What Is It?
In a series of games classically defined as "action-platformers", Castlevania eventually evolved into exploration heavy adventure games. Sometimes referred to as Castleroid games (Castlevania + Metroid) or Castlevania RPG games (due to the RPG elements generally included in these entries, and not to be confused with the unrelated webcomic), Metroidvania games (Metroid + Castlevania) involve a non-linear, exploration heavy experience that requires the player to search through a castle (or even the countryside), looking for the items and abilities needed to finish out the quest at hand.
In the Metroid series, the protagonist (Samus Aran) has to adventure through the world she's (usually) trapped on, navigating an intricate system of caverns and fortress-like environments, finding the special moves, weapons, and defensive abilities that will allow her to fully-explore each area and finish out her quest. To get into tighter areas, she may need the "Morph Ball", which allows her to curl up small and roll around (like a ball). To get into higher areas, she may need a "Speed Jump" or "Grapple Beam". Similarly, in Metroidvania games, the protagonists (often different from game to game), may need to find the "Double Jump", "Super Jump", "Dash", or even "Power of Bat" (to turn into a bat and fly) to reach out of the way areas. Each series requires the player to go back and forth across the environment as new locations and powers are unlocked.
What Games Are "Metroidvania" games?
The term was coined (apparently in 2001, by Rich Hutnik) after the releases of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and Castlevania: Circle of the Moon, with Symphony being the first game in the series where the term seems applicable. In that game, Alucard goes about Dracula's castle, exploring new areas, finding new items and abilities, etc. Metroid was described as a direct influence on the game, although to be fair, two games preceded Symphony in establishing the Metroidvania experience:
- Vampire Killer (1986) - A "remake" of the original Castlevania featuring a fully explorable castle. In it, Simon Belmont has to find and collect keys to unlock his path further into the castle.
- Castlevania II: Simon's Quest (1988) - Simon Belmont is tasked with exploring all of Romania, finding important items that will help him unearth Dracula's body parts and reveal the final location: Dracula's castle.
Of course, these are both proto-Metroidvania games -- not all the elements commonly associated with the modern games in the series were in evidence. It took Symphony (nine years later) to put everything together into just the right mix of exploration, adventure, action, and RPG elements.
The Modern Metroidvania Games:
- Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (1997) - The first of the modern Metroidvania games. Ground-breaking for it's combination of exploration, action, and RPG elements.
- Castlevania: Circle of the Moon (2001) - The first "sequel" to the Metroidvania formula. Features a whip-wielder, Nathan Graves, exploring Carmilla's castle. Also uses the DSS (Dual Setup System), a collection of cards that grant magical powers.
- Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance (2002) - Staring Juste Belmont, featured a return to Dracula's castle, two versions of the castle to explore, and a sub-weapon/magic fusion system
- Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow (2003) - Set in the future of the series, Soma Cruz is drawn to a castle he doesn't know, and forced on an adventure to find out who he really is. The magic system uses the "souls" of slain monsters, giving Soma the abilities and skills he needs to proceed.
- Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow (2005) - Sequel to Aria of Sorrow, with more souls to collect and new abilities to find/use.
- Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin (2006) - Featuring Johnathan Morris and Charlotte Aulin, the game has the two characters playing at once to explore the castle (and other locations) together.
- Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia (2008) - Sporting the glyph system, the game has a similar style to Aria as the glyphs are retrieved off of slain enemies.
Other Metroidvania-like Games:
- Castlevania: Lament of Innocence (2001) - One of the first games, chronologically, in the series, Lament is a fully 3D adventure, and features a non-linear castle and special abilities. The RPG elements, however, were drastically stripped back.
- Castlevania: Curse of Darkness (2003) - Spiritual sequel to Lament, Curse of Darkness focuses on Hector, a reformed one-time minion of Dracula's army. Along with the usual exploration and abilities, Hector uses "Innocent Devils", familiars that augment his abilities.
- Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles (2007) - A remixed version of the classic Castlevania game, Rondo of Blood, the game features an arranged mode that includes some exploration elements and special abilities.
- Castlevania: Order of Shadows (2007) - A smaller-scale version of the Metroidvania formula for mobile phones. Much of the basic game play is there, but the adventure is not nearly as long or complex.
- Castlevania: Harmony of Despair (2010) - A stripped down mash-up of the Metroidvania series, Despair opens up sections of the castle to explore and items to collect, but none of the RPG elements or special abilities.
- Castlevania: Grimoire of Souls (2019 Beta) - A since-canceled game for mobile phones that acted like a spiritual successor to Harmony's character mash-up madness.
- Castlevania: Moonlight Rhapsody (TBD) - Yet another attempt at multiplayer, multi-character adventure, yet again for mobile devices.
Lords of Shadow Games:
While the first game in the sub-series would allow you to go back and replay areas with unlocked abilities, the emphasis in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow was on forward progress for the overarching narrative. That was relaxed in the next two games in the series, though:
- Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate (2013) - This game returned Lords of Shadow to something like its roots, presenting a side-scrolling, 2.5D adventure set across three zones and three time periods.
- Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 (2014) - A title that felt very much like Metroid Prime filtered through the Castlevania experience, with a heavier emphasis on exploration and finding all the hidden secrets.