Hollow Knight is probably one of the best contemporary representatives of a genre colloquially known as “Metroidvania.” Inspired by Castlevania and Metroid series, Metroidvania games feature the characters exploring 2D platform levels, fighting enemies and powerful bosses, collecting items, etc.
Thanks to the efforts of various indie studios, the genre has seen a bit of revival in recent years, with many games like Hollow Knight being released.
In this article, we will take a look at the best of them to try and understand what has caused the phenomenal popularity of Metroidvania-like games.
|Dead Cells||2017-05-10||Action & Shooter||Motion Twin||58%|
|Ori And The Blind Forest Definitive Edition||2016-04-27||Action & Shooter||Moon Studios GmbH||78%|
|Celeste||2018-01-25||Adventure||Matt Makes Games Inc.||69%|
|Guacamelee Gold Edition||2013-08-08||Adventure||DrinkBox Studios||81%|
|Guacamelee 2||2018-08-21||Adventure||DrinkBox Studios||83%|
|Steamworld Dig||2013-12-05||Adventure||Image & Form||84%|
|Steamworld Dig 2||2017-09-22||Adventure||Image & Form||72%|
|Axiom Verge||2015-05-14||Adventure||Thomas Happ Games LLC||37%|
|Bloodstained Curse Of The Moon 2||2020-07-10||Action||INTI CREATES CO., LTD.|
|Shovel Knight Treasure Trove||2014-06-26||Action & Shooter||Yacht Club Games||2%|
|Cuphead||2017-09-29||Indie||StudioMDHR Entertainment Inc.||27%|
|Little Nightmares||2017-04-27||Adventure||Tarsier Studios||79%|
|Release year:||7 August 2018|
|Developer||Motion Twin, Evil Empire|
First on our list is Dead Cells, the game developed by Motion Twin – the creators of popular, free-to-play games such as My Brute, Die2Nite, and a social platform for fans called Twinoid.
In Dead Cells, the player controls a cluster of sentient cells called the Prisoner, capable of possessing dead bodies. As the Prisoner makes their way through the dungeon-like island, they will discover the history of the place and the mysterious disease that laid waste to its inhabitants.
DC is a combination of Metroidvania and roguelike mechanics. The player controls the Prisoner, moving through the procedurally generated dungeons and fighting various enemies. Along the way, they will acquire new weapons and skills, as well as find new skins to possess. The game’s character progression system is based on finding additional cells to add to the cluster. These cells grant permanent boosts, which can be helpful during initial runs. The game’s combat mechanics are similar to the Souls series and features common enemies and six powerful bosses with unique attack patterns.
Dead Cells was met with positive reviews and was nominated for the Best Indie Game at the 2017 Ping Awards.
Ori and the Blind Forest
|Release year:||11 March 2015 (PC, XONE), 27 September 2019 (Switch)|
Ori and the Blind Forest is the first game developed by Moon Studios, made of former employees of Blizzard Entertainment. But if you expect an action-packed hack’n’slash game or a strategic RPG, you will be disappointed.
Ori and the Blind Forest tells the story of the titular Ori, a small guardian of the Spirit Tree in the Nibel forest. Ori fell from the tree and was adopted by the creature Naru. As the guardianless forest withered, Naru passed away, leaving Ori alone. With the help of a glowing orb identifying itself as Sein, Ori embarks on a journey through the dying forest to restore it to life.
OatBF is similar to Hollow Knight in many, not necessarily obvious ways. The game focuses on the exploration of the Nibel forest, divided into various sectors. Each sector presents different obstacles for Ori, some of which can be overcome only after unlocking a specific skill. The game features combat in which Ori, with the help of Sein, faces various inhabitants of the hurting forest. Like HK, Ori and the Blind Forest have a unique saving and checkpoint system, with various save points scattered about the game world and “Soul Links,” which serve as checkpoints that the player can set up in various places. The energy required to set up a Soul Link is limited, and the player is encouraged to plan where to place them carefully.
Ori and the Blind Forest received critical acclaim, not only for complex and demanding gameplay mechanics but also for its moving story.
|Release year:||25 January 2018|
|Developer||Extremely OK Games|
Despite what the name of the developer might suggest, Celeste, is more than an “extremely OK game.” In fact, it’s really, really good.
