This article was written on 10/12/2021, the day after I completed Metroid Dread. Its release was delayed to not distract from other scheduled events.
I’ve had three sleep deprived days to think long and hard about this, partially brought on by the stress of the Metroid Dread launch, but mostly because of anxieties that have built up over the course of the last year.
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The Metroidvania Review has always been something of an experiment. For those not in the know, it started as a Steam Curator when I decided I was going to try and play every Metroidvania game on Steam. I thought curators were underutilized, it seemed like a fun project, and so I thought I would try and give something to the community that might be useful. At the time (around June 2017) I thought there were only 100 or so Metroidvania titles on that platform, so with 1 review per week, I could be caught up in a couple of years. After that The Metroidvania Review would just become a side hobby that I would occasionally update as a new game came out. I think this past year there have been well over 100 releases, not to mention the announcements that might be numbering in the multiple hundreds at this point. Clearly I had no idea what I was getting into.
Being the analyst that I am, circa 2018 I started creating spreadsheets with every Metroidvania game I knew about and began adding games to them as I discovered their existence. At this time I was still focused only on Steam, and when the number of games started getting over 200 (including both released and announced games), it became very clear to me that even if I went full time with the project, I would never actually “complete” my goal.
So my goal changed.
I had already started getting some very kind fans at that point, and I know that regardless of what you endeavor to do, even contributing a little can still have value. I started focusing more on what readers wanted me to review and less on new releases, which worked for about a year up until the end of 2019. It was at that point that I started getting a lot of questions about non-steam games and what I thought about them, and my usual response was “This is a Steam Curator.” That response started making less and less sense though, because I kept drifting further and further away from the possibility of becoming a “definitive” source of reviews of every Metroidvania game. I also really wanted to review those obscure itch.io and freeware games I kept finding out about, and so The Metroidvania Review website was born, and the restriction of “Steam Only” games was lifted.
The next logical step was YouTube, and I had a lot of people asking me whether it was something I would do. By pure coincidence the company I was working for was having a team building project at that same time. We were all supposed to make videos introducing our individual team groups within the finance department. I was the only Analyst on my team that had any experience with video editing at all, so I bought some video editing software and did the job. The biggest entry barrier into YouTube content creation was thus already handled for me, and even though I said I would never do YouTube because it would take up more time than I actually had, I gave it a shot anyway. The theory was that the more you do something, the easier it becomes and the faster you can do it, and logically that would apply to video editing as well. As it turns out, sometimes the more you do something, and the better you get at it, the more enticing it is to use the same amount of time to improve the work you’re doing rather than to reduce the time you actually spend doing it.
Keep in mind that as I was adding these layers to The Metroidvania Review project, I was still working a full-time job while also being a father of twin boys and a younger daughter. I’ve learned to become a bit of a time management magician, but you can only pull so many rabbits out of a hat before the magic just runs out.
I’m sure many readers have already identified that what I’m describing here is burnout, and you’re right. In order to push out an hour long analysis of The 2D Metroid Trilogy story – something I’ve wanted to do since I started watching YouTube gaming channels in general mind you – it took a tremendous amount of sacrifice to get anything resembling the video I had already made in my head. I could spend another month tweaking what I put out, but I am really pleased with the result. That sacrifice, however, came with a cost. While I’m completely aware that there’s no such thing as instant gratification when it comes to trying to get noticed on the internet, if there was any time when instant gratification would have helped me, that time was now.
I have unfortunately had to endure sad news after sad news from the developers of some of my favorite games that I’ve reviewed. Phoenotopia Awakening was a commercial failure, for instance, where the developer had to go through the same analysis that I’m going through with you right now. Even though they poured their heart and souls into making the game they wanted, and even though there are some very vocal fans, the payoff from their six years of hard work didn’t even earn them minimum wage for their efforts. Our Phoenotopia Video Review is the most viewed video on our channel, so this news is a sad testament to just how little influence our “influencer channel” actually has. Phoenotopia isn’t the only game I’ve had the displeasure of watching struggle, and it’s hard to shake that feeling of helplessness when we’ve already done everything we can to reach out to try and lift those games up. When we released the Metroid Story Analysis video a couple of weeks ago – the product of three months of planning and more than 100 hours of work – only to watch it get buried by the rest of the Metroid zeitgeist with only 600 views, it’s disheartening, to say the least.
I want to change the subject from these wretched truths to say that I still believe that everything we’ve done is a good thing. Every fan who’s taken the time to read our weekly postings, every subscriber who’s looked forward to the next video, and every patron who has believed in us – I thank you with the most sincere gratitude I can muster.
