Your footsteps echo through the hallways of the castle. You’ve been here before, but the infestation of monsters means there’s always something new lurking in the shadows. After fending off a particularly nasty creature, you’re met with the sight of a massive, locked door. It’s the same one that barred your way last time you traversed these halls, but its magical key is now heavy in your pocket. You place the key in the lock, and the door swings open to reveal your next challenge.

Although the Metroidvania genre has existed since the 1980s (originally popularized by the Metroid and Castlevania franchises), it’s seen a resurgence in popularity since the early 2000s. This is primarily due to the influx of critically-acclaimed indie titles that cleverly adopted the level design and gameplay mechanics of early console titles, and successfully brought them to the modern gaming era. The games on our list take inspiration from these and other games, adding nuance and complexity to the Metroidvania collection of titles.

The 10 Best Metroidvania Games

Below, we’ve rounded up some of the best Metroidvanias on the market in 2020. If you’re interested in picking up a game that’s sure to provide hours of compelling story and fun gameplay, check out our recommendations!

10. SteamWorld Dig 2

Steamworld Dig 2
  • Developer: Image & Form
  • Release Date: September 21, 2017
  • System(s): PC, PS4, PSVita, Switch, 3DS, Stadia

SteamWorld Dig 2 is a bright and beautiful game with a charming steampunk aesthetic. Players control Dorothy, a steam-powered robot on a quest to find Rusty, the missing protagonist from the first game. When giant machines seem to threaten her friend’s well-being, Dorothy must fight for what’s truly important.

9. Strider (2014)

Strider
  • Developer: Double Helix Games, Capcom Osaka Studios
  • Release Date: February 18, 2014
  • System(s): PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One

Strider (2014) is a modernized reboot of its 1989 predecessor, showing how an artful remake can breathe new life into an old classic. The story remains more or less the same as the original, with the eponymous Strider Hiryu on his mission to kill Grandmaster Meio. In the reboot, however, new themes are incorporated from Strider’s other appearances in games and manga to deepen his story and character.

8. Axiom Verge

Axiom Verge
  • Developer: Thomas Happ Games 
  • Release Date: May 14, 2015
  • System(s): PC, PS4, PS Vita, Xbox One, Switch

Axiom Verge remains true to its inspiration, adopting a similar graphic and gameplay style to the Metroid series. Players take on the role of Trace, a scientist who wakes up in an ancient, high-tech world after an experiment goes wrong. When he discovers the mechanical remains of a survivor of a long-dead war, Trace must act to save her and her people while discovering the history behind this mysterious and foreign world.

7. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

Bloodstained
  • Developer: ArtPlay
  • Release Date: June 18, 2019
  • System(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night boasts the closest ties to the source of the Metroidvania genre, with development led by the producer of Symphony of the Night and later Castlevania titles, Koji Igarashi. The story follows Miriam, a failed sacrifice of the Alchemy Guild in their attempts to gain control of 18th century England. Upon discovering that a fellow failed sacrifice has summoned an army of demons to exact revenge, Miriam must thwart his efforts and save the world from destruction.

6. Guacamelee! 2

Guacamelee 2
  • Developer: DrinkBox Studios
  • Release Date: August 21, 2018
  • System(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch

There is a simple, silly joy in the brightly-colored, fun-filled world of Guacamelee! 2. The plot begins seven years after the ending of the first game, following the luchador Juan and his wife Lupita in their life in the True Timeline. When dark omens foreshadow an oncoming danger to the village, however, a retired Juan must travel to the Dark Timeline and fight the source of the corruption threatening the Mexiverse.

5. Salt and Sanctuary

Salt and Sanctuary
  • Developer: Ska Studios
  • Release Date: March 15, 2016
  • System(s): PC, PS4, PS Vita, Xbox One, Switch

Salt and Sanctuary takes inspiration in its gameplay from the Souls series, crafting a beautiful, haunting, and punishing story. Players take on the role of an unnamed Saltborn who washes up on a mysterious island after a Kraken wrecks his ship. He quests to save the princess who was lost during the attack, and discovers a terrible truth about the island and the power that controls it.

