You love your labyrinthine video game. Getting lost for hours in search of hidden passages, retracing your steps to unlock new paths with a newly unlocked power, while facing devious and ruthless opponents along the way. In short: Metroidvania is your thing.
This selection will help you find the best references of the genre.
The Metroidvania as we know it today was born at the end of the 90s. Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night took the world by storm and shook up the industry with their innovative formula, laying the foundations for what is still one of the most popular genres.
Particularly popular with independent studios, the genre has experienced a significant resurgence in popularity in recent years. Notably, thanks to the contribution of the first game in our selection of the day.
Hollow Knight: the revival of the genre
Let’s not lie to ourselves: if you’re reading this today, chances are it’s because you’ve just finished Hollow Knight and urgently need a new bone to chew on. How we understand you.
Released in 2017 after a lengthy development and a remarkably successful Kickstarter campaign, Team Cherry’s (three-person) game has revitalized the Metroidvania genre. Whether it’s thanks to its nervous and unforgiving gameplay, memorable art direction or gargantuan lifespan, Hollow Knight is already a cult game.
Its sequel, Hollow Knight Silksong, thought initially as a simple DLC, has been feverishly awaited by fans since its announcement in 2019. It has no release date yet.
Goldsmith’s work made by 6 hands in Australia, Hollow Knight has become an absolute reference in Metroidvania. Its unique universe and addictive gameplay have instantly taken it to the top of the charts, and it remains one of the best games ever created.
Metroid Dread: the king’s return
The one that can also be called Metroid 5 has been long, long-awaited by fans. A direct sequel to the 2001 GBA release Metroid Fusion, MercurySteam’s game had no trouble reclaiming its throne when it came in October 2021.
The game takes the classic Metroidvania formula and incorporates elements of infiltration or at least stealth. Samus is regularly hunted by the E.M.M.I., the pugnacious robot killers, and must play with her environment to survive the hunt.
However, this new opus has flaws and is particularly criticized for having environments that need more madness and variety. Also, players who have accumulated more than 100 hours on Hollow Knight may feel cramped in this adventure, which ends quickly.
Metroid Dread is everything we could have expected from a 2D Metroid. If the revolution of the genre is clearly not there, we are in the presence of a very entertaining Nintendo production. It’s the perfect game to accompany the launch of the Switch OLED.
Guacamelee!: the zany Metroidvania
Arguably the most colourful and zany title in this selection, Guacamelee! and its sequel are excellent representatives of the genre.
By adding to the traditional recipe elements borrowed from beat them all, justified by the “catch” atmosphere of the whole, and without forgetting delicious writing, Drinkbox’s titles hit the bull’s eye with Metroidvania fans.
Relatively short in its initial version, the game has since received a “Super Turbo Championship” edition adding new levels, powers and opponents to face. Guacamelee 2, while not reinventing the wheel, does enhance the recipe with a 4-player co-op mode that’s worth a look.
Instantly recognizable thanks to its unique art direction and setting, Guacamelee! is also remembered as one of the best games released on PlayStation Vita.
To be enjoyed without moderation – with a bowl of nachos, that is.
Blasphemous : the spine-chilling artistic slap in the face
Along with Hollow Knight, the game from the Spanish company The Game Kitchen is regularly cited as a must-have in the genre. And you only have to look at a few images of Blasphemous to immediately understand why it is a reference.
With its polished art direction, although rather disturbing in that it takes up and twists the Christian religious aesthetic to the extreme, Blasphemous is also a delight for players looking for a substantial challenge.
Unholy descendant of a Castlevania more than a Metroid, Blasphemous doesn’t have all the cards in hand to offer very pleasant platforming phases. Fortunately few in number, these passages might annoy you. But the game is one of those where you can forgive everything on the altar of its beauty.
Blasphemous is not one of those games that you play and then forget. Fans of From Software games and Hollow Knight will find it a worthy contender for the pantheon of the best Metroidvania ever released.
Axiom Verge & Axiom Verge 2: a vibrant tribute
If you’re more into guns than hand-to-hand combat, look no further. Axiom Verge and, more recently, Axiom Verge 2 have established themselves as Metroidvania staples.
Designed as vibrant tributes to the Metroid saga and Contra, Thomas Happ’s games develop a fascinating universe where you can easily get lost. Driven by the desire to learn more, the player accumulates hours of gameplay without even realizing it.
Richer and more accomplished, Axiom Verge 2 also has everything to please players who are looking for a godd Metroidvania. It will also be particularly welcoming to those who like the genre-less for its difficulty rather than for the level design’s richness.
If the title’s slightly old-fashioned art direction doesn’t put you off, you can be sure that Axiom Verge and its sequel will be a very high-quality Metroidvania, notably due to its varied arsenal and the construction of its universe.
Ori and the Blind Forest & Ori and the Will of the Wisps: a feast for the eyes
The diptych Ori and the Blind Forest and Ori and the Will of the Wisps will probably go down in history as the most glitzy Metroidvania of recent years.
Developed in Austria by Moon Studios, the fantastic art direction and solid gameplay make both Ori memorable.
The main flaw is that both episodes are pretty short. We recommend that you play both games in one shot.
More accessible, the second part of Ori and the Will of the Wisps also deals with the difficulties of being released in a world where Hollow Knight exists. So some of the “borrowings” might seem shameless to careful observers. On the other hand, Moon Studios’ games are nonetheless solid genre representatives.
Dandara: a redesigned formula
Initially designed for Android and iOS, Dandara brings a refreshing approach to Metroidvania.
