Games | Metroidvania: The art of roaming free and leveling up by killing stuff. In 2D! "Metroidvania" is a stupid word for a wonderful thing. It's basically a really terrible neologism that describes a videogame genre which combines 2D side-scrolling action with free-roaming exploration and progressive skill and item collection to enable further, uh, progress. As in Metroid and Koji Igarashi-developed Castlevania games. Thus the name. Anyway I like them a lot and stuff. The end.
Nintendo Entertainment System
Metroid: One of the earliest examples of the form, albeit a bit on the rough side.
Castlevania II: Simon's Quest: A fairly brilliant expansion of MSX Castlevania counterpart Vampire Killer, somewhat dogged by its aggravatingly opaque clue system.
Milon's Secret Castle: Hudson's own effort. Um, nice try?
The Goonies II: An interesting, ambitious hybrid of platformer and adventure game. Not perfect, but charmingly '80s. Like the movie!
Legacy of the Wizard: Falcom's expansion of the Dragon Slayer series, designed specifically for NES. Ruthless, and nearly impossible. Yet compelling!
Rambo: Once you get past the killer moths and the fact that the in-game portraits make Sylvester Stallone look like a stroke victim, it's actually pretty OK!
Blaster Master: A great, great game knocked down a peg or two by some really stupid top-down sequences.
The Battle of Olympus: A shameless Zelda II clone that removes a lot of the crummy abstraction that plagued its inspiration.
Faxanadu: Falcom returns to the fray with a far more focused adventure.
Master Takahashi's Adventure Island IV: The final commercial release for the NES/Famicom saw Hudson making amends for Milon.
U•Four•ia: A quirky but crisp obscurity from Sunsoft that never quite made its way to the U.S., alas.
Sega Master System
Wonder Boy in Monster World: Wonder Boy and Adventure Island both split from the same original game, so perhaps it's little wonder that they ended up going in the same creative direction.
Zillion: Sega's take on the Metroid concept. Kind of brutal, but not bad for a game based on a cartoon based on a toy.
Monster World IV: A whimsical, beautiful Genesis platformer, tragically unreleased in the U.S.
Wanderers from Ys III: A bold misstep for the Ys series. But at least we still have Faxanadu.
Super Metroid: The golden standard by which all such games are judged.
Super Adventure Island 2: Master Higgins goes all nonlinear yet again.
Kirby Super Star/The Great Cave Offensive: Even Kirby went nonlinear. Kirby! Will the madness never end?
Metroid II: Samus' second adventure lacked a certain je ne sais qua, but it wasn't bad... just a bit rough. However, it laid the groundwork for one of the greatest games of all time, so that's totally fine.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Actually, this is included in the list strictly on hearsay.
Shantae: The Game Boy's final great original creation before going all Advance on us was a beautiful tribute to the open-ended platformers of the NES era.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night: A grand adventure that encompassed the scope of the classic Castlevania series, added solid RPG mechanics, and gave it a nice coating of Super Metroid.
The Divide: Enemies Within: An early attempt at a 2.5D Metroidvania. Its rough framerate and box visuals hurt to look at, but this was basically Shadow Complex more than a decade early.
Tomba!: A bizarre platformer involving pig-biting. It is every bit as awesome as it sounds.
Game Boy Advance
Castlevania: Circle of the Moon: From the creators of Castlevania for N64 came an equally lackluster adventure!
Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance: Symphony co-director Koji Igarashi's glorious return to the franchise... wasn't so glorious, to be honest.
Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow: Fortunately, the follow-up more than made up for it.
Metroid Fusion: Perhaps the most unpopular entry in the core Metroid series, Fusion made some missteps to be certain... but it did a lot of very interesting, very good thing as well.
Metroid Zero Mission: A magnificent remake of the original Metroid marred only by the fact that the visual direction of the game changed midway through, creating a weird graphical inconsistency from area to area.
Kirby: The Amazing Mirror: A non-linear, multiplayer take on the Kirby concept. It frustrates in places and would have worked a lot better with wireless systems, but it's nevertheless a very interesting piece of work.
Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow: The sequel to Aria of Sorrow lacked its predecessor's sense of originality (since it was basically a bigger, better rendition of Aria). But, uh, a bigger, better rendition of Aria is pretty awesome.
Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin?: While the second half drags, Portrait is probably the single Castlevania game most geared toward thorough exploration. And the dual-character mechanic makes up for a lot of shortcomings.
Metroid Dread: Well, uh, maybe not.
