“It’s at odds with the language we use to talk about video game genre.”
July 2, 2019 12:39 PM   Subscribe

Stop Calling Games 'Metroidvania' [Kotaku] “Let’s talk about one of my least favorite words in the video game lexicon: metroidvania [wiki]. A portmanteau combining the video game titles Metroid and Castlevania, it takes two made-up video game titles that are pretty cool and evocative on their own and inelegantly mashes them into something worse. And now, that word is one we use to talk about a whole genre of incredible video games. Let us count the ways the word is a disaster. Aesthetically, it’s miserable and inefficient, five syllables in the mouth and rakish in the ear.”

• Metroidvania [TV Tropes]
“A subtype of the Action-Adventure genre, usually with Platform Game elements, Metroidvania refers to any game containing the major gameplay concepts shared by the Metroid series and later Castlevania games.”
• Castlevania: Symphony of the Night: How it created the Metroidvania and changed 2D gaming forever [GamesRadar+]
“Of course, now we have a very simple, if not particularly elegant, word for describing this style of world design: Metroidvania. We're actually not a massive fan of this portmanteau, although we can’t deny that it has proven to be a useful shorthand for games that have since been influenced by Super Metroid and this Castlevania release in particular. Symphony of the Night was, of course, itself taking some of the Super Metroid formula and mixing it with its traditional 2D action template, but the addition of deeper character progression systems and upgrades was something new.”
• Characteristics and History of the Metroidvania Genre [Medium]
“Overall, Metroidvanias have had a fairly consistent set of characteristics since the games the sub-genre is named after were released. Even though there have been comparatively few industry games that fit the genre, it has had a wide influence, and many indie games continue to follow the mold set by the Metroid franchise and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. However, modern Metroidvanias seem to take more influence from Super Metroid than the earlier Metroid games, having more sections of linearity and usually including some sort of map or navigational tool, features that were absent from the original Metroid and its immediate sequel.”
• The enduring influence of Metroid [The Verge]
“Perhaps the biggest game to come from the mold of Metroid is 1997’s Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. With that release, director Koji Igarashi invigorated the long-running gothic action series by introducing a Metroid-like structure, in which players were forced to navigate a massive castle, unlocking new abilities to open up more areas to explore. Its impact was so profound that the style of game has since been dubbed “Metroidvania,” in honor of its two most significant progenitors. Igarashi followed Symphony of the Night with a handful of other similarly structured Castlevania games, and has even returned to the genre again with his upcoming game Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. [...] The question is where the genre goes from here. For a long time, fans yearned for “Metroidvanias” largely because so few were actually being made. That’s no longer the case. Plenty of talented indie creators have stepped in to fill the void, and now even Nintendo has returned to the franchise with Samus Returns, as well the upcoming Metroid Prime 4 on the Nintendo Switch. Parish believes that for the genre to continue to grow, it needs to continue to approach the concept with fresh ideas. “We need more games that use Super Metroid as a jumping-off point, not as a rigid template,” he explains. For his part, Guldbog believes there’s still plenty of life in the “Metroidvania” format, even as it becomes increasingly crowded.”
posted by Fizz (67 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
RPS recently threw an elbow at the term "Metroidvania" too
I refuse to use that daft Metroidvania word: the Castlevania games, even the more Metroid-y ones, share very little DNA with the games that are apparently aping it.
posted by Nelson at 12:59 PM on July 2, 2019 [2 favorites]


A) Dawn of Sorrow is the best Castlevania title in the Metroidvania era and I will die on that hill.

B) Hollow Knight, y'all. Seriously. The bar has been raised for the genre and it's name is Hollow Knight.

C) By all means rename the genre, but it IS a genre and certainly feel free to be big mad that there has been a consistent watering-down of the term itself (see "roguelike") by bandwagon jumpers. Maybe it doesn't reflect the source material itself as well as you'd like, but the concepts contained therein owe their debt to those titles.
posted by radiosilents at 1:01 PM on July 2, 2019 [15 favorites]


This feels like the middle of an ongoing process, I think.
Before the "FPS" was the "Doomlike",
we've just recently gone from Spelunky being a Roguelike (for lack of a better term) or a Roguelike-like to the new "roguelite" (which still falls prey to the issues described in the primary article),
similarly "Smash-likes" became "Arena Fighters",
"DOTA clone" became "MOBA", etc.
"Battle Royales" mostly avoided this issue because it's referencing a book.

