Screenshot of the 2013 Metroidvania game Guacamelee!

Metroidvania[a] is a sub-genre of action-adventure games and/or platformers focused on guided non-linearity and utility-gated exploration and progression. The term is a portmanteau of the names of the video game series Metroid and Castlevania, based on the template from Metroid (1986), Castlevania II (1987), Super Metroid (1994), and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (1997).

These games usually feature a large interconnected world map the player can explore, although parts of the world will be inaccessible to the player until they acquire special items, tools, weapons, abilities, or knowledge within the game. Acquiring such improvements can also aid the player in defeating more difficult enemies and locating shortcuts and secret areas, and often includes retracing one's steps across the map. Through this, Metroidvania games include tighter integration of story and level design, careful design of levels and character controls to encourage exploration and experimentation, and a means for the player to become more invested in their player character through role-playing game elements. While early examples were usually two-dimensional side-scrolling platform games, the term has since been applied to top-down and 3D games.

The first Metroid game in 1986 established principles of the non-linear platformer that were refined through multiple iterations, with Super Metroid in 1994 considered to have polished the style of gameplay core to Metroidvanias. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night in 1997 is considered the defining Metroidvania game, incorporating role-playing game elements from The Legend of Zelda series with non-linear traversal within the Castlevania series; most subsequent Castlevania games followed its approach and refined the genre. Symphony of the Night's assistant director, Koji Igarashi, is credited with establishing key principles of Metroidvanias through his work on other Castlevania games. In the 2010s, a resurgence in Metroidvanias came about due to several critically praised, independently developed games.


See also: Platform-adventure

While not the first game of its kind (for example, Below the Root was released in 1984,[2] or Brain Breaker in 1985), Metroid (1986, Nintendo Entertainment System) is generally considered the most influential game for the Metroidvania genre.[3] Nintendo's goal for the title was to create a non-linear adventure game to set it apart from other games at the time, requiring the player to retrace their steps while providing permanent power-ups in contrast to how other adventure games only offered power-ups with temporary effects.[4] The series was popular, and future titles refined the exploration approach while adding more story elements to the title such as with Super Metroid (1994, Super Nintendo Entertainment System).[3] Super Metroid refined several aspects from the previous Metroid games, including a diverse array of locations and adding many secrets for players to find; these secrets also enabled players to find ways to break the expected sequence that the designers had envisioned players would approach the game, making it a popular title among speedrunners.[5] However, in retrospect, Super Metroid was still considered an example of a highly polished non-linear platformer.[5]

Koji Igarashi is credited with establishing defining features of the Metroidvania genre.

During this time, the gothic horror-themed platformer series Castlevania was gaining popularity. The original Castlevania (1986, NES) featured discrete levels that the player completed in a sequential manner. It was followed by Vampire Killer (1986, MSX)[6][7] and Castlevania II: Simon's Quest (1987, NES) which experimented with non-linear adventure gameplay,[8][9] before the series returned to the more linear style of the original Castlevania. Series lead Koji Igarashi found that as they continued to produce sequels to cater to fans of the series, experienced players would race through the levels, while new players to the series would struggle with some stages.[10] To try to make a title that would be more widely appreciated across play levels and extend the gameplay time of the title, Igarashi and others on his team looked toward the ideas used by The Legend of Zelda series into the development of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (1997, PlayStation).[11][12] With Symphony of the Night, Igarashi introduced new concepts into the Castlevania series from Zelda such as a large open world to explore and the need to acquire key items to enter certain areas, elements already present in non-linear platformers like Super Metroid.[10][5] However, Symphony of the Night distinguished itself from prior non-linear platformers via the incorporation of console role-playing game elements with the means for the player to improve their character's attributes through an experience system.[5][10][13][14] The changes for Symphony of the Night proved popular with players, and most subsequent games in the series would follow this formula.[3] With the releases of Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, the formula these games presented would form the foundations of what are considered Metroidvanias today.[3] Castlevania: Symphony of the Night had also become a critical and financial success over time, establishing that there was a desire by players for Metroidvania-style games.[15][14] As this neologism started to be adopted, Igarashi reacted Symphony of the Night was more inspired by Zelda, not Metroid, although he stated that Metroidvania "fits very well".[11] Other figures in the game industry have since used Zeldavania interchangeably,[11] with the Zelda series recognized as following the same formula.[16][17]