Mega Man ZX Advent: Advent's improved map system and layouts were balanced out by its lackluster character power-ups. But you can't win 'em all.
Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia: Secretly a classic Castlevania masquerading as a metroidvania, Ecclesia was clearly Igarashi's attempt to sneak an old-school linear Castlevania experience past modern gamers.
Soul of Darkness: Gameloft's naked attempt to rip off the DS Castlevanias. Imagine if Dawn of Sorrows was bare bones, linear, and ran at 12 frames per second and you have this mobile phone port. Yay?
Monster Tale: From the creators of Henry Hatsworth, and possessing a strong Monster World IV vibe, which is awesome.
Shantae: Risky's Revenge: A compact but satisfying sequel to Shantae, and hopefully the first of many more chapters to come.
Metroid: Other M: Metroid Dread died so that this adventure might instead live. If "Other M" is just a transparent attempt to disguise the word "mother" I will be terribly disappointed. Unless, of course, the word mother denotes a Metroid/EarthBound crossover.
Shadow Complex: A fine game, but curiously familiar in some mysterious way. If only I could put my finger on it....
Castlevania: Harmony of Despair: Does this even count? Koji Igarashi has taken a bunch of DS Castlevania graphics and made gigantic multiplayer time attack stages out of them. Weird, but fun.
Akuji the Demon: I think it's inspired by Castlevania, or something!
Cave Story: A brilliant homage to 8-bit, exploration-based platformers.
Eternal Daughter: Charming!
I Wanna Be The Guy: Brutally difficult!
La Mulana: Also brutally difficult, but in a more oblique way.
Lyle in Cube Sector: So, uh, cubes. Yeah.
Zeux's World: Another early indie effort.
Fallen Frontier: Apparently a co-op metroidvania game from some of the key designers of Halo 2 and 3. Weird? Yes, but also cool.
Proto Metroidvania: The Early Years
Before Metroid cemented the mechanics and fundamentals of this particular little niche, lots of developers had already started casting their ambitions in this direction regardless. The following games are some of the most important pre-NES works I know of, experimenting with the various ideas and rules that would coalesce when Metroid game along.
Zork: A permanent inventory which includes items necessary to access certain parts of the game world? What a grand idea!
Pitfall!: Branching pathways and the need to backtrack make this game a lot less linear than it first appears.
Pitfall II: Lost Caverns: A further expansion on the Pitfall concept.
Knight Lore: Exploration is the key to this huge platform-hopping isometric quest.
Xanadu: Primitive, but it laid down the groundwork for some key titles; its sequels include Legacy of the Wizard and Faxanadu.
Impossible Mission: It's all adventure-y and stuff.
Montezuma's Revenge: Another early yet ambitious effort.
Metroidvania Gaiden: The Borderline Cases
A fundamental element of a Metroidvania game is its vast, contiguous world design. While the following games revolve around large, non-linear platforming worlds, they consist of individual areas connected by an overworld map that breaks up the action portions.
Anal-retentive? Sure. But that sort of hair-splitting is what lists like this are for.
Clash at Demonhead: Demonhead's level map structure (similar to Bionic Commando's) breaks up the game flow, but it's still quite open-ended.
Demon's Crest: The second sequel to Gargoyle's was much more of a metroidvania than its predecessors, but still strayed a bit from the standard trope.
Exile (Acorn): Man, I don't know. British micros and I don't have much of a common heritage.
Front Mission: Gun Hazard: The Front Mission series' first foray into action gaming.
Gargoyle's Quest: Part platformer, part RPG, all rad. If a bit chunky and primitive.
Gargoyle's Quest II: A more refined version of the original.
Knightmare II: The Maze of Galious (MSX): Pretty much the inspiration for La Mulana.
Knight 'N Grail (C64): A modern-day (read: July 2009) take on the platformer that really pushes the C64 to its limits.
Popful Mail (Sega CD version): Of all the different iterations of Falcom's Popful Mail, this felt the most exploratory. And it had a level-up system, too!
Shaman King: Master of Spirits: Clearly built around the Aria of Sorrow engine, this anime spin-off was a pretty decent open-ended game with a structure remarkably similar to Clash at Demonhead's.
Shaman King: Master of Spirits II: Same as above, but slightly less enjoyable for some reason.
Zelda II: The Adventure of Link: The top-down view through which Link explores the world makes this feel like more of an RPG, but when viewed through the lens of its offspring (e.g. Battle of Olympus et al.) you can definitely see the metroidvania connection.
It should be noted that, stupid as the word "Metroidvania" may be, it's vastly more euphonic than Castleroid.