Metroidvania exploration without the Metroidvania?
November 19, 2023 12:29 AM   Subscribe

I've found that I really love certain elements of Metroidvania-like exploration in videogames that aren't themselves Metroidvanias. I want to find more of these but am having a hard time filtering out actual Metroidvanias.

To be specific, I love the Metroidvania exploration style of having an enclosed game area with a ton of secrets/new areas that can be opened up by learning new abilities, and lots of (but not infinite) stuff to find/harvest. Two games that have really scratched this itch for me are South Park: The Stick of Truth and Ara Fell; some of the older 2D Zeldas and Zelda-likes do it too.

Genre-wise I like 3D platformers, JRPGs and action-adventure games, so anything in those genres would be great. I also have a strong preference for brightly coloured graphics (though actual graphical quality is not a high priority for me).

If you think there is a Metroidvania I would really enjoy, please feel free to recommend that too - with the caveat that I'm not great at videogames that require good hand-eye coordination or a huge amount of time outlay.

And in terms of platforms, I typically play on my Steam Deck or Switch (but I also have access to a PS4, XBox One, 3DS, Vita, and various emulation sources).

Thank you for any suggestions!
posted by littlegreen to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (24 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Some that I've enjoyed:
Hollow Knight
Journey to the Savage Planet
Ori and the Blind Forest
Cave Story
posted by pipeski at 3:04 AM on November 19 [1 favorite]

The Witness and Outer Wilds are two games that sort of work like Metroidvanias, except that rather than gaining new powers or abilities, you unlock new areas by building your knowledge and understanding of the world. Outer Wilds in particular is an absolute blast - a weird lil' journey through a collapsing solar system that's just full of inventiveness.

Hollow Knight and Blasphemous are both great, although a little on the challenging side. Death's Door is a fun one - heavy on the charm and slightly lighter on the challenge. I haven't played Tunic but from what I've heard it sounds right up your street. Ooh - Tchia would be a good bet if you'd like a different take on a Zelda game. Guacamelee! Video games are cool.
posted by dudekiller at 5:14 AM on November 19 [3 favorites]

Jedi: Fallen Order and its sequel have this property - I know this because I enjoyed the hell out of that game (caveat, it's a bit buggy) and specifically the element of secret affordances you don't recognize the first time through and get to play with the second. I was telling some more videogame-literate friends about it, and that is how I learned about Metroidvania.
posted by itsatextfile at 5:26 AM on November 19

These are older isometric and 3d games with tank controls but I'd say they fit most of your criteria: brightly colored, gradual exploration, some gated secrets. They are definitely outside the metroidvania genre but share some similarities. Differences include: some puzzles, not really any bosses, fair bit of dialog, very French. Also they aren't really collect-a-thons. Anyway, do check them out: Little Big Adventure aka Twinsens's Little Big Adventure 1 & 2. They are often on sale for pennies.
posted by ropeladder at 5:43 AM on November 19

I have been enjoying Genshin Impact because of the exploration and the tons and tons of puzzles - it's definitely got that Zelda-like feel, and it's definitely on the brightly-colored and aesthetically lovely end of the spectrum. It's free-to-play with gacha elements but I've been perfectly happy so far not dropping cash on it. A million (but not infinite) treasure chests to find, some just hidden, some hidden behind puzzles, a bunch of (generally quite good) minigames, and the main story is fine so far, too, although I had to turn off voiceover because one of the most unavoidable ones is infinitely annoying.

It does have combat that eventually gates the experience but apparently turning on the (very limited) multiplayer will make it easy to get carried through the boss fights. I've avoided that so far but the boss fights are fucking annoying.
posted by restless_nomad at 5:48 AM on November 19

I wonder if you'd get better answers if you could describe more about what you don't like about more canonical metroidvanias? Or which ones you have enjoyed? It seems from you post that they may be too hard or take too much time, in which case easier/shorter ones may be of interest?

