It’s hard to believe that 25 years have passed since Castlevania: Symphony of the Night was released in 1997. While many games have come close, it is considered by many to be the gold standard of the Metroidvania genre, even today.
For those that don’t know, a Metroidvania is a coined term for a varying non-linear, 2D action platformer with a degree of RPG elements. Its name is an amalgamation of the Metroid and Castlevania franchises.
Castlevania sadly hasn’t been a Metroidvania ever since 2008 with the release of Castlevania: Order of Ecclessia for the Nintendo DS. Konami and Koji Igarashi, who was essentially directing the direction of the series, sort of had a falling out after Konami decided to go in another direction with the Castlevania series bringing in outside developers MercurySteam, who rebooted it with their Lords of Shadow iterations.
On the Metroid side of the Metroidvania genre, after a long change from the acclaimed Metroid Prime series in the 2000s, the Metroid series finally went back to its roots with Samus Returns, which was released for the Nintendo 3DS in 2017—although Samus Returns is technically a remake of the Game Boy Metroid II: Samus Returns. Perhaps Nintendo was testing the waters for interest in returning to the format? More recently, the highly-praised Metroid Dread was released last year in October 2021 for the Nintendo Switch. It was coincidentally developed by MercurySteam of the previously mentioned Castlevania development.
The genre is still very much alive and strong, with solid entries if you know where to look. The Hollow Knight series combines visual beauty while giving the player much more non-linear freedom than a usual Metroidvania. The series has developed a niche of its own.
Koji Igarashi, of Konami fame decided to make a Kickstarter and produce a game with a team of his own named Bloodstained. It is essentially a Castlevania without the Castlevania lore. Koji Igarashi said he was willing to come back to Konami if they ask, so perhaps players may see another official Castelvania by him.
Odds are if you like the Metroidvania genre, you have played the above titles, several times over even perhaps. These are entries that I recommend that may not be as well-known as those in the title.
Ender Lilies: Quietus of the Knights
Developed by Live Wire and Adgblobe with publishing by Binary Haze Interactive, this game was promising with its early access demo via Steam in 2021.
The game features a girl named Lily who awakens in a church. She is soon met by a knight who will become her guardian of sorts through the game as she very quickly notices the mysterious rain has had a disastrous effect on the people and surroundings.
The gameplay is smooth, the game progresses at a good pace, the art is gorgeous, and the music is beautiful. The difficulty can tend to be on the harder side even on normal difficulty, but it is doable. It is one of my favorite games in recent memory, let alone Metroidvanias. I highly recommend it.
This game is an upgrade of the original Astlibra if the revision subtitle didn’t make that apparent. It was developed by KEIZO and published by Whisper Games just last month in October 2022. I recommend the revision version as the upgrades and overall second effort put into it place the game in another tier, in my opinion
The visuals are stunning, and the boss battles are grand. While not exactly hack and slash, the action tends to be more on the heavy side, forcing you to stay on your toes. There are plenty of customizations for the main character, so you are free to try out different equipment and skills and such. Without giving too much away, the story deals with the protagonist as he travels time and faces fate. It is definitely a solid Metroidvania with significant throwback elements.
It is available for PC.
HunterX was developed and published by ORANGEPOPCORN in April 2022.
Allow me to quote from the steam page for the story as they say it best:
"On the night of the deep purple moon, a girl who appears to be an ordinary teenager goes out for another devil hunt. While chasing her prey, she comes across a crack that leads to another world, and the adventure of her destiny begins."
You play as the female protagonist who wields various weapons and deals with occult magic while casually wearing her Japanese school uniform.
This Metroidvania might be the toughest one on the list in terms of difficulty especially if you play this one without any updates on the base version like I did. Enemies and especially bosses can combo their hits, so it is very possible for a simple combo or two to totally annihilate you if you are not careful. No invincibility buffer after getting hit in this one.
That being said, as with most Metroidvanias, if you memorize enemy move sets, you can use given abilities like dodge, roll, double jump, etc. to your advantage that should allow you to make it easier to overcome even the hardest and cheapest bosses.
It is available for PC and Switch.
These are just some of the Metroidvanias that I personally recommend for the Metroidvania itch that you need scratched.