Near as I can tell, it's a pattern which can extend for decades, and goes until someone comes up with a better/catchier name and gets it to stick.

Which raises the question, "Metroidvania" is definitely a subgenre. So what's the "better name"?
posted by CrystalDave at 1:05 PM on July 2, 2019 [6 favorites]


No serious person would pronounce metroidvania as five syllables.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 1:05 PM on July 2, 2019 [2 favorites]


In British English it's actually pronounced "mevva"
posted by Greg Nog at 1:06 PM on July 2, 2019 [13 favorites]


"Exploration-based platformer"?
posted by SansPoint at 1:07 PM on July 2, 2019 [1 favorite]


"B) Hollow Knight, y'all. Seriously. The bar has been raised for the genre and it's name is Hollow Knight. "

I've seen this a lot and I played it, I think I beat it but was still going back to do like all the secret/extra stuff and whatnot. I remember liking it a lot, and another game very similar had come out not too long before it that I also thought was fantastic but got overshadowed by Hollow Knight. Would you mind elaborating a tiny bit on why that game in particular is so elevated? This isn't an attempt to deny that it's great, I simply do not remember the specifics of why it was good relative to the average in the loose genre.
posted by GoblinHoney at 1:09 PM on July 2, 2019 [2 favorites]


>Let us count the ways the word is a disaster.

I guess when you complain about stuff for a living it's exciting to find something that's never been complained about?

Hollow Knight is a masterpiece of Weird Lore IMO. It's nicely tuned and nicely designed, but the hints at the, uh, cavernous backstory, the cuteness of it and yet at the same time the alien-ness of it, how original it is, and how detailed... that's where I thought it really set itself apart.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 1:14 PM on July 2, 2019 [8 favorites]


GoblinHoney - the atmosphere is incredibly well conceived, the art is gorgeous, the control is tight, the map is fantastically designed (assuming you like being somewhat lost, and if you're playing a MV I assume you do), and the game does not hold your hand but does leave just enough hints to remind you that no matter where you are, you'll be back later once you get that (insert missing powerup here).

The pace is slow enough to give you time to become comfortable with a given area before hopping to the next and every new area introduces new challenges in such a smooth fashion that you almost immediately know if you're in a place you "shouldn't be" quite yet, but it also largely doesn't actually stop you from being there if you'd like to make a go of it.

It's really, really not breaking new ground... it's just "doing the things" exceptionally well. If someone asks if they should play it, my first and only question is "Do you like Metroidvanias?" because if you do it approaches perfection and if you don't it's definitely not going to change your mind. It's a crystalline refinement of the attributes associated with the style.
posted by radiosilents at 1:18 PM on July 2, 2019 [8 favorites]


Metroidvania-like, then
posted by Reyturner at 1:19 PM on July 2, 2019 [12 favorites]


I refuse to use that daft Metroidvania word: the Castlevania games, even the more Metroid-y ones, share very little DNA with the games that are apparently aping it.

Yeah, that's almost as bad as people using the term "DNA" to refer to shared elements and inspirations, instead of deoxyribonucleic acid!

But (more) seriously, what does it mean that they "share very little DNA?" They're both exploratory platformers that use upgrades as progression items, which is exactly what metroidvania means, no more or less. The term is useful because it neatly excludes everything else about those games, and so makes clear their few shared elements that apply to other games.

It's true that there are Castlevania games that aren't metroidvanias, I particularly enjoy them very much, but I'm not going to demand that people stop using a very useful term (assuming they don't just want to say "exploratory platformer that uses powerups as progression items") because of them.
posted by JHarris at 1:22 PM on July 2, 2019 [9 favorites]


What's next? All new games that feature a somewhat surprise female protagonist are called #metooid games? We are people. We build classifier models and some terms grow traction because they provide a simple enough explanation to identify similar characteristics in a game. At one point, all of these were pong, breakout and combat clones. Then somewhere in there we got space invaders , gallaga and even jump man and boulder dash style games. Impossible Mission predates Metroid - and definitely gives you that repeat room run (just with no guns).

