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The best metroidvanias are games that provide massive maps to explore, obstacles to conquer, and progression systems that provide constant “eureka” moments during your journey. Metroidvanias are one of the more popular genres out there, and with the gap between new Castlevania or Metroid games usually being lengthy, seeing the best elements of those franchises combined into games that find fascinating new ways to put a unique spin on the formula makes for some great entertainment.
Which metroidvania is best for you though? We’ve gone through a castle library of games in the genre, and found 15 examples that we’ve listed in alphabetical order below to help you get started on a 2D dive into this stylish field of games. Though we left Metroid Dread off of this list because we figured it’d be cheating, Switch owners absolutely should play through Samus’ latest adventure. Metroid Dread is featured on our roundup of the best Nintendo Switch games.
A gorgeous homage to Super Metroid, the Axiom Verge games merge gripping stories with incredible moment-to-moment gunplay. What makes the Axiom Verge approach feel so special is a truly staggering assortment of weapons, which range from your run-of-the-mill blasters to exotic guns that rip reality itself apart. Possibly the biggest draw of Axiom Verge is the atmosphere that it invites you to explore, as the alien nature of these levels coupled with the isolation that you’ll have to endure is cold and unnerving.
These stages also house secrets that can distort its own design, breaking its own reality while dropping heavy theological questions into the mix that are coated with the nostalgic appeal of 8-bit graphics. If you’re not in the mood to start pondering the very nature of existence though, the Axiom Verge games easily function as a brilliant fusion between Metroid and Contra that feel constantly rewarding when you dive head-first into them.
Read our Axiom Verge review and Axiom Verge 2 review.
Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition, especially in video games! Drawing a heap of inspiration from ye olde European Catholic imagery, Blasphemous creates a world to explore that is both horrifying and fascinating, while also providing great combat and a library of lore to sit through and read. Combat sequences are beautifully animated, themes of death and rebirth can be found everywhere, and the game is a brutal challenge that doesn’t show any mercy to heretics. A metroidvania that throws some uncomfortable religious content your way, Blasphemous is an appealing prospect for anyone looking to venture out of their usual comfort zone in this genre.
Read our Blasphemous review.
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night
The pitch for Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night was an appealing one when it first hit Kickstarter several years ago: a new series led by Castlevania: Symphony of the Night director Koji Igarashi, working to create a spiritual successor to the legendary Konami game for a new generation of platforms. Crowdfunded before you could even crack a whip, Bloodstained arrived a few years later and provided a gothic castle of familiar content. A few decades removed from its primary inspiration, Bloodstained’s combat never fails to feel satisfying, there’s a secret to uncover in every corner, and a smorgasbord of post-launch updates turned this game into a must-play entry in the metroidvania genre.
Read our Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night review.
A metroidvania where you can’t run or jump sounds like a limiting take on the genre, but Dandara’s limitations turn out to be some of its greatest strengths. Using the controls to flip gravity and explore on your own terms, this beautifully crafted game still hits the right notes for a metroidvania and mixes Brazilian folklore with impressively intuitive touchscreen controls in its Switch and mobile versions. It’s an innovative attempt to make a metroidvania feel different, and while that direction does occasionally force you to deal with some irksome design elements, it’s still a refreshing approach.
Read our Dandara review.
Dead Cells may not be the first game that adopted a Dark Souls influence and drifted from metroidvania stylings into roguevania territory, but it’s easily one of the best games of its genre. Raising the bar and creating a template for progression that other indie games would be inspired by in its wake, Dead Cells provides action that ranges from manageable to unrelenting the further you progress in the game, an expansive arsenal of weapons, numerous abilities, and a march forward through some of the most challenging bosses ever faced in the genre. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry–a lot–but that journey behind enemy lines is worth it for the bragging rights alone.
Read our Dead Cells review.
You control a cat in a robot suit. That’s it, that is the primary appeal of Gato Roboto. Not enough for you? Well then, strap yourself in for a monochromatic ride through strange territory as you guide Kiki the cat through various obstacles and hazards. Gato Roboto does very little to stand out from the metroidvania pack in terms of innovation, but the game shines with just how well it approaches the format. It has tight controls, the minimalist art style is effortlessly charming, and it poses a proper challenge for even the most seasoned of Metroid hunters.
The Guacamelee games may have design elements that are evocative of Super Metroid, but you’d never think of this tag team of wrestling mayhem as clones of the Nintendo original. The digital DNA may be there as a foundation, but Guacamelee goes its own way with satisfying punch-’em-up action, dazzling level design, and top-rope platforming that go hand-in-hand with each other. The gameplay never feels less than polished, every element exists in harmony with other action-packed systems, and the energy on display is infectious.
Guacamelee 2 is the stronger game in this duo with its more polished design, but the original is still an absolute treat to play even after its original debut so many years ago. Chalk this pair up as the best metroidvanias for wrestlemaniacs in your home.
Read our Guacamelee review and our Guacamelee 2 review.
