Like virtual reality games are the current attention of many game enthusiasts. Metroidvania was a leading genre of gaming that was developed in the 90s ‘. See our list of 10 top Metroidvania games of all time.
It’s hard to think of a single genre in the history of this medium that has enjoyed the kind of resurgence that Metroidvanias have.
A genre born from two legendary series: Castlevania and Super Metroid.
This genre has been one of the most enduring and beloved of all time, one that is packed with memorable characters and worlds.
Metroidvanias were quite a niche for a long time but over the last decade or so, thanks to the efforts of incredibly talented indie developers, these games are now a dime in a dozen. They have become so popular that even games that don’t commit fully to the genre end up using elements of it.
Metroidvania’ has become a buzzword in recent years, most often appearing as a bullet point in indie game descriptions. Traditionally Metroidvania games, aside from being like the titular games, are essentially 2D side scroller games where the player explores an interconnected world, acquiring new abilities that allow them to backtrack and unlock new areas, platforming, and combat.
Count Down of 10 top Metroidvania games of all time
With such tough competition in this list, we have established 5 point-criteria which is critical for a quality Metroidvania and our top 10 picks are judged on the following basis:
- Abilities and Unlocks
- Atmosphere and soundtrack
Starting from our 10th pick down to 1st…
|Initial Release||November 1, 2016|
|Platform||PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, Linux, Macintosh operating systems|
|Developer/Designer||Simon Stafsnes Andersen, Adrian Bauer|
Owlboy is a story-driven platform, adventure game. Here you can fly and explore a brand-new world in the clouds! Pick up your friends, and bring them with you as you explore the open skies. Overcome obstacles and greater enemies, in one of the most detailed adventures of this era.
Being a mute, Otus struggles living up to the expectations of owl-hood. Things spiral from bad to worse with the sudden appearance of sky pirates.
What follows is a journey through monster infested ruins, with unexpected encounters, well-kept secrets, and burdens no one should have to bear.
Another thing that helps in favor of these characters is the game’s animations, which are surprisingly detailed and emotive.
It’s hard to believe, considering that Owlboy is a 2D pixel art game, but somehow it’s characters manage to convey a vast range of reactions and emotions through incredible animations.
Each of these characters, though, are just as much a strength to Owlboy’s core gameplay as they are to the narrative.
As the player, you will only ever be controlling Otus, who doesn’t have a whole lot of moves in his arsenal.
He can fly, he can dash, and he can spin, but that’s about it.
This is where Otus’ friends, who join him along the journey and serve as his constant companions, come into the play.
Otus flies around carrying one of his friends at a time, each of who has a different ability or skill they can use, while the player has the ability to swap between them as and when they please
• A letter to pixel art for a new audience, Owlboy is a story-driven action-adventure, with a unique mix of flight and platforming.
• Carry anything. Recruit Otus’s friends as gunners to fight for you, each with unique abilities and stories.
• Large dungeons with big and challenging boss battles.
• An adventure 10 years in the making.
|Initial Release||January 23, 2018|
|Platform||PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Windows, Linux, Macintosh operating systems, PlayStation Vita|
|Developer/Designer||Joakim Sandberg, MP2 Games|
Iconoclasts has been one of gaming’s most literal titles in quite some time.
See, while it plays a lot like a contemporary 2D Metroid sequel, it breaks up its exploration and puzzle-platforming with a surprising amount of twists.
The plot involves an oppressive religious organization, a race for vanishing natural resources, and a small band of people who dare to defy the edicts of the figurehead who controls the word.
You or rather, your protagonist, Robin must rise up to defeat those religious leaders. Clashing with icons, in other words.
Iconoclasts does many things well, but its biggest failing comes in its muddled storyline. A lot happens in the space of the 12-hour running time, and the plot throws new characters and opaque terminology at you at a rapid-fire pace from the moment you arrive on this strange alien world and pick up Robin’s outsized combat wrench.
You encounter the ruling theocracy’s elite agents straight away, and both they and the people who live in fear of their cruel power speak to one another (and to Robin) in a dense stream of jargon that presumes a great deal of familiarity with the nuances of this society.
Iconoclasts is one of the most intricate exploratory platformers in recent years. Once you do get rolling, though, you’ll find in Iconoclasts one of the most intricate (not to mention visually stunning) exploratory platforms of the recent times
You improve your knowledge of how to use skills in complex ways. The multi-layered puzzles that fill the world of Iconoclasts downplay twitchy action in favour of methodical, screen-by-screen advancement.
Some of the more intricate areas can take an hour or longer to unravel, in part because they tend to be light on hints and clues.
