Right off the bat, let’s get to the obvious. Metroidvania has its origins from the game Metroid and Castlevania. These two games have similarities in how they operate, which explains the origins of how the sub-genre has been named as a combination of both games. Metroidvania typically is so named after them, and all Metroidvania games share similar traits. Typically many Metroidvania games involve impassable areas throughout the game. These areas can only be accessed later in the game by backtracking and using an item that you obtained later in the game.
These obstacles could involve a sturdy wall that can only be destroyed by a bomb ability later in the game, or a very large gap that could only be circumvented by a double jump ability. The items hidden in these secret areas can be a variety of things, but are most typically stat boosting items, increasing things such as health, attack or defence. This backtracking with items means that Metroidvania games usually place heavy emphasis on exploration on the player’s part, as well as taking note of heavily suspicious areas that could be overcome using newer abilities. Some have stated that Metroidvania games must involve platforming, but we’ve decided to go with the more mainstream definition for the sake of simplicity and greater understanding.
A common complaint of games these days are about two things. They are either way too linear, giving the player a railroaded experience every single time. This is bad, because it often causes replays to be dull and repetitive. The other issues lie in games that are way too open ended. This is an issue with some people because a narrative that is carefully constructed for a single route experience can often be more compelling due to its strict structure. Metroidvania games can provide a good medium between the two extremes by emphasizing on backtracking and exploration. The game will still be mostly linear, but you could go back to explore the earlier stages at any time and be rewarded with stat boosting items. This encourages player to explore the game and get more bang for their buck, whilst breaking up the monotony of trudging through stages.
- Developer: Retro Studios
- Publisher: Nintendo
- Release Date: 17 November 2002
- Platform: Nintendo GameCube
After the destruction of the space pirate station in Zebes a few years prior, Samus Aran starts to search for a new client. She soon discovers that one of the escape ships from the pirate station is escaping, and she is compelled to follow. Samus discovers a distress signal with it, and finds the source of the distress signal: a parasitic queen. After she defeats the parasitic queen, it falls into the reactor core that causes an explosion. The explosion causes damage to her suit, leading to her losing all the power ups from her previous game. Discovering that Ridley from the previous game is still alive, Samus pursues, eager to put an end to the space pirates.
An obvious pick for a game that represents Metroidvania is Metroid itself. Metroid Prime is just one of the later games in the series, and most games in the series are very Metroidvania. In Metroid Prime, the usual Metroidvania tropes apply. The player typically starts off with all powers unlocked, and loses all of them due to an incident. With the player lacking these powers, some areas throughout the game are inaccessible. They must backtrack after obtaining these powers in order to reach the upgrades, leading to heavy exploration.
2. Making You Stronger
Games can be hard sometimes, especially when you purposely go into the options menu and change the difficulty for yourself. That’s okay, we just need to balance it out and give ourselves an edge, right? With the earlier mentioned exploration, players can often find suitable power ups that give them an upgrade to various stats such as health, ammo capacity, magic storage or many other stats relevant to the game. While skill is often the main factor, having the numbers stacked in your favour can often be the key to victory.
Dust: An Elysian Tail
- Developer: Humble Hearts LLC
- Publisher: Microsoft Studios
- Release Date: 24 May 2013
- Platform: Xbox 360, PC, PS4
Dust is a legendary warrior…who has lost all his memories. Equipped with the Blade of Ahrah and a tepid flying companion, Dust must explore the land and discover who he is. Along the way he does his best to save the friends that he meets and fights head on with the armies of evil. With an easy to learn but hard to master gameplay, Dust: An Elysian Tail will keep you coming back to replay it over and over to get better and better at it. Players better watch out, because the production of this one man team will surely capture your hearts.
Dust: An Elysian Tail is made legendary by the effort of one man. What’s even more amazing is how meticulously some of the stages are designed. Some of them have secret areas that can only be accessed with powers gotten later in the game or items that can only be obtained later on. Due to its hack ’n’ slash nature, having better numbers than the enemy can often be the deciding factor between defeat and victory. Players who are struggling could choose to backtrack to earlier areas and find unlocks for the sake of getting tougher. The best part of it? It’s entirely optional. If you find yourself progressing smoothly through the game, you could even choose not to get the stat boosting items. It all depends on your preference.
1. Too Damn Obscure
Sometimes going back to find secret areas is great. This is especially good when you get great rewards for exploring and make the game easier for yourself. Sometimes this is a torture exercise meant to kill you slowly inside due to poor game design. When a game needs a walkthrough for its secrets to be discovered, you know that it is a bad Metroidvania game. Secrets should always remain accessible to the average player, perhaps with a dash of inspiration. It should never be so difficult to find or so cryptic in its design that people simply give up before finding them.
Castlevania II: Simon's Quest
- Developer: Konami
- Publisher: Konami
- Release Date: 28 August 1987
- Platform: Famicom, NES
Like the previous Castlevania game, we once again take control of another of the Belmont family, Simon Belmont. Cursed by Dracula to be haunted by unknown horrors, Simon sets out on a journey to find Dracula and undo the curse placed on him. However, Dracula has been split up into 5 parts after being defeated in the previous game. Simon must find the 5 parts and seal them in the castle, thereby destroying his curse. Along the way, Simon must fight countless monsters, deal with lying villagers and…beware of the night.
Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest…is one of the worst Castlevania game to ever exist. A huge chunk of the game involves you grinding for currency to upgrade your items, currency that can be lost when you die. The day night cycle always takes forever, but the worst is the lying villagers. You already have it hard enough trying to find the secret areas in the game, but this is made a lot harder when the game actively tries to bluff you all the time. How are you meant to find the stat boosting items you need when the game actually lies to you so much? Answer: you don’t. Simon’s Quest has been touted to be an example of what happens when Metroidvania games go wrong. Do not pick this game up, for your own sanity.
Conclusion: Should you play Metroidvania Games?
Metroidvania games are not for everyone obviously. There are many people who find Metroidvania games way too linear. It can be true depending on your perspective. Despite having the ability to go back to earlier areas and finding hidden areas, at the end of the day you are still going through the same few areas that you’ve already been, which can be a very linear experience regardless. Some complaints are also about how the main premise of backtracking for secret areas is merely a way for developers to pad the game out.
On the other hand, if you enjoy exploration and replaying games that you enjoyed, Metroidvania is definitely going to be a thing for you. This is especially true if you like to feel like a big boy for finding all the secret items in the game and going ahead with completely wrecking the final boss that awaits you in the end. Besides, who could possibly find all these hidden items but you?