We take a look back on the 56 games we reviewed in 2020 and pick out some of our top recommendations of the ones that we consider the more hidden gems of the genre.

It’s a popular practice in the game industry to name a Game of the Year to give a spotlight to the exceptional. Unless we somehow actually manage to review every single Metroidvania release however, I’ve never felt comfortable declaring a game as “the best” just because I happened to have played it. Any game we haven’t played is just as eligible as a game we have – it wouldn’t be fair to the rest of the games to simply ignore them. So instead here at The Metroidvania Review, we reflect on the games we actually did play – whether they were released in 2020 or not.

We reviewed 56 games in 2020, and it was a great year as far as our selection was concerned. Picking just ten of them to showcase was a phenomenal task when so many of them are worth recommending.

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One of the purposes of The Metroidvania Review is to provide a deeper dive into this specific niche, thus for this list we’ve decided to leave off more popular titles that you’ve probably already heard of. This means that even though we played Ori and the Will of the Wisps and Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order this year, because they’ve enjoyed a much more robust marketing push, we’re going to let other top 10 Metroidvania lists repeat their accolades. With heavy heart, this is also why we are not including SteamWorld Dig 2; while it isn’t quite as well known as the Microsoft or EA owned IPs, it belongs to a venerable series that has garnered some spotlight. We also reviewed the 2D Metroid series this year, as this was the first year since our site went live, and we definitely don’t think it would be helpful to fill the list with Metroid games.

This list is therefore a collection of what we consider to be among the more hidden gems of the Metroidvania genre, as well as one or two titles you might not have previously considered.

To avoid any confusion, I’m also including the “Metroidvania Fit” rating with these games. We fully acknowledge that not all of these fit perfectly into the Metroidvania Mold – but we recommend them nevertheless.

Click each Game’s Title for our full review!

10. Rabbit’s Quest

Metroidvania Fit: Medium Fit
Platforms: Windows PC (Itch.io)
Starting off this list is already an unusual specimin. Rabbit’s Quest is inspired by the cult classic freeware Metroidvania Hero Core. You control Rabbit as if you’re playing from a top-down perspective. Rabbit, Cat, and Dog have all traveled to an alien planet in search of a powerful mineral that is said to contain enough energy to fuel entire cities. Of course everything immediately goes wrong and it’s up to you to explore the caves and structures of this planet to find an escape, and possibly even complete your original objective. Throughout the course of the game you’ll only be able to fire horizontally, so encounters are a twist on bullet-hell design, forcing you to adapt to your limitations. Everything about the game is simplistic on the surface, but it’s deceptively deep, and it all escalates to brutally difficult encounters and memorable surprises. One of the more interesting features of Rabbit’s Quest is every single room is made relevant. Clearing the monsters from each one gives you a “point”, which you can trade for maximum health. Every point of health counts as you extend beyond your limits, so full exploration is heavily rewarded. This isn’t a game for players looking to relax, but anyone who craves a good challenge should give this one a shot. The game is also listed as pay what you want on Itch.io – meaning if you want you can get it for free – so there’s nothing stopping you from trying out Rabbit’s Quest right away.

9. Ato

Metroidvania Fit: High Fit
Platforms: Windows PC (Steam, Itch.io)
You may have heard it said before that applying limitations to yourself when creating art is one way to develop something interesting. In Ato’s case they set out to tell a story without using any words whatsoever. Not even the Tutorials have words, which I’m sure helped a lot with the localization. Everything relevant to the theming is expressed with silent cutscenes, which sometimes includes flashbacks when necessary. The game itself is a frenetic distillation of the core Metroidvania experience. You wander the world, find bosses to kill, and then wander some more. It includes just enough unique combat mechanics to feel fresh, including a chargeable dash attack, organic counter attacks, and juggling enemies. The pacing never lets up, assuming you use your map often to avoid getting completely lost. Literally around every corner there’s a new action puzzle room or boss to be found, so the content just sort of delightfully melts away. It doesn’t take too long to 100% this game, but it leaves a memorable impression nevertheless – especially since the one voice you hear in the entire game is particularly haunting.