Iconoclasts features some of the most gorgeous traditional 16-bit-style pixel art.
Its world is rendered with a unique dimension and great visuals, which eventually turns out to have a story explanation rather than simply looking cool.
The characters may be tiny sprites, but they’re depicted with tons of personality.
8. Dust: An Elysian Tail
|Initial Release||August 15, 2012|
|Platform||PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Windows, macOS, Linux, Nintendo Switch
|Developer/Designer||Limited Run Games, Humble Hearts|
Dust: An Elysian Tail is a beautifully hand-drawn adventure that hides a lot of heart and emotion underneath the cartoony surface.
The player suits up as the amnesiac warrior known only as Dust and with a talking sword and a flying fox called Fidget, you set out to reclaim your identity.
Right off the bat, the game is far more action-packed than many of the other games on this list; hordes of enemies will meet their end at the end of your blade, in a combat system that is fluid and beautifully animated.
While the combat is beautiful to watch and solid, it doesn’t evolve much beyond the first couple of hours of the game and can be in danger of getting repetitive.
However, the controls and platforming are extremely smooth which is augmented by a great map to explore, which encourages and rewards exploration with juicy loot.
One of the most outstanding aspects of Dust is the incredible soundtrack, which complements the dynamic combat perfectly and makes for one epic adventure.
7. Ori and The Blind Forest
|Initial Release||March 11, 2015|
|Platform||Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows|
|Developer/Designer||Moon Studios/Thomas Mahler|
Upon release, the game received critical acclaim, with players praising the game’s gameplay, art style, story, action sequences, musical score, and environmental design.
Ori and the Blind Forest is a 2D platform game. The player controls Ori, a white guardian spirit, and Sein, who is the light and eyes of the Spirit Tree. Ori can jump, climb, and use other abilities to navigate. Sein can shoot Spirit Flames to combat enemies or break obstacles. Ori is required to interact with their environment as they jump from platforms and solve puzzles.
Ori is faced with enemies while making their way to restoring the forest.
The player helps Ori collect health cells, energy cells, new abilities, and upgrades.
The game world unfolds to the player in the fashion of a Metroidvania, with new abilities allowing the player to access previously inaccessible areas.
Each biome comes alive with an incredible amount of detail, and simply moving Ori around is a joy.
Developer Moon Studios also masterfully demonstrated that in a genre where the story can be a bit of an afterthought, it’s absolutely possible to be moved to tears.
If you haven’t played Ori and the Blind Forest yet, this is possibly the best time – the just-released sequel Ori and the Will of the Wisps is in no way inferior.
As in keeping with the genre, Ori allows for backward exploring when you unlock new abilities and skills. The game holds dozens of secrets and plenty of places to explore, coupled with a mouth-watering backdrop, it is well worth your time.
6. Cave Story
|Initial Release||December 20, 2004|
|Platform||Microsoft Windows, PSP, Wii, Nintendo DSi, Nintendo Switch, Nintendo 3DS, OS X, Linux, Amiga, GP2X|
|Developer/Designer||Studio Pixel (PC), Nicalis, NIS America/Daisuke Amaya|
If you’re looking for another Metroidvania with a touching story, Cave Story is your answer.
The fast-paced gameplay of Cave Story revolves around Quote, a robot who wakes up suffering amnesia who must explore and blast his way through cavernous areas in order to figure out who he is and what he is and his backstory.
The character gains access to new areas as he powers up his weapons and solves various platforming puzzles.
Quote speaks to non-player characters scattered around the game world in order to learn more and more about the world and its inhabitants.
The player controls the on-screen character directly using the keyboard or gamepad.
The player progresses by navigating platform game puzzles and shooting enemies with the equipped weapon.
When the player collects multiple weapons, they may be toggled at any time with the press of a button.
Defeating enemies sometimes yield yellow triangular objects, which give experience points to weapons when collected.
Weapons may be improved up to level three, but taking damage causes weapons to lose experience and levels.
Health and missile capacity upgrades are scattered throughout the game world.
The player must interact with a variety of non-player characters and objects to complete the game.
Cave Story’s simple controls allow for movement, jumping, and shooting.
The heads up display in the top left displays an equipped weapon, weapon level, and current health. The yellow triangles represent experience points to be picked up.
Cave Story is considered to be one of the most influential video games to be released between the mid-2000s.
The game had an impact on the indie game industry, with its acclaim and success demonstrating that a one-person team could rival major studios.
It is also one of the most internationally successful Japanese indie games and contributed to the resurgence of the Metroidvania genre.
