To keep you going until there’s an actual new Metroid or Castlevania.
The term Metroidvania has inescapably entered our collective gaming vernacular, paying homage to two of the most beloved series from the 8 and 16-bit heyday of Nintendo. It’s not surprising. Few things in our virtual lives are as satisfying as earning a new ability or weapon that lets you access even more of an expansive gaming world.
There are a lot of these games, though, and most of them are lovingly-made indie ventures. The success of Hollow Knight and Axiom Verge prove the genre is still going strong over the last year, but there are plenty of other awesome games hitting all the right notes.
1. Guacamelee! 2
The charms of the Guacamelee! games are many and varied. Self-referential jokes, pitch-perfect controls and an amazingly colorful duality of its worlds of the living and the dead, Guacamelee! 2 comes together as a heartfelt love letter to old school side-scrollers. The crisp, sharp modern visuals and mix of constantly evolving combat, at-times brutal platforming challenges, and hilarious story all add up to sheer gaming brilliance.
2. Death’s Gambit
Adult Swim Games has steadily and reliably proven themselves to be a legitimate wellspring of goodness. What could have just been a label for shoved-out cheap mobile games is instead a font of surprisingly clever entertainment across a variety of platforms. Death’s Gambit didn’t make a huge splash when it first arrived and was a decidedly dark turn for the publisher, but the mix of Dark Souls overtones in both the gameplay and atmosphere merged well with classic side-scrolling Metroidvania exploration to make a game that has its own flair. Challenging, but great for fans of grimdark landscapes and plenty of bloody action.
3. Dead Cells
The first of two procedurally-generated games on our list, Dead Cells was really one of the first games that showed that hey, maybe these so-called rogue-likes don’t all have to suck. Dead Cells sports some of the best looking 16-bit level pixel graphics around and offers an array of intriguing (and at times confusing) gameplay elements that make it stand out. There’s a reason it’s garnered awards and high review scores aplenty. It’s just a damn cool game.
4. Sundered: Eldritch Edition
Released during a flood of other higher profile games, Sundered didn’t get the attention it deserved. With a beautiful and mysterious atmosphere, the game deftly mixes sci-fi, horror, and fantasy to create a Metroid-style game that feels at once very familiar and alien. There are a few annoyances along the way (as outlined in our review), but the overall style, beautifully animated protagonist, and weird landscape make it well worth your while.
5. A Robot Named Fight!
It’s hard not to be impressed by indie games that are one-person labors of love, and that’s doubly true when playing this retro homage to Metroid. The second rogue-like in the list, A Robot Named Fight! is often painfully unforgiving and frustrating, and definitely could use a lot more difficulty level settings, but has an undeniable charm. If you can get into the rhythm of the game and don’t mind a lot of trial and error, there’s a lot of old school goodness here worth digging into.
6. Steamworld Dig 2
Image & Form’s Steamworld Dig series is easily some of the finest digging, exploring, and steampunky fun you can have. All the Steamworld games have been completely worth playing, but Dig and (especially) its sequel are fantastic. Steamworld Dig has a lot to love in its Old West-with-robots setting and gameplay mix of mining, resource gathering, and steady acquisition of new powers and weapons. The story is witty enough, but the challenge of exploring and reaching new areas makes the game shine.
7. Bloodstained: Curse Of The Moon
Despite its popularity, there hasn’t been an actual Castlevania in quite some time. Thankfully, Koji Igarashi, Konami’s former Castlevania series producer, knows what fans want and took to Kickstarter to fund his “spiritual” successor, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. He asked for half a million and got over five million, leading to Curse of the Moon. This 8-bit homage to the Metroidvania genre began life as a fun stretch goal for the main event (which has yet to materialize), but has ended up as a right proper piece of work in its own right. It’s the absolute most Castlevania-styled game on the list and feels like a NES classic.