I’ve struggled a bit with the idea of doing a “Metroidvania Review Game of the Year”, because we didn’t get to play every game released last year. I feel like it wouldn’t be fair to judge which of the year’s new releases was the “best” if our sample size was anything less than all of them. I also think that previous years shouldn’t be ignored, as games released in 2018, or even 2015 are still worth your time today, and we spent a good amount of time looking at the past as much as we did at the present. So instead of doing a “Best of the Year”, we’ve decided that we’ll do a spotlight of some of the games we played this year that were interesting in some way.
This isn’t a “Best” list. If it were, then Bloodstained, Monster Boy, Gato Roboto, and Blasphemous would surely be worth mentioning, but you’ve probably already heard about those games. We also looked at all of the 2D Igavania games in 2019, and it definitely wouldn’t be fair if we included those.
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This is a list of discovery. Good games that you might have missed. Games that might otherwise fall through the cracks. Not all of them were released in 2019, but we discovered them last year nevertheless.
So without any further explanation, here are 10 games we played in 2019 that you shouldn’t ignore. Click the title of each game for the full review!
Survival Horror and the Metroidvania Genre aren’t too far removed from each other, so it makes sense to combine them. The world of Redo! is fairly open, where the primary obstacle between you and success is your own ignorance of what lies ahead. Redo!’s subtle presentation, with its ambient music and the noises of the monsters around you, creates a sense of dread that can’t be duplicated even by the best timed jump scare. It’s a true psychological horror, with tangible consequences for failure. Of course, once you’ve faced your fears, the knowledge gained is empowering, creating a wholly satisfying experience overall. That is, if you can get past that initial terror.
The best part about Supraland is how clever its puzzles are. Solving each room or area makes you feel like a genius. This excellent design is wrapped up in so much charm it’s hard not to fall in love with the entire package. The humor gets a little immature at times, but at other times it’s a biting satire of matters I think many of us can relate to – hence why I compare its presentation to Monty Python’s style of humor. For Metroidvania Fans there are also a ton of secrets to be found. You probably won’t need most of the power-ups to complete the game, but it’s just so dang fun to run around playing as your stick figure avatar that you’ll likely become addicted to finding them anyway.
A few Metroidvania games in the past couple of years have toyed with the concept of making time-manipulation a core mechanic of the game, but Touhou Luna Nights is in another category when it comes to implementing the concept into combat. While the ability still proves to be a little overpowered, enemies are still threatening enough to give the combat some interesting strategy. The core of this dynamic is how regaining magic points works; you get your magic back by getting dangerously close to enemy projectiles. Managing your power sources and knowing when to use your stronger abilities turns an otherwise action-based combat system into a game of chess. Of course, you can still challenge yourself by doing it the traditional way too. When it comes to time-stopping and combat, this is definitely a game you don’t want to miss.
Touhou Luna Nights may be the king of time manipulation based combat, but while Vision Soft Reset is no slouch at that, where it takes the trophy is in its overall scope. The entire game is a giant puzzle box involving a race against a doomsday clock, except you set the terms by traveling through time. You create your own checkpoints, and can set them in alternate timelines where you’ve made different decisions. Some power-ups can only be attained temporarily, like life-up items, so to use them on bosses, you have to setup a timeline where you’ve collected them all. This all leads to necessary repetition, but the span of the game’s timeline is only 20 minutes, meaning your meticulous planning and routing still only ever takes up a short period of your time to execute. For the most innovative game I played this year, I’d definitely give the prize to this one.
Our playthrough of Outbuddies started out a little clunky, but gradually the developer has patched away the major niggles and I don’t see that enthusiasm changing any time soon for whatever is left. At its core there is a fantastic game here, continuing the tradition of atmospheric Metroid-like games that there just aren’t enough of. More important than that though is its unique implementation of local co-op. The asymmetrical play creates a teamwork dynamic that can’t be had anywhere else. Thanks to Steam’s new Remote-Play Together feature, there’s nothing stopping you from from enjoying everything this game has to offer regardless of your circumstance – assuming you can get a friend to join in that is.
Castle in the Darkness is a wild homage to basically everything that any child born in the 80s grew up with. This of course means that it’s primary audience is going to be people like me, but if you’ve enjoyed gaming culture’s roots you’ll likely still get a kick out of the countless references packed into every screen. That’s not what makes Castle in the Darkness good though. It has solid classic-style gameplay, which is as brutally hard as its inspirations but also as sweetly rewarding for achieving victory. I’m not going to lie, this game broke me, but it’s so full of charm that I can’t hold that against it. Also there’s a sequel coming, so what better way is there to prepare for it than catching up on this one if you missed it?
Sundered is one you probably have heard about if you frequent gaming sites since it’s gotten a a decent amount of attention over the years. The reason it’s included on this list though is because you may have heard it’s not very good. I think if you go into it expecting a pure Metroidvania-like experience, you will be disappointed. But despite the irony of the usual purposes of this site, I recommend keeping an open mind and trying it anyway – particularly because since the Eldritch Edition release it now has Local Co-op. The slower moments between the more frantic action are actually a feature if you have someone to talk to and to strategize with. We really enjoyed playing this one together, and with Remote Play Together you don’t even need a local friend anymore.
You play a lot of warrior characters in these Metroidvania games, so it’s refreshing to occasionally see a game where you play as a more frail Wizard type. Alwa’s Awakening is on this list because of its clever use of dual-purpose spell casting. The three spells you eventually gain have multiple applications, whether it’s blocking projectiles in a dangerous combat situation, or simply acting as a key to powered locks. Each screen thus becomes a platforming puzzle for you to solve, although sometimes the execution is more difficult than the solution. I personally felt that the ending could have been stronger, both the dungeon leading up to it and the reward for beating the game itself. It’s still a one-of-a-kind experience that is worth checking out however, especially since they recently announced a sequel.
And now for something completely different! Not that this list hasn’t had some oddities, but Creepy Castle is something else entirely. You’ll engage enemies in a bizarre interpretation of Turn-Based combat where you play short minigames for each point of damage dealt. There is also some very non-traditional Metroidvania style exploration to be had, but the main draw is the game’s story and characters. Creepy Castle tackles existentialism, depression, and what it even means to be a hero, and does it in a meaningful and charming way. You’re going to get an experience closer to a JRPG with this one, but if you happen to also fall into that niche, you owe it to yourself to try Creepy Castle.
Finishing up this list is perhaps the best homage to everything “Metroidvania” that I played in the last year. Destroy Space Aliens starts out as a nod to Castlevania 2: Belmont’s Revenge, giving you a choice between four linear platformer stages. Shortly after you complete those stages, everything crumbles into a deeply satisfying Metroidvania structure, complete with rewarding exploration and empowering upgrades. It all ends off with a final boss intentionally designed to invoke memories of the Metroid and Castlevania games we revere. The hardest part about recommending this game is that it starts out brutally difficult, with controls that take some getting used to. However I promise you, if you like other challenging games, that it’s worth it to beat the learning curve.