4. Dead Cells

Dead Cells
  • Developer: Motion Twin
  • Release Date: May 10, 2017
  • System(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch, iOS

Dead Cells is a game that combines the Metroidvania and roguelike genres to make a fast-paced, high-stakes adventure in which each new run reveals more of the game’s dark story and world. Players become The Prisoner, a sentient slime that can possess nearby corpses to improve his own physical abilities. Gameplay involves the clever use of platforming and abilities to escape from a derelict prison and find the source of the death and destruction plaguing The Prisoner.

3. Ori and the Blind Forest

Ori Blind Forest
  • Developer: Moon Studios
  • Release Date: March 11, 2015
  • System(s): PC, Xbox One, Switch

Alongside its visually stunning, hand-painted graphics, Ori and the Blind Forest delivers a hopeful and emotional story about love and courage. The story follows Ori, a bright little forest spirit, and a sprite named Sein as they confront the evil looming over their quiet home. Players utilize typical platforming mechanics alongside each character’s unique abilities to proceed through a beautiful world that feels more and more like home every second.

2. Owlboy

Owlboy
  • Developer: D-Pad Studio
  • Release Date: November 1, 2016
  • System(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch

Owlboy is a charming, emotional game that showcases the true beauty of pixel art. Players act as Otus, a member of a humanoid Owl race, who has just been granted the power of flight. When pirates attack his home village, Otus and his friend Geddy must use his new power in their efforts to save the village and discover the history of the Owls.

1. Hollow Knight

Hollow Knight
  • Developer: Team Cherry
  • Release Date: February 24, 2017
  • System(s): PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch

Have you ever wondered about the lives of the little creatures living below our feet? In Hollow Knight, players take on the mantle of an unnamed insect Knight as he adventures through the ruined kingdom of Hallownest. A mysterious plague has infected the world, and the Knight must explore abandoned cities and fight the mind-addled victims of the epidemic to uncover the truth of its origins and his own role in the dark destiny of the underground.

What is a Metroidvania?

Metroidvania is the term used to categorize games that have a similar structure and play style to the Metroid and Castlevania series. Unsurprisingly, the genre name is a portmanteau of these two titles, signaling to players the type of gameplay they can expect when they open the game.

Metroid NES
Metroid for NES | Image Credit: Moby Games

Since the name isn’t exactly descriptive for gamers who may be unfamiliar with either of these franchises, we’ve included a few staple characteristics of the genre for players seeking a bit more information.

1. Large, interconnected maps

Metroidvanias tend to have massive, complex settings that weave distinct areas together for a more cohesive feel. Players are free to explore the maps as they please, but certain areas remain inaccessible until a specific ability, item, or tool is unlocked through story progression. Once unlocked, the player can use this power to remove the obstacle, continuing on with the game and revealing shortcuts that make future movement faster and easier.

2. Milestone leveling

The powers that players unlock in order to open up the world of a Metroidvania also serve as the primary indicator of character progression. In lieu of more traditional level-up structures in which a character’s stats are either increased or customized, Metroidvania mark character improvement by their accessible abilities. As new powers are unlocked, players receive more creative and complex ways to solve puzzles and defeat enemies.

Castlevania
Castlevania for NES | Image Credit: Moby Games

3. Improved platforming

Although not all Metroidvanias are side-scrolling platformers, it’s relatively common for the genre. Metroidvanias take platforming to an entirely new level, however, providing a challenge that requires players to use their newfound powers to traverse the environment. Double-jumps and dash moves are standard unlockable abilities, necessary for combat and regular gameplay.

4. Non-linear gameplay

Since the world is so open to exploration from the beginning, Metroidvanias thrive on stories that give players room to choose their path. The main plot is guided along by significant NPCs and unlockable powers, but branching paths ensure that the world never feels demanding or restrictive. Players are free to roam and discover new areas, characters, and sidequests as they wish, sometimes in ways that affect the outcome of the game.

5. Tightly-integrated story and level design

Metroidvanias are known for their highly-detailed level design, which often incorporates various elements and themes of the story to improve the game’s cohesive feel. Levels reflect the player’s progression through the story, both in their aesthetic appeal and in their structure, ensuring that any new power the player attains feels utilized and earned.

Further Reading