Alternatives to the Glut of Metroidvania-Style Platformers

Alternatives to the Glut of Metroidvania-Style Platformers

With the recent rash of Metroidvania style games from Indie developers, Yahtzee offers some alternative platform ideas.

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That whole depowering idea reminds me of a japanese movie where the hero was on a quest to get his body parts back from a bunch of demons: with each one defeated he gained a little bit of his body and humanity, but lost a little of his supernatural fighting abilities. Sorry, but I can't remember the name.

I'd really like to play a game like the ones yahtzee describes, but who knows if anyone would actually take the risk of making them. I actually tend to prefer level based stuff over the likes of metroidvania: those games tend to seem overwhelming more than anything else. Also the backtracking can get beyond tedious.

Yahtzee's idea at the end sounds like a reverse Megaman game. Instead of starting out with nothing and picking the levels to tackle how you want it, smacking the boss at the end and getting a shiny new toy, it happens in reverse.

Why it wouldn't work is when it comes to adding abilities/weapons you can tackle things differently. For example, if you're struggling against a specific boss in one level in Megaman and you know a weapon from another boss would drastically help then you'd just go back to the menu screen and go fight the other guy first.
If it's reversed and you lose abilities then you can't do that without starting a fresh game because that one specific weapon/ability you had was the best of the bunch but you lost it on your first level because you didn't bother to check a guide. The way around this is having weapons/abilities that aren't AS crucial to normal combat that the game would be crippled by their exclusion, but then it becomes window dressing and weapons/abilities stocked in there to be one-use wonders.

All the game would lead to is people either getting frustrated with the layout or hounding down guides to min/max their way through the game to ensure they have the best weapons/abilities for the longest time possible. Which means the game just devolves into a linear game as there becomes a specific path that is so optimal you'd be masochistic for not taking it which goes against the whole spirit of the project in the first place.

So yeah, bad idea.

Oh, man! The genius of your ideas for games is just comparable with the complexity of their execution. Passing from power fantasy to survival in the same game sounds like a real challenge for the developers (and an exciting experience for me).

EDIT: About the reverse Metroidvania, I got a similar experience in Alien: Isolation (it certainly unfolds like a Metroidvania game most of the time). Except that it wasn't slowly closing your routes; but by passing the point of no-return (the last 3 chapters) everything closed down. I think it would work better in a combination of the two: the first half would be normal Metrodvania flow (opening new areas, powering up the players, and making them feel familiar with the map), and the second half in reverse (closing them back, slowly sacrificing their acquired powers for a long term gain).

Aww. I was getting into that idea for a brief second. How about as you lose powers, you gain extra movesets with the remaining powers you have? Also you could gain allies...others willing to follow you when they see what you are willing to sacrifice of yourself.

I can definately see Nintendo adopting a home lobotamy gaming kit, with free straightjacket amiibo toy. I'd be up for that, as long as It doesn't induce incontinence.

(On an entirely unrelated note, Just cause 3 has a new gameplay trailer out! Woop! Just skip the last minute of it to avoid the pre-order bullshit that has infected every fckin corner like damp mould in a wet barnhouse.)

I'm sure it's been done elsewhere but Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery did the "Slowly Depowered Hero" idea. The battles(what few there are) don't really get any harder. Instead, you start with a large health bar and each time you pick up one of the power object needed to advance the plot, your health bar is decreased, so the margin of error for the battles gets smaller and smaller. By the endgame, the main character is so low on health that she occasionally stops and vomits/coughs up blood....while the big bad is chasing her. Luckily, this part of the game is fairly short so it doesn't last long enough to get annoying. Also, you can stun the big bad during the chase to allow you stay just ahead of it.

I honestly haven't really found their to be a glut of metroidvania style games at all.

Am I the only one who thinks Yahtzee had missed the chance to call the Metroidvania glut 'Metromania'?

flying_whimsy:
That whole depowering idea reminds me of a japanese movie where the hero was on a quest to get his body parts back from a bunch of demons: with each one defeated he gained a little bit of his body and humanity, but lost a little of his supernatural fighting abilities. Sorry, but I can't remember the name.

That would Dororo, if i'm not mistaken.

On topic though, for the losing abilities game, maybe have the abilitis simplified for easy learning? Also, to help the player get used to them, maybe include a few levels from the start to help you get to the hub, as a sort of training session and the final level could just be going back through there without those abilities, forcing you to learn how to get passed there without them.

