Metroidvanias Must Die

hey, this is spinning off from a discussion i was seeing in the “Games You Played Today” thread

i personally am tired by how much the idea of a “Metroidvania” has solidified around particular very obvious tropes (i.e. “theoretically non-linear but actually gated off by some new item”) and have become a form that a larger and larger number of prestige 2d indie games structure themselves around unquestioningly. i’m tired of going through people’s endless reliving of their memories playing Super Metroid or Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. it’s just gotten old!!

so, in the spirit of destroying Metroidvanias, dismembering them, cooking and eating their flesh and then bathing in their blood:

what are your favorite examples of games that use Metroidvania-like structures (i.e. maybe they’re open world or non-linear-ish in some way) but could not be reasonably called a “Metroidvania” because they’re actually something else entirely?

i’m thinking of especially a lot of older 2D platformers but this can apply to 3D games as well. the game doesn’t have to be a “good” implementation of those ideas either, just different.

a couple examples to start: Super Pitfall and Goonies 2 for the NES.

13 Likes

Legacy of the Wizard, Faxanadu, Milon’s Secret Castle. Tomba? (sorry, Tomba!?)

could the 3D collectathon platformer be considered adjacent to these? like your Marios 64 and Banjos-Kazooie

2 Likes

i was too lazy to put this in my initial post, but an additional thing i would ask is:

explain what is particularly different or unusual about the creative choices the game or game(s) you list make that make them something distinct from what you perceive a standard Metroidvania to be

hmm so a metroidvania is (to me, but im sure this wont be a controversial definition) an “open world” that is really a set of different levels where the entrances and exits are seamlessly linked together, and some are locked off, and the player is encouraged to wander between them until they find the keys to progress. those keys are ideally powerups to expand your verbs, but like i would consider the more open-ended souls games to be essentially metroidvanias even though they’re gated by literal keys

So what distinguishes all of those examples for me is that theyre opened up by different methods — like Legacy of the Wizard having the multiple characters with their own powers, or Tomba! being driven by completing Events. Or are overall linear games but with allowance for backtracking, and nonlinear open exploration within individual levels, like Faxanadu or Milon’s. Milon’s also has a big map that links everything but it’s presented as the outer walls of the castle, it’s essentially a hub/level select. Which funny enough prefigured the collectathon hub-and-levels structure by many years

3 Likes

Zelda II: Adventure of Link and Elliot Quest

They’re open-ish but there is also a “path” or particular order you have to tackle the challenges they contain in order to reach new areas, which usually means finding the right item to help you get beyond a choke point or difficult spot and into a new area where you can restart the cycle of exploration.

Interestingly a big distinction with these games and what would be called a Metroidvania is that here instead of one big 2D level there are a series of discrete 2D levels connected by a top down world map area. So instead of having to backtrack between areas you’ve visited a dozen times before like usually happens in a Metroidvania you just return to the hub area however many times. But this is fine because the nature of progress in these games means that the hub area itself is also constantly opening up and or changing in some way.

What would Super Metroid or Symphony of the Night be like if it had a Zelda-style top-down hub world acting as the main connective tissue for all the game’s different areas or more distinct locations in each area? I recall Metroid Prime 2 having a hub area and being a bit more interesting for it.

3 Likes

i dunno how committed i am to the hot take that Metroid Fusion would count more among these games than as a traditional Metroidvania but i like how it sounds in my head. it does basically tear out the entire nonlinear gameflow in favor of trapping you in a series of action puzzleboxes that you have to explore your way out of. your powers and progress are dictated to you, not earned by exploring

2 Likes

Another thing I think about with regard to not just open world games or Metroidvania’s but in general is how games have less layers of abstraction in them and how this effects the experience itself.

Like GTA-likes just have the big open map and you traverse it (whether you’re in a car or a plane or going indoors or in a cave or whatever) in basically the same 3D rendered way as the rest of the game. The two games I mentioned have two distinct looks or modes to them: the sidescrolling mode and the top-down mode. Each with their own art style and controls and so on. I think that model of game could be expanded to have other, equally abstracted modes like if Elliot Quest had introduced a pterodactyl character that you could fly around on like a vehicle section but doing so turned the game into a free flowing shmup.

Actraiser was like that, wasn’t it? You flew around on one screen and fly into spots that turned into 2D sidescrolling levels where you had to fight monsters and stuff. The only recent game that does stuff like anymore is Nier where it seamlessly switches back and forth between third person character action and shmup and so on.

