Metroidvania

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Metroidvania is a subgenre of the action-adventure video game genre which borrows heavily from the general gameplay concepts of the Metroid series and the Castlevania series (specifically from Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and onward). The genre name is a portmanteau of the two series' names. Similar names include "Castletroid", a similar portmanteau, and "Igavania", in reference to Koji Igarashi, a major developer of Symphony of the Night and many other Castlevania games.

Metroidvania games feature a large interconnected world map the player can explore, but access to parts of the world is limited by doors or other portals that can only be opened after the player has acquired special tools, weapons or abilities within the game. Acquiring such improvements also aids the player in defeating more difficult enemies and locating shortcuts and secret areas, and often includes retracing one's steps across the map. Through this, Metroidvania games include tighter integration of story and level design, careful design of levels and character controls to encourage exploration and experimentation, and a means for the player to become more invested in their player-character. Metroidvania games typically are two-dimensional platformers, but can also include other genre types. Though popularized during the early console generations, the genre has seen a resurgence since the 2000s due to critically praised, independently developed games.

History[edit]

Though elements of Metroidvania gameplay appeared in earlier titles, such as Adventure (1979, Atari 2600),[1] Metroid (1986, Nintendo Entertainment System) is generally considered the first true Metroidvania game.[2] Nintendo's goal for the title was to create a non-linear adventure game to set it apart from other games at the time, requiring the player to retrace their steps while providing permanent power-ups in contrast to how other adventure games only offered power-ups with temporary effects.[3] The series was popular, and future titles refined the exploration approach while adding more story elements to the title such as with Super Metroid (1994, Super Nintendo Entertainment System).[2]

Koji Igarashi is credited with establishing defining features of the Metroidvania genre.

During this time, the gothic/horror-themed platformer series Castlevania was gaining popularity. The initial games in the series featured discrete levels that the player completed in a sequential manner. Series lead Koji Igarashi found that as they continued to produce sequels to cater to fans of the series, experienced players would race through the levels, while new players to the series would struggle with some stages.[4] To try to make a title that would be more widely appreciated across play levels and extend the gameplay time of the title, Igarashi and others on his team looked toward the ideas used by The Legend of Zelda series into the development of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (1997, PlayStation); such ideas included a large open world to explore, the need to acquire key items to enter certain areas, and the ability to improve the player-character as one would in console role-playing games.[4] The change proved popular with players, and subsequent games in the series would follow this formula.[2] With the close releases of Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, the formula these games presented would form the foundations of what are considered Metroidvanias today.[2]

While both series continued to develop titles in this format, the concept of Metroidvanias started to gain more traction when other parties began to develop games in the same style.[2] Cave Story (2004, Microsoft Windows) was independently developed by Daisuke Amaya as a homage to Metroid and other classic games; the game was critically praised showing the scope of what one person could do, and highlighted another take on the Castlevania and Metroid games, as well as vitalizing the 2D platformer genre as a viable indie game format[2][5] Shadow Complex (2009, Xbox 360) by Chair Entertainment was developed with acknowledging that Super Metroid was "the pinnacle of 2D game design". The game received highly positive reviews, and remains one of the best-selling downloadable titles on the Xbox 360 service.[2] Due to games like these, the Metroidvania genre began to take off in both publisher-driven and independent games development.[2]

While the word "Metroidvania" is commonly used presently to describe games in this genre, or games that have elements of this genre, the origins of the term are unclear; Igarashi notes that he did not coin the phrase, though grateful to be acknowledged as the one that established the basis of the genre.[6] Igarashi noted that with Symphony of the Night the goal was to have exploration closer to the top-down Zelda approach, but with the side-scrolling nature, it was compared more to Metroid, and believes this is how the portmanteau came about.[7] Igarashi himself and his fans uses the word "igavania" to describe games in this style;[7] Igarashi prefers the term as to avoid the connotation that Nintendo has direct involvement when using the term "Metroidvania".[8] A similar portmanteau "Castletroid" is sometimes used as well for describing this genre.[7]

Gameplay concepts[edit]

In Guacamelee!, the player gains the ability to temporarily turn their human character into a chicken, allowing them to pass through short corridors and discover secrets.

A Metroidvania title is most often used to refer to a platforming game that features a single large, interconnected map generally with discrete rooms or sections. Not all areas of this map are available at the start, often requiring the player to obtain an item, such as a weapon, a key, or a new character ability, to remove the obstacle that is blocking the path forward. Often, this item is protected by a boss character, providing story-driven challenges throughout the game. Maps are non-linear, and often require the player to traverse the map multiple times during the course of the game. Weaker monsters will inhabit other parts of the level, respawning when the player revisits those rooms, and often can be defeated to gain health, ammunition, or experience points.

