It’s Hard to Make a Good Metroidvania

Prior to last Black Friday, I had quite good luck when it came to metroidvanias. I’d occasionally stumble onto one that was poorly made, like Carrion (which somehow gets awards, which I still don’t understand). I had recently gotten Death’s Gambit on sale, which made me wonder if there weren’t quite a few metroidvania games that were on sale and going under my radar. Perhaps there was this hidden trove of great games just waiting to be discovered.

So on Black Friday, I put in “metroidvania” in the search bar, and proceeded to look through nearly all the games. For many of them I compared reviews or looked around at some feedback or videos to see how they were received. In the end, I still ended up buying no less than eight metroidvania games at that time.

Most of them sucked.

So rather than spend a few months with varying degrees of “this is a bad metroidvania; don’t buy it,” I instead opted to do a series of rapid-fire, short reviews detailing several metroidvanias that fell short of the mark in ways both substantial and minor.

Ghost 1.0

I actually beat this one, which I can’t say for every entry that’s going to appear on this list (some of these are bad). This game started incredibly strongly. The spritework is amazingly detailed and full of life, and the writing is right there with it. The various characters involved all feel like real actual people with real actual goals. Part of what the makers of this game are trying to sell it on is its mature story that doesn’t actually involve saving the world, but instead infiltrating a space station and causing trouble. It actually fulfills that for the most part.

Shame there are a couple of sections that are so bad they bring the game crashing down.

The first is this strange shift near the end. To rescue one of your hacker friends from custody, you have to elect to leave behind the super-upgraded robot body you’ve been using and instead jump from body to body and infiltrate a building. I understand the concept, but it’s a really bad move to remove all of your abilities so close to the end of the game. To make matters worse, there’s a boss they expect you to beat with junky robots.

As if that weren’t enough, the final “boss” is one of the worst I’ve ever seen. Instead of a really cool enemy, it’s a swarm of nearly every enemy you’ve fought the entire game. What particularly sucks is that when you die, the fight still goes on, and you have to use your walkback (the time it takes you to get back to where you died from your last checkpoint) in this rush to save yourself. It’s bad game design, and the game was already sliding downhill. I’ve also seen several reviewers claim the bosses got gradually worse, but I’m not quite of the same mind.

It’s annoying: this had the potential to be a game I’d remember fondly and be one of the best I’ve played, but poor decisions in the eleventh hour of gameplay sank it.

3

Overlord: Escape from Nobody Cares

This is another metroidvania based off an older fantasy anime. It follows the character of Clementine, who seems to be some sort of villainous rogue type? She’s lost her memories and is being put through the titular dungeon in order to test it for a conniving mage or something. The story is nearly incomprehensible, which happens with games like this. I don’t know if it’s based on the anime or what.

The controls are pretty good and it’s clear they’re borrowing some from Symphony of the Night. The issue is that this is barely a metroidvania. You can technically go back to areas you’ve already cleared, but it’s not to discover new areas so much as its to get a few optional powerups.

Did I say optional? If you want to get the “good” ending you have to find all the “lost memories” that are scattered throughout the dungeon. This wouldn’t be so bad if there was any incentive beyond that ending. Each memory grants you a badly formatted cell from the anime, like this is a Playstation era game and I can’t just Google to look things up. They seem randomly selected to. So, yeah, I could’ve wasted my time going through and finding them, but why would I?

The gameplay is dirt average. Clementine controls okay. The fights are brisk enough, though I only had some minor issues with the first boss, and that was mostly because I went just a little too reckless. They give you so much of the material needed to upgrade your weapons that I upgraded every single weapon Clementine had and still was walking around with thousands of whatever they called it in my bank. I’d get a new weapon and could instantly max-level it without even sweating.

The movement had some interesting ideas built into it. Clementine gains the ability to run up walls if you go at a certain speed, which is kind of fun. But it also relies on this stupid hookshot chain to wall climb and to go across ceilings, which annoyed me to no end.

Again, the game wasn’t bad; it’s just a little below average.

4

Ghost Song

This one was actually on my radar, because it has this beautiful handpainted look with clear Hollow Knight inspiration. It follows the story of a Deadsuit, which is apparently a spacesuit that has picked up either a human inside that can’t be seen or an AI that is operating it when it shouldn’t be able to (they don’t clarify until the end, and I didn’t beat this one, though there is a tentative “yet” attached to that). You wake up with no idea of who you are or where you are, and you try to piece things together as the Deadsuit does.

