The genre blend of Metroidvania and Soulslike is a tried and true combination. And it makes sense; two styles of game with a deep focus on exploration and strict difficulty were bound to cross paths. Games like Salt and Sanctuary, Blasphemous, and — of course — Hollow Knight have successfully taken what makes the genres and mashed them into a mini-genre of their own (although some would argue that Dark Souls itself is essentially a Metroidvania already). Debuting developers Mantra and Sinergia Games have thrown their own hat into the ring in the form of Elderand, which further shows why this mix works, even if this particular concoction could do with being more potent.
You take on the role of a nameless hunter who has washed up in a mysterious land with his crew dead and no bearings to work from. This place is filled with a litany of monsters and threats, and throughout your journey, you unravel a tense plot involving a cult, a serpent society, and a village under threat. While the story is a lot easier to follow than its FromSoftware inspirations, Elderand also tells a lot of its story through the use of item descriptions, letters found across the world, and environmental storytelling. Truth be told, the story didn’t do much for us, with a lot of it being omnipresent text flaring onto the screen. However, the worldbuilding impressed us, each of the game's areas feels cohesive, and you can really see the effects of events prior to the game beginning.
The first thing that stands out is the in-depth spritework. The customisable main character — and most humanoids — are admittedly a bit underwhelming, but the game makes up for it in droves with its strong enemy design. The highlight has to be the Hungry Abyss; a big disgusting venus flytrap of a creature, who unsettled us the first time we laid eyes on it. It’s through enemies like that you can feel the Lovecraft influences. The bosses are gorgeous too, thanks to their size, the spritework really showing off these intimidating enemies. There’s also the game's seven areas which look very nice, albeit appropriately oppressive, further emphasising the state of the world.
The game also revels in its gore; while some death animations are the equivalent of a goofy old Mortal Kombat fatality, others are real stomach-churners — for example, the Hideous Disciplinarian, whose stomach bursts into piles of viscera every time you defeat one. The worst of it has to be the cult sacrifices scattered around the world (which are optional, but give you items in return) which use some medieval torture devices. It’s not enough to fully put us off, but Elderand is certainly not a game for the faint of heart.
Pairing with the grim atmosphere is brutal combat. You have access to different weapon types such as sword-and-shield, great swords, bows, magic staves, and our weapon of choice, dual blades (there’s also a whip, but more on that later). The combat is punishing, and while you can level up and boost your health, strength, dex, and mind stats, you’re only ever a few hits away from life or death. That being said, a lot of the fighting strategy tends to be jumping behind the enemy while they attack and slash away, even with some of the bosses. You still need to be on your toes for the correct timing, but a lot of the enemy AI can be dealt with through this strategy.
As you would expect in a Metroidvania, the game has that loop of exploration, fighting bosses, and finding upgrades to open up new paths, although there is only a handful of upgrades across the entire game and none of them are particularly interesting. Obviously, a double jump, grapple hook, and an air dash are welcomed additions to any kit, but those being the only real upgrades is a bit underwhelming. A few extra movement options and some combat-focused powers would have been nice. The game also trends on the shorter end of the genre. We achieved 100% map completion over our four-and-a-half-hour playtime.
While we’ve mentioned the Souls influence, the team behind this game clearly adores the Castlevania series, too. The game feels both like a spiritual successor to the GBA and DS entries and a love letter to the entire series. The core gameplay is similar, it even brings in sub-weapons like the axe and knife, which work exactly like they do in Konami’s series, and as we mentioned there's a whip. The game is littered with references to Castlevania’s past (with a specific boss even mimicking Dracula’s attacks). The soundtrack also feels very inspired by Michiru Yamane’s work and is one of the game's strong points.
We experienced a fair few technical issues in our playthrough, though. The most prominent was random freezing, even when nothing is going on on the screen to cause it. This happened every so often in handheld mode, but was much more common in docked mode. We also experienced audio issues in the mine area as well as a couple of crashes (both hard and soft). We’re told the game will be patched again in time for release, so fingers crossed the majority of these will be dealt with by then. You'll want to keep an eye out for those patch notes before playing, though.
Elderand is another solid entry in the Metroidvania genre, though it doesn’t push any new boundaries where gameplay is concerned. It does manage to stand out somewhat thanks to its strong enemy design and worldbuilding, as well as a good soundtrack. For a debut game, it’s impressive to see something as well realised as this, but there's precious little here you haven't seen elsewhere in this crowded genre. Perhaps it needs a second entry to fully live up to its potential.
