What constitutes a Metroidvania? The genre — sub-genre, really – was created by both the Metroid and Castlevania games during the early 90′s and late 80′s, but that doesn’t really explain what they are. For us here at DIY, a Metroidvania game is simply a game that consists of an non-linear map, where by the player must gather or accrue items in order to get beyond certain obstacles in the game. Sounds pretty simple, right?
Unfortunately, while the genre is actually fairly well liked by the mainstream gamer — see Shadow Complex — there’s never been too much development in the area. Even amongst the indie scene, development has still been less than we’d like it to be. That said, however, the ones that are out there are pretty damn good. Which is why we’ve decided to put together this handy little list of our very favorite indie Metroidvanias:
Hasslevania is an enigma of game design. On one hand, the game has it’s fair share of flaws, but on the other the game does so many things “right” with respects to the Castlevania franchise that it’s almost impossible not to love it.
While the game is a pretty great parody, it suffers from some poor design decisions and bad collision detection. Also it has some of the worst voice overs I’ve ever heard. But if you can make it beyond these off-putting “features” what you’ll find underneath is a fairly funny take on the Castlevania franchise, wherein our hero, Rovert Bellmunt, moves in next to Dracula only to find that Dracula likes to party all night and keep Rovert awake. Thus begins the “hassle” of hunting down Dracula in the appropriately titled Hasslevania.
It really is a neat game that any classic Castlevania fan can appreciate. Plus it’s free!
[download via TIGsource]
“Iji is an action-packed strategic platform shooter with a detailed story, large levels with multiple paths, powerful bosses and lots of secrets. There are alternate gameplay events, dialogues and scenes depending on what you do, a wealth of extras and bonus features, and seven stats to upgrade through a leveling system. Iji herself has superhuman strength and abilities, and can crack Nanotechnology, use her enemies’ most devastating weapons against them, and be a pacifist or a killer – the story adapts to how you play.” – via the game’s website.
I know it seems lazy, but I really wouldn’t have been able to word it any other way. I’ll just add the justification for the game being on this list.
In a lot of ways Iji reminds me of Shadow Complex. Both have characters stuck in huge, sprawling complexes and both play host to a multitude of weapons and enemies large and small. The only difference with Iji being that you can actually level up specific parts of your character (strength, health, nano technology, etc.). While the game is, technically, broken up into sectors (or levels) the levels are still fairly open for exploration and the game does play host to a multitude of weapons and items that make the game very Metroid-like.
[download via Remar]
Featured on one of our Weekend Freeplay’s a little while ago, Ikachan is a fantastic Metroidvania that was developed by the same guy who created the oft-loved Cave Story. While the game is not nearly as robust in story or gameplay as Cave Story it also came out quite a few years prior and even still, the game is certainly very unique and fun.
Ikachan takes place after a devastating earthquake traps Ikachan and a bunch of other sea critters into a labyrinth of underground caves. Ikachan — that’s you — must then find a way to escape the caves, while at the same time fighting against and avoiding Ironhead, a large fish that has begun to capitalize on the situation by spreading fear and paranoia to the rest of the creatures in the sea.
Despite it’s primitive graphics and living in the shadow of Cave Story, Ikachan is well-deserved addition to this list and a fantastic Metroidvania.
[download via TinSanity]
7. Lyle in Cube Sector
What would you do if some dastardly bastard sneaked over to your hourse at night and stole, straight up kidnapped, your cat? Well, that’s the exact predicament that Lyle is in in his very own game: Lyle in Cube Sector.
Lyle in Cube Sector is a unique Metroidvania. The game is entirely based around the idea of picking up and using various types of cubes to accomplish different tasks. Some cubes can be used to stand on, some cubes are used as weapons, and other still provide varying degrees of help that could only possibly exist in a place deftly termed “Cube Sector”.
Beyond it’s oddball gameplay methods, however, Lyle in Cube Sector is a pretty fun Metroidvania. The game is completely non-linear with an open map that’s blocked only by what items/cubes you have access to, in traditional Metroidvania style. Anybody looking for a new, if not unique, Metroidvania need not look any farther than Lyle in Cube Sector.
[download via sitesled]
6. La Mulana
Where to begin with La Mulana? Well, suffice it to say, it is, in fact, a Metroidvania title. It does have an open mapped world to explore, and it has plenty of items to gather and upgrade to accomplish differing obstacles. And that’s about it! You can download the game from…
What you want more? Are you sure? I’m not sure if you can handle it…
… Alright. I tried to keep it from you, but you insisted.
La Mulana is all of the above things, but layered on top of all those features is one of the hardest, most challenging, most bastardly difficult games I’ve ever played. And I’ve played some doozies before. La Mulana, while a great Metroidvania, is difficult enough to send even the most battle-hardened gamers into a ravenous fury of hatred. However, if you an get over the difficulty — no small feat I assure you — the rewards for the game pay off ten fold.
Set in a Indiana Jones styled temple with an Indiana Jones styled protagonist the game sets you loose without any direction or narrative. You just go out and play the game. While this may be a little “too open” for some people, others will find the lack of direction as an amazing set piece for the game. To top it all off the game is available as a free download… but don’t say I didn’t warn you.
[download via Aeon Genesis]
Rocketbirds is a game I’ve, personally, pined over for the last few months. While I still feel it was an under appreciated gem in the hectic game-craze that was 2009, it is also a surprisingly well created Metroidvania.