Metroidvania does a disservice to some great games and over- promises some others - but at the core of those games, there are some similar characteristics.
posted by Nanukthedog at 1:24 PM on July 2, 2019 [1 favorite]


For me they're cartography simulators. One of my very favorite things in video games is to venture out into a formless void and leave a tidy little map behind me, which is part of why procedurally generated dungeons don't do as much for me. Dead Cells and Spelunky are great and an ephemeral map has a kinda poetic quality I guess, but it's not what I'm after. I don't feel like I've finished the journey because Mother Brain and Dracula blew up or whatever, I feel like I finished it when the inscrutable labyrinth was rendered familiar, and all the ways that were closed when I found them have become open. That's a really rewarding feeling that more or less only video games can provide.

And like, orienteering I guess? But there's bears out there! Did you hear about that guy in Russia? No thank you.
posted by Phobos the Space Potato at 1:25 PM on July 2, 2019 [20 favorites]


I've long since given up on genre terms having any sort of consistent taxonomical meaning. "FPS" is both used to describe any game involving a 3D world and shooting and first-person games that don't involve shooting. I'd be surprised if most fans of roguelikes have actually played Rogue, and don't get me started on verb-'em-ups.

That said, in casual usage, whatever the culture uses the most is the term that's going to be established. We still call things "films" for crying out loud. Video games in particular as a medium have a tough time with describing genre, which usually describe the aesthetic trappings of a piece, but here are primarily about mechanics.
posted by subocoyne at 1:25 PM on July 2, 2019 [2 favorites]


What's next? All new games that feature a somewhat surprise female protagonist are called #metooid games?

I... I like that!
posted by JHarris at 1:26 PM on July 2, 2019


Video game genres tend to be categories of interaction. They describe what you do in a video game at a glance. A first-person shooter puts a gun in a character’s hands and a camera where their eyes would be. A turn-based strategy game involves board game-style interactions in the service of a specific goal.

a roguelike is where you rogue, a Western-style RPG is where you roleplay Western-style, a clicker is where you click which is different from a point-and-click which is where you click after pointing... am I doing it right?

(being flip here but if what you want is a brand new cohesive video game taxonomy, you gotta get rid of way more than just "Metroidvania" & start from the bottom up)
posted by taquito sunrise at 1:36 PM on July 2, 2019 [4 favorites]


No serious person would pronounce metroidvania as five syllables.

yea, the Japanese would give it 8.



the word has utility, which is why someone coined it and it got used enough for someone to complain about now. What is the shorter collection of syllables to refer to 'a game with mechanics heavily featuring exploration and platforming where revisiting areas with new abilities results in novel ways to interact with the environment'?

(What's cute though is that Bloodstained is referred to as Iga-vania in press releases about that project. Which may be 5 syllables still for some people, but at least it's less to type.)
posted by rubah at 1:43 PM on July 2, 2019 [3 favorites]


"Action-Adventure" is five syllables and doesn't even really identify the subgenre.

"Meh-troid-vain-ya" is four syllables and immediately tells you what sort of game play you're getting.

Yeah, there's probably a better word out there, but it seems telling that no one's got a good suggestion.
posted by explosion at 2:03 PM on July 2, 2019 [3 favorites]


We should just call them all "Blaster Masters" instead.
posted by Uncle Ira at 2:10 PM on July 2, 2019 [8 favorites]


Goonies Twosies?
posted by prize bull octorok at 2:13 PM on July 2, 2019 [3 favorites]


Yeah, this author really punted by not trying to identify a good alternative.

What about JFEs? Jump, Fight, Explore!
posted by The Minotaur at 2:26 PM on July 2, 2019


It could've been worse.

We could've been calling them "Castleroids" this entire time.
posted by ShawnStruck at 2:26 PM on July 2, 2019 [21 favorites]


What about JFEs? Jump, Fight, Explore!

