If only you could have heard the RPS treehouse chat a few months ago, during the great Metroidvania debate of 2017. Battle lines were drawn. On the one side: John, insisting that of course Dead Cells isn't a Metroidvania. On the other side: everyone else, calling John an old fogey for insisting on overly strict and out-dated genre boundaries. On the other other side: the sensible people, who probably didn't get involved because this is a silly discussion that's of no consequence whatsoever.
Still, I was in the second group, and can't help but picture the smug look on John's face as he dropped news of the "Not a Metroidvania" Steam bundle into our Trello this morning. It includes the best game of 2017, the splendid Sundered, the Dark Souls-esque Salt and Sanctuary, and the comparatively essless Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition. John likes all of them, but what does he know.
So! Let's take a little look at what you get for your not-insignificant £28.50. The games all fall under the banner of '2D platformers about exploring and fighting', with the extent of their Metroidvania influences left to the ambiguity of those quotation marks. I think they're all Metroidvanias, and you're more than welcome to fight me.
I'll start by reminding you that the combat-focused Dead Cells is fantastic, and has likely only gotten better since we named it the best game that came out last year. That's because we're cheeky and it hasn't actually come out yet, with Update 6 and 7 both adding more stuff and refining what's already there. Although the game's systems clearly work, developers Motion Twin haven't been afraid to keep diving in and overhauling them as they move closer to pushing the game out of early access. I wrote an ode to one particularly good feature back in January, and found that it's impossible to talk about one good system in Dead Cells without mentioning many others.
I haven't played Sundered, so here's wot John thought of it:
"Its distinctive animation is worthy of accolades and awards – it is simply astounding. And its novel approach to being mobbed for combat has merits, alongside some frustrations. Neither dramatically shifts the game away from the most familiar aspects of the genre, all of which it delivers extremely well. It is that lovely holiday destination, and a lovely stay you’ll certainly have – the question is, fancy going there again this summer, or maybe somewhere new?"
Sure sounds Metroidvania-ey to me. If you do want to go somewhere new, then Salt and Sanctuary might appeal. And by 'new', I mean 'Dark Souls but 2D' - at least, that's how Alec describes it in his review.
Alec wasn't keen on it, but both Salt and Sanctuary and Guacamelee made it into John's round-up of the best Metroidvania games. He called S&S a "rather splendid 2D open brawler", and said that the "spirit and verve" of Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition make it "stand out in an often very straight-faced genre".
In conclusion: these are all great Metroidvanias, and words are stupid.
You can pick up the Not a Metroidvania bundle on Steam for £28.56/$36.12/€35.64. The cheaper bundle price ends tomorrow, when it will be discounted by 20% rather than 50%. The games are all on sale individually, too.