Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night were so well-designed and so influential on game design going forward that an entire subgenre was named after them. Describing a game with the portmanteau “metroidvania” suggests very specific things about it. The game will have a labyrinthine world map that requires key items and backtracking to fully explore. Leveling up your character with permanent upgrades like a more traditional RPG will occur in some fashion. There will also be a significant element of exploration and an open approach to how you interact with the world around you. A list full of good things, of course.
Metroidvanias became the belle of the indie ball somewhere in the mid 2000s and has been a staple of grassroots game development ever since. That said, August 2018 seems to be particularly thick with games that fit this mold. Augustvania is upon us, and it’s full of great games that might be hard to differentiate at first blush. So let this little guide help you find what makes each of these new releases special.
Release Date: July 31st
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4, PS VITA
Six years in the making, Kickstarter darling Chasm finally opened for business in late July.
As a metroidvania, it possesses everything we’ve come to expect from the genre, but the twist here is that Chasm’s maps are procedurally generated. Each room is hand crafted though, so the algorithm really determines their arrangement, more than what’s in them. As a knight honor bound to bring order back to your fallen kingdom, you delve into the depths of an abandoned mining town and sort out the baddies within its depths. The charming art and well paced combat helps it feel different enough from a smattering of games that will share its basic formula this month.
Salt and Sanctuary
Release Date: August 2nd
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Salt and Sanctuary debuted on PlayStation 4 and PC in 2016, was ported to the PlayStation Vita in 2017, and finally made its way to the Nintendo Switch earlier this month. On top of taking the big picture concepts signature to metroidvanias, Salt and Sanctuary also takes heavy influence from Dark Souls. Combat is slow and deliberate, and playing defensively is the best way to succeed. Character progression requires transactions of a currency that you gain from killing monsters (and can lose upon death). Weapons scale with stats at different degrees. If you played a FromSoftware game this decade, you’ll recognize this.
Where it deviates is how it integrates platforming and adventure with its ambient story telling, and creates a mood that is resonant and somber. It’s an existential horror game that turns its lore regarding old and bitter gods into clever gameplay hooks. Without being on your toes constantly, death can find you around every corner. It’s both accurate and completely unfair to hold Salt and Sanctuary under the shadow of Hidetaka Miyazaki.
Release Date: August 7th
Platform: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
When Motion Twin slid this out on Early Access in 2017, there was instantaneous hype. It was one of those indie games that just seemed to have that “it” factor – the evocative art direction, the catchy and engaging combat loop, the beguiling level designs. Everything about Dead Cells screamed “Yes please!”
Now, more than a year later, it officially launched on consoles and the final build is everything you could have hoped from the game and more. Procedurally-generated maps keeps each run feeling fresh and the rogue-like perma death gives each death stakes. But collecting special items that open modes or traversal, or increasing your pool of potential weapons to find during an adventure helps keep a steady sense of progression. Fast-paced combat with against a horde of clever enemies keeps you coming back for more.
Release Date: August 14th
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4
If Salt and Sanctuary is Dark Souls with it’s more patient, plodding pace, Death’s Gambit is Bloodborne, with outlandish style and movements that make combat a sight to behold.
Adult Swim Games and White Rabbit take the 2D side-scrolling adventure game we know, and tweak everything they can about it. Like any good Souls game, death is just a marker of progression, but you can choose to forgo that and invoke rules of permadeath. The world is big and expansive, full of things to see and secrets to discover, but it’s very non-linear too, so you can take it at your own stride. Your main character can choose one of seven different classes, but they are not restricted in their choice of weapon. Monsters you’ve slain can come back to life and even challenge you to a rematch! Death’s Gambit is an incredibly new take on a genre that has be around for decades.
Release Date: August 21st
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4
A five-year-old sequel to a game already considered a classic by many, Guacamelee 2 hopes to recapture the incredible charm and wit of the first, but upping the ante on the action.
What that means for Guacamelee 2 is four player co-op. Allies can drop in and out anytime and lay the spicy smackdown on your enemies as a unit. The directional combat is back, and is still full of clever and kinetic combos for you and your fellow luchas to employ. This time around, skill trees allow you to develop and personalize your lucha even further. New to the game are environmental interactables like the Eagle markers, which allow you to Eagle Boost through them, greatly extending your air dashes. Levels themselves are more dynamic, and will move around and throw hazards your way in a bullet hell fashion. Pollo Power is back soon, and we can’t wait to take it for a spin.
BONUS: Hollow Knight
Release Date: June 12th
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Alright, so it was released on Switch long before August (and debuted originally long before that) but Hollow Knight is an absolute must play for folks who love the metroidvania-style.
As a lone knight, you’re tasked with exploring the underground kingdom of bugs that has fallen on hard times. The further you push, the stranger the findings, and the more twisted the truth becomes. Combat is super simple but every creature that wants to kill you absolutely will if you aren’t careful. The NPCs have a dark whimsy in a Tim Burton sort of way, which makes them both creepy and endearing. It’s challenging, rewarding, and engrossing. You will lose dozens of hours before you recognize that it has its spindly little hooks in you.