The game’s critical acclaim demonstrated the scope of what one person could do, and highlighted another take on the Metroidvania genre. It also vitalized the 2D platform game genre as a viable indie game format.
5. Axiom Verge
|Initial Release||March 31, 2015|
|Platform||PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One, Windows, macOS, Linux, Wii U & Nintendo Switch
|Developer/Designer||Thomas Happ Games|
Axiom Verge is a love letter to the Metroid series and it certainly does not try to hide its inspirations, but it certainly has the style that has made it a beloved title.
The Player takes command of Trace, a scientist who finds himself trapped on a planet called Sudra after a lab accident.
It stands out for many reasons, but perhaps most of all because it recaptures the mystery and sense of overwhelming isolation that defined the earliest Metroidvania games.
One of the game’s strongest points is the vast array of weapons and tools available to Trace; each one feels unique and has some incredible gameplay usages.
One example would be the ‘Address Disrupter’ that fires out waves of energy that can create new platforms to jump on or change the properties of enemies, like making them slower.
The music is memorable and fits perfectly with the environments and makes you feel you are on an epic sci-fi journey of discovery.
The map is serviceable if somewhat confusing in its layout and clarity and some of the areas seem a bit drab and uninspired.
The bosses are interesting and with the variety of weapons at your disposal, there are plenty of ways to tackle each enemy. The gameplay is smooth and well animated, and it would be hard to fault the platforming, especially given the vast array of choices you have in the tools.
With a unique spin on the sci-fi side scroller, while paying homage to the classics, Axiom Verge has a lot to offer fans of the genre.
4. Castlevania: Symphony of The Night
|Initial Release||March 20, 1997|
|Platform||PlayStation, PlayStation Portable, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox 360.
|Developer/Designer||Konami/Koji Igarashi, Ayami Kojima, Michiru Yamane|
As assistant director of Symphony of the Night, Koji Igarashi revamped the Castlevania series and in doing so helped establish some of the pillars of the Metroidvania genre.
Symphony of the Night follows the efforts of Alucard, a son of Dracula, to stop the evil plot of the priest known as Shaft, who wants to bring back Dracula from the dead.
One of the revamped features of Symphony of the Night was to include certain role-playing elements, such as attributes and ‘levelling’. Alucard can also wield magic, however, the inputs for these can be overcomplicated in the pressures of combat and often doesn’t work that well.
However, the introduction of weapon variety was a welcome change and is a foundation for rewarding exploration and backtracking.
As an early side-scroller, there are a few flaws in the formula, such as the rooms being very samey and unchallenging straight lines with some enemies interspersed. However, despite the odd squandered room, Dracula’s castle is an interconnected joy to explore.
At the time, the discovery of a certain secret hidden area was mind-blowing and is still considered to be one of the best discoveries in gaming.
The art direction, music, and atmosphere are top-notch; the castle looks majestic and gothic and certainly doesn’t fail to deliver on the setting. Alucard’s design and portrait hold lend themselves to the setting and have aged shockingly well.
The boss fights in the game are part of what makes the game so memorable.
Bombastic villains that are generally just a blast to beat on, even to this day.
There is a reason the original PlayStation disc of this game is considered a collector’s item.
It is a game that took risks that paid off and helped define a genre.
3. Bloodstained: Ritual of The Night
|Initial Release||June 18, 2019|
|Platform||Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
A revamped and fresh spiritual successor to Castlevania and also developed by Koji Igarashi, Bloodstained offers an updated take on the genre, with impressive graphical fidelity, soundtrack, and story.
Set during the industrial revolution, Bloodstained follows the character, Miriam, as she fights her way through a demon-infested castle and Hell itself.
One of the engrossing factors of the game is the story itself; Miriam is the survivor of a sacrificial ritual conducted by the ‘Alchemy Guild’, that bound humans to ‘demonically charged crystals’ to be used as a sacrifice for demonic invasion.
The other survivor is Gebel and driven mad by the trauma of his past treatment, has summoned a demonic castle to earth. The story is driven forward by entertaining dialogue and high tempo music which complements the gameplay perfectly.
Bloodstained offers a vast array of weapons, even in the first area of the infested ship, that allows you to try out pistols, claymores, and whips. Also, Miriam can utilize spells to fling a fireball or summon a mass of writhing tentacles that clear the screen.
The combat and spells feel polished, with every weapon feeling weighty and useful. The boss battles can feel a little lackluster at times, but look visually stunning.
The exploration is very smooth and interactive. The map is clear and concise which reduces backtracking and getting lost.
