Part-Metroid, part-Castlevania, all awesome.
‘Metroidvania’ has become a buzzword in recent years, most often appearing as a bullet point in indie game descriptions. As the name suggests, it describes a game whose design borrows ideas from the likes of Castlevania and Metroid; its challenging, exploration-based, and progression throughout is based on acquiring items or upgrades to access new areas.
Because many of the best examples of Metroidvanias pair it with elements of other games – most often roguelikes and RPGs – it’s sometimes difficult to define exactly what a Metroidvania is. For this list, we’re sticking to the basics while casting a somewhat wide net.
Listed below are some of the very best modern Metroidvania games currently available.
Ori and the Blind Forest (PC, Xbox One, Xbox 360)
Stunning art, a beautiful cinematic score, and endearing characters made Ori and the Blind Forest notable upon its announcement. But the game beneath its seemingly soft exterior is a tough-as-nails, bonafide Metroidvania with some of the tightest level design and gameplay we’ve seen on the Xbox. The first game left a big impression, and we’re anxiously awaiting to return for more in Will of the Wisps.
Read our Ori and the Blind Forest review to learn more.
Hollow Knight (PC, Switch)
Hollow Knight is a Metroidvania in its purest sense. In order to fully traverse its beautifully hand-drawn melancholy world, players will face off against a wide array of dangerous obstacles and enemies with approachable-but-challenging mechanics. On top of excellent combat and brilliant design, Hollow Knight tells a heavy and emotional story about loss and defeat. Thus far, it has seen massive success on the PC and Switch, with a complete edition coming to Xbox One and PlayStation 4 soon.
Read our Hollow Knight review to learn more.
Dead Cells (PC, PS4, Xbox One, Switch)
Dead Cells’ Metroidvania elements are expertly woven together with roguelike traits to create a cohesive and strong experience. Levels are randomly generated and death is final, but generous upgrades and exploration offer rewards to those willing to brave the challenge. Vibrant and arresting visuals paired with unique weapons and weighty combat make Dead Cells one of the more compelling versions of a Metroidvania/roguelike hybrid available today.
Read our Dead Cells review to learn more.
SteamWorld Dig 2 (Switch, PC, PS4, Vita, 3DS)
Visually stunning and boasting a great deal of personality, SteamWorld Dig 2 is a wonderful follow-up to 2013’s SteamWorld Dig, the steampunk-inspired western starring sentient robots in a desolate setting. SteamWorld Dig 2 is a nice blending of genres, coupling the resource collection and exploration of games like Terraria with item and ability upgrades allowing the player entry to new corners of its world.
Read our SteamWorld Dig 2 review to learn more.
Guacamelee (PS4, PS3, Vita, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC, Wii U)
DrinkBox Studios’ Guacamelee is one of the more stylish 2D games in recent memory. Boasting art heavily influenced by Mexican culture and Luchador wrestling, Guacamelee guides players on a unique, challenging, tongue-in-cheek story mixing folklore with challenging platforming and powerful combat. As an added bonus, the recently-released sequel picks up where Guacamelee left off and builds on it in clever ways.
Read our Guacamelee review to learn more.
Sundered (PC, PS4)
Cosmic horrors await in the depths of Sundered, a gorgeous hand-drawn platformer mixing roguelike and Metroidvania elements together in one creepy, macabre package. Randomly-generated areas and enemy spawns make combat fraught with challenge and intensity, fluid animations give energy to movement, and fights against massive bosses feel spectacular and satisfying in execution. Lovecraftian horror is commonplace in media, but Sundered’s take on it offers a much-needed fresh perspective.
Read our Sundered review to learn more.
Salt and Sanctuary (PS4, Vita, PC, Switch)
While wearing its Dark Souls influence on its sleeve, Salt and Sanctuary also borrows elements equally from Castlevania with its grim, spectral visuals, 2D format, and desolate world. It’s brutally difficult, intimidating, and more frequently offers players a closed fist than a hand. But like its influences, it is massively rewarding to those who are willing to brave its challenges.
Read our Salt and Sanctuary review to learn more.
Owlboy (PC, Switch, PS4)
A charming cast of characters take center stage in this melancholy, story-driven game about overcoming the odds. Owlboy’s strength lies in its ability to tell a story through mechanics, and gorgeous pixel art adds life to an ethereal, fascinating world.
Read our Owlboy review to learn more.
Iconoclasts (PS4, PC, Switch, Vita)
Iconoclasts recalls SNES-era games more so than many of the entries on this list, and it works to its benefit. It’s charming and sweet, pairing upgrade-based platforming and exploration of a lush world with a deceptively deep and impactful story about staying true to oneself in the face of authoritative adversity.
Read our Iconoclasts review to learn more.
Cave Story + (PC, Switch, 3DS)
Years after its release, Cave Story remains one of the most widely-recognized and famous examples of a Metroidvania in its purest form. A passion project for developer Daisuke “Pixel” Amaya, Cave Story is known for having a massive number of challenging levels, deep upgrade options, and tightly-constructed gameplay offering players the perfect balance of challenge and reward.
Read our Cave Story review to learn more.
Axiom Verge (PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch)
Axiom Verge is a bizarrely bleak and morbid take on the Metroid formula, featuring fleshy, H.R. Giger-like environment design and bizarre abilities to tweak the world around you. And, like Metroid, it makes great use of allowing players to progress via combat and exploring the lengths of its macabre sci-fi world.
Read our Axiom Verge review to learn more.
Yoku’s Island Express (PC, Switch, Xbox One, PS4)
Yoku’s Island Express is by far one of the most unique games on this list, due to its mixing of Metroidvanias with…pinball. As an adorable tiny postman, players use pinball and platforming mechanics to explore the vast landscape of a tropical island. It’s a blend of ideas that shouldn’t work on paper, but in execution is a fun and brilliant new take on the 2D platforming genre.
Read our Yoku’s Island Express review to learn more.
La-Mulana 2 (PC)
Building on the strengths of 2005’s La-Mulana, La-Mulana 2 offers the same approach of massive, non-linear platforming with a great deal of gameplay depth, items, and brutally difficult combat all within the same Indiana Jones-esque mystical trappings of the original.
Rain World (PC, PS4)
Part-2D action platformer, part-survival game, there’s just enough flavors of Metroidvania present in Rain World to include it on this list. As an adorable little Slugcat, the goal of Rain World is to survive a massive, hazardous world while trying to reunite with your lost family. Dynamic physics and animation give it a unique, living feel, and its blending of genres practically makes it impossible to categorize in any one particular space. Combined with a surprising narrative and controls with a great deal of nuance and depth, Rain World is a special blend unlike anything else.
Read our Rain World review to learn more.
Cassidee is a social editor who can’t stop playing Dead Cells on the train. You can keep up with her on Twitter.