Its innovative movement system offers a new perspective to (re)discover the genre while immersing ourselves in a folklore little known in our latitudes.
Long Hat House’s game offers unique gameplay. The player is not free to move; the heroine, Dandara, can only move by teleporting on surfaces. Very platform-oriented, this title developed in Brazil integrates many cultural aspects of the country, which makes the experience exotic.
Dandara can be criticized for being relatively short.
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, the stuff of legends
As the successor to Symphony of the Night, Bloodstained continues a great legacy. Koji Igarashi’s (producer of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night) new title is a Metroidvania that’s hard to pass up, regardless of some technical flaws.
Launched via a Kickstarter campaign – a la Shenmue 3 – Bloodstained has marked 2019 for Metroidvania fans. The reason behind it is the new game of the patient zero of the genre released in 97 – Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.
Marred by a few technical bugs at its release, Bloodstained was still a descendant of its illustrious model.
Although Bloodstained has a somewhat controversial art direction, it perfectly fulfils its function as a Metroidvania.
Praised for its rich gameplay and impeccable handling, Bloodstained is nothing less than a Symphony of the Night 2 that doesn’t say its name. And that last sentence alone should convince you to check it out.
Sundered: procedural Metroidvania
Sundered plunges us into a dark adventure in the heart of a world in ruins, but also of gameplay style. By bringing together two genres, the rogue-like and the Metroidvania.
Sundered is undoubtedly an exciting challenge. If it can be played like a classic Metroidvania with its 2D open world inviting to exploration, it can be played like a Rogue Legacy, a Rogue-like game adept of “progression through death”. The least we can say is that Thunder Lotus Games takes malicious pleasure in inflicting this punishment on the player.
The gameplay is rich without being complex either (only one hand-to-hand weapon, one ranged weapon), and it remains dynamic and pleasant from the first minute, thanks to the numerous combos.
Like Jotun, the 2D of Sundered is off the beaten track and is enough to make many players notice, mainly thanks to the numerous successful animations that bring a certain fluidity to the action.
From the impressive statues of otherworldly demonic creatures to the gigantic bosses and the simple smoke of explosions, everything is entirely hand-drawn by the game’s artists.
Sundered honours the Metroidvania genre by respecting its fundamentals while bringing some ideas to the table, such as its encouraging progression system.
The title is carried by sumptuous graphics in their genre and an effective Lovecraftian atmosphere. It should be enough to keep most players hooked to their pads. The most motivated players will get their money’s worth with the game’s three different endings and its spectacular boss battles…
Steamworld Dig & Steamworld Dig 2: to explore the depths of the world
The developers of the excellent – The Gunk – first made their mark on the Steamworld Dig series.
Steamworld Dig also hybridizes genres and offers us a Metroidvania oriented towards exploration.
You play as a robot miner in a steampunk world who, for reasons we’ll leave to you to discover, digs galleries and uncovers the mysteries beneath the earth’s crust.
Instead of the traditional weapons, the game from Image & Form relies more on countless upgrades and skills to unlock to make your way through the enemies that block your path.
The game’s originality lies in its rather binary rhythm: you go down to the caves to acquire items, and you go back up to the city to sell them and thus buy the upgrades that are essential to access certain areas.
It’s a bit of a mouthful: the games can be criticized for their lack of depth. But the player who doesn’t have much time will appreciate their short life span and very accessible difficulty.
Steamworld Dig 2 refines the formula of the first opus in the most beautiful way. The gameplay is more fun than ever, and the level design is much more clever. Accessible even to beginners of the genre, Steamworld Dig 2 will also conquer the completionists with many collectables to find.
Owlboy: to get laid
Nine years. It took D-Pad Studio nine years to complete Owlboy. But it’s an understatement to say that the wait was worth it.
Graced with stunningly beautiful pixel art, Owlboy is remembered for its touching storyline and simple yet masterfully executed gameplay mechanics.
We play Otus, a mute owl, on his journey of initiation to prove himself worthy of his rank among his peers. To this end, you’ll travel through various inspiring aerial environments with him and take on devious opponents with the help of companions who act as weapons and skills to help you progress.
An indie smash of 2016, Owlboy stands out more as an artistic nugget than a revolutionary Metroidvania. D-Pad Studios’ game nevertheless promises a memorable adventure with a neat narrative and a benevolent message, allowing itself to tackle serious themes.
Dead Cells: The free electron full of action
We end this list with Dead Cells from the French studio Motion Twin.
Dead Cells plunges the intrepid player into an adventure that will often confront him with death.
Dead Cells is a plunge into hell where every moment of slackness is heavily punished and where learning about biomes and opponents is a significant part of the experience. Within the walls of this side scroller, every death is final for the character. No checkpoint comes to soften the sentence: when the health gauge reaches zero, you have to start again from the beginning with the essential equipment, like in any rogue-like game.
Destroy, die, improve, and succeed are the keywords that best describe the journey concocted by Motion Twin. The procedurally generated levels have the double effect of preventing any memorization of the environment while bringing a little variety to the game over.
The game design is first class: everything can be understood without a menu or long explanatory text, despite the plethora of possibilities.
Dead Cells is, in fact, a unique achievement. Its game design seems as solid as the stones that adorn this cursed castle you must go through, which is not a randomly chosen metaphor as the place is so hard. If you are not totally resistant to the sweet frustration of permanent death, this epic should make you lose your mind for good, just like its strange main protagonist.
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