Pronounced "jiffies!" C'mon that's not bad.
posted by The Minotaur at 2:28 PM on July 2, 2019


I refuse to use that daft Metroidvania word

Zeldatwo is only three syllables.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 2:34 PM on July 2, 2019 [2 favorites]


We should just call them all "Blaster Masters" instead.

I believe the proper plural is "Blasters Master".
posted by Hamusutaa at 2:35 PM on July 2, 2019 [33 favorites]


What's next? We can't use the term "shmup" because some of them are side scrollers making "up" inaccurate? It's videogames.
posted by destructive cactus at 2:40 PM on July 2, 2019 [3 favorites]


After sitting here for a really inordinate time thinking about this, I am ready to make my pitch. Ahem.

"Vaniatroid"
posted by mrjohnmuller at 2:43 PM on July 2, 2019 [3 favorites]


My 5 cents on this are that when I tell people IRL that I like "Metroidvanias" (Hollow Knight is my favorite game of the last decade or so), nobody knows what I'm even talking about. Metroid and Castlevania mean nothing to many people. I can understand that. I never played any of those games growing up.
posted by fmoralesc at 2:47 PM on July 2, 2019


I would like to make my preference in this matter clear.
posted by Transylvania Metro Android Castle at 2:47 PM on July 2, 2019 [32 favorites]


"Metroidvania" is a lot better than "RPG" because if you don't know what metroidvania means, you will realize that and look it up and then you know what everyone is talking about. If you don't know what "Role Playing Game" means in a video game context, you might not realize that it is jargon and what you assume it probably means will be completely wrong.

Also the meaning of "metroidvania" is a lot more well-defined and less controversial than "RPG"

If you want to rail against a terrible video game genre name, "Walking Simulator" is still shuffling around, refusing to die.
posted by straight at 2:50 PM on July 2, 2019 [6 favorites]


Castrovanoid
posted by Copronymus at 2:54 PM on July 2, 2019 [2 favorites]


five syllables in the mouth and rakish in the ear

Metroidvania is one of those words that, for me, only exists in virtual space. I will never hear it from friends, neighbors, or anyone else who is in the same room with me. Only online and, almost always, only in game reviews. The thought of it being "rakish in the ear" is somewhat ridiculous because I can only barely imagine ever using the word myself. Would feel like worlds colliding, sorta, if I ever heard it out in the wild.

I don't have strong opinions on the word itself, but it is useful to me. It indicates games that I am bad at, and will never play, so the word gives me notice that I can skip the rest of the review and move on to the next article.
posted by Teegeeack AV Club Secretary at 2:55 PM on July 2, 2019 [2 favorites]


I'm guessing the dude complaining about it does video game podcasts.
posted by straight at 3:18 PM on July 2, 2019


Platformers are the cilantro of videogames.
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:19 PM on July 2, 2019 [2 favorites]


I had never thought the "up" in "shoot-'em-up might" refer to a vertically scrolling game specifically, I had thought it was descended from the "beat-'em-up" moniker used for Final Fight and the like. For myself, I think of the terms like this:

Shmup
-Scrolling Shmup (as opposed to single screen)
-- Vertical or Horizontally scrolling shmup (forced, linear scrolling, as oppose to free roaming)

Which doesn't even get into the fact that they're called STG's in Japan, and shmups in the West, generally. Or the "bullet hell" subgenre, which is a loose definition based on the number of projectiles on screen.

As we are seeing, the names are just gonna be not that descriptive. All these terms originated organically, from different groups of genre and subgenre enthusiasts, sometimes informed by other naming conventions, and sometimes in a void, and most often meant to be typed/read as opposed to spoken aloud. And when new gameplay genres and mechanics are created, popularized, and defined, the terms to name and describe them will always spread and be accepted faster than some governing body could become aware of them and name them according to some consistent naming convention.