The concept of Metroidvanias started to gain more attraction when other parties began to develop games in the same style.[3][18] Cave Story (2004, Microsoft Windows) was developed by Daisuke Amaya as an homage to Metroid and other classic games; the game was critically praised showing the scope of what one person could do, and highlighted another take on the Castlevania and Metroid games, as well as vitalizing the 2D platformer genre as a viable indie game format.[3][19] Shadow Complex (2009, Xbox 360) by Chair Entertainment was developed based on the premise that Super Metroid was "the pinnacle of 2D game design". The game received highly positive reviews, and remains one of the best-selling downloadable titles on the Xbox 360 service.[3] Due to games like these, the Metroidvania genre began to take off in both publisher-driven and independent games development.[3] Drinkbox Studios' Guacamelee! (2013), Moon Studios' Ori and the Blind Forest (2015), and Team Cherry's Hollow Knight (2017) are examples of modern indie Metroidvanias that have reached critical acclaim. The genre's indie renaissance did not go unnoticed by Igarashi. In May 2015, he released a Kickstarter campaign video for Castlevania-influenced Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night (2019), where he ridiculed big studios' dismissal of the genre while imitating Symphony of the Night's Dracula.[20]

While the word "Metroidvania" is commonly used presently to describe games in this genre, or games that have elements of this genre, the origins of the term are unclear; Igarashi notes that he did not coin the phrase, though is grateful for the invention of the term.[21] Igarashi noted that with Symphony of the Night the goal was to have exploration closer to the top-down Zelda approach, but with the side-scrolling nature, it was compared more to Metroid, and believes this is how the portmanteau came about.[22][23] A similar portmanteau "Castleroid" is sometimes used as well for describing this genre.[22] Video game journalist Jeremy Parish, who manages the site that has attempted to catalog all known Metroidvania games,[18] acknowledges he helped to popularize the term but had learned it from his former co-worker at, Scott Sharkey, who had used the term to describe the games in the Castlevania series that had adopted some elements from the Metroid series.[24]

Gameplay concepts

In Guacamelee!, the player gains the ability to temporarily turn their human character into a chicken, allowing them to pass through low-height corridors and discover secrets.

The term 'Metroidvania' is most often used to refer to a platforming game that features a single large, interconnected map, generally with discrete rooms or sections. Not all areas of this map are available at the start, often requiring the player to obtain an item (such as a weapon or key) or a new character ability to remove some obstacle blocking the path forward. Often, this item is protected by a boss character, providing story-driven challenges throughout the game. Maps are non-linear, and often require the player to traverse the map multiple times during the course of the game. Weaker monsters will inhabit other parts of the level, re-spawning when the player revisits those rooms, and often can be defeated to gain health, ammunition, or experience points.[25]

Larger games generally feature save points as well as the ability to transport the player quickly between certain rooms on far sides of the map, eliminating tedious backtracking in the later parts of the game. Access to new abilities can also open up shortcuts that reduce travel time, as well as discover secrets that help to improve the character's abilities. For example, gaining access to double jump or wall jump abilities can give players more mobility, while obtaining the ability to transform into a smaller object can let the player slip through narrow corridors. As such, the genre focuses on exploration of a large world map, and advancement of the player-character abilities over time. Metroidvanias are sometimes referred to as "platform adventure games" due to this scope.[26]

Metroidvania is generally associated with game levels/maps that are laid out as two-dimensional side scrollers, with the player character moving left, right, up and down through the level. These games typically are rendered using two-dimensional graphics, but can include 2.5D-rendered games using 3D graphics engines but limiting player movement to two dimensions, such as the aforementioned Shadow Complex, or with Metroid Dread.[14] The exploration and character development concepts of Metroidvanias can be used in other genres, though these games typically are not categorized as Metroidvanias.[18] For example, the Metroid Prime trilogy is a first-person action adventure game that builds on the same style of exploration play as Metroid. Dark Souls is a third-person action role-playing game loosely considered a Metroidvania featuring "soft locks" – obstacles in the form of boss characters that are difficult but not impossible to defeat when the player-character is starting out, and become much easier to defeat with increased experience and abilities.[3] The third-person action/brawler Batman: Arkham series also uses similar concepts as a Metroidvania, with Batman collecting new gadgets to access new areas.[18] The 2017 title Prey was developed as a first-person-perspective immersive sim but using Metroidvania level design concepts to require the player to traverse the setting multiple times as they gain additional tools and abilities.[27]

Igarashi described what he believed were key elements in the genre. These include designing maps that encourage exploration but which still guide the player on a main path through the game and providing means where the player can be aware of where they are in the game world at any time. This can be accomplished by graphical themes through the game's world, visually unique milestones at key game point, overall map and player status information screens, and the means of moving around the map quickly.[10] Russ Frushtick from Polygon observed that many modern Metroidvanias not only have these qualities, but also find a means to tell a narrative through the world's environments without necessarily relying on cutscenes or dialog.[28]