8. An Untitled Story

Metroidvania Fit: High Fit
Platforms: PC (Freeware)
This is somewhat of a cult classic among Metroidvania fans, but if you haven’t heard of it you may be interested to know it was made by one of the same developers that worked on Celeste. An Untitled Story definitely has that “earlier work” feel to it. The graphical assets look like they were made with MS Paint and the music sounds like edits of other midis – whether that is the case or not. But that’s actually part of the charm for me. There is a sincere innocence to An Untitled Story. It’s clearly the work of pure imagination, and because of that there’s no limitations on where its story can go or what it can do. Part of what you’ll see are the typical fire, desert, and castle levels you’ll see in basically any game, but you also start out as an egg, and trust me when I say the story doesn’t get any less weird from there. Gameplay-wise it can be a brutal experience. At parts it’s precision platforming at its most precise. Platforming is the primary focus, as most bosses are bullet-hell style challenges where you have a dodge attacks before they provide any opening. The more ability upgrades you collect, the more insane the challenges become, but like any well-designed difficult game, it can be very gratifying to finally overcome the trials. Finding out whether or not you’re up for that challenge costs you nothing, as the game is absolutely free on Maddy Thorson’s website.

7. Lootbox Lyfe

Metroidvania Fit: High Fit
Platforms: PC (Steam)
In speaking of platforming challenges, how about a game that removes the bosses entirely? Lootbox Lyfe provides only the platforming challenges, and to keep that focus interesting it tightens up the controls and ups the platforming variety to 11. Part of how it keeps its world engaging is centered around those genre defining metroidvania upgrades. You’re given a ton of autonomy on where you can go, and no real direction other than being gated by abilities you don’t have yet. You don’t even start with the ability to move. The first 15 seconds of the game you have to wiggle helplessly until you fall into your first Lootbox. Every power has a special challenge associated with it, forcing you to learn exactly how it interacts with the game’s world. Taking what you’ve learned and using it to explore even further creates that familiar upgrade loop us metroidvania fans crave, and it does it without having a single enemy to kill. If you’re tired of all the violence, Lootbox Lyfe gives you a really fun alternative.

6. Bone Appetit

Metroidvania Fit: Perfect Fit
Platforms: PC (Steam)
The voracious king has stolen all the food in the kingdom, which has especially caught the ire of a local gang of cultists. Getting tired of being killed and violated by the raunchy gluttonous tyrant, the cultists raise up your playable skeleton to enact revenge. Bone Appetit is an incredibly open game, with level design that makes it a delightful puzzle box all on its own. Figuring out where things are and how to progress is remarkably engaging on a single run, but Bone Appetit also encourages you to break the game down completely on multiple playthroughs. There are a few choke points where you must kill certain bosses, but there are literally dozens of ways you can prepare for those encounters. Food works like money in this game, and you can spend it on helpful upgrades. However, the game also includes a special challenge mode, which uses unspent food from a vanilla playthrough to purchase weapons and upgrades for you to start with. This means optimally you would beat a vanilla playthrough using as little food as possible, further encouraging you to dive deep into Bone Appetit’s ingenious nuances. The combat is clunky, collision detection is wonky, and platforming takes some getting used to, but its world is so fun to explore that I was able to look past all that and find one of my favorite experiences from this year.

5. Rain World

Metroidvania Fit: Low Fit
Platforms: PC (Steam), PS4, Switch
Much like An Untitled Story, I may be pushing my rules a little bit by including this cult classic, but I also really don’t want this game to go unnoticed. The hardest part about explaining Rain World is that part of the experience is figuring things out on your own. Life is unfair, survival is unfair, and Rain World is absolutely unfair. You will be eaten, over and over again, before you even have a clue about what you’re supposed to do. Even after you think you’ve made progress, you’ll find yourself at another dead end, likely only to find a pair of jaws waiting for you when you turn around. You are going to hate this game unless you drink a tall glass of determination and dedicate yourself to it. You’ll eventually accept death as a learning experience, and you’ll begin to experiment with the world. You’ll start to discover that anything you interact with has uses. Eventually, you’ll find that you can indeed be the true ruler of your environment. It takes a very long time for this game to actually click, but when it does the experience is like enlightenment. This might not be a “true metroidvania” in the sense that you won’t gain a ton of power from permanent upgrades, but in terms of the exploration making you realize how much power you actually have, Rain World really has no match. Don’t get this game unless you’re willing to be frustrated for tens of hours, but if you’re willing to make the investment, you may find yourself among its most avid fans.