I really enjoyed the PC demo. This is a fun game overall!!
Honestly not sure why nobody hasn’t taken the dark souls model and made a modern 3d Castlevania with it
What do people expect from a sprite based metroidvania, exactly?
What revolutionary thing a game could have in order to stand out?
The only things I want from those games are: great world-building, cool sprites, story that is not goofy.
If people expect gimmicks, they will always be disappointed
After all the Zelda and Pokemon franchises are doing it for decades and people are fine with it, but I guess if it is an indie game, we should be more demanding?
@Williamfuchs420 I like to pretend I'm playing a Castlevania game when I boot up Bloodborne.
i wish there was more puggsy influence in these exploration/combat/platformer games.
i'd love to see the introduction of item/physics based puzzles, for example.
perhaps a new genre could be coined; puggsyvania?
@Olliemar28 I too used the Whip in Cainhurst Castle
Elderand. Everyone knows which game comes to mind from the title. Quite cheap.
Also, I'm starting to get tired of the 2d Metroidvania genre, not counting the actual Metroid and Castlevania games.
This looks like a good time. It looks like Slain with a non-linear design.
@Zuljaras Indies should be held to the same standards as any other game and not a soft pass as an excuse for mediocrity.
@Vexx234 But mediocrity is passed when the franchise is already established?
I've never seen any of the AAA titles being criticized for "not bringing" anything new to the genre. I've read more of the same "if it is not broken don't try to fix it".
So, I am 100% in favor of holding the same standards for indies and AAA games! I just don't see it.
Power: player character removes their own head and throws it with targeted precision; head proceeds to grow tentacles and become a fully controllable drone. Wait, Axiom Verge did this…
Power: player character rolls into a ball and can move around to solve puzzles… wait… Met…
It’s all been done!
@Zuljaras Which Zelda brought nothing new to the table?
@Res462 As much as I love them here are my takes:
1. Majora's Mask is the same as Ocarina of Time. The masks feature is nothing revolutionary. Just a feature.
2. Skyward Sword is almost identical to Twilight Princess but on one of them you can turn into a wolf ... again a transformation feature.
3. Spirit Tracks and Phantom Hourglass just added a stupid gimmick touchscreen movement because of the DS otherwise they are the same as other top down Zelda games.
4. ALL top down Zelda games have the same functions the only difference is the world building.
5. Tears of the Kingdom will be Breath of the Wild on steroids and even more vehicles!
And I LOVE Zelda games and Castlevania games even if the next one has the exact same formula! But they are not criticized for that at all.
So for me every new Metroidvania is just that, new world with new weapons and enemies, just go there unlock double jump, high jump etc.
Not to mention that 2D Metroid games are following the same pattern every time! Get Morphball, Get grenade, get long laser etc. Yet we still love them!
But now if a new game comes out and we do not recognize the name we just state that it is a rip-off of something else or it is not different enough. In a way only the established franchises are free from the critique of repetitiveness.
@Zuljaras while it’s true that there is a Zelda formula, I think you’re being more than a bit reductive.
Skyward Sword changed how combat worked by turning combat into a puzzle.
Majora’s Mask added a bunch of side quests and had the Groundhog’s Day mechanic.
Phantom Hourglass had the Zelda stuff where you had to manage both characters IIRC.
Most games added new items and abilities. ALBW ditched items in dungeons and made it so you could tackle dungeons in any order.
ALttP added the dark world.
We don’t really know enough about TotK to say what it is at this point.
Edit: whether or not these changes were successful is up to you, and it’s fine either way.
@Res462 It's Spirit Tracks the one with playable Zelda, Phantom Hourglass is the one with the Temple of the Ocean King which you have to visit multiple times throughout the game (similar to the Tower of Spirits from Spirit Tracks, but you actually have to go through previous sections in the former).
That said, the takes of @Zuljaras are way too reductive even though I agree to an extent about holding the same standards for indies and AAA games!
@Res462 I'm no Zelda fan myself, but since I missed out playing the series as a child and spent a year going through each, I can say I have no idea what @Zuljaras is even talking about.
Every Zelda game was a ride for sure. Not every gimmick or new idea worked, but Kudos to Nintendo devs for atleast trying.
Yes, there is Zelda formula, but that doesn't mean there were no new or innovative ideas to change said formula.
the point stands that the term VANIA in all 'metroidvanias' is absurd in the extreme. the progress based on backtraking and getting items you couldnt previously get to progress in 2D format was popularised most by Super Metroid (not where it started though), and the Zelda franchise in general. With the GBA era Castlevania adopted the 'Metroid' mechanic for progress. There is really no need to have the term vania, unless it is supposed to convey 2-d side scrolling gothic theme action gameplay. The Metorid mechanic never, ever belonged to or originated with any Castlevania title.