Anyway a golden child of fun colorful graphics, gated exploration and item hunting is A Short Hike. As it says in the tin, it is not terribly long. There's no combat, and you won't be too taxed by the platforming, but the exploration is incredibly charming and relaxing.
posted by SaltySalticid at 5:55 AM on November 19 [3 favorites]

Dredge is a very pretty gothic fishing mystery and I won't tell you any more details than that. Lots to explore and a not too onerous equipment upgrade tree. Danger, but no real combat.
posted by clockwork at 6:10 AM on November 19 [1 favorite]

Celeste is highly regarded in this area, and has a lot of accessibility options so you can tailor the difficulty to your desires. It is not, however, very brightly coloured.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:39 AM on November 19

Another good one is Kena: Bridge of Spirits. 3D, lot of platforming, lot of exploring. Very beautiful.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:44 AM on November 19

The talos principle and #2 to a slightly lesser extent has a portal like puzzle world in enclosed spaces, but often has meta puzzles and things to discover/explore in the very peaceful environments.

I also am a little confused - are you looking for metroidvania recommendations? And if not, what aspect of metroidvania are you hoping to avoid?
posted by bbqturtle at 7:58 AM on November 19

Yoku’s Island Express is a “pinball adventure game” with 2D metroidvania-style exploration and unlocking through abilities. There are secrets and collectibles. You traverse the world through a pinball mechanic, with yourself as the ball! Very brightly colored, with great art and music.

I also dislike very long or difficult games, and I found this easy to complete and quite short. It does require a little hand-eye coordination for some pinball sections, though, so your mileage may vary. The free demo is a good way to see if you’ll like the game.
posted by mbrubeck at 8:14 AM on November 19 [3 favorites]

A Short Hike is cute, charming, peaceful, satisfying, and worth, at a bare minimum, ten times the eight bucks it costs. I can hardly recommend it enough. While I'm at it, I'll also second Yoku's Island.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 8:30 AM on November 19 [4 favorites]

(I've also been very intrigued by Sable, which is supposedly all exploration and no fighting, and has a vibe that is vaguely Moebius-by-way-of-cel-shading. But I haven't actually played it.)
posted by Sing Or Swim at 8:35 AM on November 19 [2 favorites]

Do they 2D Mario and Yoshi games count? Often the hints that something secret is afoot is often right in your face. There will be coins or something that is seemingly out of reach and not relevant to the basic level goal but you have to imagine there is a way to get to there if you are clever/thorough enough.
posted by mmascolino at 10:46 AM on November 19

OUTER WILDS!! Saw someone rec this above. If you like exploring a finite area full of secrets please please treat yourself to this game.
posted by caitcadieux at 10:50 AM on November 19 [1 favorite]

I feel largely the same way as you do about games and I will second/third a lot of games people have already mentioned.

Outer Wilds is one of my absolute favorite games of all time. I went into it without knowing much about it and that’s actually how I’d recommend playing it because it’s very easy to get spoiled. I will say the gameplay mechanics are not at all like a Metroidvania but it does invoke that sense of discovery and exploration.

Death’s Door and Tunic are both also great, with somewhat similar vibes. They are probably both best classed as Zelda-likes. I enjoyed both but Tunic more, just because the setting and the secret language everything is in really grabbed me.

All of the above I played on my Steam Deck and they were great. If for some reason you’re interested in playing on Switch in particular instead Outer Wilds is coming out on December 7th on Switch, in a package that includes the DLC (which I’ve heard is like a whole separate game but have not actually played).
posted by malthas at 12:08 PM on November 19 [1 favorite]

Sable is very pretty, chill, and heartwarming.

I recommend Hyper Light Drifter! It hits all your marks! The boss battles are fast though.