In a video discussion between Parish, Sharkey, and Chris Kohler of Wired in 2007, the three discussed some older games that had elements associated with Metroidvanias but would not be considered true Metroidvanias, including games like Castlevania II: Simon's Quest (1987), Legacy of the Wizard (1987), and Adventure Island IV (1994). They argued that such games, while having 2D platforming gameplay and power-up based progression systems, lacked good level design, which at their time had not been well-refined in the industry, and provided little or no information relayed to the player to help them to know where to go next, exemplified by the cryptic clues from Simon's Quest. The three also agreed that as games transitioned from 2D to 3D, the true meaning of "Metroidvania" had become diluted, as 3D-based games can hide facets of Metroidvanias.[29]


The popularity of the Metroidvania genre is stated to be tied to the ease with which platformer games can be learned, while giving the player a character that they can grow over the course of the game.[3] Many developers of independent Metroidvania titles cited the exploration as a core element of the genre that draws in players, working off the natural human instincts to explore, and giving the players the sense of discovery and self-control during the game.[3] Donald Mustard of Chair Entertainment, the creators of Shadow Complex, said that a good Metroidvania helps the player come to epiphanies that enables them to progress in the game, describing an example of a ledge that is initially too high to reach, and as the player acquires abilities, will discover how they can reach that ledge on their own.[30]

From a developer's standpoint, the Metroidvania genre also provides benefits. The genre encourages tight connection between level design and game story, and can give developers opportunities to create an immersive world for the player.[3] Level design of such games can also be challenging as to make sure the challenge to the players of the game is fair and enjoyable, and achieving this goal can be seen as a sign of a success for a developer.[3] Thomas Mahler of Moon Studios, who developed Ori and the Blind Forest, said that it was important to design a cohesive world with memorable settings for a Metroidvania, since "players remembering the levels is part of the core design".[18] Large-scale development in this genre requires one change in the player's abilities to be tested more rigorously throughout all of the levels. Ori and the Will of the Wisps executive producer Daniel Smith said: "I don't think people generally consider how difficult it is to make a Metroidvania game. Everything is so interconnected that if you change one aspect of the game, it's just inevitable that it's going to influence the rest".[31]

Alternative terminology

There is some opposition to the use of the term Metroidvania, as it is derived from specific games rather than being a more direct description of gameplay.[32] Comic Book Resources compared the use of Metroidvania to "Doom clone" in the 1990s, a term which was eventually replaced by "first person shooter" as the medium developed.[33] Game Developer has also suggested that the term is too broad, as it encompasses a wide range of 2D and 3D games, and instead proposed "unlocking world", in a vein similar to "open world".[34] CBR has also proposed "platform-adventure".[35] An equivalent Japanese term is 探索型アクション or "search-action", which is used alongside the romanised メトロイドヴァニア (Metroidvania).

See also


  1. ^ In Japan, this genre is often referred to as "Search Action" (探索型アクション, Tansaku-Gata Akushon).[1]


