Metroidvanias are among one of the most popular subgenres in gaming. Although technically falling under the category of “action-adventure,” Metroidvanias follow their own, unique gameplay structure which blends together elements found in Metroid and Castlevania games, hence the name.
In recent years, Metroidvanias have risen in popularity as more indie and AAA developers strive to create new experiences using a familiar formula. Here we’ve highlighted what we think are some of the best Metroidvania games to play in 2019. We’ll be updating this list in the future with new titles, so make sure to check back.
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Ori and the Blind Forest (PC, Xbox One)
Kicking things off, we have Ori and the Blind Forest, a Metroidvania platformer from developer Moon Studios. The game has players taking control of Ori, a fox-like white guardian spirit, along with a fairy named Sein. Both have special abilities that when used in tandem, allow the player to defeat enemies and traverse environments.
As you progress through the game, Ori and Sein obtain new abilities, allowing you to reach new areas that were previously inaccessible. Although the game presents itself as a narrative-focused endeavor, it’s platforming is just as demanding as something like Super Meat Boy and requires a lot of split-second decision-making.
The Messenger (PC, PS4, Switch)
The Messenger is a Metroidvania that’s more likely to appeal to fans of retro games who admire 8 and 16-bit graphics. That’s because a majority of the game feels like a love letter to classic side-scrollers like Ninja Gaiden as well as classic Metroidvanias like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.
In it, you play as a ninja tasked with delivering an ancient scroll to the top of a mountain whose path is littered with an assortment of supernatural monsters and deadly traps. Along the way you’ll master the art of “cloudstepping” while acquiring new powers and tools, such as a grappling hook and glide ability that open up new areas.
Dead Cells (PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch)
Dead Cells is a fast-paced, 2D-roguelike with enough Metroidvania elements to warrant including it on this list. The game revolves around exploring procedurally-generated dungeons in search of blueprints that allow you to craft better gear while under constant attack from groups of enemies.
After your inevitable death, you’re brought right back to the start, this time with slightly more resources than your last run. This allows you to make incremental upgrades to your abilities and gear in order to delve deeper on your next run and uncover more secrets. But be warned, Dead Cells’ combat is very unforgiving and requires you to always be moving and gauging when to attack.
Hollow Knight (PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch)
By this point, Hollow Knight has pretty much solidified its place in Metroidvania hall of fame. The game is centered on its title protagonist, a silent sword-wielding knight on a quest to unlock the mysteries of Hallownest, a dark and dangerous kingdom that offers great rewards to any brave enough to explore its treacherous environments.
The 2D action-platformer does an excellent job at finding new ways to use its Metroidvania format to encourage exploration by providing the player with massive environments littered with collectibles and rewards. Additionally, experimenting with different loadouts opens up new opportunities to min/max and reach hidden areas.
SteamWorld Dig 2 (PC, PS4, Switch, Vita, 3DS)
SteamWorld Dig 2 is a 2D Metroidvania that manages to improve on everything from the first game without making any compromises. In it you control a steam-powered robot miner named Dorothy as she sets out to search for the first game’s protagonist, Rusty, after he’s gone missing.
However, like most Metroidvanias, SteamWorld Dig 2’s story mainly serves to compliment the game’s addictive gameplay loop, which sees you delving deeper into underground mines and collecting valuable resources to then be sold in exchange for new gear and upgrades. Improving your gear allows you to go further and further into the mines, revealing new challenges and more valuable resources.
Guacamelee! 2 (PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch)
Following the success of the popular 2D Metroidvania centered on powerful luchadors, Guacamelee! 2 remains loyal to the original while making a couple of refinements. The sequel takes place seven years after the events of the first Guacamelee!, and sees a much older and out of shape luchador Juan called back into action when a new enemy from a different timeline threatens to destroy the entire Mexiverse.
Although a majority of the mechanics will be familiar for anyone who’s played the first, minor changes to progression and an expanded moveset for chicken transformations make the experience feel fresh. Additionally, the game introduces new enemy types, abilities, and stunning hand-crafted environments that are much larger than the original’s.
Blaster Master Zero (PC, 3DS, Switch)
Blaster Master Zero is a phenomenal reboot of the retro NES title Blaster Master from Sunsoft. Japanese developer Inti Creates set out to create a faithful recreation that ultimately feels like a more accessible version of the original. The game plays similarly to the NES version and sees players controlling SOPHIA, a versatile tank that can be used to defeat enemies and explore side-scrolling levels.
However, players can also eject themselves from the tank and directly control Jason, a robotics scientist equipped with a laser pistol. Although he has fewer options than SOPHIA when it comes to firepower and traversal, Jason is able to enter different doors and passages that the tank cannot. These smaller areas switch the game from a 2D side-scroller to an overhead perspective as Jason uses his pistol to shoot enemies and pick-up rewards.
The Mummy Demastered (PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch)
We don’t get as many movie tie-in games today as we used to, especially ones that end up being more better received than the film they’re trying to promote. The Mummy Demastered checks both of those boxes while managing to be a pretty solid 2D Metroidvania. The pixel art game takes its direction from heavy-hitters in the genre such as Castlevania and Ghosts ‘n Goblins while using leaning heavily into its source material.
You play as a special agent trying to track down and defeat the evil Princess Ahmanet and her legion of monsters. With each death, you respawn as a new character, with the option to retrieve your previous items by defeating a zombified version of your former self. The game features an amazing soundtrack reminiscent of retro 8-bit games and two possible outcomes for its story.