The average player might idly be interested in seeing how quickly they can do level 1-4 in Mario 3,

Tsk. 1-4 is an autoscroller and no one would be able to finish it appreciably faster than anyone else. I mean, really.

(j/k)

I like the depowering idea as well. You would have to do something like where you beat the final boss as your weakest point, and then get all your abilities back. That way you can explore again, find those secrets, and maybe offer a secret final, final boss to fight at full power to restore order in the game world or something.

Metroid Fusion toyed with this concept. The game kept changing as you progressed, making it harder and harder to get around, even when you had more abilities.

Allow me to second, or third or fourth/fifth Yahtzee's idea of losing power. (You people are ninja's.)

He noted that the problem is that the player needs to know about the area first, which makes sense. What if this... What if we were lead through the conventional level system, going through all of these areas, unlocking secrets, ETC. And then this big attack happens. The main area where your precious 7-11 is gets jumbled, and forces you to relearn that area. One by one, you have to go through each area, getting hit by the final boss to lose x ability. Until the very end, where the big bad boss goes after the 7-11. The hub area may have some new abilities to play with that you must unlock to save the day, but that's an option.

Eversion also has an idea that might play well with this. Perhaps in certain areas, you can see a glimpse of the monster's world, maybe go through a hidden "gate" to try and face his minions early on.

Something to keep in mind for your hobbies...

My immediate take on the "reverse progression" would be something like this:

Our fearless hero sets out to clean up the land from the baddies. Along the way s/he must take out the local underlings using a specific item/weapon/whatever before moving to the next zone; standard fare. The problem being that once the hero moves on, the baddies will come back and start causing havoc again.

To stop this, the hero gives up his special item/weapon/whatever to the locals as a way for them to defend themselves in the future and uphold the peace.

This means that the hero is slowly losing all his/her powers/trinkets while progressing, but for a reasonable cause. The hero would then have to face the final big baddie with only a lucky rabbits foot, or pen knife, or whatever is left. Maybe the hero knew it would be their demise at the end, anyways, so this is a way to leave a lasting legacy of peace... At least until the power of the item/weapon/whatever corrupts the locals just in time for the sequel.

Given some half decent writing to help justify it, I think it could work.

During the course of playing both Axiom Verge and Ori and the Blind Forest I found myself sorely wishing for some kind of fast travel function as I made my way for the umpteenth time to a square on the map that hadn't been filled in yet, vaguely recalling that there was a door that my new ability could open. Then finding that I'd remembered wrong and I was actually supposed to go there after I'd found the penis extension power up and mastered the Pogo Knob ability.

The later Metroid games had a simple solution to this problem: Mark the player's next destination on the map for them. You still have to do some exploring to figure out how to get there, you still have the option of breaking the sequence and trying to go somewhere else, but if you want to stop exploring and finish the story, you don't have to fill all the corners of the map. You just have to follow directions.

Deshin:
Yahtzee's idea at the end sounds like a reverse Megaman game. Instead of starting out with nothing and picking the levels to tackle how you want it, smacking the boss at the end and getting a shiny new toy, it happens in reverse.

Why it wouldn't work is when it comes to adding abilities/weapons you can tackle things differently. For example, if you're struggling against a specific boss in one level in Megaman and you know a weapon from another boss would drastically help then you'd just go back to the menu screen and go fight the other guy first.
If it's reversed and you lose abilities then you can't do that without starting a fresh game because that one specific weapon/ability you had was the best of the bunch but you lost it on your first level because you didn't bother to check a guide. The way around this is having weapons/abilities that aren't AS crucial to normal combat that the game would be crippled by their exclusion, but then it becomes window dressing and weapons/abilities stocked in there to be one-use wonders.

All the game would lead to is people either getting frustrated with the layout or hounding down guides to min/max their way through the game to ensure they have the best weapons/abilities for the longest time possible. Which means the game just devolves into a linear game as there becomes a specific path that is so optimal you'd be masochistic for not taking it which goes against the whole spirit of the project in the first place.

So yeah, bad idea.

