I’ve got a problem, Chompers, I’ve become addicted to a certain genre. That genre is a hybrid of two of the most celebrated series in videogame history, Metroid and Castlevania. For the past decade or so, this mash-up has been named MetroidVania. I understand it’s not the best of names, but it is a fantastic way to design and develop a game. For the past few years there has been an overwhelming rise in the production of indie developers, and they all seem to LOVE MetroidVania. Before we really get into the nitty-gritty, let’s have a crash course in what this style really entails.
Where did MetroidVania come from ?
Let’s take a trip back to 1994, Nintendo released one of the greatest games that they would ever create, Super Metriod (it made #4 on my list). The series was recreated on a much larger scale as Super Metriod was a bigger and more expansive game than either Metroid (NES) or Metroid 2 (GameBoy). The seeds were sown for Konami to come in 3 years later and create the next leg of the MetroidVania quest, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (which also made my list). For those of us who had spent most of 1994 and 1995 beating the snot out of Super Metroid, we played SOTN and realized that it was quite similar. Symphony switched out the aliens of Metroid for gothic-style monsters and Planet Zebes for Castle Dracula. Ultimately, it was a very similar gam,. but gave us the birth of MetroidVania.
Ok, thanks for the history lesson, but, what IS MetroidVania?
Ah! So you want to know what the heck MetroidVania is? You may have heard a friend say it at a party, or read about it a bit online. For one, it’s the fastest growing “new” genre of video game from what I’ve seen out there and there are dozens of downloadable games that follow this format. MetroidVania represents a format of game that is heavily based off of the ideas presented in Super Metriod, and I’ve devised some qualifiers for what every MetroidVania game needs.
1. It MUST be a 2D Action Game
To be a CLASSIC MetroidVania game title, the game must be in 2D or 2.5D. There have been 3D games in the Metroid series, but a true Metroid-Vania game must be in 2D. If we’re going to consider Super Metriod as the progenitor, then we’re talking about 2D games. If it changes to 3D we lose something of what makes the genre unique. All of the modern Metroid-Vania games embrace a 2D or 2.5D display.
2. A Large, Open, Unexplored Map
When you leave Samus’ Gunship in Super Metriod you are left with a wide open world to explore. You can travel in many directions, but there is just one map with multiple sections or regions. It’s a unique experience to have a 2D map that allows the player to move in all different directions. It forces the player to explore to find all sorts of items, different paths to take, and new areas to explore. Metroid-Vania games reward exploration above all else, so get diggin’!
3. There Will Be Upgrades
What makes Metroid so great is that you often start with nothing. You begin these games with a basic weapon and little else. It is throughout the game that you will find new weapons, armor, and enhancements. These enhancements allow you to progress further through the exploration process and “unlock” different parts of the map. Some doors or pathways may not open with your basic weapons, but as you progress your items and abilities improve, which allow you to explore even more!
4. One Map, one Stage, One World
MetroidVania games do not have levels or stages, they have a complete and continuous map with different regions to visit. The game must feel as though everything is connected, and you can rush from one side to another easily. As backtracking is a normal trend found in these types of games, having that open layout is integral. It also makes the player feel as though they’re on a real adventure.
Once we get past those qualifiers we can dive further into what makes MetroidVania so popular. As I stated in my 100 Greatest Games list, Super Metriod is like a master class for great game design. I think that anyone who is studying to be a game maker should sit down an play Super Metriod, like how we had to read The Great Gatsby, it’s a classic. We can see its influence in games that came out after it. Which is why I believe so many developers are making these games today. They’re testing themselves to make a better Metroid. We as fans are lucky enough to live in a time where we get to experience so many of these games. It’s also a genre that greatly expresses its environment, so creators can craft unique worlds and characters that can explore.
So now you must be asking, Mike Staub, what are some great MetroidVania games I could buy!? Well other than the previously mentioned: Super Metriod and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, here are a few you can get right now….
This is the first MetroidVania game I can remember playing after the two original games. Shadow Complex is a deep and cool take on the military genre. It pops off of the screen and throws some modern 3rd person flair at it. The weapons are fun and unique and offer a different more human take on the genre. No Monsters or aliens here, you fight a lot of robots and a lot of military dudes.
Ori and the Blind Forest
Ori and the Blind Forest may be the most beautiful of the MetroidVania games. It takes place in a dark forest as you play as Ori, a spirit guardian of the who is on a quest to save his friend’s life. Ori is much more atmospheric than most other games in any genre. I suggest you turn the lights out, turn up the speakers, and just be swallowed by the ambiance. Ori is a beautiful game.
Strider’s newest game was quite the surprise when it came out in 2014. The original Strider game was both an arcade and Genesis classic. It was a different direction for the character, but the new Strider game is quite a blast. Strider’s ninja abilities work perfectly in a MetroidVania setting, as he can jump, climb, slide, and lay waste to tons of enemies. It’s also got some INTENSE boss fights, which just add to the awesome-meter.
On the sillier end of the MetroidVania games is Guacamelee. You play as a Mexican Luchador Juan Aguacate who is on a mission to save his love, the daughter of El Presidente. The game is designed to look like classic Dia De Los Muertos art. It combines the expansion and exploration of MetroidVania with awesome wrestling action. The added quick-time-events add a perfect variation on combat as you continuously finish off enemies with suplexes, powerbombs, and a barrage of other classic wrestling moves. It’s lighthearted in story, but hardcore on gameplay. Guacamelee is also very funny, there are fun videogame and movie references all over this one! If you like your MetroidVania with a bit of a laugh, check it out.
Dust: An Elysian Tale
Dust feels a little bit bigger than the others. You play as an anthropomorphic fox/cat/thing and you try to piece together your past. Dust: an Elysian Tale is a bit more of the hack-and-slash variety, but it sells itself on the crisp sprites and visuals it uses. Instead of just having the normal upgrades of a MetroidVania game, you can also gain experience and level up in Dust. It adds a nice upgrade system that enriches gameplay a bit. Dust also has sidequests and sub missions which make the game a bit bigger. It’s got great visuals and sounds awesome! It’s anime-theme will also make any otaku jump all over this one.
The newest of the MetroidVania games that I have played, Axiom Verge has much more in common with Metroid than the rest. While the game takes place on Earth, the environment is uniquely alien (which is the name of my next album). Axiom Verge is a great “8-bit” rehash on the MetroidVania genre. It’s deep and detailed, and very difficult. Finding all of the collectibles in Axiom Verge is reportedly very difficult. It’s a great reason to own a PS4.
There you have it folks! Take an adventure with me, get into the MetroidVania…you’ll be very happy.