The Metroidvania genre is a very unique, but growing genre. It’s name is a combination of the popular Nintendo franchise Metroid and Konami’s Castlevania series, specifically Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. It is strongly dependent on a few concepts that we’ll list below before we dive into what my favorites are.
A Metroid what now?
A Metroivania has some very specific requirements. For one, the world map is generally very large and is interconnected. Not every part of the map will be available to access from the very beginning. Power-ups, tools, weapons and even NPC’s (Non-Playable Characters) will assist you in unlocking the full map. As a result, the world map, character positions and capabilities along with obstacles and save points need to be strategically placed. Stairs should be just out of reach when needed, ledges just a hair too far to reach and doors locked until further notice (or breaching)!
How you gain these powerups for example is also critical. In some games like Metroid, they will be sprawled across the entire world map and sometimes, hidden behind a boss. In other games like SteamWorld Dig 2, you can purchase powerups, but you might need to be choosy with witch upgrades you get. The ability to increase one’s health is a vital feature in Metroidvanias, especially when you need to withstand trickier bosses.
As far as the story is concerned, and believe me is there a STORY, it should be non-linear. The game should let YOU explore and let you discover on your own accord. Most games will follow this idea due to how freeing it is for the player. The lack of hand holding is what sets Metroidvanias a part from other genres of games.
More, more more!
Below is a list of my favorite Metroivanias and a little blurb about them. Note that this is in now specific order, specifically because I’d have an immensely tough time ranking them. I am also omitting Metriod and Castlevania games from this list because I kind of feel it’s cheating since they pioneered the genre. In case anyone IS curious though, if I did include them, I’d include Castlevania- Aria of Sorrow, Symphony Of The Night, Super Metroid, Metroid Fusion, and Metroid- Zero Mission. I’ve yet to play the Prime series due to lack of time… Now, onto to the fun!
In terms of Metroidvanias, this might be the most popular one, and for good reason. This game plays the most like Super Metroid. The map is absolutely massive and after the first hour or so of linear story, you’re off exploring to your heart’s content. The power ups and items you get are well thought out and really make you feel powerful. I would say that there is an over influx of weapons, but that’s totally fine.
The bosses are also absolutely terrifying, the stuff from nightmares. Thomas Happ did a great job with this game as well as the soundtrack. As the story unfolds, you get dragged deeper into this odd world and realize that things are not as they seem.
Similar to Super Metroid, the game doesn’t tell you what the powerups do. It’s up to you to remember that there was a door across the forest area that could be burned down. Secrets are also riddled throughout the game, making revisiting old rooms and sections extremely fun.
Steamworld Dig 2
For those that have played Steamworld Dig 1, the second one takes every aspect of the first game and makes it better. From the world, to the story and exploration, the game improves upon the first dramatically. You now play as Dorothy and search for Rusty, the protagonist from Steamworld Dig 1.
The mechanics are a lot more refined and the story is a lot more compelling. You interact with more characters, but unlike Axiom Verge, this game has a ‘home base’. You can go here to upgrade the items and skills you obtain in the mines. Not only does this mean that there’s motivation for you to explore more, because you upgrade via cog tokens you find around the entire map, but you will discover more secrets.
The map is also a huge improvement over the first one. While playing the second one, I constantly felt surprised how deep the game made me go in certain sections. It felt like forever. A chute system is also added, making it easier for the player to traverse the entire world. Overall, the game is not only a great improvement over the first one, but a great Metroidvania in its own right.
Ori and the Blind Forest
Everything about this game surprised me, but in that same token, everything about this game made me fall in love with the genre all over again. Most Metroidvanias are grim with dark colors and somber plots. Ori takes that idea and flips it on it’s head, giving you bright, beautiful colors along with a compelling plot. You play as Ori, a woodland creature, and their friend Sein. The duo explorer the forest to understand why the corruption is taking over their forest home.
Gareth Coker’s beautiful soundtrack drags you into this world and doesn’t let you go until the credits are done rolling. The controls are immensely tight and the map is not only extremely expansive, but you’re left wondering how to navigate all of it effectively. Whether you gain the ability to double jump or obtain a quick dash, you’re skill tree with how to improve upon those skills is ever growing
As far as the platforming aspect goes, this game takes it to the next level and really makes you search for the upgrades to properly navigate the terrain. This game is what gave me a deep interest in the Metroidvania genre and made me want to play more of the games on this list.
Cave Story +
This game from 2004 has made it’s way to the Switch in 2017, amongst other platforms in between. Why is a game that’s 13 years old being ported so many times? Because not only is it a classic game, but because it really set the bar for Metroidvania games that were not actually Metroid or Castlevania titles. The game is absolutely challenging and with the multiple endings, you’ll come back asking and looking for more.
The weapons and the compelling story makes you want to help where you can, but after finishing the story, you’ll have a feeling of emptiness that you didn’t realize a game could make you feel. It is at that moment you realize the brilliance of Cave Story and how it had an impact on you.
I saved my favorite for last. As far as Metroidvanias’ are concerned, this game takes all the best aspects of the genre and makes it its’ own. The game feels super smooth to me and the combat is solid. The story is riveting and you are driven to explore as much as you can to uncover the secrets of what’s going. Being able to essentially add and remove powerups through the charms menu is great for adding diversity to your play style.
The music, done by Christopher Larkin, not only fits the mood of the entire game to a ‘t’, but he also accentuates the action packed and stressful scenes when needed. For me, this game was able to to tie in everything so nicely. You’re never left with no where to go and there is so much post game content, that you have to be appreciative of Team Cherry and all that they have done with the game, and they also recently added their third free DLC for the game.
Overall, there are great Metroidvanias everywhere you turn. I barely got to scratch the surface. There’s Guacamelee, Dust: An Elysian Tale, Environmental Station Alpha, Dead Cells, and more! Definitely spend the day checking out one of these amazing titles and let us know what you think!