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marurun
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When is a Metroidvania not a Metroidvania?

by marurun Thu Oct 03, 2019 9:34 am

There's been a lot of focus in the past decade or so on Metroidvania games, especially in relation to how the indie scene has adopted the genre. But I'm starting to feel that the term is being overused. The term arose as a response to Symphony of the Night and is supposed to represent the blending of Castlevania and Metroid elements, but in most titles what I'm seeing is 95% Metroid. Castlevania didn't just bring melee attacking, it also brought RPG-style leveling up and grinding for equipment and currency. But a lot of indie Metroidvanias are missing much of this. Look at Hollow Knight. It is a beautiful and interesting game, but it really feels, to me, to be much more Metroid than Castlevania. Yes, there is currency, but there are no random item drops and there's no leveling. So basically the only contribution from Castlevania is grinding for currency for a limited number of shop items and melee combat. But early contemporaries to Metroid often did the same thing.

Part of this is also a bit of frustration. One of the things I really enjoyed about SotN and the handheld Castlevania titles was the random drops and leveling. It meant that when the game got too hard you could sometimes (but certainly not always) grind your way out of it. It also meant that at any given moment you might find your new favorite weapon for the next 2 or 3 hours of play just by chance. Now, the lack of random item or skill drops means that many of these so-called Metroidvanias do have a tighter, more coherent experience. They can gear their challenges much more carefully and deliberately. And any currency grinding is going to be secondary and only so useful since there's a hard cap on your health and abilities. But that is much more in line with the Metroid experience (though in Metroid you could "explore-grind" for hidden missile and energy tanks). I feel like the Castlevania bits were always a much less essential part of the Metroidvania formula, with Metroid always being really the primary contributor to the formula, and more recent indie-styled Metroidvanias are only further cementing this by pushing further into the Metroid space.

I guess, in summation, I really think the term Metroidvania has always overplayed Castlevania's contributions and underplayed Metroid's, and more recent games drive that home even further, to the point that Iga releases Bloodstained and it's considered something of a throwback. It seems that trying to re-inject Castlevania into the mix is going backwards. Can we finally start calling this genre Metroid-likes and Metroid-lites?
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Re: When is a Metroidvania not a Metroidvania?

by Gunstar Green Thu Oct 03, 2019 9:57 am

I don't disagree but I've come to accept that it is what it is.

Symphony of the Night helped popularize the genre more than Metroid ever did and it's become intrinsically tied to it in the gaming zeitgeist. "Metroidvania" is the word that has come to define the genre regardless of how stupid or technically incorrect it is. We've even more than likely reached the point where there are "Metroidvania" fans who have never experienced either Metroid of Castlevania, it's a word that's become more abstract than its origin implies.

People have tried for years to find a word or phrase to better define this genre that's clearly not going away but as of right now, nothing has managed to penetrate the collective consciousness of the gaming community and the longer it continues to be accepted the less likely it is that it will ever change.

I have a similar problem with "Soulsborne" when I feel "Souls-like" works just fine. Bloodborne while an excellent game doesn't really add anything genre-definingly relevant to the formula started by Demon's Souls so the portmanteau is entirely unnecessary.
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Re: When is a Metroidvania not a Metroidvania?

by marurun Thu Oct 03, 2019 10:43 am

I guess any genre term that uses more than one game in a mashup is probably simply capturing the popularity of some point of reference. At least Metroidvania and Soulsborne capture the influence of the "original" (of a sort) title that really cemented the genre. Metroid will always be a part of Metroidvania, however much Castlevania is a hanger-on.
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Re: When is a Metroidvania not a Metroidvania?

by PresidentLeever Thu Oct 03, 2019 1:24 pm

That's something I was thinking about a lot earlier this year when I made my site dedicated to platform adventure games that I've linked to in the guides subforum (basically synonymous with the MV term but I prefer it for a few reasons). Regarding the distribution of Metroid and Castlevania elements, if you read the front page there or look around elsewhere you can find that MV was first used to describe Castlevania games that used some elements from the Metroid games, indicating the added RPG mechanics were perhaps tangential to the definition or not considered at that point.

Jeremy Parish, one of those who popularized the term doesn't include RPG elements in his definition, but it's also less rigid compared to what you get if you visit the Metroidvania community on reddit for example.
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I would fall somewhere in-between those two. The main things for me are platforming in an interconnected world with some degree of persistency and a focus on exploration and ability gated progression. How much of each of those elements are featured can vary but they should be in there. How character growth is done (Metroid uses power ups, SotN power ups and stats, and I guess there's some MV out there that uses action-based progression) can vary but should probably also be in there.

Not a fan of "Metroid-like", since 1. RPG mechanics (leveling/stats, gear and NPC interaction) or whatever else is added, such as a focus on melee combat, puzzles or loot, still makes a fairly big difference in gameplay similarly to how Metroid 1 differs from Zelda 1 while sharing the "MV" elements. 2. There were a few earlier and contemporary games that fit the genre definition. 3. It's even more restrictive than MV.

