the past few months I’ve played through three titles worthy of attention, as they mark all the boxes on my list: Axion Verge, Ori and The Blind Forest and Hollow Knight.
Of these three, Axiom Verge is the closest to Super Metroid and the classic Metroidvania style, yet it’s the simplest in terms of platforming out of the three, with very few tough platforming moments, its challenge mostly coming from the maze-like nature of its environment and the toughness of the combat/action.
But Ori and the Blind Forest and Hollow Knight have earned my admiration on their platforming, putting my skills to the test and forcing me to think ahead, back and out of the box every single time, as the first approach that came to mind for a given sequence was often the wrong one and I had to adapt.
I’ve spoken about Hollow Knight before, and how its combination of genres blew my mind. But when it comes to just the pure platforming joy, Hollow Knight offers such as high level of challenge I must talk about it. There are secrets and content hidden behind some really challenging spots, with thorns around you and acid pits below. You need to dash, cancel it, then double jump towards an enemy and hit it from above to pogo jump to another place, such as spikes and barriers which you can also attack to pogo.
And then there’s the White Castle, the single most brutal platforming segment I have ever seen in a video game so far, at least until Ori in the Blind Forest came into my life. This section pushes your skills to the limit, forcing you to use every platforming talent and skill at your disposal and in creative new ways. There are multiple ways to approach some of the segments but maybe for one your timing must be spot on or get skewered.
It’s especially punishing when you consider that most things in the White Castle will kill you in one go, forcing you to restart from your last checkpoint, or the beginning of the section if you forgot to sit at a bench. And once you’re in the White Castle, you need to make it through to leave. There’s no quitting midway through—at least I didn’t find a way to do it.
But again, I thought this was the hardest things I had played until I got my hands on Ori and the Blind Forest during the last Steam Sale.
I’ll admit something. When the game first released, I judged it prematurely, looking at a few videos and marking it as a cutesy but tame platformer.
I got the cutesy right, but everything else wrong. And even the “cutesy” is not entirely right. The character is indeed cute, but the game itself, its story, presentation and music form what is perhaps one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever played. Just the haunting melody of its intro is enough to move you.
Ori and the Blind Forest’s platforming and action start out simple enough: jump over the gaps, hit the wildlife with some light attacks and move on to the next area. But part of the journey in Ori is finding those other children of the Spirit Tree who came before you, those lost and never recovered. Each of them had a distinct personality and one skill that distinguished them from their brethren. As you absorb their light your skills grow and with that, the platforming complexity rises.
Ori and the Blind Forest’s challenge grows slightly with every new area and skill unlocked, managing to always have areas where to progress you must use all the skills you’ve acquired thus far, sometimes in creative ways.
This is especially true once you unlock the “Bash” ability, which allows you to use projectiles and enemies to propel yourself forward. It’s at that point that the game gets extremely challenging and my only regret is that you only have one area, the Volcano, to fully explore the limits of Ori and the Blind Forest’s difficulty.
Make no mistake though, the area is massively difficult and you don’t only need to use every skill but also time them appropriately, even more so the ‘pause’ that happens when you propel using bash. In one room, I had to use one of my own projectiles to propel myself towards a platform and do it at the exact moment it passes over a lava jet, so I could get on the platform and move on safe from the deadly stream. It took a great number of retries as the timing is incredibly precise.
And you know what? It didn’t matter how many times I failed at these platforming challenges in these games because I was having too much fun. It was joyful to play these games and find my way around the difficult puzzles these platforming rooms were.
One factor for this is the lack of a waiting period between death and retry. There aren’t any long loading periods. You simply die, respawn a second or two later and you’re ready to go. Hollow Knight is the most punishing in this regard as you lose your current currency count until or unless you recover it along the way from your “corpse” in the Dark Souls style.
In doing so, it adds more tension to the platforming as the chance of failure might mean you’ll have to recover your lost property in the middle of the platforming section—though generally Hollow Knight is generous with where it places the spirit.
I have now finished these two games and sadly find myself in a drought of good platforming and metroidvania. Hopefully the handful of titles I bought on the steam sale will help fill that gap, even though I suspect none of them will reach the masterful level of challenge that Hollow Knight and Ori and the Blind Forest brought to me.
How about you? What’s your favourite challenging platforming video game? Have you tried Ori and the Blind Forest and Hollow Knight? If so, what are your thoughts on it? Let me know in the comments and if you have any suggestion on a good Metroidvania game I can get, no matter the platforming, I urge you to tell me.