But now I have to get very real for a moment and tell you a few other stories. It’s always been itching in the back of my mind that the amount of time I’ve invested into The Metroidvania Review was going to come back and bite me in ways that I wouldn’t like. I’m very organized and I like to think I’m in control, but I also know that every decision I make for how I spend my time is a calculated risk involving opportunity cost. I wanted my channel to grow so I could help those struggling developers get noticed, hoping especially that I could even retroactively help the ones I’ve already done coverage for. I also want to be a good father and a great employee for my work, and while I’ve had a lot of missteps along the way, as any person does, I thought I was handling things pretty well.
I also like to think that I’m an active member of my Church, and with that comes some other responsibilities that I deem very important. This isn’t something I have talked about a lot because this is a gaming website and not a religious outlet. One of my church responsibilities is that we’re each assigned a few families in our area that we’re supposed to keep in contact with – to help them with anything they need or to get them the help they need as it becomes necessary. It’s a great program that’s provided me with the opportunity to make a difference, so it’s something I fully support. About a month ago I got a phone call asking about a member of the church that was apparently assigned to me. I didn’t even know I had the assignment. I was so caught up in raising my kids and everything else I was doing – including The Metroidvania Review – that I let this thing fall by the wayside. Most of the time everything is going fine with the families you are assigned to, but I hadn’t even attempted to make so much as a phone call to anyone for quite some time. The member I received the phone call about was an older gentleman, living alone in an assisted living center near my house. As it turns out, he died, two months earlier, and no one had heard about it. There were several balls dropped here, not just the one I was responsible for, but upon hearing the news I could only imagine myself sitting alone in a chair, barely able to take care of myself, in a building full of others the same as me. Quietly sitting. Breathing. Alone.
It doesn’t matter how much control I had over that situation, I had the opportunity to be a friendly voice in that darkness, and now that opportunity is forever lost. But it gets worse. For more than 5 years, before I had kids, I was involved with my church’s youth group as a volunteer. There I had the opportunity to go camping with the Boy Scouts, to teach them merit badge requirements (including the game design merit badge!) and to help provide for them the kinds of useful experiences and memories they could carry into adulthood and into the rest of their lives. There was one boy that stood out to me as having a fantastic amount of potential. He was bright and ambitious, and talented enough to be successful at anything he put his mind to. He also had some emotional struggles that occasionally caused him to act out, but what teenager doesn’t? This was long before The Metroidvania Review, but every once in a while I thought about this young man and wondered if I couldn’t have been a better friend to him. Well, it’s too late for that, because after not hearing anything about how he was for the past 3-4 years, I just recently received the news that he took his own life.
I’ve dealt with loss before. I’m not one to wallow in my regrets, especially for things that I don’t actually have that much control over. This information was still my burden to bear, however, and it was under this existential duress that I performed all of my labors throughout the month leading up to the grand event that we’ve all been waiting for; the release of Metroid Dread. Equipped with my powers of determination and sunk cost fallacy, I pressed onward. I even took time off work to give to the game the time I thought it needed, to craft a script and put out another video review just like I had done before.
There’s so much hype and excitement around Metroid Dread, and so many opinions flooding the internet. r/metroidvania has been getting stacks of people’s reviews every hour, and Metroid focused forums are spamming artwork and game tricks spanning hundreds of thousands of minutes of YouTube time. People are excited, people are disappointed, people want the E.M.M.I.s to die in a fire, and people think they are the best innovation Metroid has seen so far.
And what did I want from the game, going into it? Well, I attempted to avoid the hype train, as I always do, but it turns out that I had invested a lot more into this than I had realized. After a month of hard work intermixed with an already boiling amount of soul searching, I just wanted to sit down and draft up a script of unbridled praise. I wanted to triumphantly declare that Metroid is finally back! That Nintendo has delivered what we’ve always wanted for 19 years since Metroid Fusion.
I was disappointed.
The game is good, probably even great for most, don’t get me wrong, but it’s also safe. So very safe. What was once a series consisting of smart science-fiction, with some of the most iconic gameplay in our history, is now just another blip among so many other games that execute their mechanics just as well. Aside from its budget and the Nintendo branding, the only other thing that could have made Metroid Dread stand out – its narrative – is poorly written and poorly executed.
I’m sorry to say this is probably the best review of Metroid Dread you’re going to see me write. Because, after I beat the game and lay awake at night pondering and finding more things that just bothered me about the experience, with my social media pinging away with a whole mess of opinions on the subject, I asked myself that horrifying question that every content creator tries to avoid…
“Does my opinion really matter?”