So basically my solution to the problem of Metroidvanias and 3D open world games being boring now is that they just need to switch it up and inject some variety. Metroidvania’s need hub worlds and top-down or isometric sections and 3D open world games can accomplish this by just doing more with the game camera like Nier. Or having hubs in general. GTA-likes sometimes have interior areas like caves or inside buildings or whatever but it’s never set up in a spokes-and-wheel kind of way because the big open space is supposed to be compelling in itself but then shoots itself in the foot by giving the player the ability to just run straight over everything with much restriction.

Breath of the Wild kind of had the right idea with the four big dungeon areas and the big castle in the middle of the map.

NES Strider
Clash at Demonhead
Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin

oops

I think there’s a good argument for it, but I don’t see anyone talking about Terraria as a metroidvania
At least when it first came out it’s world was completely accessable from the moment you boot up the game, and any area is at most softlocked by difficult to navigate terrain or tougher enemies
The Metroidvania argument would be that there’s a clear linear progression of bosses to fight which give you progressively stronger equipment, but there’s nothing stopping an experienced player from trying to go for the more difficult stuff immediately
I was always a big fan of approach but I think it only really works because as a procgen game things move around between playthroughs so there’s no guaranteed location of a grappling hook, and as a building game the player is always provided with general tools for acting on their environment in leu of a specific item
Anyways that’s maybe not exactly what you’re looking for but it does avoid the problem of hard item gates

5 Likes

my favourite memories of Banjo Kazooie are from when i didn’t yet have a solid idea of what a “hub world” was supposed to be (and the game doesn’t communicate it nearly as clearly as Mario 64 or Crash Bandicoot), so i just thought the whole game took place in this nightmare Escher-esque labyrinth where anything could connect to anywhere else; jumping into an open chest in a cave could take you to a beach somewhere, a small hill with an entrance at the bottom could be this vast cavern on the inside, there’s 4 different temporal versions of the same forest (!!). it was never possible to situate the camera as to give you the full gestalt of a location, and there were often seams to be expected even while traversing the same environment. really fit with the jigsaw-piece aesthetic

and abomination of laundry-list game design though it is, my favourite part of Banjo Tooie was stumbling into part of an area i knew was supposed to be much later in the game though a hidden tunnel in an already unexpectedly-sprawling underwater zone. i’m kind of shocked that no “genuine” “metroidvania” ever gave me that feeling

12 Likes

the isle o hags map and secret connections between massive levels in B-T is still so cool to me… it’s a game full of things i love on paper that’s just tragically unfun to play

ex. in the second level you find a disused train and get it running again, which lets you travel between stations in certain levels. You can bring passengers with you to ferry them between levels, and need to in order to complete a few objectives. what this actually means is a lot of tedious running back and forth to get one (1) jiggy but it’s still a neat twist on the hub based collectathon platformer that’s not really comparable to much else

4 Likes

la-mulana uses some metroidvania-like structures, but it’s actually high art

6 Likes

Atlantis no Nazo probably fits the bill? It’s a giant maze that you have to figure out how to get to the finish. It’s room-based, and many rooms might seem linear at first, but there’s often multiple doors, (some of them hidden with Druaga-esque secrecy) and some doors will just lead you backwards, or you think you’re being shot way forward by going into a room that shoots you up 20 rooms, but is actually just a dead-end or leads you back to one of the first rooms. It’s esoteric and unfair, basically an unholy marriage of a linear platformer with Tower of Druaga and Return of Ishtar. It’s kusoge, but there isn’t anything like it, so maybe it’s of your interest.

I always wanted someone to do a platformer that iterates on Sonic CD’s mix of linearity and non-linearity, or that’s at least inspired by it in some way. I don’t feel like there’s a game like it. They’re linear levels (all you have to do is to keep going rightwards to finish the level if you ever feel lost or just wanna get the level done with), but whereas most Sonic levels are built more as playgrounds so you can figure how to build up and use speed to go forwards, Sonic CD is interested in you using speed to explore in all directions, by trying to find the hidden roboticizer in each level, by finding time travel posts and by poking every nook and cranny so you can find areas that will grant you easy time travel. But as you progress through the game, the levels feature less and less “easy time travel” spots and you have to really learn the level layout and Sonic’s movement mechanics more deeply so you can make your own time travel route. It’s all about exploring the levels so you can find where the roboticizer is and how to time travel to the Past to destroy it. There’s a couple roboticizers that really require you to understand the level in a larger sense so you realize how to get to them. It was such an amazing “a-ha!” moment that really transformed how I approached this specific level, that I don’t want to spoil.