One game that has MV elements but is not a MV for me would be Psychic World (SMS/MSX/GG). It has ability gating, some maze-like levels and you char grows stronger over the course of it, but structurally it's level-based and without backtracking. That structural element is key here.
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Re: When is a Metroidvania not a Metroidvania?

by BoneSnapDeez Thu Oct 03, 2019 1:31 pm

Yeah, I tend to think of the term as being synonymous with "nonlinear platformer with backtracking." Most Metroidvanias don't feel too much like either Metroid or Castlevania, but then again most "roguelikes" play much differently than Rogue.
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Re: When is a Metroidvania not a Metroidvania?

by MrPopo Thu Oct 03, 2019 1:39 pm

As pointed out, the original term grew to describe how SotN, instead of a level-based platformer approach took a page from Metroid's book and created this intricate castle with lots of backtracking. The game ALSO added a leveling system which was retained in future Castlevania games in that playstyle, but if you took that out you still have the mobility upgrades gated behind bosses and a series of expansion tanks for your resources. So at this point we now have two major games that are of the "explore this non-linear map with backtracking" form.

Then we started to see other games start to use this framework for their gameplay. However, this happened so long after the original coining of the term that the meaning of "a particular style of Castlevania" had been lost, so instead it was "well, we called Dawn of Souls a Metroidvania, so a game that's similar is also a Metroidvania". As a term it has the advantage of being a snappy, easy to remember name and is specific enough that when I hear something is a Metroidvania I have a good idea of the broad gameplay. There will be specific differences (e.g. leveling system or not, item/equipment system or not) but the broad strokes of platforming and ability-based gating over a large map will remain.

I have a similar problem with "Soulsborne" when I feel "Souls-like" works just fine.

I think that one came from Bloodborne coming out and people wanting to refer to Dark Souls and Bloodborne in reference to the games From was putting out, so calling it the Soulsborne series was a reasonable way to go. And Soulsborne sounds better than Souls-like.
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Re: When is a Metroidvania not a Metroidvania?

by noiseredux Thu Oct 03, 2019 1:54 pm

I'd like to see a Metroidvania style Doom Clone with the difficulty of a Soulsborne. Randomly generated of course.
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Re: When is a Metroidvania not a Metroidvania?

by marurun Thu Oct 03, 2019 1:58 pm

Soulsborne Metroidvania Rogue-lite?

I know the MV term came about to help describe SotN, but Metroid is still the critical template for this connected world with backtracking and gated movement abilities, along with incremental and non-incremental weapon and life upgrades.
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Re: When is a Metroidvania not a Metroidvania?

by PresidentLeever Thu Oct 03, 2019 2:52 pm

No I'm pretty sure it was first used in the early-mid 00s for later CV games, although comparisons to Metroid (and Simon's Quest which is also a MV) were made by several reviewers when SotN was new.

That template existed before Metroid though with games like Below the Root and Hero of the Golden Talisman in the west, and Brain Breaker in Japan. Take away sidescrolling and platforming, and you basically have Zelda 1 and other non-linear AA/ARPG games of the time.

It's hard to say how many see either Metroid's or Castlevania's contributions as more important today but since no one uses Metroid-like we can assume that they think what CV brought to the template is also important. Or they don't care and just use the most popular term.
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Re: When is a Metroidvania not a Metroidvania?

by isiolia Thu Oct 03, 2019 3:01 pm

marurun wrote:I know the MV term came about to help describe SotN, but Metroid is still the critical template for this connected world with backtracking and gated movement abilities, along with incremental and non-incremental weapon and life upgrades.


There were likely games that did one piece or another before it as well though.

The mashup names might be considered good, beyond simply being common terminology at this point, because they highlight what's the same between them. Kinda like Popo mentioned, it generally classifies the type of game. I think it's almost entirely used to describe non-linear platformers that involve finding new abilities or items to gain access to the full map. Can be difficult, can be easy, can have RPG elements, can do whatever else...but you know what to expect from the core game. I'd say it's also far more commonly applied only to 2D titles as well - there are 3D games that'd qualify (Arkham Asylum for instance, the newer Tomb Raiders, etc), but they're not as commonly lumped in.

By referencing two not-entirely-the-same games in the name, it doesn't imply that the genre is all exactly like one or the other. Rather, that it shares the traits that those series share.

Soulsborne is similarly appropriate, I would say, as it similarly opens up the application. Bloodborne is a differently focused game, and by referencing the two it could be seen as setting aside the exact stamina/poise/etc systems of Dark Souls and focusing more on the overall flow of the game. Or just counting them together because it was similar enough. Still, subsequent titles grouped together with them haven't entirely adhered to one style or the other, so again, having a less-specific sort of label can work.
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