This list is a collection of lists that meet my personal standards of quality, of those games I've had the pleasure to play. These standouts are arranged by date of release.
If this list's population booms as I play more and more games in this style, let's leave any bias toward the genre or unpickiness on my part out of it. It's more likely (or also) because Metroidvanias have such a fine track record. There are quite a few that particularly shine, and most of the others are solid 4/5 efforts. You'll rarely find a truly terrible such game. And no, I'm not challenging gamers to seek out and find abhorrent play experiences, nor am I daring developers to make some from scratch just to change the current ratio.
As a great man who was just the right amount of dark and pasty once said, "We are the children... of the night!"
*Please keep in mind that this list is somewhat subjective. Not only are many games - the honorable mentions most noticeably - based on my own personal preferences, but I can only include games I've played. I could include say, Chutter the Stutterer's Tongue Goes All Over the Place, but then I'd be making stuff up because I haven't played the game. Then again, I'd probably be making stuff up either way, since it was manufactured purely for the purposes of this notice.*
Beyond eight-directional whips and divergent paths, Symphony of the Night took the Castlevania series into its second phase of existence, drawing on the early installments Vampire Killer and Simon's Quest. Though it maintained the Castlevania series in 2D despite the 3D craze (and more specifically, Castlevania's handful of less-than-stellar console 3D offerings), the differences to the standard series formula are game-changing: non-linear exploration, role-playing elements, a non-Belmont main protagonist, and a whole new aesthetic. The name "Metroidvania" ostensibly honors both the Metroid and Castlevania series for their contributions to the genre.
point: The stylish Halloween atmosphere.
Following the massively innovative yet flawed original (Metroid) and the much more playable yet still transitional second installment (Return of Samus), Super Metroid is the quintessential Metroidvania and set the standards for the sub-genre with its fully-realized formula and undeniable quality. Along with an atmosphere that's both tension-creating and absorbing, memorable boss fights, and power-ups that show what Samus can really do, the third installment to this game industry-changing series is without a doubt its peak.
point: It subtly and inconspicuously draws in and captivates
the player like few other games.
The Kirby series has its conventional style of gameplay as well as an experimental side to it, and The Amazing Mirror fuses both into one of the all-time best Kirby games. In it his ability copy skills are put to the test as he explores a puzzling world with frequent need for certain abilities. Though the idea could have easily fallen flat if the map design weren't spot-on, Flagship intricately pulled it off.
The level design, which taps into a unique potential for Kirby's abilities
with its balanced puzzles.
Spider-Man's well-established control scheme is better than ever in Web of Shadows. Griptonite's take on the character successfully combines non-linear exploration with brawling, making backtracking and gaining new abilites satisfying and the deep combat system a joy to master without favoring one in particular. Spidey's effortless controls, combined with a constantly-adjusting camera, cinematic score, lively voice acting, and effective background/foreground layering, makes for a totally immersive experience. This game is the first to make use of Griptonite's 2.5D sidescrolling engine, which would be employed in a number of platformers and Metroidvanias and one licensed Spider-Man game in the future.
point: Spidey's spider-silky smooth controls, which are
both unique and effortless.
The first Metroidvania released on the DSiWare service, which along with the 3DS's eShop would see originals by WayForward as well as ports of freeware games, Dark Void Zero is a Nintendo Entertainment System throwback with the charm of a classic and the crispness of a current creation. As far as gameplay goes, the jetpack accessory is both helpful and provides the game's primary challenge, and the level design is a real standout. Nostalgia may be a motivation for purchasing Other Ocean's exceptional downloadable, but there's plenty to make said buy last - at least for 3 levels.
point: The old-school NES charm is captured perfectly.
Metroid was an immensely influential game, but easily the series' hardest to play. Metroid II adds new features - like the update to Samus's costume and some new abilities - but more importantly, it just takes the formula and makes it fun. The 39 Metroid hit list is a great idea leaving one satisfied whenever said total gets reduced, and the black-and-white graphics provide a one of a kind atmosphere as far as the series goes.
point: The 39 Metroids kill count gives it a simple yet
Game Boy Advance
Though the fan and critical favorite of the Game Boy Advance trilogy is generally either Circle of the Moon or Aria of Sorrow, these titles don't hold a whipable candle to Harmony of Dissonance when it comes to creating a Metroidvania with such fun and addictive exploration. With its parallel castles, environmental interaction, and rewarding of the player for being thorough at map completion, the middle child doesn't need an extensive magic system to carry it along. The introduction of Boss Rush Mode is not just an extra but a great adventure in its own right, and its inclusion in later Castlevania handheld offerings would be a given.
point: Parallel castles make for some truly great exploration.