games / Columns

The 8 Ball 1.01.13: Top 8 Metroidvania Games

January 1, 2013 | Posted by Marc Morrison

Welcome to another edition of The 8 Ball. It’s a new year, but the same old content, at least for now. The topic for this week is the top “Metroidvania” style of game. Metroidvania hasn’t been that popular of a genre but its fans (me included) remain die-hard when a game comes out in the genre. I define Metroidvania as any game which has an open world, but locked doors prevent you from accessing every area. The other common theme is that you’ll go into sectioned off areas, find a new item/skill, then defeat the boss of that area. A grid map isn’t required, but is another common theme within these games (at least the 2D ones). I’ve also written about a large chunk of these games before, but that’s because they’re some of the best games to have come out. With my general criteria laid out, let’s begin:

8. Darksiders 1 & 2


I’m putting both Darksiders games down, but each is kind of flawed in their own ways. Darksiders 1 copies the Zelda formula so perfectly (for good and for bad) as to almost qualify for copyright infringement. Darksiders 2 has a better combat and loot system but the story was a let-down. Plus the technical issues, which forced me to repeat the first fourth of the game, soured me quite a bit. Still, each game fits nicely into the Metroidvania genre by having a huge open world for you to explore, and some fun items for you to unlock. It’s actually a better Zelda game than most of the Zelda games, specifically Twilight Princess.

7. Tomba!


Tomba is a Metroidvania game mixed with a RPG but on steroids. While you don’t necessarily need new items to beat the evil pigs, they all tend to be vanquished the same way; you definitely need new items to get around the expansive world. The door you passed in the first area might only be opened when you’re 95% of the way through the game. Having 14 pages of quests really adds to the open-world sense and the feeling that you’re in a big world. It also drives you to really explore every inch of the map so you can figure out some insane new quest to undertake.

6. Psychonauts


Psychonauts is primarily defined as a platformer but really, it’s also a Metroidvania game. Every level involves you getting a new Psychonaut power and trying to fix up the screwed up person’s psyche. With powers like Levitation, Clairvoyance and Marksmanship, you explore the level and take out the subject’s deepest trauma. While a lot of people complain about the Meat Circus level, I personally found the Milkman level the most troubling. The difference between this game, and other platformers like Mario 64 or Ratchet & Clank is the combination of getting new powers, and the world that has secrets. R&C has items, but not an open world for you to explore. While a game like Mario 64 has the big world, but no upgrade mechanics at all. Psychonauts has these two mechanics, which makes it a fantastic Metroidvania style game.

5. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past


Really, almost any Zelda game can fit the profile of a Metroidvania game. You explore a bit world, find items in dungeons, use them to kill the boss of the dungeon and then finally use those items to explore more of the overworld. While every Zelda game has this (showing that Nintendo can’t change the goddamn formula for the past 26 years), LTTP is actually a completely solid, fresh-feeling game, that is still amazing to play even 21 years after it was released. With 20 selectable items, and 13 upgrades for Link himself, this game has a ton of things for you to play with and see what combinations of items can do. It’s the best Zelda game in the series by a wide margin. And anyone who says Twilight Princess is the best game (to steal a line) is objectively wrong. I can prove it with graphs.

4. Super Metroid


This game is actually one of the flashpoint games for the genre, hence the name “Metroid”vania. However, it’s a game I didn’t get into when it first came out. My big problem, at the time, was just that I thought the game did a poor job of telling you where to go next. And if you stopped playing for more than a week, you have no clue where to go. I’d say my favorite Metroid game is actually Metroid Fusion with its inclusion of the ledge grab. After “getting” Metroid Fusion, I went back to Super Metroid and had a blast. It has a good atmosphere for you to explore as well as some nice secrets for you to uncover. The X-Ray scope is also a thing of goddamn genius in the game, letting you really see what is going on in the levels.

3. Shadow Complex


It’s really a tragedy that this game didn’t merit a sequel since it’s still one of the best Xbox 360 games to have been released. With precise tight controls, some very fun items, and a map that actually showed you where all the secrets are (once you got the level upgrade), it is still a master of what a Metridvania game should be. The only real negative part is the few times when you have to take over a turret and the game goes into a shooting gallery. Trying to do this on insane difficulty is not so much fun. The game requires multiple playthroughs though, especially if you want to get that level 50 achievement. Also, the foam gun breaks the game in a lot of fun and interesting ways.

2. Okami


Under the guideline of Zelda being a Metroidvania type of game, Okami is the best Zelda-type game to have been made. Okami is still a breath of fresh air in the gaming world, so much so, that Legend of Zelda stole it’s wolf mechanic for Twilight Princess. Way to show initiative Nintendo, by blatantly copying an earlier game’s mechanic. The Celestial Brush mechanic is a rewarding gameplay mechanic, that is upgraded many times during the game. With additional items and gear, Okami really makes you feel like you’re building your character up as you explore. The game world is also massive and beautifully detailed making you want to explore it all the more. Trying to collect every secret is a huge quest, in and of itself, and is completely rewarding when you finally accomplish it.

1. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night


Really, could any other game be at the top of the list? It’s the second part of the Metroid”vania” word, for a reason. When SOTN came out, it really broke the mold when it came out but was such an undiscovered gem for so long, as to be almost criminal. The gameplay is perfect, combat completely satisfying, a beautiful castle to explore, lovely music, and a deluge of items and abilities to unlock. You haven’t lived until you’ve spent hours farming for the Crissaegrim in the Inverted Library. Getting all 200.6% map completion (or more with exploits) is the best time you can still have as you play a game. The game is just masterful, one of the best to have been created, and is worthy of a purchase immediately. They also tried to make a version which was such a hysterically bad idea that they cancelled it before it came out. Yeesh…that would have been terrible.

Complainer’s Corner

Here’s a list of some of the games that people will likely complain I didn’t mention. So here they are now: Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver, any other Metroid games, any other Legend of Zelda games, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, Dust: An Elysian Tale, Aquaria, any other Castlevania games, and finally Alien: Infestation.

The General Roundup

There weren’t that many comments from last week, likely due to the holidays. I do have Pinball Arcade though, and like it. The problem with it is the platform I care about it on, the Xbox 360, is pretty busted. Due to the publisher going bankrupt, they’ve only released three table packs (out of 7) have come out. Also, the Steam version isn’t out yet, and that’s the only other platform I’d care to buy it on. There is also a fun glitch where if you unlock all the table goals, then quit the game (before it saves), the next table you boot up it will unlock the “No tilt” functionality. So, that’s pretty neat.

What do you want the 8 Ball to be about next week?

Top 8 Action RPG’s
Top 8 Original Xbox Games
Top 8 Playstation 2 RPG’s


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Marc Morrison
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