Mini Reviews From My Metroidvania Binge

Yup. I’m back on my blog writing about Metroidvanias… again….

I’ve been trying to fill the Hollow Knight shaped hole in my heart and I’m only partially joking when I say that. Also, I got my hands on a copy of Circle of the Moon. Also, I am trash and a hopeless addict.

This list is vaguely organized from favorite to least favorite so you don’t have to read through this entire post if you just want to get to the “good stuff”, but TL;DR:

  • Ori and the Blind Forest
  • Metroid: Zero Mission
  • Metroid Fusion, Timespinner
  • SteamWorld Dig 2
  • Castlevania: Circle of the Moon

Expect to see a lot of maps.

Ori and the Blind Forest

This is a game that’s hyped up as one of the best modern Metroidvanias and it’s also been recommended to me a lot. Somehow, I still managed to avoid any and all spoilers about the game, so I went into it with zero knowledge but infinite hype. The game still blew me away. I find that games with large amounts of hype also end up going through an excessive amount of scrutiny, probably because people expect it to be either perfect or overrated, and I’m not completely immune to that either. I’m still happily surprised as to how this game managed to exceed my expectations.

I think what makes Ori a great game is that it was really satisfying to play in regards to both gameplay and in presentation.

Ori controls very fluidly. The controls are responsive and traversing through the world felt very fast and easy. Almost all of the Metroidvania upgrades involve extending Ori’s movement capabilities and towards the end of the game, there were points in which I felt like I was seamlessly floating and bouncing my way through rooms. I played the Definitive Edition which adds a dash ability that added even more movement options to my repertoire.

The game definitely has some pretty rough platforming challenges at points, but the save system makes death very forgiving. You can save almost anywhere as long as you have energy to expend, so I could usually save before anything difficult. If you die, it immediately pops you back at your save point. I’m personally someone that gets annoyed when games require you to redo a lot of stuff if you die, so I liked this a lot.

I also really loved the general presentation of the game. The story is simple, but it’s told in way that reminded me of storybooks or picture books, and I think it’s generally good at evoking emotions. It’s simple, but heartwarming. The soundtrack, which is absolutely stunning, also helps bolster each scene. When I did the first escape sequence and the music started playing, I think that was the moment I really fell in love with the game. I must have died dozens of times on each escape sequence but whenever I completed them, it felt exhilarating.

Metroid Zero Mission

Out of the three Metroid games I’ve played, I think Metroid Zero Mission is my favorite. It feels more fluid and less floaty than Super Metroid, and it’s not as linear as Metroid Fusion. I’ve seen people criticize it for being too hand-holdy but I didn’t find it an issue, but that’s something I think I’ll write in tandem with Metroid Fusion further down.

I thought it was a solid follow-up to the Super Metroid formula. The map is smaller, but it’s still concise and fun to explore. I didn’t get annoyed with backtracking at any point, which is something I had an issue with in Super Metroid. I don’t think there’s anything especially innovative about this game, but it feels pretty polished. I’m not actually sure what else to write here because of that. To be honest, I don’t know how to best describe why I liked it, but it was just really enjoyable.

Unfortunately, it fell a bit flat at the tail end. I did not enjoy the Mother Brain fight because it was just annoying and not very fun, and I really disliked the actual “Zero Mission” part of the game where you play as Zero Suit Samus. One of my biggest gaming pet peeves is when non-stealth games have forced stealth missions. All your abilities are taken away and it’s very linear. The game isn’t really a Metroidvania at that point. Though, I did like the two bosses at the end of the Zero Mission.

If the game progression was “open the gate” -> “second to last boss” -> “true final boss” as opposed to “open the gate” -> “mother brain” -> “stealth” -> “second to last boss” -> “true final boss”, I would have loved that.

Metroid Fusion

First of all, I want to say that Metroid Fusion easily has my favorite boss fights in the series. Nightmare was a legitimately a creepy and disconcerting boss, especially for GBA graphics, and when I managed to beat him, I only had 3 HP left (I took a picture of it because I think that’s the closest to death I’ve ever been when winning a boss fight). The first boss in the final sequence of the game is my favorite fight, but I also happen to absolutely adore fights where you get to “fight someone your own size”, a la Hornet, the Belmonts, Lady Butterfly, etc.

The controls felt better than in Zero Mission, but I wasn’t sure if it was actually better or if it was because I had gotten used to it. For upgrades, after three Metroid games, all of them were really predictable and not very exciting. In terms of the map, the different areas are somewhat interconnected, but for the most part they’re fairly discrete. I wasn’t a huge fan of the map at first, but by the end I was at the very least “okay” with it.

