Indies love the Metroidvania format, and we love indies that off up those old-school exploration thrills. Recently, there’s been a deluge of open-ended platforming adventures — and here are 8 that are worth checking out.
When you mix Super Metroid with Castlevania, you get the Metroidvania genre. While Super Metroid didn’t invent this style of exploration, it did cement lots of modern conventions — multiple zones to explore, bosses you can fight in any order, and new abilities you unlock to gain access to previously impassable areas.
There are too many great indie Metroidvanias to list, and some of them are getting pretty long in the tooth. Just so no one bites my head off, Strider, Ori and the Blind Forest, Axiom Verge and Shadow Complex are great major studio examples. If you’re more into the indies, La Mulana is at the top of the heap.
The mysterious Hollow Knight adds a sprinkling of combat difficulty to the hardcore exploration, and throws in multiple layers of secrets to make the intriguing, dark and monotone world slowly drill into your insect-like skull for a very long time.
Hollow Knight is all about the titular tiny bug as he delves deeper underground, exploring abandoned cities and fighting a long roster of strange boss fights. While there aren’t quite so many secrets compared to other Metroidvanias, this game leans into the combat. You’ll see that’s a pretty common trait for these indies.
Salt and Sanctuary
Eschewing the smooth, painterly Hollow Knight, Salt and Sanctuary is a self-described Dark Souls-bite that really resembles a Metroidvania more in its execution. You have multiple paths to explore on the mysterious island, and this game is darker (and more violent) than most.
Don’t let the Newgrounds graphics and scratchy art fool you. This is a solid combat game. You’ll need to fight for every victory and unlocking shortcuts back to your safe camps is a great feeling. The areas are appropriately twisted, and the boss encounters are some of the most memorable on this list — multi-mouthed abominations, hulking torture victims, walking trees made of corpses, and a nameless god-being are waiting for you in the depths of Salt and Sanctuary.
Taking cues from the Cthulhu mythos, Sundered throws your heroine into a nightmarish scenario that’s part rogue-like, part Metroidvania. Hordes of monsters spawn randomly in the depths, and areas are reconfigured after every death and revisit. But, certain special locations always remain the same.
Like other indie Metroidvanias, this one focuses on combat, but exploration is key too. As you progress through giant rooms that change shape as you explore, you’ll also unlock new methods of traversal or powers to break through special barriers. Certain rooms always remain the same, and bosses can be tackled in any order, making this spooky rogue-like lean more toward the Metroidvania spectrum.
Castle in the Darkness
Add a big heaping helping of difficulty to the Metroidvania formula, and you’ve got Castle in the Darkness. This seemingly simple but punishingly difficult little indie adventure more closely resembles hardcore platformers like Super Meat Boy or 1001 Spikes. The areas require pixel-perfect exploration, and the combat is simple but challenging.
Finally, we’re changing perspective. Immortal Planet is an isometric action-RPG that’s all about moving slowly and choosing your actions deliberately. Everything is slow in Immortal Planet. Your default movement speed is walk.
What sets Immortal Planet apart are the enemies. Regular opponents and bosses all have complex behaviors, turning every little encounter into a struggle for survival. The areas may look static, but they’re all designed around central checkpoints, with various shortcuts and passages to unlock as you branch out and defeat more enemies. It’s probably the biggest departure from the standard Metroidvania formula on this list, and it’s the most recent.
Hyper Light Drifter
The beautiful pixel-art presentation of Hyper Light Drifter is worth the price of admission alone. Okay, really, it’s the super-smooth and fast-paced gameplay that really sets this game apart. Like Immortal Planet, this is an isometric RPG with Souls-lite influences, but we’re throwing it under the Metroidvania banner.
Why? Because, for once, Hyper Light Drifter isn’t some intensely hard test of patience. The battles are still thrilling, but you’ll reload after each boss attempt, no worse for wear — exploring every area and using your quick shifting powers to cross small spaces is a pleasure when the world looks this good.
Environmental Station Alpha
Going back in time, Environmental Station Alpha is an over-looking Metroidvania that most closely resembles a true Metroidvania — it’s all about exploration, uncovering secrets, upgrading your suit and defeating bosses.
There’s also an intensely long and complex post-game filled with crazy-cryptic puzzles that’s required if you want to unlock the “best” ending. For all the weird, mind-bending additions, Environmental Station Alpha scratches that La Mulana itch. When is La Mulana 2 finally coming out, again?
Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight
The last game on the list is also pretty close to the Castlevania games that inspired its gothic title. It’s a Metroidvania with an anime coat of paint on top, skipping all those Souls-like comparisons and aiming squarely at the Castlevania crowd with tough (but not too tough) boss battles and interesting locations to explore.
It’s a quick little adventure, with some fun magic and weaponry to unlock on your quest to dispel a terrible curse. Don’t let this one fly under your radar.