In the game, the player controls a young woman named Madeline, who decides to climb the titular Celeste Mountain in order to make sense of the strange dreams that have been haunting her recently. As she climbs up the snowy slopes and explores mysterious temples hidden in the crevices, she will discover that her journey might reveal more about her than she initially thought.
Celeste will be a real blast from the past for the fans of the classic platform games. With its 8-bit graphics, the game looks like it came straight out of an arcade machine. The gameplay of Celest focuses on the exploration of various locations on the mountain, jumping around platforms, and collecting items that unlock new modes, harder puzzles, and alternative endings. Celeste features an additional system called the Assist Mode, which changes various aspects of the game’s physics. It’s a good way for the players who want to try something new with the game.
Celeste received a positive reception from the critics, winning several awards and becoming a smash hit in the speedrunning community, thanks to its fast-paced, platforming gameplay.
|Release year:||.2 July 2014 (PC, PS4, XONE), 6 October 2018 (Switch)|
|Genre||plafrom, Metroidvania, beat’em up|
|Game modes||single-player, multiplayer|
Guacamelee! might not be the most revolutionary title on our list, but it’s still a good time spent with Metroidvania-like gameplay.
The game tells the story of Juan, a farmer killed by a skeletal villain Carlos Calaca, who had also kidnapped his love interest. As Juan ventures into the Land of the Dead, he is bestowed with a luchador mask, which gives him the power to face Carlos and save the love of his life.
Guacamelee! is set in a colorful, non-linear, open-world environment, in which the player is given various tasks to complete. Most of them result in a brawl against various monsters inhabiting the Land of the Dead. As the player progresses through the game, they will discover breakable statues which gain them new skills and trade coins collected from defeated enemies in stores (which also serve as the save points). The skills in Guacamelee! work similarly to those in Ori and the Blind Forest – sometimes the player will have to unlock a specific power in order to reach certain locations.
Guacamelee! received positive reviews and was nominated for several awards, including Excellence in Visual Arts during the 2013 Independent Games Festival.
|Release year:||3 December 2013 (PC), 18 March 2014 (PS4), 5 June 2015 (XONE), 1 February 2018 (Switch)|
|Genre:||platform, action-adventure, Metroidvania|
|Developer||Image & Form|
Steamworld Dig is the type of game where the player has a direct influence on the environment.
The player controls a robot named Rusty, tasked with excavating ore from the mines located under the Western town of Tumbleton. As Rusty progresses down the shaft, he will encounter new locations and enemies that will try and hinder his work.
By digging through the game world, the player will create new passageways that can be used to access new areas in the levels. The game features elements of combat, in which the player will have to fend off creatures living in the mine. The main task, however, is digging up treasure and carrying it up to the surface. Similarly to Hollow Knight, if the player is killed, they lose all acquired gems, which can be retrieved from the place they were dropped at. The game features a system of upgrades, which can be applied to the used tools and the player character to make progress through the levels much easier.
Steamworld Dig was met with a positive reception from the critics, who commended the “remarkable gameplay” features of the title.
|Release year:||31 March 2015 (PS4), 14 May 2015 (PC), 30 September 2016 (XONE), 5 October 2017 (Switch)|
|Developer||Thomas Happ Games|
Axiom Verge tells the story of Trace, an American scientist whose experiments cause him to be transported to an alien planet of Sudra.
There he encounters a being known as Elsenova, represented by a robotic head embedded in the stone wall. Elsenova informs Trace of his task – to find a way to stop the Breach, an interdimensional storm, from consuming the universe. During the course of the game, Trace and the player will find out about the history of Sudra and its people and the purpose of the planet itself.
Stylistically, Axiom Verge is very similar to the classic Metroid games. The player moves Trace along the 2D corridors, encountering various enemies and collecting items and power-ups necessary to defeat stronger opponents. While not as pretty captivatingly beautiful as Hollow Knight, Axiom Verge cannot be denied its nostalgic charm. Players who spent hours playing run-and-guns of the 80s, like aforementioned Metroid games, Contra and Bionic Commando, will find themselves right at home with Thomas Happ Games’ production.
Axiom Verge was met with solid reviews, which praised the gameplay and visual side of the game.
Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2
|Release year:||10 July 2020|
|Game modes||single-player, multiplayer|
Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2 brings the retro, Castlevania-style gameplay to the 21st century.