I also recommend Tunic! This has extreme early Zelda energy. You will literally be flipping through a guidebook for clues.
posted by panhopticon at 12:12 PM on November 19 [1 favorite]

Not sure how its first-person perspective would go down for you, but if that's not a deal breaker I think the Supraland games might scratch the itch. Great games that plug Metroid type progression into a first-person puzzler that's more freeform and playful than Portal or the Talos Principle.

The second one, Six Inches Under, is a bit shorter and easier to finish its main content, and can be jumped into without tackling the first one. They both have demos on Steam.
posted by protorp at 1:06 PM on November 19

Dave the Diver also definitely hits on tons of new areas / content, stuff to harvest, new abilities... it's also bright, pretty, chilled, eminently playable in short bursts and just generally a fantastic experience.
posted by protorp at 1:14 PM on November 19 [1 favorite]

Hob is one of the most perfect games I have ever played. It is built around exactly the kind of exploration and discovery you are looking for and has a beautifully constructed world, it is such a visual delight, and there is so much story suggested in its ruined world that you just come across the traces of, for the most part. And it is not so much a Metroidvania as an old-school Zelda game. Here it is on Steam and Switch.
posted by spindle at 10:25 AM on November 20 [2 favorites]

Hi, 16 year old speaking. My mom found this and recommended it to me, so I have some suggestions for you:

Carrion is a game where you play as a monster similar to the creature from The Thing. Your goal is to escape the facility you’re being held in, and to do this you must consume anything you see to grow stronger and unlock new abilities. The colors are vibrant and the exploration is extremely thorough, so I’d recommend playing this game if you have a day or two to kill.

Horizon: Zero Dawn is one of my favorite games, and I promise it’ll have you hooked for a month at least. The game follows a woman living in a world taken by nature, thousands of years in the future. However, there are massive machines roaming around that are reminiscent of creatures from our time, and the designs/environments are nothing short of gorgeous. Over the course of the game, you’ll be learning to survive and hunt machines to craft better gear, and all of it will culminate in you solving the mystery of your own identity. A must-play for exploration enthusiasts.

Red Dead Redemption 2 is a masterpiece that I wish I could play for the first time again. The graphics are some of the best looking I’ve ever seen, and the story is a beautifully written slow burn that will likely have you crying at one point or another. (I speak from experience.) The level of detail in this game is still unmatched, and no matter how crazy of an idea you have, the devs probably thought of it and you’ll be satisfied with the outcome. Exploration is not only encouraged, but essential if you’re going to experience the entirety of what this game has to offer.

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is a bizarre but masterfully written narrative focusing on themes of revenge, loyalty, and how good men can transform into monsters when pushed far enough. The game features a cinematic style signature to creator Hideo Kojima, and the designs are all extremely memorable. The game is a stealth sandbox environment that rewards careful, tactical sneaking and exploration instead of run-and-gun high energy action. With plenty of challenges and secrets, this game is a wild ride from start to finish.

Hope these all help, glad I could recommend some of these.
posted by victoriab at 4:01 PM on November 20 [2 favorites]

Knytt Stories is a free game that's very chill and exploration-driven, with movement upgrades to collect to get access to more areas, and secrets to discover. It has platforming, but usually has a savepoint nearby anything risky. And there are loads of fan-made levels if you end up liking it.
posted by rivenwanderer at 1:20 PM on November 21

Sky: Children of the Light has a huge world to explore, gated & secret areas, & lots more. Free on Switch! Awesome colorful animation.
posted by acridrabbit at 8:35 PM on November 21

Response by poster: Thanks so much for the responses! I've been sick all week so haven't had a chance to follow up, but I appreciate it.

Also, in response to the question about what I don't like about traditional Metroidvanias, I haven't tried a lot but I find that I am generally really bad at side-scrolling platformers. The one Metroidvania I've really tried is Castlevania: SotN, and I died a lot before hanging up the controller. I am interested in the genre but I don't know where to start with games that are more forgiving.

Thanks again for the recs!
posted by littlegreen at 8:18 PM on November 24

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