14 Likes

If we stretch the term metroidvania into the appropriate absurdity in the same way the word roguelike is used, then Digimon World 4 is a metroidvania. technically you can do the dungeons in each world in any order, but the notion of nonlinearity is a lie because actually you just need to gather an increasingly absurd amount of keys, but TECHNICALLY it has non-linear elements (key-getting dungeons) but also linearly gated elements (key-using dungeons, worlds)

1 Like

hmm

Megaman X

3 Likes

Metroid Other M springs to mind as a Metroidvania which is not interested in letting the player explore. Even abilities are unlocked in a convoluted way to make the railroaded path more dramatic. So the space for a traditional Metroidvania exists but you’re not allowed to do anything in it until the game is basically over.


God of War (2018) felt like a Metroidvania to me just because of how the progression loops back on itself and you have freedom to explore in many instances. Not sure if ability unlocks fit the traditional mold but I got a Metroidvania vibe once I was done. I guess the big lake is more ‘hubby’ than the rest of the level design. I wouldn’t typically associate hubs with Metroidvania.

1 Like

I really appreciate the contrast in the world structure of Myst and Riven. Myst is designed as a spoke-hub world where the hub presents a freedom of choices as each spoke can be accessed from the beginning. The spokes themselves are more or less linear though your path through them is almost certainly going to meander and loop back. Meanwhile, Riven’s structure is less immediately obvious. In fact, realizing the scope and definition of the world is a eureka moment in itself. It’s incredibly graceful and purposeful. The Infocom adventure Trinity is another great example where the world itself is a puzzle.

When an understanding of the world’s geography is necessary to meet the challenge of completing a game, I feel as if I’m inhabiting that place on a deeper level. Games are rarely more satisfying.

7 Likes

it’s still incredible that they made such a real feeling place i can mentally map out with pretty hypercards

always took Riven as a logical expansion of one of the ages from Myst. the individual ages were about exploring until you learnt their rules so you could solve the 2-3 major puzzles in the way of your goal. Riven is that but with a whole game devoted to learning those rules

2 Likes

in my head (while ruminating the eternal question of what makes a good sequel) i once compared the philosophies of Riven and Uru to that of a physicist and engineer respectively. the engineer looks at what’s there - mechanics and lore and such; the linking book concept being pivotal in this example - and asks, “what greater things can i build using this?” while the physicist asks, “how can i break down, investigate and deepen my understanding of this?”

seeing the latter in games or even fiction at all is such a rare thing, but Riven went there: without ever seeming derivative or indebted to Myst, it pulls in the scope end entrusts the player with taking in a singular, comprehensive world. everything feels scaled up and more absorbing, more tangible and matured. we witness Gehn’s analysis and experiments with building linking books, his failures and partial successes, and need to have carefully studied the function of books ourselves in order to carry out the game’s eventual objective. it’s so impossibly well conceived, it makes the original Myst seem like a footnote or minor curio when you’re done with it

4 Likes

I posted in 2016 an argument that The Witness is a kind of Metroidvania (the TLDR: the keys are knowledge, and Super Metroid’s animals are also knowledge keys). And I see now rereading it that that was also partly an exhausted reaction to conventional, stilted indie progression structures like Axiom Verge’s, and a search for another way of thinking about the genre. And I discovered this other way of thinking was already fully present in Super Metroid itself – I did not need to go to counterfactual genre originators, but only look more deeply into the genre originator itself (instead of the shallow game design cliches that accreted around it).

As Tulpa pointed out at the time, for all that it doesn’t use literal key item powerups, The Witness remains just as stilted and inorganically designed – moreso in fact – as the indie metrovanias we are complaining about. And this is something to hold against it compared to its obvious point of comparison, Myst/Riven.

What’s perhaps truly distinctive – love it or hate it, and I don’t blame anyone for hating it – is that it leans into its inorganicness, wears its formal nature on its sleeve as a proud announcement, instead of having it as a substructure poorly concealed under a game that first presents as providing organic exploration. Blow seems to have decided on his own cliches (he probably called them something like Formal Principles to himself), and consciously and dictatorially molded his team’s game to fit into them, believing that to be a worthwhile (?) self-invented and imposed formal discipline.

8 Likes