Recent Metroidvanias 🐛

Friday, January 18, 2019 :: Tagged under: games culture. ⏰ 5 minutes.

Hey! Thanks for reading! Just a reminder that I wrote this some years ago, and may have much more complicated feelings about this topic than I did when I wrote it. Happy to elaborate, feel free to reach out to me! 😄

🎵 The song for this post is Bamboo Boogaloo II, by Rainbowdragoneyes, for the game The Messenger. 🎵

I frequently tell Karen: "On Earth-2, Pablo plays a ton of video games." While Twitter followers see screenshots of Celeste achievements and I've written about a years-long dedication to StarCraft, those two games account for 90% of what I've played in the last 8 years.

But growing up? Until I was about 15, I played video games all the time. I played Squaresoft RPGs for 10-12 hour stretches (beat Emerald Weapon but never beat Ruby), I beat Battletoads hover-bikes, and got blisters on my palm from Mario Party. There's a world where I never pulled back from this.

The reasons I pulled back are part of another post; but in December and January I played a few new ones and ended up loving them.

(I played all these on my PC with a Dual Shock 2 controller, but most of my friends would probably have an easier time finding these games on the PS4 or Switch, since almost nobody I know has a gaming PC, and those that do don't use gamepads 😛)


Timespinner is a big, sloppy kiss to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, so of course I love it. There's no single game for which I can say "favorite of all time," but when people ask I say SOTN.

SOTN has everything: over-the-top theatrics (listen to the voice acting, or just look at the game's art), one of the most beautiful 2D single-player console games, puzzles and curiosities in places where it doesn't make sense (e.g. Shield Rod mechanics, sitting in chairs, the sequence in the confessional booth), a gorgeous soundtrack, and an entire hidden second game: being released before the Internet was so ingrained in our gaming habits, it was entirely possible to play it and miss the second castle. Leigh Alexander wrote a tribute that articulates much of its romance. Also, watch someone play it blindfolded!

So it's hard to play Timespinner and not think of SOTN: the title placards when you enter a new level, the gameplay mechanics (backdashes, RPG leveling, familiars, spells), even the music can be similar (listen to the motifs in this from SOTN and this from Timespinner). And it feels great. When I was learning programming in college, I wanted to make a game like this, I'm so glad someone else made it so much better than I could have.

The story is a lot richer than SOTN's, dealing with issues of colonialism, causality, vengeance, and progress. The cast is also very 2018, with much better representation than AAA commercial games (the only identifiably straight man in this universe is the power-hungry imperialist who kills your mother. The jerk from your village is probably also a straight man but they don't delve into his identity much, and even he gets Deep Relatable Reasons why he's a jerk). There's a "coming out" scene that I found pretty adorable, and most of the powerful figures are women.

(to be absolutely clear: I appreciated all of ☝️)

I cut through it all in about 7 or 8 hours; something I've always said about jazz solos is that it's much better to be left wanting more than thinking they went on a little too long. This game was delightful fun, and I was left wanting. I just started Nightmare mode, it's pretty damn hard 😅

Another noteworthy thing about this game: finishing projects! It's hard! I feel like they really polished the edges of this, but the Kickstarter for this ended in 2014 and it was just released in 2018. Meanwhile, Ritual of the Night continues to not specify a release date, which was "2018" for a while. Games are hard to make well; when you're playing one, try to appreciate that labor.

The Messenger

The Messenger is a game I couldn't put down, nor can I always say I was strictly having fun the whole time I played it. Its aesthetics are absolutely delightful: many indie games have twee self-aware writing, and this is among my favorite. The homages in its soundtrack and graphics to earlier generations of games are also pretty stellar. I can't say I played much Shinobi or Ninja Gaiden or Strider (the closest thing was Mega Man Zero 2 for the GBA) but this makes me wish I had.

Unlike Timespinner, its cast and story are a lot more contained. Not to say they're weak, but the game is always very well aware it's a goofy pixelated game awash in tropes and motifs. The shopkeeper, Quarble, and bosses are treasures. All told, I spent about 12-13 hours on this, because I'm a sucker and wanted to collect all the Power Seals. I don't know if it was worth it.

There were two elements of storytelling that I absolutely loved; if you played, guess which ones in the comments!

I cursed a lot when playing this game 😅. Here's a recent speedrun, if you're interested.

Hollow Knight

I'm about 9 hours into this, and it promises to be the biggest game of the three: watching the AGDQ speedrun, they say it takes most people 40 hours to play casually. I'm beside myself that it was mostly built by two people: the production values and sheer amount of game in there are huge.

The Knight and their needle are fun to pilot, especially when you unlock more movement mechanics. The bug world of Hallownest is beautifully rendered. The bosses are fun, inspiring, and pretty frightening. It's Goldilocks-hard.

Between all the other games I've played recently (the previous two, Celeste, and about 20 minutes of Battle Princess Madelyn), it's frankly pretty refreshing to play a 2D game without pixel art. The hottest take I have (which even I don't believe most of the time) is that 3D games were a Mistake and we should only make 2D games. Hollow Knight is just gorgeous.

I'll have more to say about it later; for right now it's the biggest reason I'm falling behind on some of my non-work goals 😎

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