I would love to have some kind of scientific notation for game mechanics, but I wouldn't trust anybody to be able to catalog all that in a useful manner.
posted by subocoyne at 3:20 PM on July 2, 2019 [5 favorites]


I'm guessing the dude complaining about it does video game podcasts.

if you see Taboola ads at the bottom it's generally not necessary to pretend the writer believes what they're writing.
posted by prize bull octorok at 3:25 PM on July 2, 2019 [6 favorites]


I would like to make my preference in this matter clear.
posted by Transylvania Metro Android Castle at 2:47 PM on July 2


ooooh can we call them T-Macs?
posted by taquito sunrise at 3:42 PM on July 2, 2019


Megamanics? Gooniekin?

The side-scrolling, platforming map exploration action rpg is its own distinct flavor and ‘metroidvania’ works as well as any other common label for that.
posted by snuffleupagus at 3:48 PM on July 2, 2019 [1 favorite]


2D Item-Gatekept Adventure.

Pronounced "twodigga".
posted by glonous keming at 4:14 PM on July 2, 2019


We could've been calling them "Castleroids" this entire time.

Castroids.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:38 PM on July 2, 2019 [3 favorites]


Platformers are the cilantro of videogames.

You said cilantro but you meant garlic.
posted by Fizz at 5:01 PM on July 2, 2019 [2 favorites]


Castlevania shows that you can have vampires in a platformer, though.
posted by straight at 5:07 PM on July 2, 2019 [3 favorites]


Java enterprise programmers, having adequate experience with awkward/verbose/ennui-inducing nomenclature, have shortened internationalization to i18n in an attempt to reclaim precious seconds of their wasted lives. Consequently I recommend m10a as the natural, elegant choice for the busy game industry professional.
posted by Ictus at 5:07 PM on July 2, 2019 [12 favorites]


I hate you all. Except JHarris, never JHarris.
posted by RolandOfEld at 5:11 PM on July 2, 2019 [4 favorites]


We should just call them all "Blaster Masters" instead.

I'm now tempted to call Star Trek Online a Blaster Master since a core principle of gameplay is that you're playing as either the vehicle or the person depending on where you need to go.

Plus, it will annoy anybody I talk to because blasters are a Star Wars thing.

... I guess what I'm saying is, if we're going to stop using terms like Metroidvania, it should only be to make the taxonomy worse because that's funnier than improving it.
posted by mordax at 5:43 PM on July 2, 2019 [5 favorites]


We can call the big ones Megalovanias and dance.
posted by straight at 6:11 PM on July 2, 2019 [1 favorite]


I personally like the term "Walking Simulator" because it was originally coined in mocking derision but ended up sticking as a relatively apt description. What's the alternative? "First Person Narrative-Driven Game?" "First Person Adventure Game?" Walking Simulator is as good a name as any.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 6:48 PM on July 2, 2019 [2 favorites]


I can see the appeal of changing from a name that cites particular early examples of the genre to one that's more descriptive; the genre now known as "first-person shooters" used to be "Doom clones".

But it sure would have been nice if Mr. Rivera had suggested a few options for folks to try iterating on.
posted by egypturnash at 6:50 PM on July 2, 2019 [1 favorite]


Can we make "PUBGalike" happen maybe?

*repeats that a couple times to make sure it's as bad as it looks*
posted by mordax at 6:55 PM on July 2, 2019


Let's just call them "Jet Set Willies" instead. JSW2 was about a little man with a top hat exploring a giant, somewhat nonsensical mansion, which was presented in the form of a side-view platformer. Good enough for me. And faintly obscene.
posted by egypturnash at 7:06 PM on July 2, 2019


I hate you all. Except JHarris, never JHarris.

Awww! Thanks very much, comments like this are the wind beneath my sails.
posted by JHarris at 7:15 PM on July 2, 2019 [3 favorites]


This is a topic that comes up over on SelectButton with some frequency, most recently in May of 2017, and my favorite terms nominated there were "lockmaze" and "keyring platformer". Rereading some of the posts, I feel like I may know some of you in this thread better than I realized.
posted by jsnlxndrlv at 7:56 PM on July 2, 2019 [3 favorites]


I personally like the term "Walking Simulator" because it was originally coined in mocking derision but ended up sticking as a relatively apt description.

