Why I Love "Metroidvania" Style Games
TL; DR - They're difficult without being hard. Let me explain...
The "Metroidvania" game style is not one I've ever come out to praise, but I've also never written an entire blog about why I don't like them, either...
Let's start things off with a quick definition of Metroidvania styles games for those of you that are new here, pulled straight from Wikipedia:
"Metroidvania games generally feature a large interconnected world map the player can explore, though access to parts of the world is often limited by doors or other obstacles that can only be passed once the player has acquired special items, tools, weapons or abilities within the game."
I've recently been putting time into Hollow Knight and it's amazing how a game built on such a simple concept can pull you in and keep you there as your fight to figure out what the purpose of this character's journey is, all within a beautiful presentation. Also, there are titles like Steamworld Dig 2 where they give players a lot of leeway and crutches to make sure you're having fun while still working around the traditional model. Metroidvania, as a genre, has a ton of these gems and I think they get on the wrong side of the argument in a lot of cases because they're seen as lazy or too difficult.
Now, I know some of you out there are two seconds away from a full on "REEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE," and coming after me for being some sort of hypocrite. We'll, you're super incorrect and we're going to talk about some of the best characteristics of the Metroidvania genre.
EXHIBIT A: They do so much with so little
Take a quick second and think about your favorite Metroidvania game. Let me guess, it's a 2D platformer, graphics are good (for their time), probably a nice variation of pixelated perfection or hand drawn beauty... but you can't stop thinking how it just looks so good. Oh! And what about that soundtrack; the highs and the low, the excitement and the dark brooding tones of danger. It's perfect. Think of that jingle that you get when you find a missile upgrade or a new gadget [oh yes, Happy Metroid Monday everyone]. How about that story? It's simple, I get it, but you keep pushing forward, grabbing little morsels of lore that make you so hungry for endgame. Then you finally beat the big boss, throw it on a harder difficulty, and do it all over again. Did we forget to talk about how the main character is controlled? Talk about a tight button mapping -- am I right?!
Yeah, the genre is simple and there's not too much variation from this formula, but when a truly talented developer sends out to carve his or her name in Metroidvania infamy, they've got a pretty aggressive roadmap.
EXHIBIT B: They encourage unparalleled exploration
There are few things more rewarding (for being so simple) in gaming than remembering exactly where you needed the power up you just found in order to advance. You find yourself backtracking through familiar forests and caves not nearly as dangerous as they once were (as you've powered up considerably since the last time you came through), continuously looking for that odd colored stone, gap that was once too big to jump, or that once unbearable terrain... with each discovery hoping to progress forward. Truthfully, more times than not, you just get an extension to your stupid health bar, but whatever. This way of encouraging exploration is a way to keep each part of the map feeling fresh, no matter how many times you've passed through before.
EXHIBIT C: It's difficult without being hard
There are games that are hard for hard's sake, like your classic Dark Souls, Battle Toads, or Ninja Gaiden. Most Metroidvania games don't aggressively try to frustrate the player, but instead challenge you to use your brain, remember where you've been, and focus on where you're going. Sure, Axiom Verge (for instance) pulls no punches when it comes to the lack of hand holding, but that then rewards such a feeling of accomplishment when you finally cross that finish line and save whatever computer-alien nonsense was going on. These games are full of small victories and rewards, but it's up to you to not let the mechanics frustrate you.
EXHIBIT D: There's something for everyone
I won't go too deep here, as I've already covered it. Would you like a relatively easy experience focused on fun and carving your own path? Steamworld Dig is for you. Maybe you want something a little darker with a bit more challenge? Let me introduce you to Hollow Knight. You down for a little masochism as you look to find that ONE F&%$NG SQUARE you haven't been to yet? Say hello to Axiom Verge.
All things considered, and I know this is the popular opinion, but I'm a Metroidvania guy. I'm sure you think I'm right (which I am) but if you want to discuss your opinion come visit me in the Discord, leave a comment below, or join us live Monday at 7PM ET as we live record the GameZilla Podcast.
I'm going to sit here try to push though Hollow Knight ($15 very well spent) as I rush to get ready for my next Metroidvania game, but until next time -- Game On!