This week I want to go over my Top 5 2D Metroidvanias of all time. Why the 2D qualifier? Because over the last 5-10 years, the genre has seen it’s fair share of 3D action adventure games that borrow a lot from the Metroidvania principles. Tomb Raider, God of War, Control and let’s not forget, one franchise has effectively been a 3D metroidvania the entire time right under our noses…The Legend Of Zelda (post Ocarina). To be honest, Metroidvania isn’t really a genre that exists. It’s just a good catch all for “adventure game that requires you to get new powers to unlock an older area you need to backtrack to”. But that’s a discussion for another time.
So with that, onto the list.
5. Dust: An Elysian Tail
Dust came out of nowhere in 2012 and its visual style was immediately captivating. Completely hand drawn and made by essentially one person (Dean Dodrill), Dust was originally destined to release as part of Xbox’s Indie Game initiative on Xbox 360, but was soon picked up by Microsoft for publishing after winning the Dream.Build.Play Challenge in 2009.
While the game immediately hits you with it’s gorgeous visuals, it’s backed up by tight gameplay, solid combat, uncomplicated RPG elements and a world map that isn’t overwhelming and easy to navigate.
Dust has since been re-released on PS4 and Switch.
The original Strider was one of my favourite arcade games, which then became one of the first Mega Drive games I ever owned. So needless to say, I was excited when the 2014 Strider reboot was announced.
Strider was Double Helix’s first game after the incredible Killer instinct had put them on the map in 2013. Until 2013, they were a studio that had put out some middling games that had performed poorly both critically and commercially. But that all changed with the release of Killer instinct and Strider. So much so, Amazon snapped them up as part of their initiative to enter the gaming market.
Strider brilliantly retains the atmosphere of the original game but manages to tighten up both the combat and gameplay and provides a well designed map that isn’t needlessly big or complicated. Something I really appreciate in this style of game.
3. Wonder Boy 3 The Dragon’s Trap
For me, Wonder Boy 3 was the original Metroidvania. I never owned a NES back then so I really didn’t even know of Metroid’s existence as a 9 year old. I just know that this game was the first video game I remember losing myself in. The first time I would play for hours on end in one session. Wanting to find that next ability, or animal transformation.
I will admit, the world design is somewhat complicated but the fun gained from transforming into different animals in order to access new parts of the world is something that will stay with me forever and never ceased to bring a smile to my face while playing.
The Lizardcube remake in 2017 was utter perfection. Faithfully recreating the game with an absolutely stunning hand drawn art style while also providing the players the option to play the entire game with the original visuals and audio.
2. Shadow Complex
I loved Shadow Complex for its simplicity. It’s world was just the right size for me and I really enjoyed it’s upgrade system because it not only gave you the keys to access previously locked areas of the map, but made you feel like a complete bad arse at the same time.
Shadow Complex was the first time in a Metroidvania where I desperately wanted that next power up because feeling like an unstoppable force in these games is fun for me. Hell, in any video game.
The map’s simplicity made it very easy to remember immediately where you needed to go once you got the next power up which for some may have made the game feel a bit shorter than most games in this genre, but given how focused and enjoyable the game was to play, this wasn’t an issue for me in the slightest.
This is another game that was remastered and released on just about every platform imaginable so do yourself a favour and give this a go if you love the genre.
1. Ori and the Blind Forest
Ori and the Blind Forest isn’t a video game. It’s a desktop wallpaper creation tool disguised as a video game. Within 20 minutes of starting Ori back in 2015, I was incessantly yelling at my Kinect “Xbox, Take a screenshot!”. My OneDrive is still full of screenshots I took back then and I still use them as wallpapers to this day.
Ori is one of the most perfect video games I’ve ever played. Mostly because it’s one of those rare video games that comes along that manages to focus on all it’s key elements equally. Visuals, gameplay, story, world design, everything is treated with the utmost care and the entire package feels like it was crafted by hand.
Ori doesn’t inundate the player with too many abilities or powers, it strikes the right balance and immediately teaches the player how to put those powers into practice and much like Shadow Complex, the world is designed in a way where it’s easy to remember where you need to be next.
Each section of the world is visually distinct and equally gorgeous and at no point does the game overstay it’s welcome, which is a trait common to many Metroidvanias.
The Definitive Edition adds extra content and corrects some design errors from the original release (like areas of the map no longer being permanently locked off) and the Switch release includes 60 frames animations which make the game even more beautiful than the Xbox One release.
Naturally I’m very much anticipating the sequel in February, but be sure to play this modern classic before you play the new one. Also listen to Episode 8 of our Podcast where the Director of Moon Studios Thomas Mahler is our special guest.