4. Castlevania: The Lecarde Chronicles 2

Metroidvania Fit: High Fit
Platforms: PC (Freeware)
While this game may have “Castlevania” in the title, it’s on this list because you may not have already heard about it. This is a fan game made by talented developer Migami Games, who has also more recently put out some legitimate original IPs. The first Lecarde Chronicles was an homage to Classic Castlevania with a few Metroidvania elements thrown in. This sequel is a full fledged Metroidvania with a ton of Classicvania flavor. The first third of the game is fairly straight forward with its level design, including many of those arguably unfair elements that Classicvania is well known for. But its world opens up and becomes a very deep and engaging exploration adventure. Unlike other Castlevania games you don’t level up in this one, instead all of your power is based on equipment that you find or other exploration-based rewards. This keeps the difficulty controlled, and set at nail-biting levels. If you’re a fan of both styles of Castlevania games, Lecarde Chronicles 2 comes the closest to combining them perfectly. The thing that really sets Lecarde Chronicles 2 apart for me however is its atmosphere. Castlevania has always been just a bit a bit campy. Familiar monsters have always been part of the cast, but the tone falls more towards the monster mash side of the spectrum rather than actual horror. I’m not going to spoil Lecarde Chronicles 2‘s best moments, but thanks to its sound design and more realistic art style, it’s the only game with the name “Castlevania” that actually sent chills down my spine.

3. BatBarian: Testament of the Primordials

Metroidvania Fit: High Fit
Platforms: PC (Steam, itch.io, GoG), Switch
From a game design perspective, “Action Multitasking” seems like an absolutely crazy idea, but BatBarian: Testament of the Primordials pulls it off rather brilliantly. In this game you have to manage the position of both your magical pet bat and your rock smashing Barbarian at the same time. This creates a whole host of interesting puzzles for you to solve, but because of the setup it’s often more about execution than it is about figuring out a riddle. This could lead to some frustration as you desperately try to get your bat’s favorite fruit to land exactly where you want it to, but it also opens up a lot of possibility for creativity in your approach. Exploring BatBarian’s caverns is immensely rewarding, since not only do you find critical upgrades but you also get to learn more about the game’s deep and engaging world. There’s a slight bit of tongue-in-cheekness to the presentation, but it’s taken seriously enough to make BatBarian incredibly immersive. If you like creative action, deep exploration, and legitimately funny narratives, BatBarian is one of our top recommendations of all time, not just out of the ones we played this year.

2. Cathedral

Metroidvania Fit: Medium Fit
Platforms: PC (Steam, GoG), Switch
Basically every other game on this list is weird or quirky in some way – this is by design of course. Cathedral however is just good classic game design done right. Your core kit is swinging your sword and pogo jumping like some other games you might have played before, so Cathedral has to make it almost entirely on level design. It accomplishes this task magnificently, sporting some of the best dungeons we’ve played period. Cathedral does have a few twists and surprises – namely with the tools and power-ups that make it associated with the Metroidvania genre – but for the most part the combat uses its simpler set of mechanics from the beginning of the game until the end. This allows the challenges to hit heights that make you feel awesome when you overcome them without any issues of you pressing the wrong buttons because you haven’t mastered the control. In a Zelda-like fashion, spatial reasoning puzzles are also a key focus, and there’s enough variety with the gimmicks to keep Cathedral’s runtime engaging. Cathedral is immersive, well-designed, and just an overall rock solid game that you should not miss. It also has one of my favorite final bosses of all time.

1. Phoenotopia Awakening

Metroidvania Fit: Medium Fit
Platforms: PC (Steam), Switch
Phoenotopia Awakening is a combination of everything that I enjoy. It has challenging combat, meaningful exploration, a layered narrative with some great characters, and puzzles that actually made me pull out a pen and paper to solve. The game has a very deliberate pace to it, but it sets the tone for the hours and hours of variety its content has to offer. The singular most important word I could use to describe Phoenotopia is “immersive”. Phoenotopia sets its internal rules, establishes its infrastructure, meticulously builds its story off of each event that happens, and by doing so it creates a place that you could believe actually exists. This also means that you will be spending a decent amount of time traveling the world map and talking to NPCs, but those moments are punctuated by white knuckle action and intelligent spatial reasoning and logical challenges. I think it does take some effort to escape into its world, but for me, Phoenotopia Awakening is an absolute masterpiece.

And that’s our list! Check out each of the game’s review pages for links to the storefronts where you can find them. Each of the top three games also have a video review if you prefer listening to our review with a demonstration of the gameplay. In addition, three of the games on this list can be obtained legitimately for free, so if you like you can try them right away.

As mentioned we played way too many great games this year for us to be able to include them all. Thus, we couldn’t end this list without bringing up a few honorable mentions: Alwa’s Legacy, Aquaria, MindSeize, The Mummy Demastered, Super Daryl Deluxe, Vigil the Longest Night, and Weapon Hacker. These games are all certainly eligible for other spotlight lists or individual video reviews in the future.

What Metroidvania games did you play in 2020? Are there any that you think should be on this list? Maybe we have played and reviewed something that you think deserves a slot instead. Let us know what you think in the comments below or on our Discord!