Yeah, I like the reclaiming a slur aspect of it, but there are games which I think might belong in the same [environmental storytelling / exploration / enjoying the beauty of a space] genre where the type of movement also matters a great deal - swimming in ABZU, flying in Feather or Fugl, the parts of The Crew or GTA or Fuel where you're just driving around to see the world (or free snowboarding in Steep) and not competing or doing a mission, climbing around Egypt in the Assassin's Creed: Origins Discovery Tour.
posted by straight at 9:25 PM on July 2, 2019 [1 favorite]


Dawn of Sorrow is the best Castlevania title in the Metroidvania era and I will die on that hill.

OK, I'd agree with you if you said Aria of Sorrow. But Dawn had those damn seals, which was basically the standard thing of early DS games shoehorning touch features into their games when they didn't really need to.
posted by Quackles at 10:01 PM on July 2, 2019 [4 favorites]


Those seals are the only flaw in Dawn of Sorrow, and the map and inventory/collectibles were both better than Aria. But yes, Aria is quite good as well.
posted by radiosilents at 10:15 PM on July 2, 2019 [2 favorites]


I've actually been playing Blodstained: Ritual of the Night, developed by the former series producer of the Castlevania games, Koji Igarashi. It scratches the itch with modern graphics.

And in looking at that link I find that metroidvania has it's own wikipedia entry, so there's probably no stopping it now.
posted by adept256 at 3:36 AM on July 3, 2019


Can we make "PUBGalike" happen maybe?

Plunkbattlers.
posted by entity447b at 4:23 AM on July 3, 2019 [2 favorites]


Can we make "PUBGalike" happen maybe?

I call them Battle Royale games.
posted by Pendragon at 4:35 AM on July 3, 2019


Surely "Hungerlike" is superior to "Battle Royale game".
posted by jclarkin at 4:48 AM on July 3, 2019 [4 favorites]


The problem with Metroidvania is simply that too many people are using it for too many games. For goodness sake, Dead Cells is labeled on Steam as a Metroidvania, though it has more in common mechanically with Souls games (another series known for overcomparison) and roguelikes. It's just crappy marketing.
posted by koucha at 7:18 AM on July 3, 2019


For goodness sake, Dead Cells is labeled on Steam as a Metroidvania

Eh, they claim to be Metroidvania inspired, which is arguably a little different to actually being a Metroidvania. I can agree that it's pretty crappy marketing, though.

It's tagged with Metroidvania by users, but that isn't marketing - that's just the sheer useless nonsense of user tags on Steam in general (other examples: Rocket League is tagged with racing, Stardew Valley is tagged with simulation, Bloons TD6 is tagged with nudity, etc, etc, etc...)
posted by Dysk at 7:51 AM on July 3, 2019 [1 favorite]


I had thoughts but they turned to dust on being presented the term "keyring platformer". That's it, that's what these are. Metroid is a sci-fi keyring platformer and Castlevania is a gothic keyring platformer.

That said, things like Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night are so specifically inspired by Castlevania that we would have no choice but to call them keyringvanias. 🤷🏻‍♀️
posted by seraphine at 8:33 AM on July 3, 2019 [2 favorites]


I call them Battle Royale games.

Would this make Fortnite a.....

< sunglasses >

...ROYALE WITH CHEESE?
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:51 AM on July 3, 2019 [3 favorites]


Metroidvania is a term that tells me exactly what to expect from a game and that's really all I ask of a word.
posted by exolstice at 9:58 AM on July 3, 2019 [2 favorites]


Metroidvanias aren't necessarily platformers. Arkham Asylum, for instance.
posted by straight at 10:10 AM on July 3, 2019


And indeed the Metroid Prime games.
posted by Dysk at 10:26 AM on July 3, 2019


I personally don't like the term, but I think I know what it means, so it's useful enough?

Playing Hollow Knight ATM and am hoping it opens up a bit after the first "key", the mothwing cloak. It was a grind to get it though it was still mostly fun til then. I think that's a problem with some games in the genre. If you suck at video games like I do, you really struggle to get the upgrades that let you actually play the game.
posted by jclarkin at 10:40 AM on July 3, 2019 [1 favorite]


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