The Success of the Metroidvania Subgenre

Written by Allen

October 26, 2016


Thanks to the appearances of services like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, Koji Igarashi will be able to show off his creative prowess again and many fans and alike are very excited knowing that a new MetroidVania title is soon coming their way, if 2018 can be considered soon, anyway. However, considering that we have  an entirely new generation of gamers with us, they may be a little clueless about what MetroidVania exactly is. So while some of us may go down memory lane, let’s take this opportunity to look back and know exactly what MetroidVania (aka: IgaVania) is, and how it ticks.

MetroidVania is a term that came up on its own as two games that popularized the genre, Metroid and Castlevania (starting particularly at ‘Castlevania: Symphony of the Night’). Yes, they were not the first games to come up with this formula, but they made it work very well.


So what exactly are game elements that make a game a ‘MetroidVania?’ Your google searches would result in generally the following items:

  1. Single Character Focus – You basically control one character throughout the entire game.
  2. Expansive World – You will navigate through a large area which is sub-divided into several smaller areas which are all interconnected in their own unique way. This also usually means there’s a way to teleport around fixed locations of the map.
  3. RPG-esque Elements – On the broad strokes, it’s pertaining to how a character can be developed through a certain level-up system and by acquiring new skills, items or improved stats.


What made Metroid and Castlevania phenomenal despite what seems like pretty standard fare for material your 2D RPG is how everything ties together to make a cohesive experience. The game starts with only your most basic abilities available to you, and most of the area is still closed off to you because of varying obstacles preventing you from exploring most of the world. But as you overcome the challenges the game presents to you, such as defeating bosses or reaching certain parts of a map, you are awarded in a number ways. You can normally gain a new ability, access to a new area and sometimes improved stats if the game has that.


Gaining a new ability or item kinda serves as a trophy for winning over a certain challenge at the same time, and you are likely to have access to new areas around the map. It may lead you to backtrack but it also serves as a way for you to compare your new empowered self, to your previous form where you had that much less to offer. So your growth is not only rewarded to you, but thoroughly demonstrated by giving yourself a chance to see how you measure up to your previous benchmark.


For example, the path to a boss is a mountain path filled with cliffs and ledges you have to climb, but by defeating that boss you gain the ability to double-jump. Coming back down that mountain that you may have spent hours getting up to is suddenly a simple task you can do in five minutes thanks to your new ability. By overcoming the challenge of reaching and defeating the boss, the game rewards you by strengthening your character in some way and at the same time allowing you to experience it in a way that you are gaining stronger command of the domain you are exploring.

In most cases this is also the way to progress the story, where defeating these relatively weaker bosses continuously carries you to the game’s final goal.


All-in-all, what the MetroidVania genre does best is how, like its map, many parts of the game interconnect with each other to produce a constantly rewarding experience. You are first given the basics to start out with the game, testing your mastery by the time you reach the boss fight, and once that is completed they give you a new set of challenges along with your new abilities.

In the recent months, the influences of these games continue on in popular IP today. Easily off the top of my head would be the ‘SoulsBorne’ series as well as ‘Odin Sphere: Leifdrasir.’ Both excellent games with a huge following.


Considering all this, I hope that I am not the only one excited for Koji Igarashi’s new game come 2018. And thankfully looks like I won’t have to wait too long for his demo on ESGS 2016.


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