Or it's like a reverse Metroid game. You know, where you start with things like Space Jump and Super Missiles and a Grappling Hook and Power Bombs, and as you progress through the game you use these things to traverse the environment and occasionally in combat, and then end up needing to use them in extreme ways to defeat bosses, rendering them useless after. It would also be a good way of naturally ramping up the difficulty of the game without needing to constantly simply increase the power levels of the enemies the player faces, though I could see a game like that easily stumbling and making the areas less and less interesting as you approach the end of the game because you don't have as many options for movement.

But basically, I don't think Metroidvania-style platformers and Mega Man-style platformers are really comparable in this sort of situation.

figment of mind:
That would Dororo, if i'm not mistaken.

Thank you! It was driving me nuts that I couldn't remember the name.

OT: I remember at the start of prototype they do that stupid vision of the end of the game combat tutorial where you play with all of the powers. I thought it was awesome and then I was stuck with the minimum of everything from then on. Rather than be exciting it just annoyed me.

If I'd lost the powers gradually, I think it would have made for a way more engaging experience.

I rather like Yahtzee's idea for a reverse-Metroidvania game. Shame we'll never see that happen. Like his survival horror idea for a blind person in an abandoned ship being guided in the third person via security cameras.

beleester:

During the course of playing both Axiom Verge and Ori and the Blind Forest I found myself sorely wishing for some kind of fast travel function as I made my way for the umpteenth time to a square on the map that hadn't been filled in yet, vaguely recalling that there was a door that my new ability could open. Then finding that I'd remembered wrong and I was actually supposed to go there after I'd found the penis extension power up and mastered the Pogo Knob ability.

The later Metroid games had a simple solution to this problem: Mark the player's next destination on the map for them. You still have to do some exploring to figure out how to get there, you still have the option of breaking the sequence and trying to go somewhere else, but if you want to stop exploring and finish the story, you don't have to fill all the corners of the map. You just have to follow directions.

A few more alternatives: Let the player open up the map and look at what was at any of the revealed squares. The character surely remembers where they've been, so the let the player see as well. That way they don't have to traipse across the entire game world to see if the door over there was red or blue.

Otherwise, put icons on the map for the obstacles. Either all the time or after they get the thing needed to bypass it.

Another idea is simply letting the player write notes to themselves. (Granted, they can do that anyway in real life). Have a little note-taking utility so that they can write on their map, "There's a red door here," or, "There's a spiky passage here," or something and thus give the player an easy way to organize what they've seen. It should be easy to implement, but is rarely used.

I read the column, and now I forget how to spell that new word-salad monstrosity for "Metroid-vania". Just when I thought we have a new "spunkgarggleweewee".

That idea actually reminds me of a part in the WC3:TFT campaign where your hero levels up, then starts leveling down again.

Props to Escapist for actually coming up with a click-baity but still better title than the original. I mean, thats something right?

I think Yahtzees game idea would work well but the only problem is that it would have to only be half of what a Metroidvania game is. There could not be a level up system really the mechanics would have to work similar to the original castlevania where enemies are killed in a specific amount of hits no matter what, you don't get stronger enemies just get more health and proportionally do more damage to you as time goes on. Maybe if you just play as an unlikely hero/victim in a strange area under attack like in a Silent Hill. You can start off with weapons like sticks and guns and maybe a car that hits enemies (if its a 3D Metroidvania like Souls). Over time you fail to save the town or city because you are more just trying to survive and escape as the world crumbles around you getting stuck in smaller and smaller areas until you somehow use your wit to defeat the big bad, maybe with a crafting system similar to what's in Dead Rising 2.

Very, very useful article. Even to me and I'm not an actual game developer... I just like to make games in Flash from time to time and this article is kickass.

Dalisclock:
I'm sure it's been done elsewhere but Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery did the "Slowly Depowered Hero" idea. The battles(what few there are) don't really get any harder. Instead, you start with a large health bar and each time you pick up one of the power object needed to advance the plot, your health bar is decreased, so the margin of error for the battles gets smaller and smaller. By the endgame, the main character is so low on health that she occasionally stops and vomits/coughs up blood....while the big bad is chasing her. Luckily, this part of the game is fairly short so it doesn't last long enough to get annoying. Also, you can stun the big bad during the chase to allow you stay just ahead of it.

