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5 things to love about Metroidvanias

Sometimes it’s Metroid, sometimes it’s Castlevania, all the time it’s Metroidvania. I’ve been watching my SOTN streams on Youtube and thinking to myself how far these games have come simply by sticking to it’s tried and true formula. A formula made famous by Nintendo in 1994 with Super Metroid, and that formula would flourish 3 years later with Konami’s Castlevania Symphony of the night.

      If you know, you know, you know? What’s good y’all, hope everything is good and healthy over where you are. I’m back reflecting on my style of games. If you don’t know I’m a big fan of old school games, retro games, a regular “nostalgiaddict”. (Trademark of the Collective Inc. #nostalgiaddict) Aside from beat em ups, no game seems to really captivate me more than Metroidvanias. 
For those who aren’t aware, Metroidvania is a subgenre of action-adventure games. The term is a portmanteau of game series Metroid and Castlevania. Metroidvanias use game designs and mechanics similar to those found in these two series. (Thank you Google!)  Games like Axiom Verge, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, Cave Story, Hollow Knight, and Ori and the Blind Forest and Will of the Wisps are examples of these games. Players take the role of a character on a 2 dimensional plane and they can traverse (left, right, up, or down, usually) throughout a platform rich environment to unlock abilities that will open up more of the map. Covering 100 percent of the map is usually encouraged.

        A game was announced via Kickstarter recently in this genre and I’m low key interested to see if it meets the standards of a good metroidvania. “The Last Faith” is a project that will be debuting on Nintendo Switch and Steam later this year by independent game publisher Kumi Souls Games. The game looks gorgeous from the screenshots and gameplay videos that were shared. It has a gothic horror fantasy vibe and the character animations that were shown are absolutely beautiful. The game was built on the unity engine and seems to make the most out of it’s processing power. Shout out to Kumi Souls for such a valiant effort to a longstanding genre. It’s good to know that with the advancements in game systems that come about that there is still a fan base that appreciates this genre as an artform.

        What makes a good metroidvania? I can’t speak for everyone but I will say in my experience, the character, the setting, the story, and the intuitiveness, and how fair it is. I loved the setting in Hollow Knight but I only liked the knight.(No shade, he was cool but he was no Alucard) I love how intuitive Dead Cells is with the variety of weaponry. I love the architecture in Bloodstained. I came up with a list of 5 things I love about Metroidvanias in hopes that I can get some of yall into them if you’re not already. For those who are, maybe give out some recommendations for ones to try.

         A main character is important to any metroidvania. Where would Metroid be without Samus? Where would Castlevania be without Alucard… and the Belmonts too, ok? A good main character is important to every genre but very important in a MV because people want to look cool when they’re saving the world. People want to be able to identify with the protagonist they play as. They want to feel an authentic connection to the hero. Sometimes the less that is known about the character makes it easier for a player to project their own personality on them which makes for a more intimate experience. Characters like Samus from the Metroid series or your created character from Salt and Sanctuary. Others let you identify with a well background heavy main character, deeply embedded in the established universe’s lore. Trace from Axiom Verge, the Messenger from the game of the same name, and Erik in the upcoming The Last Faith.

    Some of my favorite Metroidvania heroes are the Beheaded from Dead Cells, Adrian Fareignheight Tepes aka Alucard as previously mentioned, and little Ori from Ori and the Blind Forest and Will of the Wisps because they were beautiful. A good setting goes hand in hand with a good main character. Bloodstained was created by the man who was responsible for at least 80 percent of what made Castlevania Symphony of the Night so dope. When Bloodstained dropped it wasn’t the prettiest game to look at. It was very bland and left a lot to be desired for a kickstarter campaign that made 5.5 million bucks. The game’s creator; Kogi Igarashi, heard the criticism of the fans and after a series of patches were released, it became one of the most visually stunning metroidvanias to hit the last generation.The dark noir fantasy vibes of the game are remicient of the Castlevania series that inspired it. Since its release in June 2019, Bloodstained has sold over a million copies. 

Story is important to any game. The motivations of the characters, interactions, the impact of player decisions on the game world. All of these are integral to maintain a player’s interest. The Messenger(developed by Sabotage)is really dope in this regard to me. You take on the role of a Ninja whose job it is to get a message over the mountain given to him by a dying character known as “the western hero”. It gets crazy and the game displays such a cool effect that has the visuals and sound switch back and forth between 8 bit and 16 bit graphics. It’s one of the coolest takes I've seen. The dialogue was funny and clever, taking open jabs at the genre in itself and how done to death the chosen one trope is. The fourth wall finessing aside, the Messenger is a visual feast combined with a fun story to anybody willing to pick it up. 

        A game's intuitiveness can make or break a gamer's experience. I name Dead Cells for this because of how well it does it’s gameplay. The game trains you how to succeed at it like no other game. You learn how to make adjustments in your technique with every weapon you use. You relearn strategies depending on the items you have available. You find validation when you adapt to the boss fights and exploit a weakness. The game can be difficult if you don’t pay attention, if you don’t develop an appreciation for the mechanics. When you take the time to understand the mosaic behind the chaos, you see the harmonies of movement ecapsulated in your jump and rolling. How the timing of your character control blend the rhythms of enemy placement with the frame count between each attack. That is where your recognize your moment to strike, the color you choose to paint with, and the melody are all one in the same. When you really understand it, it becomes less about thought and more about trusting your thumbs to know what to do. It’s in those moments you are just as much as part of the audience as you are the player. That’s what it is for me at least when I play Dead Cells.

    What’s fair in a metroidvania? What’s fair, what’s cheese, and where do we draw the line in between?(BARS!) I feel like games like Blasphemous, Death’s Gambit, and Salt and Sanctuary. I appreciate Salt and Sanctuary the most as I had a fond time getting my ass whupped in it. The game was difficult as hell. A game that shared as much in common with Castlevania as it did with Dark Souls, Salt and Sanctuary demands players understand their enemy’s attacks, their ability to attack and evade, picking the right moments and not being greedy, and paying attention as making mistakes could mean the difference between life and a loss of precious salt needed to upgrade a player’s character. Salt and Sanctuary never hid what it was. The mechanics are there, upgrading is possible, it’s up to the player to study not just your enemy, but what weapon suits your personal play style, what about your play style is lacking, how will you compensate for it? The difficulty is there but so is the ability to triumph. It’s up to you, your reflexes, and your understanding of the game's physics to be successful at it. And in this way for me, Salt and Sanctuary is fair.

The Last Faith doesn’t have a release date yet. I haven’t had a chance to actually try it but the videos and pictures I have seen have all left me excited. Folks have said the fighting is very close to Bloodbourne. That doesn’t scare me. I welcome the pain, and the chance to learn. To explore. To cut gothic creatures in half like a badass. I’m sure it’s going to be a fun time. As of right now, there is a Kickstarter going for the Last Faith. They’re at just over $210,000 dollars. They Need $10,000 more for online multiplayer. What say we give them a boost and see how much we can get out of this game. We’ll be here on the lookout for a date for release, and to see if they hit their goal and we can have that multiplayer. 

Do you play metroidvanias? What’s your favorite type? You think Konami should do something with the IP of Castlevania? Let us know in the comments and as always, thanks for stopping by at the Nerd’s List. If you want to donate to the Last Faith Kickstarter here is the link:

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