Getting lost in a video game’s world is very easy to do, especially if that world is expansive and detailed enough. The Metroidvania genre is especially known for this. The term stems from a group of games that were introduced in the late 90s: “Super Metroid” in 1994 and later “Castlevania: Symphony of the Night” in 1997. The name is an amalgamation of the two titles as both games embodied a style of gameplay that encouraged exploration.
These types of games were set in large sprawling maps that expanded like fractals. In these expansive worlds, the player would find upgrades and new equipment that would help them move forward through the mysterious map that the game presented. Progression and mystery are all integral pieces to video games as a whole, but the Metroidvania genre revels in these aspects and utilizes them as defining elements. Exploration teaches the player to delve further in order to acquire new elements of gameplay to progress. This aspect is what makes the genre endearing and exciting to play.
In recent times, a resurgence of Metroidvania titles are being reintroduced to the market. These games breath new life into an old school genre and takes strides to improve and bolster the experience to new and veteran players alike. Games like “Hollow Knight” and “Ori and the Blind Forest” return the genre to the lost luster it once had in the late 90s.
“Hollow Knight” utilizes the mysterious aspect of Metroidvania titles to its advantage in a beautiful way. When first starting the game, the player is given very little narrative to follow and little direction to explore. The game deliberately misinforms the player and makes it their responsibility to seek out the plot. As the game unravels the story, it reveals more aspects as the player seeks them out. This type of indirect storytelling makes the overall plot akin to a mystery through the unknown depths. Through this journey, the pieces the player finds all come back to the central narrative Team Cherry is trying to develop.
All of this ties to the art direction of the game as well. The game uses a very dark atmospheric tone, only allowing colors to stand out against the black that envelops the games imagery. This emphasis on darkness only furthers the game’s setting in the underground world of insects. Retaining the cartoonish style that makes all elements look hand drawn, this background of all-encompassing darkness is significant as it lets the characters express themselves without being overshadowed by the scenery.
This in turn enriches the fast paced gameplay style that Team Cherry took the time to refine into well-balanced combat, bolstered by the various upgrades and equipment available as the player progresses. These upgrades are staples in the Metroidvania genre as they mainly offer more maneuverability and offensive options for the player to use in both combat and exploration. With more options and tools at the player’s disposal, the world opens up even further.
“Ori and the Blind Forest” is a curious case. The developers, Moon Studios, led with “Ori” as their first title and released it to high praise. The game has now received renown as its own title and is ranked highly amongst the greatest Metroidvania games. Much like “Hollow Knight,” which uses a grayscale underground style, Ori defines its art by vibrantly expressing its world with light filled colors. This art direction creates a world that is radiantly bright and highlights the beautiful natural setting. This plays into the game’s overall narrative so well that it only further emphasizes the beautiful grandiose landscape Ori travels through. “Ori and the Blind Forest” uses its bright and beautiful landscape as the draw for players to keep moving forward to see more of what the world has to offer.
What makes “Ori” unique is the setting and story that wraps the experience together. It’s a unique take on the setting, with enemies and other interactions seamlessly intertwined. This blending is what makes it so satisfying to play, since the player’s choices interact with the world and change the setting and scenery. “Ori” seeks to use its world as the center of all the working parts that envelops its players into the world and uses the distinct Metroidvania style of exploration to help players progress in its deep and expansive world.
Metroidvania games have progressed in recent years with new releases taking the genre to new highs. Thanks to the growing indie market, more developers are able to make these new titles. Unreleased Metroidvania titles like the long-awaited “Bloodstained Ritual of the Night,” which is a spiritual successor to the original “Castlevania: Symphony of the Night,” further boost the genre’s credentials. Even “Ori and the Blind Forest” and “Hollow Knight” have sequels that are set to be released in late 2019 to early 2020.
It’s a great time to be a fan of Metroidvania as more and more titles are released each year. The genre’s focus on exploration, mystery and progression continues to pull in players looking for a fun and rewarding experience. Integrating story, gameplay and setting is a winning formula that continues this genre’s revival.