I mentioned that I didn’t think Metroid: Zero Mission was too hand-holdy, which might be a hot take, but I realized why I felt that way when I played Fusion. Fusion is undeniably handhold-y. At the beginning of every area, you talk to the computer at the navigation room and they tell you what you need to do and where to do it, and then give you a partial map. Zero Mission does have both quest markers and maps as well, but in order to get the quest marker, you need to find a chozo statue and to get the map you need to find a map room. In that sense, it’s more integrated with the gameplay. There’s a feeling of “I found the map room so I have the map” rather than “the computer told me to do something and gave me a map”. Also in Zero Mission you can speculate on what you’ll find when you get there, but in Fusion it’s like “you need to go to the data room to get super missiles.”

This is going to sound really silly and petty, but I wasn’t a huge fan of the story because I felt really weird seeing Samus, one of the best bounty hunters in the galaxy, being called “Lady” and enjoying it.

Timespinner

Timespinner is a game that I actually enjoyed a lot, but it has some glaring flaws.

Firstly, this game is probably the second biggest Castlevania ripoff I’ve ever seen (though I practically consider Bloodstained to be an extension of Castlevania at this point). The UI is basically the same. The combat and gameplay are similar. The OST sounds like a Castlevania OST (which means it sounds amazing). As a bona-fide fangirl, I enjoyed it a lot, but I can 100% see why someone would consider it a con of the game.

I liked the time mechanic. The time stop ability was fun to use during certain bosses, and it also made backtracking easier. I also really liked seeing the maps change between the past and future. I thought it was really cute how the bowmen are replaced with palette swap gunmen. However, a lot of people have mentioned that the time aspect felt really under utilized and not well developed and I’d have to agree. There’s a part where you burn down vines in the past and they’re gone in the future… but that concept is only ever used twice.

I would say that the bosses were decently interesting and fun to fight. The game is definitely on the easier side if that’s an issue, but I don’t really care about that very much.

I’m not a huge fan of the map design. It’s extremely horizontal, and it makes the game feel fairly linear at points and the different areas of the game are only vaguely interconnected. It’s a really odd design choice.

I really disliked the presentation of the story, because it involves collecting documents and memories throughout the world that are just large text dumps. The game does a lot of telling, and very little showing. It’s not very integrated with the gameplay.

SteamWorld Dig 2

This is definitely the most unconventional of the games here. This game was pretty refreshing to play and I enjoyed exploring its mechanics and getting new unique upgrades. This game has a lot of charm and the art and world are lively and colorful.

The different areas of the game aren’t connected to each other at all, which makes me feel like it’s not much of a Metroidvania, but at this point, I don’t even know what a Metroidvania is anymore. Each area is fairly distinct and pretty interesting to explore though. I liked how I got to craft the world in some sense by digging out my paths and routes.

Unfortunately, I found SteamWorld to be a bit of a slog after playing for a while. The exploration was cool, but often you’re just digging downwards. I feel like I was constantly teleporting back to town, talking to the merchant, and then teleporting back, which was sort of annoying. There’s a lot of isolated platforming challenges that reward you with gears or other items used for upgrading, and they were alright, but I didn’t care too much for them. The controls for platforming were also alright. There’s less combat than platforming, but I found combat to be super awkward and I didn’t enjoy the final boss fight very much either.

SteamWorld Dig is a game with a lot of praise, but I don’t think it was for me.

Castlevania: Circle of the Moon

Okay I’m not gonna lie, it pains me a lot to put this game at the bottom and to admit that this is the only one I couldn’t complete. I don’t think it’s aged very well at all.

The controls feel super awkward. It’s hard to describe through text, but basically you double tap on the d-pad to run, which is pretty much a strict requirement at all times because Nathan’s walking speed is so slow that it’s impossible to maneuver. He can jump pretty high, but has practically no horizontal movement unless you run. I’m not entirely sure how else to describe it.

For me, the controls were awkward enough to make the game feel like a chore. The mid-game bosses were more frustrating than fun. Traversal also felt exceptionally tedious. I spent some time thinking about why that was and I think it comes down to several things other than just the controls. Maybe it’s just me but I noticed that the map felt really claustrophobic, which doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but it makes it hard to navigate. Compare Circle of the Moon’s map to Symphony of the Night.

There’s not much to orient yourself on, so in my mind the whole map in CotM is just all blurred together. Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow, another game on the GBA, had a denser map as well, likely because of technological limitations, but there’s more distinct elements to it. There’s also more warp points which helps a lot with the tedium in backtracking.

The RPG elements are really strange. The only items you find lying around in the castle are raw HP/MP boosts and Metroidvania upgrades. There’s no store. This means that all the equipment, accessories, and potions are only obtained via random drop. It makes it feel really tacked on just to make the game more like Symphony of the Night. According to some posts on the internet, the game can get a bit grindy when trying to get card drops, but I didn’t do any grinding and thus had only about five cards, which is maybe why I struggled so much mid-game.

The music and atmosphere is classic Castlevania, and it follows the core Metroidvania gameplay loop well.

Anyway, I feel like I’ve rambled long enough, so I’m going to stop here. Maybe now I should play some games from other genres šŸ˜›

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