What is Metroidvania and how did the genre come about?

Metroidvania games have been pleasing gamers since the mid-80s. At the same time, in those years the gaming industry was just beginning to develop, and no one really thought about highlighting any genres in video games and describing their features in detail. The developers just made projects with interesting mechanics in the hope that people would like them.

The concept of metroidvania in the sense of a “video game genre” appeared much later, when the basic mechanics of legendary projects like Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night began to be actively used in a variety of games. Today we’ll talk about what the metroidvania genre is, what key features it has and how it influenced the gaming industry as a whole.

In general, metroidvania today is usually called a subgenre of action adventure movies that combine certain game mechanics. And in the 80s such a concept did not even exist, but it is from there that it originates. Metroidvania came about thanks to a then unknown Japanese studio that wanted to make a game with very confusing levels and really high difficulty. What was originally just a feature of the project, a few years later turned into a whole genre and continues to develop to this day.

The first and brightest representative of Metroidvania was, oddly enough, the Metroid game from Nintendowhich came out in 1986. The project offers several non-linear levels and pumping the protagonist, which gave him the opportunity to cope with more difficult opponents closer to the end of the game. In the future, the ideas of Metroid were borrowed by the developers from Konami and based on them they made their own Castlevania: Symphony of the Night . At the same time, the series began to develop the genre in a slightly different direction, focusing more on the action component. In those years, both series acquired a huge fan base and, in parallel, from each other, actively promoted the subgenre of metroidvania to the masses.

By the way, even the name itself is a confluence. This is when, after combining two words, a new one appears. Perhaps someone has puzzled to this day why Metroidvania, but now, as you might guess, it is a combination of the word “Metroid” and the last letters of “Castlevania” . This once again confirms the fact that exactly 2 games became the founders of the genre, and not just one creation by Nintendo.

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Key features of the subgenre

Perhaps the main element of any metroidvania is the presence of a large world , which consists of many separate rooms, closed rooms and even secret areas through which you can navigate as you want. That is, the player has the opportunity to play such a game in any sequence. At the same time, the difficulty of passing any metroidvania always grows nonlinearly, which often leads to situations where at the very beginning the player may encounter an overwhelming obstacle. As a result, he has to go the other way, pump and then return to the very beginning in order to overcome the obstacle.

A secondary feature of metroidvania is considered to be a variety of secrets and the ability to open additional paths for passing… For example, the ability to break a wall in a certain room and get into another room or a carefully hidden secret entrance to a room with some secret that only the most attentive will notice. All of this is a kind of reward for those who like to “clean up” every area in Metroidvania.

Some people don’t like the fact that in these games you have to constantly go back and explore every corner, usually in games this is called backtracking. But in metroidvania, it is one of the main elements of the gameplay, because it makes it possible to understand that the game has a large open world and many ways to explore it. Without it, Metroidvania simply wouldn’t work the way Metroid and Castlevania wanted.

How has metroidvania influenced the gaming industry?

The first attempts to do something similar to the ancestors of the subgenre began in the mid-2000s. True, there were literally 2-3 games that could really be called metroidvanias. Metroidvania managed to truly revive only in the 2010s, when the world saw amazing projects like Sundered, Axiom Verge, Owlboy, Chasm, Ori and the Blind Forest and others. Each of these projects is made in the subgenre of Metroidvania video games, but at the same time adds something of its own to it, which helps it stand out from the competitors.

In addition to the fact that metroidvania managed to become a separate subgenre and spawn a lot of cool games, it also influenced games of other genres. A prime example – Dark Soulsand all other FromSoftware creations. The developers were definitely inspired by Metroid because their projects have a large open world, a non-linear increase in complexity, and the ability to explore locations in different ways. In addition, it is in Dark Souls that you can find many secret rooms, various areas with treasures or, for example, magical barriers that somehow need to be removed in order to receive a prize.

Despite the fact that the classic metroidvania was done mainly in the format of platformers , some elements of this subgenre work well in RPG and action-adventure games. And it’s true, without such an abundance of secrets and the ability to non-linearly explore the world, it’s not a fact that Dark Souls and other From Software creations have managed to gain popularity.

Another striking example is Dead Cells , which is a real ” roguelike “, but at the same time managed to absorb all the best from metroidvania. Recently, such projects can generally be distinguished into a new subgenre, which does not yet have its own name.

As you can see, metroidvania is a style that gradually develops and penetrates into other genres. If in the 80s there was not even a name for such a category of games, then already in the 2010s it could be safely said that this is one of those subgenres that had the greatest impact on the gaming industry. And I have no doubt that in the future we will see many more interpretations that will give us dozens of amazing games.

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