Based in Albatropolis, the game shares many similarities with both Shadow Complex — in game setting and play — and cheesy 80′s action flicks. Now, I say that it’s similar to Shadow Complex because the overall design setting of the game is very reminiscent. Your in a sprawling complex with multiple armed security guards and it’s your job to bring down the evil “dictator”. However, the story itself is a bit more like Rambo. The protagonist, the Cock of War, looks and acts the part of an 80′s action hero, quiet/subdued and yet oh so violently badass, and the story behind the game fits the part as well.
Of course, one of the really cool things about this game, beyond the fact that it’s a Metroidvania, is the fact that it’s actually a browser game. Don’t let this turn you off from the game, however, as this is actually a really good thing. The graphics and gameplay are still top notch and you can play your save game from any computer so long as you sign into your account at the Rocketbirds website. Definitely a neat feature, especially if your a particularly mobile gamer.
[Buy/Try from Rocketbirds]
4. Within a Deep Forest
You had to have known at least one of Nifflas’ games was going to be included in this list — in fact there are two — but did you think that we’d have included Within a Deep Forest? Arguably Nifflas’ lesser known and lesser played Metroidvania?
Within a Deep Forest shares only one thing with it’s cousin, Knytt Stories, the fact that it’s a Metroidvania. Aside from that the games are fairly different. In Within a Deep Forest you play as a bouncy ball, the result of an accidental experiment from Dr. Cliche’ whose on a mission to freeze the entire planet. As a newly formed lifeform you, the protagonist, must now set out to stop Dr. Cliche from succeeding where he failed with you. To do this you must explore the world and acquire upgrades that changes what your made of to allow for different abilities like higher jumping and stickiness.
Within a Deep Forest is a classicly great Nifflas title and one that fully deserves to be played. Also, like with other Nifflas titles the game is free, as well as awesome, so go get it!
[download via Nifflas]
Thus far we’ve only seen some crude, albeit pretty awesome, Metroidvanias. When I say crude I’m speaking in terms of graphics. For some reason this sub-genre just has a knack for looking like old SNES games. Well that’s one area where Aquaria really shines. Aside from being just a great Metroidvania, the game is also beautiful.
Taking place underwater, like Ikachan, Aquaria is more abstract. The game starts out with a great narration and then just kind of sets you loose onto the world to find out what exactly happened and why your the only creature of your kind.
While the story may seem a little light, the gameplay is actually great and very intuitive. First, the movement of the game is fast and reacts as quickly and as similarly as the Diablo games. Just point and go. Additionally the game employs a unique song system whereby you can cast spells and interact with the environment using a unique 6 button song interface.
Needless to say Aquaria is definitely one of the prettiest, and most unique, Metroidvanias we’ve ever played… unfortunately it’s not free.
[Buy from Steam]
2. Knytt Stories
Good ol’ Nifflas. Truly Knytt Stories stands heads and tails above the rest of these games. While the game is, loosely, based on his original Knytt game, it goes above and beyond in offering one of the best Metroidvania experiences ever. In fact, I’d go so far as to say Knytt Stories is as good as the very best of the Metroid and Castlevania games out there now.
While the original story and subsequent expansion packs are basically everything we love about the Metroidvania genre (large world exploration, multiple item pick ups, etc.) it’s actually a small toolset that is included with the game that makes it so amazingly awesome. Nifflas, in all his brilliant wisdom, has included with the game a very easy-to-use map editor so that anybody (you, me, maybe even Dubya!) can make our own Knytt Stories and share them with the world. This, essentially, means that the game never has to end.
Truly, Knytt Stories is an amazing game and it would be our number one title were it not for…
[download via Nifflas]
1. Cave Story
How do you wrap up one of the most uniquely great stories into a solid Metroidvania experience? I don’t know exactly but it sure does seem like Pixel (developer of Cave Story and Ikachan) has it down to a science. Cave Story is, simply put, one of the best indie games ever created. More than even that, though, it is the best Metroidvania. Sure, this all lies in opinion, but the game was so perfectly crafted and so amazingly fun that we have a hard time of seeing anything else, even the amazing Knytt Stories, as being better than Cave Story.
I’d try to appropriately sum up the story but I know I’d leave something out so here’s a brief excerpt from the game’s Wikipedia page:
The main character awakens in an underground cavern with no memory of how he came to be there. He finds a village populated by rabbit-like creatures called Mimigas, who are being persecuted by the Doctor. Two of the Doctor’s servants, Misery and Balrog, are looking for a Mimiga named Sue, but mistakenly abduct a Mimiga named Toroko. The player’s main quest is to rescue Sue, save the Mimigas from the Doctor, and escape the floating island on which the game is set. There are three different endings: a good ending (naturally the hardest to get, involving a very difficult final stage and two extra bosses, including a multi-phase final boss), a normal ending, and a bad ending (which occurs about halfway through the game and requires little effort to get). The endings are based on the player finding various secret items.
If you haven’t played Cave Story, a rare occurrence if you follow the indie game scene, then you must play it now. I don’t care if Mass Effect 2 just came out, or if they are announcing the Apple iSomething today. Stop what you are doing and play this game cause it’s really that good… unless you don’t like Metroidvanias, in which case you probably won’t enjoy it as much.
[download via Cave Story]
Did we miss one of your favorite Metroidvania titles? Hey it happens, we aren’t perfect. We’re subject only to the knowledge of what we’ve already played. If you feel like one should have been here then feel free to let us know in the comments!