That sounds like a pretty good idea. I've never played that game, so I don't know if this is how it works, but what if instead of just advancing the plot, each new thing you pick up grants you more power at the cost of health or something? Like, you get some kind of extra weapon/spell but lose some max health. That way you can have the game evolving as it progresses, while maintaining a difficulty curve and narrative stakes.

The "metroidvania" portmanteau is silly. I always just say "Open ended 2D platformers".

figment of mind:
That would Dororo, if i'm not mistaken.

And it actually has a game, unsurprisingly. Look up "Blood Will Tell" on the PS2.

or you can just go with Exploration-based platformers. You can even abbreviate that to EBP. That works, right?

How about "2D Sprawler" as a genre name.

Thoughts?

If you feel like you're missing fast travel, it's really a failing of level design and power up design. You should probably be getting things later in the game that make moving around faster, and the world should be designed as to have shortcuts unlock later on that let you get to the areas you want to go faster.

Super Metroid is a great example as usual. You wouldn't believe how many seemingly random rooms were designed such that once you got the speed going you could just blaze through them. Innocuous rock formations were actually destroyable by the speed letting you zip down corridors that looked like you'd need to jump through.

THAT is great level design.

I can think of two games that felt a bit like this.

The Warcraft III expansion gave you a fully powered-up Arthus, whose powers were slowly sucked away as you got closer to the tomb of the Lich King. Arthus was pretty piss-weak by the end of that one.

The other game it reminds me of is The Void. After you've gotten the introductions out of the way and taken a nice look at the world map, you realise that you're not-so-slowly dying and that the world is getting more and more hostile by the minute. Worse, the things you do to progress (gaining power, using that power and freeing or killing NPCs) all push you that much closer to death. Taking power means permanently draining it from the world. Using it literally accelerates your death, as well as making enemies more frequent and a host of other nasty effects. Worse, there's a whole lot of footwork to do, which takes time since you can't run, but repetitively casting Haste on yourself means expending more energy...
At any rate, your world map kinda shrinks as you get a feel for just how far you can travel in how much time - you start to feel that sure, maybe you *could* visit all the areas, but that would take a concerted effort and would probably prevent you from winning (whatever that may be).

A reverse metroidvania probably wouldn't be that farfetched really. It could start with the player having all sorts of powerups and lots of health as well as a very detailed in-game map that showed the whole world. The challenge would be more about planning routes and doing tasks in the order that lets you use the items you like the most the longest. As the player played they would have to give up health containers to unlock things maybe, giving up powerups when beating bosses. There could be a few hard to use abilities like super metroid's wall jump and infinite bomb jump that you had to rely on more and more. The map would become more vague as the game went on and the player would need to rely more and more on their memory until in the end, you couldn't use the in-game map at all. Might even work better if the world was randomly generated perhaps but eh.

If you're looking for alternatives to this type of platformer, try Bleed. It's awesome.

I like the idea and I think I have a solution to the main problem that requires people know the game before they start. You make it like the Symphony of the Night and have a second quest. You can also work the story itself into reason why it works. Off the top of my head, here's a messy plot for one such game.

During a dark time in the world you play in, invading forces threaten to destroy the towns and villages way of life. A hero arose to fight off an oncoming force by breaking the seals upon various shrines across the land and aquiring their power. It was a forbidden magic for reasons unknown, but respected by tradition and the power they contained. United with the abilities, the hero vanquished the threat and helps peace reestablish, ending the first quest.

Only, he seals broken started to release what was contained behind it. An ancient evil that took over the shrines and threatened to spill out across the land. Thus the hero must go venture forth and reseal the shrines once more, only at each shrine he must sacrifice one of the abilities he earned from before, growing weaker in return for weakening the true evil. Only once all shrines are resealed, and the hero is as weak as he ever was, can he make the ancient evil mortal and killable once and for all.

The first quest plays like a traditional metroidvania, allowing exploration and discovery and gives the player all the knowledge and time they need to discover the items and secrets. Then they beat the main game and have full abilities to go back and explore, but in doing so they know they have to start giving up abilities, weakening them. While healthy items and the like may persist to help soften the blow, the decreasing mobility, offense and options will still make it an uphill, taxing fight, and when placed within the story, a thematic price being paid. You broke the rules to save the village the first time, yes, but that still comes with consequences you have to address and in the end, after you gained then lost all your ill-gotten powers, you still have to rely on yourself to fix the problem.

 

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