Larger games generally feature save points as well as the ability to transport the player quickly between certain rooms on far sides of the map, eliminating tedious retracking in the latter parts of the game. Access to new abilities can also open up shortcuts that reduce travel time, as well as discover secrets that help to improve the character's abilities. For example, gaining access to double jump or wall jump abilities can give players more manageability about the game's map, while obtaining the ability to transform into a smaller object can let the player slip through narrow corridors. As such, the genre focuses on exploration of a large world map, and advancement of the player-character abilities over time. Metroidvanias are sometimes referred to as "platform adventure games" due to this scope.

Metroidvania is a term generally associated with game levels/maps that are laid out as two-dimensional side scrollers, with the player character moving left, right, up and down through the level. These games typically are rendered using two-dimensional graphics, but can include 2.5D-rendered games using 3D graphics engines but limiting player movement to two dimensions, such as the aforementioned Shadow Complex. The exploration and character development concepts of Metroidvanias can be used in other genres, though these games typically are not categorized as Metroidvanias. For example, the Metroid Prime trilogy is a first-person shooter that builds on the same style of exploration play as Metroid. Dark Souls is a third-person action role-playing game loosely considered a Metroidvania featuring "soft locks" – obstacles in the form of boss characters that are difficult but not impossible to defeat when the player-character is starting out, and become much easier to defeat with increased experience and abilities.[2]

Igarashi, who is credited with setting the core concepts of what makes a Metroidvania title, described what he believed were key elements that makes successful games in the genre. These include:[4]

  • Providing the player with a playable character that is fun and easy to control, so that the addition of new weapons, abilities, and tools will encourage the player to experiment with these new features and incorporate them into their gameplay.
  • Designing maps that encourage exploration but which still guide the player on a main path through the game. This can be accomplished by using secret areas that require new abilities to access, and to quickly provide the player with new abilities and the opportunities to use these abilities in the early portion of the game as to encourage them to continue to improve the player-character.
  • Providing means where the player can be aware of where they are in the game world at any time. This can be accomplished by graphical themes through the game's world, visually unique milestones at key game point, overall map and player status information screens, and the means of moving around the map quickly.

Analysis[edit]

The popularity of the Metroidvania genre is stated to be tied to the ease with which platformer games can be learned and mastered, while giving the player a character that they can grow over the course of the game.[2] Many developers of independent Metroidvania titles cited the exploration as a core element of the genre that draws in players, working off the natural human instincts to explore, and giving the players the sense of discovery and self-control during the game.[2]

From a developer's standpoint, the Metroidvania genre provides benefits to the developer. The genre encourages tight connection between level design and game story, and can give developers opportunities to create an immersive world for the player.[2] Level design of such games can also be challenging as to make sure the challenge to the players of the game is fair and enjoyable, and achieving this goal can be seen as a sign of a success for a developer.[2]

List of Metroidvania games[edit]

