We’ve less than ten days left in our Elemental Challenge, NPCs! Let’s crank up the difficulty…
Today we’re talking about a hybrid sub-genre. It’s not a Metroid fusion or a Castlevania symphony, but put ’em together and what have you got? The portmanteau Metroidvania, one of the most poorly defined extant classifications in gaming. What makes a Metroidvania? Good question. I suppose if it plays like a classic Metroid game, or a classic Castlevania one (apparently to a lesser extent). We can get more technical than that: Metroidvanias come in the vein of action-adventure games and they usually share a few characteristics such as massive, labyrinthine, interconnected maps, progression through locked areas via securing upgrades for your character, some degree of backtracking, pseudo-non-linear gameplay, exploration/experimentation, and typically platforming. There are all kinds of redundancies and overlaps and clones haunting this sub-genre, but there are certainly some gems to hunt down, as well.
These are just some of our amalgamated Castleroid favorites.
The Black Humor Mage
Super Metroid is one of the games that perfected the Metroidvania formula. It’s dark atmosphere and great gameplay makes for an awesome experience, and makes for one the best SNES game out there.
The Midnight Mystic Mage (Sublime Reviews)
Guacamelee. This beautiful and at times very difficult game was a masterpiece. It is done in the art style of the Dia De Los Muertos or Day of the Dead from the Mexican culture. I get embarrassed about this genre because I have never played the original Metroid or Castlevania games, but every time I play a game in the style of them I always get hooked. (Honorable Mentions – Shadow Complex, Apotheon, Outland)
The Spoony Bard Mage (Nerd Speaker)
This is one of my favorite genres, and it’s pretty hard to choose. Recently I absolutely dug Axiom Verge, Cave Story+ and the Shantae series. My favorite though is Aquaria. This gorgeous game puts you in control of Naija, an aquatic lifeform with amnesia exploring a gorgeous underwater world, trying to piece together what disaster befell it. You collect plenty of powers and abilities, and the music and narration have a ton of polish.
The Hopeful Handheld Mage (Retro Redress)
I was going to say Symphony of the Night, but I’ve only played around 32% of it. I’m woefully unqualified to discuss Metroidvanias having spent most my life playing sports and wrestling games…that’s something I need to work on.
The Dapper Zaffre Mage (Save File 02)
I’m sorry, Order of Ecclesia; you were an old crush and Shanoa is still #2 on my personal list of Top Female Protags in a Metroidvania Game. But nobody can out-shinespark Samus Aran and her second trip to Planet Zebes in Super Metroid for the SNES. Metroid- it’s literally in the name of the genre now.
Super Metroid was probably THE first SNES game I ever beat- at least, one where I wasn’t tagging along as a little, inexperienced 2P leeching victory off of somebody next to me. The very nature of the game blew my mind: You could play as a super cool person in a special suit that fired lasers out of one arm? You got new power-ups that permanently stay with you and made more places explorable? You actually got rewards for going back to old ‘stages’ with those new tricks and seeing what you missed? Everything was amazing to me at the time- setting, characters, and graphics all.
In all retrospect, Super Metroid’s simplicity in those was what made it so appealing to a child. There wasn’t any morality issues- your enemies were very clearly bad aliens with no qualms about killing innocent scientists. There wasn’t any pesky NPCs or allies to get in your way- you were a one-woman army entirely on her own in Zebes. And there weren’t any builds or choices to be made about equipment- you either had that power-up or you didn’t, and if you had two weapon power-ups, you got to combine both of them. (Video game protagonists to this day still don’t get the concept.) Super Metroid focused entirely on what made it great, and that was smooth, progressive gameplay, and fantastic world design to go with it. And that’s just the vanilla game.
Nowadays, for those that also grew up with it and simply know the game like the back of their hand- and believe me (*cough*), there are those (*cough*) that can name every item location and how to find them- the modding community has provided a sizable number of new adventures for Samus. The galaxy isn’t going to save itself, so, have at them!
The Over-Caffeinated Nostalgia Mage (Nostalgia Trigger)
I struggled to come up with any Metroidvanias that weren’t Metroid or Castlevania games. Maybe it’s just that the 2D action I generally like is in the form of platformers, ie. Rayman, Mario, those kind of games. But the Metroidvania is an interesting genre – generally consisting of a large, interconnected world, and although 2D is the more “traditional,” 3D games can be Metroidvanias.
That being said, if I had to pick my favorite Metroidvania, it would have to be Metroid Prime. I honestly don’t believe there’s a more perfect example of Metroid games than Prime itself. They captured the atmosphere of the 2D Metroid games and translated it to 3D seamlessly. One of the best games I’ve played of all time, and definitely the best Metroidvania out there.
The Rage Mage
I guess all the plebeians on this blog forgot the -vania in Metroidvania, so I’ll name the best Castlevania game there is and just pretend it’s “metroidvania” too.
The Well-Red Mage
I’m reminded of how much I really want to play Axiom Verge! Since I haven’t had the pleasure, I’m limited to talking about Metroidvania games I’ve played (and I’m personally restricting myself to non-Metroid, non-Castlevania games for this hodge-podge of a category, otherwise it would definitely be Super Metroid for me, too). Song of the Deep and Blaster Master Zero were two Metroidvania titles I played recently but neither of them had that spark of spectacularity befitting first place in an Elemental Challenge. Other games I was surprised to learn had the touch of Metroidvania classification include Arkham Asylum, Demon’s Crest, Strider, and one of my definitive favorites: DuckTales: Remastered. So you know what? I’m going to go with that one, even though it’s clearly not the most exemplary of this hybrid sub-genre.
It was one of the first reviews I wrote for The Well-Red Mage (so if you read it, remember that I was a sapling). This is one of my favorite remasters. Signs of quality are all over it. They even got the original voice actors from the DuckTales cartoon to reprise their roles. You can finally dive into Scrooge’s money bin but best of all, the remaster is as fun to play any original NES game. That’ll do for my Metroidvania choice.
Have fun with this category, Mister Chris Scott.
Sound off in the comments below about your favorite Metroidvanias, or perhaps start a rigorous discussion on the vague evils of gaming genre classification methods, but be sure to do it silently, at least by tomorrow. What will tomorrow’s genre be?! Shhhh!!!
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