If there's one thing I should have learned after being into video games for as long as I have, it's that nature abhors a vacuum. Even after watching countless genres swing out of and back into fashion over time, I still sometimes find myself lamenting the lack of games of a certain type during the quiet periods. After seeing Castlevania leave the hands of Koji Igarashi and Nintendo seemingly giving up on Metroid for the moment after the disappointing reception to Other M, I grumbled about the seemingly dim future of the Metroidvania sub-genre. Looking around today, I clearly needn't have worried. After all, there are more people making games than ever, and more games being released than ever, so any holes left by the big players are likely to get filled by smaller developers looking for a niche. Especially so if said hole is a genre near and dear to the hearts of many gamers-turned-developers, the way Metroidvanias seem to be.
My doubt came largely from how difficult it is to make a good, satisfying game in this genre. It wasn't an unwarranted doubt, either. While I've been lucky enough to play plenty of games that technically qualify for the genre label, the overwhelming majority of them have come up short in some way or another. Sometimes they're a little too brief and simple to let their concepts flourish. Other games nail the length but don't hit the pacing well. Some, while checking the boxes for the genre, just don't feel much like that intangible experience I'm looking for at all. No game is easy to make, but the more freedom you give a player, the more unexpected contingencies can arise. In a game that functions primarily as a sandbox, that's usually a positive outcome so long as nothing breaks completely. But Metroidvanias aren't sandboxes, generally speaking. They're less like a crate of LEGO bricks and more like a model kit, intended to give you the feeling of an open world where you can go anywhere as opposed to the real deal. Due to that illusion, pl...