They do this remarkable job making the Deadsuit innocent while still determined. The character becomes more confidant as you grow in power and start to accomplish things, and I liked that I had to find out the story alongside the protagonist. Deadsuit encounters a crashed ship and decides to help them get the parts they need to get out of there. She communes with the various characters, including the ship’s AI Gambler and an android. These offer some fascinating conversations as the characters grow.

The battles are a little on the tough side, and its clear this is trying to be a soulslike metroidvania. I found some frustrating, but they were rarely frustrating in an unfair way. It always felt like I needed to power up more or figure something out.

No, the issue is in the walkback.

Remember that? Mentioned it a few reviews ago? It’s the time it takes to get from your checkpoint to wherever you body died. Lots of soulslike games also like to take the experience you earned and leave it attached to your body where you died, forcing you to get it. Ghost Song is no exception.

The issue is that the walkback is often extreme. I spent probably a third of my 9 hours with the game walking back to where I died. This meant I lost my experience no less than three times, counting for something like 6,000 of the points lost. This wasn’t due to my foolishness or lack of ability, but simply because the walkbacks are that long. And that includes for some boss areas! You shouldn’t need to spend so much time retracing steps.

To top that off, whenever you find a part the ship needs, the game mandates that you walk it all the way back to the ship. No fast travel. Why? Because whoever made this were sadists; that’s why. It’s such a glaring error that it made me rage quit not only this game, but all games for the evening. I watched Batman Forever instead.

That’s right, this game was so bad I watched the worst of the Batman movies.

4

Dandara

I’ll be honest: I don’t think I gave this game enough of a shot yet. It was on my list at one point as it looked interesting, much like many of the metroidvanias I like. However, its gimmick is just… annoying.

You can’t walk; the only way you can move is by jumping/shooting yourself from location to location. It’s supposed to be novel, but it’s novel in the same way that the pinball mechanic from Yoku’s Island Express is: it feels novel just to be novel. I couldn’t adapt to it, not even from the first few levels, and its particularly tedious with how I play these games. I may go back and give it a bit more of a shot to see what’s there, but I don’t know.

4

A Robot Named Fight

This game really isn’t for me and I honestly just flat out shouldn’t have bought it. It actually seems pretty polished, with this interesting idea. You control a series of robots that are fighting against the flesh based eldritch abominations that are invading their world. Your goal is to become Fight enough to take them out, and you do so via a series of runs.

The game controls and feels exactly like a Metroid game. I don’t mean that it feels inspired by one; I mean this feels like I’m playing a rom hack of Super Metroid. Fight moves, shoots, and controls exactly like Samus, to such a point that I actually marvel that the creators weren’t sued. This is literally Metroid, but as a rogue-like, fighting against flesh monsters. It’s an interesting concept with some decent polish, but it’s so not a game I’m interested in (which probably sounds odd given that I dumped over a hundred hours into a rogue-like and have praised Hades, but there you go).

6 (this one just wasn’t for me, personally; I could see why someone would like it and it may be worth checking out if you’re into bloody games and/or those that borrow heavily from Metroid)

The Bounty Huntress

I’m not convinced this game wasn’t made by children. Its graphics are incredibly simple and janky, the portraits really look like something a well-meaning middle-schooler would draw, and it lacks any and all polish. It looks, feels, and plays like it’s the final project of a group of teens who put it together for some sort of game making class.

It’s just… rough. It really doesn’t feel like it fully got finished. What was the main killer for me is that I played it for almost an hour to get a feel, decided I’d rather see what the other metroidvanias had to offer, and when I came back, it had reset my progress (this happened to me with La-Mulana too, but at least that game was upfront about being a jerk).

They only want $5 for it full price, but it’s just so unfinished that it’s just not worth paying or playing.

2

Redo

This is another game that just feels unpolished. You control a female survivor who wants to explore to see if anyone else has survived. She moves at a snail’s pace throughout the world, attacking even slower. I didn’t have the patience to even deal with it for more than about thirty minutes. I can’t foresee myself going back to play something this janky when I could just boot up Hollow Knight, or, heck, even some of the other games on this list again.

2

Haak

…wait a second. This game has polished graphics! There’s a somewhat interesting story! It actually dumped over 20 hours into it! This is… this is a good game! It doesn’t belong on this list, despite being with the others! Sure, it’s not the most amazing, groundbreaking game, but it’s at least interesting enough to warrant its own review.

Don’t know if I’ll get to it next week though, Chained Echoes is sitting there waiting for my attention, and I did Kickstart that one. Guess we’ll have to see, hmm?

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