Year Title Developer Original Platform(s) Notes
1986 Metroid Nintendo Nintendo Entertainment System
1987 Rygar Tecmo Nintendo Entertainment System
1988 Blaster Master Sunsoft Nintendo Entertainment System
1989 Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap Westone Sega Master System
1991 Wonder Boy in Monster World Westone Sega Genesis
1991 Metroid II: Return of Samus Nintendo Game Boy
1994 Super Metroid Nintendo Super Nintendo Entertainment System
1997 Castlevania: Symphony of the Night Konami PlayStation
1997 Tomba! Whoopee Camp PlayStation
2001 Castlevania: Circle of the Moon Konami Game Boy Advance
2002 Shantae WayForward Technologies Game Boy Color
2002 Metroid Fusion Nintendo Game Boy Advance
2002 Metroid Prime Nintendo, Retro Studios GameCube
2002 Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance Konami Game Boy Advance
2003 Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow Konami Game Boy Advance
2003 Samurai Jack: The Amulet of Time Virtucraft Game Boy Advance
2004 Metroid: Zero Mission Nintendo Game Boy Advance
2004 Kirby & the Amazing Mirror Nintendo, HAL Laboratory Game Boy Advance
2004 Shaman King: Master of Spirits Konami Game Boy Advance
2004 Metroid Prime 2: Echoes Nintendo, Retro Studios GameCube
2004 Cave Story Daisuke Amaya Microsoft Windows Considered the first independently developed Metroidvania title
2005 La-Mulana GR3 Project Microsoft Windows, Wii, PlayStation Vita
2005 Shaman King: Master of Spirits 2 Konami Game Boy Advance
2005 Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow Konami Nintendo DS
2006 Metroid Prime Hunters Nintendo Nintendo DS
2006 Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin Konami Nintendo DS
2007 Odin Sphere Vanillaware PlayStation 2
2007 Metroid Prime 3: Corruption Nintendo, Retro Studios Wii
2007 Aquaria Bit Blot Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux, iOS
2008 Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia Konami Nintendo DS
2009 Shadow Complex Chair Entertainment Xbox 360
2010 VVVVVV Terry Cavanagh Microsoft Windows, OS X
2010 Hero Core Daniel Remar Microsoft Windows, OS X
2010 Shantae: Risky's Revenge WayForward Technologies DSiWare, iOS, Microsoft Windows
2010 Astroman[9] StarQuail Xbox 360
2011 Aliens Infestation WayForward Technologies, Gearbox Software Nintendo DS
2011 Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet Shadow Planet Productions Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux, Xbox 360
2011 Monster Tale DreamRift Nintendo DS
2011 UnEpic Francisco Téllez Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux, Microsoft Windows, Wii U
2011 The Iconoclasts[10] Konjak Microsoft Windows
2012 Dust: An Elysian Tail Humble Hearts Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox 360
2012 Bunny Must Die![11] Rockin Android Microsoft Windows
2012 You Have to Win the Game Pirate Hearts Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux
2013 Guacamelee! Drinkbox Studios Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, Xbox 360, Xbox One Brawler-based Metroidvania
2013 Dragon's Crown Atlus, Vanillaware PlayStation 3
2013 Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate Armature Studio Nintendo 3DS, PlayStation Vita, PlayStation 3, Wii U, Microsoft Windows, Xbox 360
2013 Teslagrad Rain Games Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux, Wii U, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita Puzzle-based Metroidvania
2013 Valdis Story: Abyssal City Endlessfluff Games Microsoft Windows, OS X
2014 Strider Double Helix Games Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
2014 Shantae and the Pirate's Curse WayForward Technologies, Inti Creates Nintendo 3DS, Wii U, Microsoft Windows
2014 Xeodrifter Renegade Kid Nintendo 3DS, Microsoft Windows
2014 Super Win the Game Pirate Hearts Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux
2015 Ori and the Blind Forest Moon Studios Microsoft Windows, Xbox One, Xbox 360
2015 Axiom Verge Tom Happ Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita
2015 Chasm Discord Games Microsoft Windows, OS X Procedurally-generated Metroidvania.[12]
2015 République Camouflaj Studio Microsoft Windows, IOS
2015 Environmental Station Alpha[13] Hempuli Oy Microsoft Windows, OS X
2015 Mystik Belle[14] Last Dimension Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux
2017 Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night Koji Igarashi, Inti Creates Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Wii U, Xbox One Kickstarter-based spiritual successor to the Castlevania series by Igarashi

References[edit]

  1. ^ Parish, Jeremy (December 25, 2014). "Metroidvania Chronicles #002: Adventure [Atari, 1979]". YouTube. Retrieved March 14, 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Nutt, Christian (February 13, 2015). "The undying allure of the Metroidvania". Gamasutra. Retrieved February 13, 2015. 
  3. ^ "The Metroid Retrospective – Part 1". GameTrailers. June 6, 2006. Retrieved April 8, 2014. 
  4. ^ a b c "Video: Koji Igarashi explores what makes a Metroidvania game". Gamasutra. February 23, 2015. Retrieved March 14, 2015. 
  5. ^ Greenwald, Will (April 12, 2013). "Indie Game Developers Revive Platformers". PC Magazine. Retrieved March 14, 2015. 
  6. ^ Parish, Jeremy (March 18, 2014). "GDC 2014: Why Koji Igarashi is Grateful for the Word "Metroidvania"". US Gamer. Retrieved March 14, 2015. 
  7. ^ a b c Mackey, Bob (11 May 2015). "Interview: Castlevania's Former Keeper Returns with Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night". U.S. Gamer. Retrieved 11 May 2015. 
  8. ^ Nutt, Christian (11 May 2015). "Q&A: Castlevania's Koji Igarashi returns with new game, Bloodstained". Gamasutra. Retrieved 12 May 2015. 
  9. ^ Joystiq Staff (December 27, 2013). "Twenty Developers You Don't Know but Should". joystiq.com. Retrieved 27 March 2015. 
  10. ^ Burns, Michael (April 15, 2013). "Metroidmania: 12 Great Games to Satisfy Your Craving for Open-Ended Platforming". indiegames.com. Retrieved 27 March 2015. 
  11. ^ Staff (September 17, 2012). "Indie Royale Profile Bunny Must Die". indiegames.com. Retrieved 27 March 2015. 
  12. ^ Parish, Jeremy (April 23, 2013). "CHASM: CREATING AN INFINITE METROIDVANIA". IGN. Retrieved March 17, 2015. 
  13. ^ Walker, John (May 1, 2015). "Wot I Think: Environmental Station Alpha". Rock, Paper, Shotgun. Retrieved May 12, 2015. 
  14. ^ Couture, Joel (May 22, 2015). "Mystik Belle Review - A Wonderful Brew". IndieGames.com. Retrieved May 24, 2015. 

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