As challenging as it is hauntingly beautiful to look at with its crafted animations, Hollow Knight’s tragic tale is one that you’ll hungrily devour the deeper you descend into its world. The sharp gameplay and Dark Souls-inspired peril play second fiddle to the real charm of the game, which are the explorative elements that take the spotlight. The world around you is the result of thoughtful design and tantalizing clues as to the nature of what really happened, and the hunt to uncover the full picture makes an already terrific game that much more engrossing.
Read our Hollow Knight review.
Super Metroid established a foundation that many metroidvanias would build on, but Iconoclasts took its inspiration from the underrated Metroid Fusion. A vividly colorful game packed with excellent boss fights to try your skills against, Iconoclasts also contains a surprisingly mature story that tackles the themes of free will, theocracy creating a zealous dictatorship, and the danger of weaponized faith. If you’re looking for a metroidvania that marries adult themes, creative action, and eye candy together, Iconoclasts is one of the best in this class.
Read our Iconoclasts review.
Both Ori games are jaw-dropping adventures that blend some of the best artistic design in the business with pinpoint precision, but Will of the Wisps is easily the superior sibling here. Both games feature a meaty core of exploration, combat, and using abilities to access previously-gated off areas, but Will of the Wisps is the game where those mechanics shine best and polishes them to create an action-packed experience that’s smooth as silk.
They’re the type of games that’ll have you screaming in despair when you fail yet again to nail that one jump, cheering when you’re get over a seemingly-impassable hurdle, and curling up into a ball of depression after you’re left floored by the tear-jerking story haymakers that both games deliver. Superb examples of what the metroidvania genre is capable of, both games bring charm and heartbreak to the table with enjoyable platforming, hard-hitting action, and exquisite visuals.
Read our Ori and the Blind Forest review and our Ori and the Will of the Wisps review.
Salt and Sanctuary
It might be cliched to call it this, but Salt and Sanctuary is the Dark Souls of metroidvania. That’s not just because it has a challenging gameplay curve to master and monsters who’ll regularly deliver a sound beating if you take them on haphazardly, but also because the game shares a number of themes with From Software’s classic series, such as class-building, an art design with Gothic undertones, and progression systems that blend well with the idea of exploring labyrinthine levels. The fusion of ideas works surprisingly well, and with plenty of fan support behind it, it’s no wonder that a sequel to this indie gem is currently in development. Salt and Sacrifice releases May 10 for PlayStation and PC, so you have time to catch up.
Read our Salt and Sanctuary review.
SteamWorld Dig 1 + 2
A pair of excellent metroidvanias with a heavy emphasis on exploration in a handcrafted world, SteamWorld Dig and its sequel are charming and compact-sized games that mix deconstruction of the world around you with some thrilling combat. While the first SteamWorld Dig is a quirky adventure with some wonderful locales, the sequel is a vastly superior follow-up that offers more satisfyingly destructible environments, a better selection of tools to dig your way through to new challenges, and a more polished gameplay loop that rewards you for your progress. It’s more focused, cuts plenty of fat off of the original game’s foundation, and the journey to the center of a hostile planet is full of surprises along the way.
Read our Steamworld Dig review and our SteamWorld Dig 2 review.
Timespinner is a metroidvania at an incredibly inviting level, one that wouldn’t look out of place as a Game Boy Advance title from the early 2000s. It sets itself apart with a time-travel mechanic that places players on a map that is ambitiously anchored in both the past and the present, with each zone featuring unique enemies, plenty of obstacles, and a small arsenal of items to uncover. While the idea of changing aspects of the past to make the present easier doesn’t work without a few hitches, developer Lunar Ray Games still manages to mostly stick the landing with a game that’s a passionate celebration of the metroidvania genre, and its short playtime turns it into an enjoyable experience that respects your time.
Unsighted is built around familiar metroidvania ideas, but it uses that tried and trusted foundation to add a few novel elements of its own to the formula. It’s easy to hop into, it forces you out of your conservative safety net by making you race against the clock, and the 16-bit aesthetic is a delightful mixture of punchy sound effects and blocky world design. It’s the gameplay where Unsighted really shines, and with no button left unused, you’ll be dishing out combos while learning how to dance across the screen using a rhythm of smooth attacks and devastating finishers.
Read our Unsighted review.
Yoku’s Island Express
Yoku’s Island Express is an odd coupling of genres, a concept on paper that shouldn’t work and yet it’s an extraordinary experience that successfully fuses metroidvania elements with pinball. All the usual exploratory features from a metroidvania are present, but getting around levels and various hazards requires guiding your little bug-man and his precious egg around a world of organic bumpers and flippers that’ll send the resilient hero careening all over the screen. There’s a definitive path through each stage that’s fun and adorable, combat is largely swept to the side in favor of exploration, and the whole experience is both easy to grasp and rewarding for any pinball wizards who have a firm grasp on the mechanics of the classic arcade genre.
Read our Yoku’s Island Express review.