The game focuses on the character of Zangetsu, a demon slayer tasked with stopping a summoned demon castle. Zangetsu, accompanied by several other warriors, including Dominque, a church’s exorcist, rifleman Robert, and Hachi – a mech-piloting Corgi, embark on a mission to stop the invasion.
Curse of the Moon 2 features gameplay mechanics similar to Castlevania titles. For most of the game, the player will control Zangetsu, who specializes in close-quarters swordplay. Other playable characters add new mechanics to the combat, including Robert’s long-ranged attacks, Hachi’s powerful punches, and Dominique’s magical powers. Throughout the game, the player can collect various items and power-ups, which will definitely be helpful s the game offers a real challenge, in the vein of the classic Castlevania series.
The game was praised by the critics, who noted the nostalgic feel and cooperative gameplay offered by the multiplayer mode.
|Release year:||26 June 2014 (PC), 21 April 2015 (PS4), 29 April 2015 (XONE), 3 March 2017 (Switch)|
|Developer||Yacht Club Games|
|Game modes||single-player, multiplayer|
Despite its colorful presentation, Shovel Knight offers much of the same gameplay mechanics as most Metroidvania games.
The player controls the titular Knight, armed only with a shovel which he can use to fight enemies and dig out treasures. The game’s story follows Shovel Knight as he tries to rescue his beloved Shield Knight from the castle controlled by an evil Enchantress. Along the way, he must defeat the members of the Order of No Quarter, sent by the Enchantress to stop him.
The fans of Metroidvania-style games, including Hollow Knight, will find a lot to enjoy about Shovel Knight. Its colorful 8-bit graphics are decidedly the least depressing out of the games presented on our list. The gameplay mechanics feature classic Metroidvania elements: fighting bosses, collecting items, elements of RPG, etc. Fans of the genre should be satisfied with what the Shovel Knight’s adventure has to offer.
Yacht Club Games production received positive reviews and became an instant classic Metroidvania game, with the titular character making multiple appearances in many other titles.
|Release year:||29 September 2017 (PC, XONE),18 April 2019 (Switch), 28 July 2020 (PS4)|
|Genre:||run and gun|
|Game modes||single-player, multiplayer|
While Studio MDHR’s run and the gun title doesn’t feature many of the mechanics characteristic of Metroidvania games, it still deserves mention on our list due to the one it shares with them. Namely – the exorbitant difficulty level of the bosses the player will encounter throughout their adventure.
Cuphead distract the player with its cute, 1940s cartoons-inspired graphics, only to smash them into the ground with how difficult the game really is. Finding words to describe the frustrations of players who spent hours to defeat even the earliest bosses, all in vain, would require using terms considered inappropriate. But that is exactly the Charm of Cuphead. The challenge and satisfaction of overcoming the final boss, one that can be shared with a friend through co-op multiplayer, is something that the fans of Metroidvania titles can relate to.
Cuphead’s reception has been universally positive, with the critics praising the visual style and challenge offered by the game.
|Release year:||17 September 2020|
Nothing could’ve prepared the gaming world for the massive success of Hades. Supergiant Games’ roguelike action-RPG took the world by storm at a time where it desperately needed some distraction from the grim reality of the world.
The game’s excellent mechanics and storytelling make it worthy of a place on our list, especially that Hades shares many mechanics with the subject of our article.
For example, one of the mechanics present in Hades is the system of penalties the player incurs for failing a run. All the items and powers acquired during the playthrough that lead to Zagreus’ untimely demise are lost forever. But unlike in Hollow Knight, the player can’t fight a Shade to retrieve them. Other than that, Hades offers a lot of fun in terms of Metroidvania-like gameplay, featuring challenging dungeons, unique skills that the protagonist can obtain, and interesting lore.
Hades was met with nearly universal critical acclaim and is considered by many as proof that indie game studios can contend with AAA developers in terms of delivering quality titles.
To sum up…
Hollow Knight is a quite unique title, offering the player a great gameplay experience compared to the classic Metroidvania games. Exploring the tunnels of Hallownest and defeating monsters lurking within will definitely bring fond memories of guiding Samus Aran through the sci-fi corridors of Metroid games or leading the clan of Belmonts against the forces of Darkness in the Castlevania series. As you could tell from our list, the games that share similar mechanics as Hollow Knight are many, and the list above presents only a fraction of them. We hope, however, that you’ll be able to find something to bind time before the long-awaited sequel to Team Cherry’s game takes you back to Hallownest for another round of Metroidvania goodness.