I felt like making an article about this because right now I'm kind of on a Metroidvania kick. I spent a weekend playing through most of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and since then have been trying to find other Castlevania games to play to sate my hunger for moar of that kind of gameplay.
The next game I ended up playing was Circle of the Moon for the Gameboy Advance, and it seemed promising from what I read about it. RPG stats that allow a little customization? check. Sprawling game world with paths unlocking as I collect abilities and equipment? check. Card system that allows me to use a bunch of different magical effects to bolster my character? Didn't see that one coming, but hell, why not!
...It was disappointing. MAN, was it disappointing.
Boring enemies, boring settings, boring power-ups, even the card system was less substantial than I thought it would be. The only interesting part was the bosses, but those just ended up being frustrating because the rest of the game was such a chore to go through, and losing to those bosses just meant trudging through more of the crappy parts of the game to be prepared enough to beat them. I didn't get it, it was using the EXACT same formula that Symphony of the Night used (it even tried doing new things with the inclusion of the card system), but it just felt BORING in comparison. Why?
The answer came to me when I started thinking back on a video that was made by a guy called Egoraptor in a series he dubbed Sequelitis. In the video in question, the guy analyzes the differences between Castlevania 1 and 2 for the NES. I know, why am I thinking of a video about NES Castlevania games when I'm talking about more modern ones with completely different gameplay styles?
Well, because between the two older games, Castlevania 2 actually has a some key similarities with the Metroidvania games: it had a sprawling overworld that you could explore through, but some areas were blocked off until you acquired certain items or abilities, just like in Symphony of the Night. However, Egoraptor spends most of the video criticizing Castlevania 2 for boring enemy placement, bad color pallettes and frustrating or pointless gameplay elements like farming up the game's currency for items, among other things.
And then near the end of the video, he has this to say:
I found this interesting because he was basically saying that the Metroidvania formula at its core was based around padding game time by adding grinding and roadblocks to the classic Castlevania standard. And to a point, he's right: some of the bosses I encountered in SotN and Circle of the Moon were difficult more because I just wasn't doing enough damage and had to spend a little more time exploring and gearing up before fighting them, and some of the abilities in Circle of the Moon felt like blatant excuses to make it take longer to progress through the game while adding nothing extra to how you fought or explored otherwise.Egoraptor wrote:Castlevania Two's cheap lastability is easily identifiable because it falls flat in so many areas (AKA IT SUCKS), but the more recent Castlevanias have been using the exact same tactics that I've been complaining about: you do a lot of running around, you level up your strength, you have to get items in order to move forward, but these games get unreal praise. Why is that?
It would be because they use design choices that complement all the [censored] boringness: leveling up feels good because of all those sparkly sounds and colors, it feels good to hit enemies, running around is fast and jumping around is fun, you get a lot of power-ups that change how you play the game a little bit at a time. You get small rewards frequently, it's just very fast-paced and feels very conducive to mindlessley running around, because you weren't constantly hindered by this (Castlevania Two's) choppy platforming and slow whipping. But are you getting anything more out of it than when you're playing Simon's Quest with like a walkthrough? Do you feel like you're legitimately beating a hard boss or an enemy by grinding for a while and getting the best sword and then wailing on him until he falls? Are you getting any sense of genuine satisfaction from having to run back and forth through places you've already been in order to get something that allows you to move forward more easily? Or do you still feel the most satisfied when you use your wicked cunning to get around these super-perilous obstacles? (Castlevania 1)
But then there's that part about design choices: the feel of combat, of leveling up, of running around the areas. All of that felt awesome in Symphony of the Night because the areas were detailed, the enemies were widely varied and morbidly interesting, and as you progressed you acquired abilities that not only allowed you better freedom of movement but even some that helped in combat situations or when you needed to retrace through certain parts of the castle. To me, Circle of the Moon had NONE of that, and this was after playing through 50% of the game according to the game itself.
TL;DR: After loving the hell out of one Metroidvania-style game and absolutely hating another, I wanted to analyze the formula for such a style of gameplay and look at what made the first one so fun. After looking at commentary from a popular youtuber and his video, I came to realize that it's part design, part dressing: the feel of the game and its tools that the player uses can really make or break the sprawling adventure that a Metroidvania can be. It was done fantastically in Symphony of the Night, but in terms of Circle of the Moon it made it feel more like a chore.
...The only thing is that Circle of the Moon definitely did bosses better. If SotN had those kinds of bosses, it'd be the best game ever in my book.
What do you guys think? What're your opinions on Metroidvania-style games?