The exploration has a dynamic feel to it that is lacking in other Metroidvania games. Is there a wall in the way? Why not light a cannon with a fireball and blast through it?
The atmosphere is perfect, and the environments are filled with detail and dynamic backdrops, such as the blood moon in the castle, that bathes the environment in a haunting crimson glow.
Bloodstained is a must-play for those who love the Castlevania series, it delivers a positive, polished, and interesting take on the setting that has very few faults.
2. Super Metroid
|Initial Release||March 19, 1994|
|Platform||Super Nintendo, Wii, Wii U, Nintendo 3DS.
|Developer/Designer||Nintendo, Intelligent Systems, Nintendo Research & Systems.|
One of the most iconic and nostalgic adventures of all time, Super Metroid is the peak of the Metroid series and is a major influence for many games on this list.
Samus is once again called to arms when the Space Pirates return and steal the last Metroid from Ceres Space Station.
Super Metroid was the first in the series to add the auto-mapping feature, something that makes the exploration of Zebes far more enjoyable and time-efficient than prior games. Samus’ control feels tight and unrestrictive.
These controls allow for real exploration, with the wall jump allowing you to proceed to areas that you wouldn’t usually be able to on the ‘intended’ path of progression.
Zebres, as an environment, still holds up today with a good blend of environmental dangers, art assets, and fitting ambient music. This is complemented by the excellent bosses in the game.
Notable bosses include the Crocomire, which forces you to push this damage soak backward into a pool of lava where it suffers a visceral melty death.
Another neat boss is Draygon, who you can kill in a more inventive way by letting it grab you before connecting your grapple to a damaged gun turret and electrocuting it to death.
Progression and upgrades are really exciting in Super Metroid as they can all change the way you play, such as the speed boost upgrade give the player a real sense of power, being able to run and smash through everything and boost into the air and it feels dynamic.
There are just so many reasons why Super Metroid remains one of the best-loved games of all time, with very few faults and timeless appeal, it is a game every gamer needs to play.
1. Hollow Knight
|Initial Release||February 4, 2017|
|Platform||Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Linux, MS Windows, macOS.|
A shadow has swept over the land of Hallownest, an insect kingdom built by the great Pale king, as an ‘infection’ sweeps over the once-prosperous nation. Enter the ‘Knight’, a nomadic warrior who is the unlikely and unsettling protagonist of the game.
One of the first things the player will notice (and will be blown away by) is the beautiful hand-drawn art style, much like Ori the palette is sublime, and it feels like a living breathing world.
Unlike Ori, the colors are used differently, often creating muted scenes that make the player appreciate the dilapidation of this once mighty kingdom.
The result is a world with such an intense atmosphere and detail, that it is almost impossible to single out a ‘weak’ region in the game.
The gameplay is up there with the best on this list; both the platforming and the combat feel robust and flawless. The usual jump, dodge, and hit mechanics are in place and are very responsive, augmented by spells and abilities.
The platforming is fair but challenging and you will often have to use unlocked abilities and environmental features to progress the game.
The Boss Fights are interesting and memorable. One of the first bosses you will likely face is the impressive False Knight, which is very well designed in terms of lore and gameplay.
What appears to be a hulking brute, is merely a Maggot possessing a mighty suit of armor.
His cute little face will pop out when you stagger him and is just one of the many examples of the endearing animated characters in the game.
The setting may seem fun, with cute characters and fun animations, but it remains an emotional and impactful journey where your choices lead to different endings, lending weight to your actions.
It should be clear that Hollow Knight hits all the core criteria and is the ideal that all Metroidvania games should aspire to be and so it rightfully takes the top spot on the list
Some Frequently Asked Questions
What makes a good Metroidvania?
Keep the player motivated to explore because your game works when the player is exploring. A good Metroidvania is long and designed to be finished over several play sessions. … A good, long game also gives players something to work against if they want to speed run the game.
What was the 1st ever Metroidvania game?
Brain Breaker (1979) was the first Metroidvania invention. It is an exceptional action-adventure game, apart from being one of the pioneering games of the Metroidvania genre it is also a popular favorite among students
Why is it called Metroidvania?
Specifically, the term derives from the Castlevania title Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and many of the games in the franchise which come after it, which are generally considered to contain certain aspects of gameplay comparable to that of the Metroid series of games.
So, there you have it, our top 10 of one of the greatest genres of all time.
It was a difficult task, for the genre is packed with quality games.
With so many wonderful worlds to explore, bosses, to defeat and secrets to unlock, there is no excuse not to dive in.
Of course, there are so many Metroidvania games that could have taken the top spot but as they say, It is what it is!