Good luck – you’ll need it for Celeste
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Games

The hardest 2D platformers in the world right now

We’re in the midst of a 2D platform game renaissance, so here’s a cherry-picked selection of seven diamond-hard titles to jump into.
By Mick Fraser
Updated on
With 2020 set to see the much-anticipated release of Super Meat Boy Forever, the return of Team Meat's monstrously tough twitch platform series, we've gathered the 2D platformers that'll have you tearing your hair out, when you're not grinning from ear to ear. Here are the brilliant, brutal titles you should check out now.

Towerfall: Ascension

Screenshot of a level on TowerFall Ascension
Ready for a challenge with TowerFall Ascension?
Towerfall is an action-platform game that sees you jumping around trying to avoid traps while killing enemies and other players with a single arrow. Every time you fire it, you have to go and retrieve it if you want to use it again, which can be incredibly difficult in itself, even without all the lethal hazards.
Levels wrap, so passing through one edge of the screen will transition you to the other side, a mechanic that can be both very useful and brutally efficient at ending your life when you leap away from one hazard and land face-first on another that you just didn’t see. Towerfall has a cutesy, retro aesthetic, but it’s a frantic, maddeningly hard little demon that has tested the structural integrity of many a controller since its release.

Cursed Castilla EX

Screenshot of characters meeting in Cursed Castilla EX.
Be a brave knight in Cursed Castilla EX
Any game heavily inspired by Capcom’s legendary Super Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts is going to be a punishing exercise and Cursed Castilla EX is as devilishly unforgiving as you’d expect. Originally a PC title that came to PS4 at the end of 2016, it casts you as a brave knight sent on a quest to a land of monsters and castles and dungeons and... actually, who cares? The point is that everything wants to kill you and most of it will succeed.
This is retro gameplay at its best, with clever level design and some great boss fights that will really push your skills and patience to their limits. As was the case with Capcom’s own medieval adventures, Cursed Castilla EX is not for the faint of heart.

N++

Screenshot of a level in N++.
Take on N++'s physics-based puzzles
Easily one of the hardest games released in the last few years, N++ is also one of the most meticulously designed and well-executed challenges available on any platform. As much a physics-based puzzle-game as it is a fast-paced platformer, N++ sees your ninja-in-training navigating deadly, sparsely decorated levels in which the goal is always simple: hit a button to open a door, and then reach the door to continue.
The difficulty comes from just how much there is to think about at any given time. Not only is your ninja such a slave to the laws of physics that you’ll need to perfectly plan every jump and dash, but the stages are filled with looping enemies, traps and obstacles that will often kill you with a single touch. As a result, you’ll spend as much time swearing and wondering why you like it so much as you will actually playing and improving your skills.

Rain World

Running a fine line between challenging and outright cruel, Rain World looks like Ori & the Blind Forest filtered through Tim Burton’s brain. In it, you play as a weird, white, slug-like cat who must make it through increasingly deadly areas wherein everything wants to eat you. In between all the jumping, ducking and running (or slithering), you need to find safe places for the cat to hibernate and food to sustain it.
Death can come from anywhere, and it’s rarely sign-posted because enemy placement is a random thing. Insta-death and uphill difficulty would be fine, if not for the fact that save-points are sparse and failure will often see you replaying whole areas again. As you probably fluked through them the first time, this eventually becomes incredibly frustrating. But it’s beautiful, so if you’re anything like us, you’ll just keep going back.

SpeedRunners

Part platformer, part racing game, tinyBuild’s SpeedRunners is intended to be played with friends, but whether in a group or having a quick bash all by your lonesome, it’s a steep challenge.
A side-scrolling 'running man' game, SpeedRunners is all about timing, as you sprint from one side of the map and back again, sliding under or jumping over obstacles, hook-shotting across hazards and trying to stay ahead of the relentless blackness of the encroaching screen-edges. If you’re the runner at the back of the pack when the screen-bounds catch you, you’re eliminated. The fact it’s meant to be played with others means it’s always challenging, even if you reach the point where the AI are no longer a threat.

Celeste

Although from the same team that developed Towerfall: Ascension, Celeste is a completely single-player experience with more emphasis on survival and exploration than frantic arrow-slinging. It looks no less hardcore than Towerfall, with the central character wall-clinging, air-dashing and bouncing ever upwards through tightly-designed levels filled with spikes, traps, collapsing floors and dash-boosters.
There aren’t many enemies on show, although there are sections where you’ll be chased by a an evil version of your characters, which looks pretty terrifying given the precision needed to master the unforgiving mechanics.

Cuphead

Cuphead
Cuphead
StudioMDHR’s side-scrolling bullet-hell platformer Cuphead could have come straight out of the 1930s. Ever since its initial reveal, its legend has been growing and growing, with screenshots and videos teasing us over and over again with its unique aesthetic and brutally-hard gameplay.
Make no mistake, as twee and child-friendly as this game may appear in certain images, it’s likely to be anything but, with the 'golden age' animation taking on incredibly sinister overtones during boss fights and the difficulty level dialled right up to hardcore.
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