Timespinner (PC, PS4, Switch, Vita)
Timespinner stands out as a story-driven Metroidvania inspired by classic ‘90s action-platformers. In it, you play as Lunais, a timekeeper on a quest for revenge after her family is murdered by the sinister Lachiem Empire. Transported to an unknown world, Lunais is forced to use her time manipulation powers to rewrite history and put a stop to the Lachiem Empire.
The game has you traveling exploring beautifully drawn pixel art environments while traveling between the past and present destroying enemies and acquiring new powers. Mastering Lunais’ time manipulating abilities opens up new possibilities for combat, which is further expanded upon by Familiars, mysterious creatures that can be trained to fight alongside you in battle.
Axiom Verge (PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch, Vita)
Leaning into its 1990s side-scroller influence, Axiom Verge borrows many elements from recognizable franchises like Contra, Bionic Commando, and Metroid to name a few. You play as Trace, a scientist who passes out after a crippling injury and awakes to find himself in an ancient, high-tech world brimming with hostile creatures.
The game heavily focuses on combat and exploration with Trace having access to over 60 different items and power-ups that impact how battles play out. This is one of the many steps Axiom Verge takes to separate itself from its predecessors and elevate the Metroidvania format.
Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse (PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch, 3DS)
Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse is the third game in the series chronicling the adventures of a half-human half-genie woman named Shantae. Playing as the title protagonist, you’re tasked with saving Sequin Land yet again from a new threat, the Pirate Master, who’s teamed up with Shantae’s biggest nemesis, Risky Boots.
Having lost her genie powers in Risky’s Revenge, the game prior to Pirate’s Curse, Shantae acquires new abilities by picking up items spread across multiple islands. As you begin to fill up your arsenal with useful pirate gadgets such as a cannon that grants Shantae an additional jump, areas that were previously inaccessible become available to explore.
A Robot Named Fight! (PC, Switch)
Next on the list is a Metroidvania-Roguelike that sees players exploring procedurally-generated environments where power-ups, obstacles, and enemies change with each run. In it, you take on the role of a lone robot attempting to destroy a dangerous monster called the Megabeast.
When it comes to presentation and gameplay, A Robot Named Fight! takes clear direction from Metroidvanias that came before it while still finding ways to stand out in this modern era of gaming. Permadeath along with a seemingly infinite number of modifiers make each playthrough feel fresh and unpredictable while completing achievements unlocks new content, adding to the game’s replayability.
Metroid: Samus Returns (3DS)
Of course, this list wouldn’t be complete without at least one game from either of the series the term originates from. Metroid: Samus Returns is a reimagining of 1991’s Metroid II: Return of Samus for Game Boy. You play as series’ protagonist Samus Aran, on a mission ordered by the Galactic Federation to exterminate the parasitic Metroids on their home planet.
The game manages to stay faithful to the story and structure of the original while including a host of new features, such as a melee counterattack that allows Samus to deal additional damage to enemies, the ability to fire freely at any angle, and updated 3D models that blend nicely with the original’s 2D side-scrolling perspective.
Gato Roboto (PC, Switch)
Gato Roboto is a neat little indie Metroidvania that sees players controlling a mech suit piloted by a cat that’s been tasked with saving their stranded captain along with his ship. After traveling to a strange alien planet, you begin exploring an underground labyrinth of hi-tech facilities while dealing with any obstacles standing in your way.
As the game progresses you’ll be able to gather new weapons and items that allow you to reach new areas. Although the experience is rather brief, clocking in around 3-4 hours, Gato Roboto’s fluid combat and traversal mechanics paired with its lo-fi aesthetic make it a worthy Metroidvania for any fan of the genre.
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night (PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch)
Since we’ve already included one Metroid game on this list, it seems only right to mention a title that’s at least connected to the second franchise responsible for the term Metroidvania. With former Castlevania series producer Koji Igarashi leading the game’s development, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a spiritual successor that recreates the feeling of playing classic Castlevania titles like Symphony of the Night and Order of Ecclesia.
The game takes place takes place during 18th century England where protagonist Miriam, an orphan who was taken in and experimented on by the Alchemists’ Guild, uses her supernatural abilities to cleanse a demon-infested castle. While exploring the castle, players are able to collect and craft new weapons and equipment, allowing Miriam to unlock new areas and eliminate more menacing foes.
Cave Story (PC, 3DS, Switch)
Cave Story is one of the most widely-recognized Metroidvanias today and does an excellent job of paying homage to the greats that came before it. In it, you play as Quote, a robot who wakes up with amnesia and begins to explore and blast his way through mysterious caves while trying to decipher his past.
Quote is able to access new areas by upgrading his weapons and solving different platforming puzzles. Created by one man, Japanese developer Daisuke “Pixel” Amaya, the game is considered by many to be the quintessential indie game because of its compelling story and characters as well as its influence on later Metroidvanias.
Dust: An Elysian Tail (PC, PS4, Switch)
Dust: An Elysian Tail is a Metroidvania set in a fantasy world populated by anthropomorphic creatures. You control Dust, a swordsman suffering from amnesia who comes upon a sentient weapon called the Blade of Ahrah along with its guardian, Fidget. Following Fidget’s advice, Dust sets out to protect the world against the evil forces led by General Gaius.
Exploration is centered on obtaining power-ups that enhance Dust’s abilities and allow him to reach new areas and increase the potency of his attacks. The game has been praised for its satisfying, brawler-style combat as well as its vibrant art style.