The Metroid Guide to Mentovanias

Wait, that title seems a little off... oh, well, I'll fix it in post. Hey! Metroidvanias! We all love those, right? Well I just beat Shadow Complex and I'm in the mood to write about them. So, Metroidvanias are games where.. oh wait, I forget, this is a wiki. This is a Metroidvania. Intro over, we're all done here!

Like I did with that hybrid dungeon crawler thing that went down so well last time, I'll cover three disparate examples of the Metroidvania sub-genre that currently exist and then come up with a few hypotheticals with the same formula. I'm stating now that none of these games will actually be a Castlevania or a Metroid, since that's way too easy. I'll pay my dues, of course, by saying that Super Metroid and Symphony of the Night are still the best Metroidvanias available. Think of them as Metroidvania 101 and play them before any others. Really. Go do it. Get you some inverted castle screw attack. This blog will wait. No it won't.

Shadow Complex

So I might as well start with the game I just beat. Shadow Complex tells the story of Nolan North Clone #2141, designation "Jason Fleming", as he takes out an entire facility of mysterious masked Commie-Nazis planning to "liberate" San Francisco. He does this by gradually upgrading his equipment and weaponry while sneaking around the many vents and secret tunnels, in much the same way as other Metroidvanias. The game sets itself apart by allowing standard 3rd person combat--involving cover, headshots and the liberal applications of grenades--with the standard Metroid elements of double jumps, super-speed and color-coded doors. A neat feature, though kind of confusing to aim, is the ability to shoot into the background, with several rooms stretching out some into the distance. If you're the type of manly man who absolutely refuses to play as a woman or an effeminate dhampire--and chances are if you're an Epic Games fan that's more than likely--it's a good, modern (and cheap!) gateway to the genre.

Aquaria

Another budget game, and representing the Indie Metroidvania crowd, is this underwater Metroidvania. The most significant difference to other Metroidvanias is, of course, the fact that almost the entire game is underwater. As such, movement is far freer and affords more exploration: For example, you can go up. Without worrying about platforms or timing those Morph Bombs perfectly for lift. You just swim up. Really, there's so much to cover here about the gameplay differences that makes it unique, but I'm kind of fixated on being able to go up. Go figure. Most of the power-ups that facilitate progress are songs, since the Little Mermaid was all about that shit, which you can either try to remember like Ocarina songs or you could just quick key them. Man, do I love PC gaming at times. Naija is a little more compelling than Ariel the Mermaid (though maybe not Hipster Ariel, who prefers to be called "Helvetica"), and there's some neat story beats and contextual narration as Naija passes by points of interest. If you like singing to dolphins, or greedily devouring innocent aquatic life, this game's got it.

Vagrant Story

Why hello there controversial entry. "This isn't a Metroidvania, blog fail" - not so fast there imaginary Giant Bomb comment leaving person (also, what the hell, man?), Vagrant Story is a third-person action-adventure with RPG elements, where a protagonist must explore the huge island Lea Monde and its ruins full of keys and puzzles which he has to track and backtrack across to find everything. Sounds Metroidvany (Metroidvaniac? Metroidvanical?) to me. Ashley Riot, high school punk band and intrepid government "Riskbreaker", infiltrates an island of mystery to bring down a devious cult led by a Sephiroth-esque David Koresh. Along the way he encounters various dubious types, such as Templar knight Guildenstern and fellow Riskbreaker Rosencrantz (hey, what are the chances those two characters should meet?), plays Sokoban a lot and fights many enemies that are often completely immune to all his weapons. Which brings us to the customization system, where weapons are given inherent bonuses against certain enemy types dependent on the materials used in the weapon's creation. You can spend many a good hour in Lea Monde's many handy blacksmitheries, making a weapon for every occasion except one that kills ghosts because you ran out of room. Then you meet a ghost. Despite the micromanagement, though, it is at its heart a more action-y RPG and a fine example of both Squaresoft's ingenuity in the early 90s and a Metroidvania which is so divergent from the usual mix it might not even count as a Metroidvania. But it totally does.


Okay, so I've written quite a lot of words and that one guy says no-one would read a wordy blog without pictures, which I haven't included (I didn't even make any neat banners or hideous chickenmen mascots. I'm going nowhere fast in the GB blogging community.) So I'm going to just have the one hypothetical Metroidvania to cap this blog off in style.

And since I'm lazy, I'm just going to update a classic. Yup. Game industry in a microcosm, right here.