@Vexx234 I am just saying that most new games nowadays are looked down on because they remind people of older titles.
Like, I've heard/read that people call Darksiders 1 and 2 a dark Zelda clone, which is just funny. Now you tell me what is reductive
So, my original statement is that people try to find a revolutionary stuff in new games or their value/score is lowered.
To end this off topic ALL games should be held under the same criteria levels.
@smithyo I think the term metroidvania came about due to the popularity of Symphony of the Night, which was the first Castlevania to use the Super Metroid style of gameplay. I would hazard to guess just as many people, if not more so, associate the exploration/find upgrade to proceed model, with SotN as they do with Super Metroid, in spite of the latter doing it first.
Game doesn't look too intriguing, I'll probably wait for the Castlevania expansion for Dead Cell instead and maybe later pick this up when it's available through a sale.
@smithyo Well, to be fair, modern Metroidvanias often tend to draw more from the Symphony of the Night model, which fused Metroid's level design and progression structure with equipment and RPG mechanics.
Besides the technical issues, this game sounds appealing to me. I would want a longer, meatier game that gets a good 20 or so hours out of me for full exploration, but this doesn't sound like a total waste of time, especially considering it has a customizable protagonist.
I didn't like metroid dreads counter attack, and removal of using dpad for movement. Should have kept it traditional. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. AM2R was far better in every way.
@Ralizah Yeah, so SotN is a MetroidZelda, or a Metroid inspired game. Kind of weird that SotN used a Metroid based system and then got to have a million games use 'vania' in terms of a genre. Its like, 'well SotN done the Metroid system so well and merged it with the Castlevania system, that it gets equal standing in terms of a genre inspired game type'. Its really not even close to equal, it just utilised the Metroid model to great effect.
@smithyo Symphony of the Night evolved that style of game design, and subsequent 2D 'vanias popularized it moreso than even Super Metroid did, so the billing makes sense.
When it gets patched I'll check this out for sure
@Olliemar28 Oh I totally do that too; I even go so far as to turn down the game’s soundtrack and pump Castlevania music through a portable speaker under the TV. I do this with Elden Ring and Vampire Survivors too 😀. Castlevania LoI and Curse of Darkness especially have versatile tracks that fit well.
For Elden Ring, once I found where the whip was located, I restarted a new game, created Sonia Belmont and pumped that music, changing tracks per area. It is great fun, and the Soulsborne series takes a lot from Castlevania anyway.
@smithyo It’s because SotN is an amazing game that continues to age very well. It’s also infinitely replayable.
But also Simon’s Quest was an early open world action RPG too, although it didn’t have many stats to grow. This is why the genre is beholden to this series, as much as Metroid is
Metroid (NES) did all that first. Also Simon’s Quest is closer in design to Super Metroid than Symphony of the Night. Except Symphony does have the super-jump (like the dash jump). Neither SQ nor SM had actual RPG stats, other than health and in SQ’s case a very basic Leveling system.
Symphony was the first Castlevania to use RPG stat modifiers
Another mid-tier metroidvania that will be nothing more than an appetizer until Silksong comes out, theres so many metroidvania games these days and theyre all starting to blend together.
@Zuljaras YES! I want a solid game that devs really cared about. Good soundtrack, etc. These games don't need to be revolutionary or move the genre forward to get a good score.
Just finished Metroid prime and needed to play something 2d
This is fun, controls are really snappy and the graphics are cool. Only in a few hours but enjoying it
Just a word of warning - there is a fairly late game breaking bug in this. Its overall a fun metroidvania and I really enjoyed it - until I got the Arena (you'll know when you get there).
Essentially you can't ever finish it - one of two things will happen.
An enemy will not die - not matter how much damage (they keep taking damage and handing it out though) you put in. Only solution - quit to main menu reload.
The second is that an enemy will be "killed" but the sprite stays on screen. It can't take damage or deal damage - but again you can't progress.
I've tried different saves etc. but its definitely broken.
There's a lot of crashes too - again in the later stages of the game where you will get an unexpected error and you're taken the Switch home screen. Its almost like they only playtested the first half the switch conversion. Its a shame as I say I was enjoying it but I'm holding off for when these get patched, I'd also hold off buying it until it gets fixed.
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