  1. ^ Romano, Sal (February 26, 2019). "Touhou Luna Nights leaves Steam Early Access, version 1.0 now available". Gematsu. Archived from the original on October 10, 2021. Retrieved October 10, 2021.
  2. ^ Salvador, Phil (2020-01-25). "Below the Root". The Obscuritory. Retrieved 2023-07-14.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Nutt, Christian (February 13, 2015). "The undying allure of the Metroidvania". Gamasutra. Archived from the original on May 12, 2015. Retrieved February 13, 2015.
  4. ^ "The Metroid Retrospective – Part 1". GameTrailers. June 6, 2006. Archived from the original on April 10, 2014. Retrieved April 8, 2014.
  5. ^ a b c d bitmob (April 24, 2010). "Metroidvania: Super Metroid and the Definition of a Genre". Venture Beat. Archived from the original on July 9, 2021. Retrieved July 8, 2021.
  6. ^ Jeremy Parish, Famicom 25th, Part 17: Live from The Nippon edition,, August 1, 2008
  7. ^ Kurt Kalata and William Cain, Castlevania 2: Simon's Quest (1988) Archived 2011-07-23 at the Wayback Machine, Castlevania Dungeon, accessed 2011-02-27
  8. ^ Jeremy Parish (June 28, 2006). "Metroidvania Chronicles II: Simon's Quest". Archived from the original on June 29, 2011.
  9. ^ Mike Whalen, Giancarlo Varanini. "The History of Castlevania – Castlevania II: Simon's Quest". GameSpot. Archived from the original on July 25, 2008. Retrieved August 1, 2008.
  10. ^ a b c d "Video: Koji Igarashi explores what makes a Metroidvania game". Gamasutra. February 23, 2015. Archived from the original on March 18, 2015. Retrieved March 14, 2015.
  11. ^ a b c "'Metroidvania' should actually be 'Zeldavania'". Engadget. 24 March 2014. Archived from the original on 2023-01-02. Retrieved 2023-01-02.
  12. ^ Bycer, Joshua (2018-10-26). 20 Essential Games to Study. CRC Press. pp. Chapter 2. ISBN 978-0-429-80207-2.
  13. ^ Alexander, Leigh (March 21, 2014). "Father and S.O.N.: IGA talks 'Metroidvania'". Gamasutra. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved February 17, 2016.
  14. ^ a b c Park, Gene (June 22, 2021). "How to catch up on Metroid, the classic series shunned by Nintendo". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on February 18, 2022. Retrieved July 8, 2021.
  15. ^ Tieryas, Peter (January 15, 2018). "The Castlevania Game That Changed Everything". Kotaku. Archived from the original on January 15, 2018. Retrieved January 15, 2018.
  16. ^ Capps, Adam Jeremy (2021-06-22). The Game Maker's Bible: An All You Need Book To Create A Great Game. Adam Jeremy Capps. p. 52.
  17. ^ Lemarchand, Richard (2021-10-12). A Playful Production Process: For Game Designers (and Everyone). MIT Press. p. 176. ISBN 978-0-262-04551-3.
  18. ^ a b c d e Webster, Andrew (September 14, 2017). "The enduring influence of Metroid". The Verge. Archived from the original on September 14, 2017. Retrieved September 14, 2017.
  19. ^ Greenwald, Will (April 12, 2013). "Indie Game Developers Revive Platformers". PC Magazine. Archived from the original on March 15, 2015. Retrieved March 14, 2015.
  20. ^ Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night (May 11, 2015). "Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night // Kickstarter Pitch 1080p". YouTube. Google. Archived from the original on July 17, 2021. Retrieved July 18, 2021.
  21. ^ Parish, Jeremy (March 18, 2014). "GDC 2014: Why Koji Igarashi is Grateful for the Word "Metroidvania"". USgamer. Archived from the original on April 2, 2015. Retrieved March 14, 2015.
  22. ^ a b Mackey, Bob (May 11, 2015). "Interview: Castlevania's Former Keeper Returns with Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night". USgamer. Archived from the original on May 13, 2015. Retrieved May 11, 2015.
  23. ^ Nutt, Christian (May 11, 2015). "Q&A: Castlevania's Koji Igarashi returns with new game, Bloodstained". Gamasutra. Archived from the original on May 13, 2015. Retrieved May 12, 2015.
  24. ^ Parish, Jeremy (January 18, 2017). "Design in Action | Symphony of the Night and the Metroidvania Lie". USgamer. Archived from the original on January 20, 2017. Retrieved January 18, 2017.
  25. ^ "Shadow Complex Remastered Review". Gamescan. March 21, 2016. Retrieved March 21, 2016.[permanent dead link]
  26. ^ Lavaux, Rudy (December 12, 2016). "Castlevania 30th Anniversary Top 10 Castlevania Games". Cubed 3. Archived from the original on October 28, 2017. Retrieved December 12, 2016.
  27. ^ Hanson, Ben (5 December 2016). "Why Prey's Gameplay Refuses To Hold Your Hand". Game Informer. Archived from the original on 21 December 2016. Retrieved 19 January 2017.
  28. ^ Frushtick, Russ (August 13, 2018). "Modern Metroidvanias: how Dead Cells and Hollow Knight elevated a genre". Polygon. Archived from the original on August 14, 2018. Retrieved August 13, 2018.
  29. ^ Kohler, Chris (March 26, 2007). "Bonus Stage: Debunking Metroidvania". Wired. Archived from the original on September 21, 2021. Retrieved September 20, 2021.
  30. ^ Espelini, Matt (March 31, 2016). "Shadow Complex Dev Talks Sequel and Working With Star Wars 7 Director". GameSpot. Archived from the original on April 3, 2016. Retrieved March 31, 2016.
  31. ^ Bailey, Kat (February 26, 2020). "Ori and the Will of the Wisps is "Three Times the Scope and Scale" of Blind Forest". USGamer. Archived from the original on February 26, 2020. Retrieved March 12, 2020.
  32. ^ "Stop Calling Games 'Metroidvania'". Kotaku. 2 July 2019.
  33. ^ Cuevas, Esteban (15 September 2019). "Metroidvania: It's Time We Give the Genre a Proper Name". CBR.
  34. ^ "Replacing Metroidvania".
  35. ^ Cuevas, Esteban (15 September 2019). "Metroidvania: It's Time We Give the Genre a Proper Name". CBR.