Abadox: The Deadly Inner War Redux

Abadox is a NES shmup that either scrolls horizontally or vertically (Battletoads did something similar, but less shmuppy and more toady), taking place entirely within the body of a hideous alien creature floating through space. The protagonist clears out the various enemies residing within, destroying the creature from the inside out. It definitely wouldn't take a huge leap to turn this horizontal/vertical shooter into a Metroidvania, with the main character getting around by jetpack, adapting their equipment upon discovering former explorers (both human and alien) and needing special gear to get past certain bodily barriers like the dangerously fast-moving bloodstream or toxic stomach acids. The overall mission would involve taking out a series of bosses that represent the alien creature's heart, lungs, liver etc. It probably won't be the most pleasant looking game, but it'd be pretty neat for the map to start resembling the outline of a body as you explore more of your gracious host. There'd be so many nasty ways to die too, and you know how much the kids like squicky gore these days. The only issue is figuring out how to insert several save points without them being totally jarring. Not that giant floating polygon coffins or Chozo regeneration pods weren't jarring, mind.
7 Comments
7 Comments
Posted by Mento

Wait, that title seems a little off... oh, well, I'll fix it in post. Hey! Metroidvanias! We all love those, right? Well I just beat Shadow Complex and I'm in the mood to write about them. So, Metroidvanias are games where.. oh wait, I forget, this is a wiki. This is a Metroidvania. Intro over, we're all done here!

Like I did with that hybrid dungeon crawler thing that went down so well last time, I'll cover three disparate examples of the Metroidvania sub-genre that currently exist and then come up with a few hypotheticals with the same formula. I'm stating now that none of these games will actually be a Castlevania or a Metroid, since that's way too easy. I'll pay my dues, of course, by saying that Super Metroid and Symphony of the Night are still the best Metroidvanias available. Think of them as Metroidvania 101 and play them before any others. Really. Go do it. Get you some inverted castle screw attack. This blog will wait. No it won't.

Shadow Complex

So I might as well start with the game I just beat. Shadow Complex tells the story of Nolan North Clone #2141, designation "Jason Fleming", as he takes out an entire facility of mysterious masked Commie-Nazis planning to "liberate" San Francisco. He does this by gradually upgrading his equipment and weaponry while sneaking around the many vents and secret tunnels, in much the same way as other Metroidvanias. The game sets itself apart by allowing standard 3rd person combat--involving cover, headshots and the liberal applications of grenades--with the standard Metroid elements of double jumps, super-speed and color-coded doors. A neat feature, though kind of confusing to aim, is the ability to shoot into the background, with several rooms stretching out some into the distance. If you're the type of manly man who absolutely refuses to play as a woman or an effeminate dhampire--and chances are if you're an Epic Games fan that's more than likely--it's a good, modern (and cheap!) gateway to the genre.

Aquaria

Another budget game, and representing the Indie Metroidvania crowd, is this underwater Metroidvania. The most significant difference to other Metroidvanias is, of course, the fact that almost the entire game is underwater. As such, movement is far freer and affords more exploration: For example, you can go up. Without worrying about platforms or timing those Morph Bombs perfectly for lift. You just swim up. Really, there's so much to cover here about the gameplay differences that makes it unique, but I'm kind of fixated on being able to go up. Go figure. Most of the power-ups that facilitate progress are songs, since the Little Mermaid was all about that shit, which you can either try to remember like Ocarina songs or you could just quick key them. Man, do I love PC gaming at times. Naija is a little more compelling than Ariel the Mermaid (though maybe not Hipster Ariel, who prefers to be called "Helvetica"), and there's some neat story beats and contextual narration as Naija passes by points of interest. If you like singing to dolphins, or greedily devouring innocent aquatic life, this game's got it.

Vagrant Story

Why hello there controversial entry. "This isn't a Metroidvania, blog fail" - not so fast there imaginary Giant Bomb comment leaving person (also, what the hell, man?), Vagrant Story is a third-person action-adventure with RPG elements, where a protagonist must explore the huge island Lea Monde and its ruins full of keys and puzzles which he has to track and backtrack across to find everything. Sounds Metroidvany (Metroidvaniac? Metroidvanical?) to me. Ashley Riot, high school punk band and intrepid government "Riskbreaker", infiltrates an island of mystery to bring down a devious cult led by a Sephiroth-esque David Koresh. Along the way he encounters various dubious types, such as Templar knight Guildenstern and fellow Riskbreaker Rosencrantz (hey, what are the chances those two characters should meet?), plays Sokoban a lot and fights many enemies that are often completely immune to all his weapons. Which brings us to the customization system, where weapons are given inherent bonuses against certain enemy types dependent on the materials used in the weapon's creation. You can spend many a good hour in Lea Monde's many handy blacksmitheries, making a weapon for every occasion except one that kills ghosts because you ran out of room. Then you meet a ghost. Despite the micromanagement, though, it is at its heart a more action-y RPG and a fine example of both Squaresoft's ingenuity in the early 90s and a Metroidvania which is so divergent from the usual mix it might not even count as a Metroidvania. But it totally does.


