The word 'Metroidvania' might rub some core gamers the wrong way, but it's a useful catch-all to describe a very specific type of game experience. Combining elements from both the Metroid series and Koji Igarashi-produced Castlevania titles, this broad platforming genre has you using an ever-growing skill set to open up new paths across an expansive, layered map. As you explore and find secrets throughout the environment, these games empower the player in a way that makes them extremely addictive.
Despite laying down the blueprint, neither Nintendo or Konami have been particularly prolific in the genre for a while. Fortunately, over the past decade or so we've seen some incredible examples coming from independent developers inspired by those original classics and there is no shortage of great Metroidvanias to choose from on Switch.
To help you keep on top of all those releases, we've rounded up the best examples of the genre - in no particular order - along with our verdict to help you avoid the turkeys. Each of the following games showcase the brilliant and varied mechanics of the genre and are sure to give you that very particular buzz you get from the exploration and combat in the best Metroidvanias.
So, while we patiently await a Switch port of Metroid: Samus Returns, let's have a look at the gems available on the console at this very moment...
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Hollow Knight feels like it's found its natural home on Switch. The game's beautiful 2D world, tactile combat and impressive bevy of secrets constantly drag you in for more, and it proves to be as strong an experience on the move as it is on your TV. On an eShop that's already filled with top quality indie games, Hollow Knight is one of the very best; a big, beautiful, foreboding Metroidvania that's absolutely thick with detail. From its punchy combat system to its charming art and sound design, this is one of the finest adventures you can have on Nintendo Switch.
A dazzling, thrilling action-platformer with a potent cocktail of combat and platforming components, all set in one of the most appealing game worlds around. It's not a massive progression from the original, and its sheer relentlessness can prove tiresome, but Guacamelee! 2 is a real celebration of a sequel.
2D side-scrolling action games like The Messenger may be a dime a dozen these days, but you’d be missing out on something special by passing this one up. Featuring a surprisingly long campaign, an incredible soundtrack and tight, challenging level designs, The Messenger stands as a shining example of great game design. We’d highly recommend you pick this one up; it’s the very definition of a modern classic.
SteamWorld Dig 2 is another confident effort from Image & Form, and a worthy successor to a game that's a treasured part of many eShop collections. Stylish and good-looking, it also has the series' trademark humour and, yes, a pretty good soundtrack. It refines and expands upon the qualities of the original and hits some delicious high points, albeit some of the smartest segments and ideas appear only briefly. It sets the scene for more content and games, too, which is pleasing to see.
For fans of SteamWorld Dig we suspect the recommendation isn't needed as they'll buy this anyway. For those that skipped the first game, however, Dig 2 is a must-have - its charming aesthetic and cast set the scene for a tightly designed and clever exploration game. Now the wait begins for SteamWorld Dig 3, although there's always Steamworld Quest to tide you over if you can't get enough of Image & Form's steamy world.
They say don't judge a book by its cover, and you shouldn't judge this game based on its movie tie-in; with The Mummy Demastered, WayForward may have reached its apex. It deserves to stand on its own as one of the best recent examples of not only a pixel art aesthetic, but as an excellent combination of run 'n gunning, platforming and exploration. The game benefits from paying homage to multiple 16-bit ancestors rather than strictly sticking to its celluloid source material; The Mummy Demastered is a polished, accomplished and satisfying adventure that will entertain more than just Metroidvania fans.
All told, Shantae: Half-Genie Hero has never been better; the enhanced versatility of the Switch lends the game a new sort of appeal and convenience that wasn’t there before. This is a charming, colourful, and sometimes challenging Metroidvania that will no doubt prove to be a memorable addition to your collection. While it could be a little longer, we would give this one a strong recommendation to anyone that hasn’t yet picked it up for the Wii U or any other platform. For those of you that have, know that you’re essentially just paying for the ability to play this on the go, but that’s still arguably worth the asking price. Either way, this is the most polished Shantae game yet, and we can’t wait to see where the Half-Genie Hero goes from here.
Dead Cells is a masterclass in excellent roguelike design, mixing together nonstop intense action sequences, gorgeous vistas, and an addictive loop of unlocks and rewards into a beautiful experience that no Switch owner will want to go without. There’s dozens, if not hundreds, of hours of content available here, and though some sense of repetition can creep in every now and then, it’s remarkable how fresh Dead Cells can stay through all those hours. This game is a blast to play, full of visual splendor, and packed with things to do; don’t miss out on this one, it’s a must-buy.
Blaster Master Zero is a lovely addition to the Switch's library. We suspect that it will help to fill the gap between major retail releases for anxious Switch owners looking for a low-impact game to play on the go. As Blaster Master Zero features simplistic visuals, we were able to squeeze some extra battery life out of our Switch while playing it when compared to some of the more visually intense titles already on offer.
If you are looking for something new, we highly recommend Blaster Master Zero; it's a great homage to the original and one you will have a blast (sorry) playing.
On the whole, Iconoclasts is a memorable, thought-provoking, and enjoyable take on the Metroidvania genre which manages to stick out from the crowd with its chipper presentation and deeper storytelling style. Couple those elements with some of the best 16-bit spritework we’ve seen and a killer lineup of awesome boss encounters, and you’ve got another must-have for the Switch library.
Yoku's Island Express is a genuine breath of fresh air, combining pinball and Metroidvania mechanics in a way that feels truly inspired. Add in one of the most appealing fantasy worlds you'll find on the eShop, and you have yourself an instant left-field classic.