With the indie gaming scene continuing to grow, one probably has heard a lot about Metroidvanias. What are those? Well, let's start with Metroid on the NES, which had players traverse through one giant interconnected map. Spread throughout the map are upgrades, like missiles, that allow players to reach new areas. Now the "-vania" part comes from Castlevania, more specifically, Symphony of the Night on PS1.
This was the first game to try this Metroid formula out, but expanded that scope by adding in RPG elements like leveling up. That's the basic gist of what makes a Metroidvania special. In celebration of the spiritual successor to Symphony of the Night, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, let's run through some other great modern examples.
Updated July 3, 2022 by Peter Voight: Metroidvanias have exploded in popularity in the past decade, with a new one seemingly being announced every week. It makes perfect sense. This timeless genre provides hours of replayability, by encouraging players to explore every nook and cranny of a map to upgrade their skills and progress. The popularity of the genre has also made room for a creative melding of ideas, with genres like roguelites bleeding into many modern Metroidvanias. Maybe you think the originators of the genre, Metroid and Castlevania, simply can’t be touched. But there are quite a few games that come awfully close.
13 Ori And The Will Of The Wisps
If you prefer your Metroidvanias to tug at your heartstrings and make you sob uncontrollably, Ori and the Will of The Wisps is for you! The 2020 squel to Ori and the Blind Forest continues the original story, as you follow Ori on a quest to find a baby owl, Ku, and restore light to the island you explore. Its emotional story is enhanced by challenging gameplay that requires you to strategize and think about each enemy encounter.
The stakes are high for both Ori and the player. Using different weapons and powers, as well as upgrading and acquiring new ones, is crucial — just like any great Metroidvania. Ori’s marriage of intense combat, magical level design, and heartfelt story make it a piece of art that any Metroidvania fan needs to try.
12 Shadow Complex
Shadow Complex differs from many of the games on this list, due to its 2.5D environment. You play as Jason, who must navigate a large underground military complex in order to find his missing girlfriend, Claire.
Enemies are not restricted to the confinement of 2.5D, adding an extra challenge as you aim your weapon’s laser sight with the right stick. As you gain experience points and level up, areas you’ve passed become accessible and Jason’s skills get a much-needed upgrade. The thrilling plot will have you on the edge of your seat as you uncover the dark secrets hidden underground.
11 Salt And Sacrifice
Anyone looking for a punishing Metroidvania should look no further than Salt and Sacrifice. The action-packed follow-up to Salt and Sanctuary pulls no punches and is unabashed in wearing its Dark Souls inspiration on its sleeve. Even the tutorial concludes with a boss you aren’t supposed to beat.
Unlike many Metroidvanias, Salt and Sacrifice does not take place on one giant map, but rather five separate areas. You’ll chase bosses throughout levels, and eventually gain Magic Hearts after defeating them, which allow you to access previously inaccessible areas. The game’s multiplayer suite allows you to invade other players’ games, summon enemies to kill them, and recruit help or play co-operatively.
Most of these games are more along the lines of a Metroid-like adventure rather than a Castlevania one. That is to say, they lack hard RPG elements. However, Timespinner is straight-up Symphony of the Night based on the user interface of the menus, text, and even the level-up prompt.
In a sea of tributes to Metroid, it was finally great to see more homage paid to Castlevania as well. Plus it has time travel events and who doesn’t want more of that in games?
9 The Messenger
Calling The Messenger a Metroidvania is actually kind of a spoiler. Half of the game is just Ninja Gaiden, but better. After a series of levels, players will then be transported to the future and this includes changing the 8-bit aesthetic to 16-bit.
First of all, whoa. Too bad it was shown in the trailers, otherwise this would have been mind-blowing. What wasn’t explained though is that the game then changes to a Metroidvania, where players have to go back and forth between each reality to solve puzzles and reach new heights. It’s truly something else.
8 Death’s Gambit
One could argue that Dark Souls is sort of like a 3D evolution of Metroidvanias. Many of the titles in this series take place in one big interconnected world. Well, that’s a fight for another day.
It’s important to bring this up in the case of Death’s Gambit, because it is more along the lines of a love letter to that franchise. Since it is in 2D though, and there are actually more powers that help with progression… well, it deserves a spot on this list.
7 Shantae: Risky’s Revenge
Of the four games in the Shantae franchise, Risky’s Revenge, the second title, is this writer’s favorite. That could be just because it was his first, but be that as it may, it’s still great. They are all amazing in fact, but kind of have a factor of diminishing returns as each title shares a lot of content.
Whatever game one chooses, it’s best to avoid the original on Game Boy Color. It’s good, but not quite tight enough as a Metroidvania yet.
Chasm is, unfortunately, the only other straight connection to Symphony of the Night on here, which is to say it has RPG elements. There is one very strange thing about it though. It's not a roguelike as progression is never lost. However, the map is randomly generated between each new game making it kind of hard to look up solutions online.
Was this the reason why? It would have definitely been higher on this list had the levels been handcrafted, but as it stands now, Chasm is still pretty cool.
5 Yoku’s Island Express
Yoku’s Island Express combines Metroidvanias with pinball games. What? How in the world does that concept work? Well, players take on the role of a new postmaster that has to traverse the island with his rock in order to get around. How are there paddles and switches reminiscent of pinball tables in the environment?
Yes, it doesn’t make sense logically, but dang is this a terrific combo. Plus it’s just plain jolly. What’s next? A racing Metroidvania? How about a Battle Royale Metroidvania? There are so many untapped genres!
First of all, Guacamelee is just a fun play on words. Let’s take some time to appreciate that…Okay, that's enough appreciation. Guacamelee stars a young man who is robbed of his beloved by basically the devil. Upon dawning a special mask, he gains powers strong enough in order to body slam his way to victory.
It pays homage to Metroid with some direct nods, like the Chozo statues, but is enough of its own thing to stand above the rest. Plus it has co-op! It begs the question. Is Guacamelee a Wrestlevania?
3 SteamWorld Dig 2
The first SteamWorld Dig was sort of like a Metroidvania. Yes, it was all on one big map, but it didn’t have that many enemies or powers to speak of. It fell more in line with a survival game at times.
That said, the sequel cranked the Metroidvania-ness up to eleven, making it a superior experience from top to bottom. The gameplay, visuals, story, and everything in-between standout and is the best title in this fractured series of games. As an extra plug, go, play them all!
2 Hollow Knight
Hollow Knight is a cross-between a Metroidvania and Dark Souls. It has all the backtracking progression one finds in Metroid, but extremely difficult enemy encounters with some of the best bosses of any of these entries.
On top of feeling incredibly rewarding after defeating such challenges, the game is just drop-dead gorgeous. Nothing looks even close to this right now. More still, the actual designs of the enemies and guest characters are just so cool. The sequel can’t come soon enough!
1 Axiom Verge
Axiom Verge predates a lot of these other entries. It’s not the first indie made Metroidvania via Kickstarter, but for all intents and purposes, it certainly felt like the progenitor of a bigger trend. That said it still feels wholly unique, haunting, and just plain mesmerizing as a game from top to bottom.
Maybe it is the fact that this writer made it into the launch trailer, or that he gave it a perfect score, but out of all of these, it’s still the favorite of the bunch.
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