Okay, so I've written quite a lot of words and that one guy says no-one would read a wordy blog without pictures, which I haven't included (I didn't even make any neat banners or hideous chickenmen mascots. I'm going nowhere fast in the GB blogging community.) So I'm going to just have the one hypothetical Metroidvania to cap this blog off in style.

And since I'm lazy, I'm just going to update a classic. Yup. Game industry in a microcosm, right here.

Abadox: The Deadly Inner War Redux

Abadox is a NES shmup that either scrolls horizontally or vertically (Battletoads did something similar, but less shmuppy and more toady), taking place entirely within the body of a hideous alien creature floating through space. The protagonist clears out the various enemies residing within, destroying the creature from the inside out. It definitely wouldn't take a huge leap to turn this horizontal/vertical shooter into a Metroidvania, with the main character getting around by jetpack, adapting their equipment upon discovering former explorers (both human and alien) and needing special gear to get past certain bodily barriers like the dangerously fast-moving bloodstream or toxic stomach acids. The overall mission would involve taking out a series of bosses that represent the alien creature's heart, lungs, liver etc. It probably won't be the most pleasant looking game, but it'd be pretty neat for the map to start resembling the outline of a body as you explore more of your gracious host. There'd be so many nasty ways to die too, and you know how much the kids like squicky gore these days. The only issue is figuring out how to insert several save points without them being totally jarring. Not that giant floating polygon coffins or Chozo regeneration pods weren't jarring, mind.
Moderator
Posted by Video_Game_King

Hooray for references! However, you do need a mascot if you want to gain any traction as a blogger. I have Chickenhead, Sweep has the hamburger, Dalai has the llama, and PixelPrinny has just about anything on this page :P.

On a more serious note, I should really go back to Vagrant Story. I barely gave that game a chance before I completely forgot about it. I'd Photoshop Chickenhead's head onto that Edward Elric looking motherfucker, but I wore that out in my GOTY blog.

Edited by ArbitraryWater

Metroidvania is such a weird sub-genre. I definitely think Symphony of the Night is awesome (and have yet to play Super Metroid, which is on my no longer hypothetical " Games I should really get to playing at some point" list) and recently replaying Shadow Complex was a similar reminder, yet I really don't give a damn about any of the GBA/DS Castlevanias. Blame Order of Ecclesia for souring me on the whole thing. Would I like to see more of this style of gameplay? Probably. Am I actively going to search it out? Probably not.

Edited by Cerogravian

Always a pleasure to read.
Just thought I'd set things straight: "Castlevaniacal", preferably finishing off as in "maniacal", though I guess that's a matter of taste and gravity.

EDIT: Forgot:
Regarding the save point-issue for your Abadox remake, how about finding cancer colonies and genetically reprogramming them so they basically produce clones of yourself thus making it possible to Continue?
Equipment gets kind of screwed with this, but there's always a way of explaining stuff...

Posted by Mento
@Video_Game_King:  It's honestly been so long since I played Vagrant Story I might be misrepresenting the number of box moving puzzles. I think the issue was more that since it was a Metroidvania (according to some guy's blog) that meant a lot of backtracking. Through rooms that reset if you left them too long. Rooms with box puzzles in them. So it might be more that I just remember doing the same three or four of them over and over. It's still a genuinely good game though; most Squaresoft games were back then.

@ArbitraryWater: The thing with this sub-genre is that you can't really play one soon after the other. It's like an amazing hot sauce that you only need to have a dash of before putting it away for next summer's barbeque. I'm sure that works as an analogy in some language or other.

@Cerogravian: Castlevaniacal is too good, and I think I somehow managed to tiptoe around it like a landmine of awesome. The cancer colony thing is suitably gross, but like I said it's a game element where not even the best Metroidvanias particularly care about it making sense for the story. Frankly, I'd prefer a decent yet inconceivable smattering of save points rather than a scant few with really good reasons to be there. Then again, I wouldn't be particularly distressed if a Metroidvania let you save anywhere either.
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Posted by Video_Game_King
@Mento:

It's honestly been so long since I played Vagrant Story that I only remember getting to the part where they briefly revealed the zombies.
Posted by LevelsorLives