The answer is “yes, it does”, but also “no, it doesn’t.” What I mean is that no matter what I say, you should still form your own opinion, if you can, and I’ve always encouraged you to do just that. With something as marketed and hyped as the latest 2D Metroid game though, I’ll probably break my back making another video that only thousands will watch – most of them having already played the game themselves anyway. When I made the commitment to invest my time and energy into Metroid Dread in the first place, I did it because I thought it would help my channel grow, and thus I could provide exposure to the other games that don’t have a multi-billion dollar corporation backing them up. But, as I lay there stressing about how to word my disappointment while also encouraging people to try Metroid Dread for all that it does right, all I could hear on my social media was noise.
I slept in my sons’ room last night, because they’re four and they are afraid of the dark. Something else I also heard last night was my son waking up from a nightmare where he apparently was dreaming about his sister in danger because he kept calling out her name. I put down my phone where I was obsessively doing my Metroidvania Review thing and reached out to comfort him. As I held his warm body in my arms, the reality of what matters the most to me flowed through me as if transferred by the touch. I put him back to sleep, flicked back on my phone and had another important thought.
“These are just video games.”
It’s a phrase you’ll hear a lot any time contention arises surrounding the hobby, as opinions are tossed back and forth like a flaming tennis ball. It’s a phrase that suggests video games aren’t important, but they are very important to some. To those indie developers that have allowed me to play their wonderful creations, they can be expressions of self. Video games can also convey great lessons, provide comfort in hard times, and to help us grow skills when we might be met with failures in other parts of our lives. For many though, maybe even for most, they can also just be about making Kraid’s belly button go boom. They’re a child’s toy that serves no purpose other than to divert our attentions away from our pains.
Video games are important, as important as any artistic impression, and I think because of that it’s important that games have an opportunity to find their audience – especially the great ones. I wanted to be one of those messengers declaring those games’ existence, but is it really worth traveling afar for that declaration – where I am exposed to the weather and sun, and only a few are willing to listen – while back at home there’s a lonely soul or a troubled youth I could be a friend to instead?
It’s been a great run, and there’s always that possibility I might come back. But for now, farewell. The Metroidvania Review is closing its shutters. While I’ll keep the site going for as long as I can, and our videos will still remain on our YouTube channel, this will be my final post.
I’m afraid it’s time for me to go home.
Q: What’s going to happen to the website?
A: It’s not too expensive to maintain. The “Support Us” page and discontinued social media links have been deleted, but otherwise I’ll continue to keep the site up for the foreseeable future. If traffic ever drops below a certain point though, I will likely let the domain subscription lapse and let archive sites maintain it from then going forward.
Q: What’s going to happen to the Steam Curator?
A: It’ll still be there. Because I’m not likely to stop playing Metroidvania games entirely, I will still post the 250 character curator reviews as I play them. There will be no link to a more detailed review, however I will change the format to include Metroidvania fitness on the curator review.
Aka: “3 out of 5. Medium Fit. Great combat and atmosphere makes this an easy recommendation.”
Q: What’s going to happen to the YouTube channels?
A: The main channel will remain as-is. I may slowly work on videos I said I was going to do (i.e. Lost to Time, Metroid Fusion Story, The 150 Metroidvania Pokemon Rap, etc.) but there is no deadline. YouTube, however, is the most likely place you’ll see my long form reviews again in the future if I ever feel a burning need to make them.
I will be renaming the Let’s Play channel to “r/Metroidvania Podcast” and I’ll be moving all non-r/Metroidvania content over to the main channel at a pace of one a day. The new r/Metroidvania channel will then be handed over to Cauldrath and Master for maintenance.
Q: What’s happening to the Twitch Streams?
A: I will be holding one more stream on my Twitch channel, and I will be participating in the r/metroidvania podcast on Wednesday.
Wednesday October 20th, 7pm PST will be the r/metroidvania podcast. After this stream, the Podcast will continue with Cauldrath and Master and others, with new content continuing to upload onto the renamed let’s play channel. Below is the link to the new Twitch channel for those streams:
The final Saturday stream will be October 23 at 9am PST. It’ll be an AMA while we play more Hollow Knight. After that Saturday Streams are canceled. Please be sure to attend if you’re interested because I won’t be posting it to YouTube until all of the other Let’s Play content has been moved over.
Q: What is happening to The Metroidvania Review Discord server?
A: After about a week I will be locking all channels, but anyone with access will still be able to view any history there. If you want a great community to discuss Metroidvania games in, I highly encourage you to join the r/Metroidvania discord server: https://discord.gg/y5G5a4zDa9
Q: What are you going to do with the time you’d otherwise spend on the Metroidvania Review?
A: The first thing I’m going to do is take a long break from anything that isn’t work or family. After that it’s catching up on everything I let slip while trying to grow the channel.
Q: Are you ever coming back?
A: There’s no such thing as never, at least not until the critical elements have already passed away.