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.
Your typical Metroidvania game is typically portrayed as a single large area or a set of large areas, broken up into many different rooms, corridors, and open spaces, with Respawning Enemies in most areas. Progress in the game is driven by the discovery of Video Game Tools (actions, abilities, inventory items) that allow the player to navigate obstacles and "unlock" new areas, while also serving as more than just a "key"; for example, a weapon powerful enough to destroy certain walls will often deal more damage to enemies, and the ability to climb walls could be used to avoid enemies as well as reach high places.
The player will often pass many insurmountable obstacles as they explore the game, which they must backtrack to after finding the appropriate item/ability, often made easier by opening Doors To Before. There are usually many secrets hidden around the game, some far more difficult to obtain than any item required to proceed.
It often contains mild RPG Elements as well, like stat-boosting equipment or a level system; some of these games will have multiple playable characters with different abilities and require the player to switch between them. But if not, expect to find hidden Heart Containers in every cranny and nook.
Despite the openness of the game, progression is usually linear, with the more difficult areas separated by natural barriers such as high shelves, sealed or locked doors, or other obstacles that can only be bypassed by finding specific items or weapons. Among gamers, Sequence Breaking is a common stunt used to access these areas before the player is "supposed" to.
The definition of this subgenre varies somewhat depending on whom you ask. People seem to variably demand some or all of the following traits:
Some people say it has to be a 2-D environment; some even go as far as saying it has to be platforming.
Non-linearity of (official) game sequence, often resulting in backtracking, especially for new players.
Sequence Breaking capabilities, even if not official. (Some players go so far as to insist it must be unintentional to count as true sequence breaking.)
This sub-genre gets its name from the Metroid and Castlevania series. Metroid, published in 1986, was the Trope Codifier, and subsequent Metroid games have consistently used it in all of its installments (except Prime Pinball). Castlevania first used the style in 1986's Vampire Killer and 1987's Castlevania II Simons Quest, before abandoning it and then returning to it after the success of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. The term itself has been used for some time, but was popularized by Jeremy Parish of Gamespite, who originally used the term to refer specifically to those later Metroid-inspired Castlevania games. More information can be found here.
A somewhat lesser version of this was fairly popular towards the end of the NES' life cycle. The game would be separated into stages, but each stage was a wide-open, explorable area instead of a linear progression. Many of these games allowed you to revisit a stage after you already beat it.
Games in this genre tend to be a four (or three) on the Sliding Scale of Linearity vs. Openness. Competing terms include "Castletroid", "Castleroid", "Metrovania" and "non-linear action adventure platformer", with or without capitalization.
Unfortunately, this is not a crossover betweenCastlevania and Metroid... but it soshould be◊.
All of the Metroid games and most of the 2D Castlevania games from 1997 onwards, of course. Some people don't consider the 3D titles (the Metroid Prime sub-series and Metroid: Other M) to count, but even those games play out the same, with the main difference being that the environments are arranged in 3 dimensions rather than 2. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night isn't the first time that the Castlevania series experimented with the genre, either; Vampire Killer and Castlevania II Simons Quest shared many of the same gameplay elements, though the latter didn't have the closed complex setting typical of the genre, and the former had no RPG Elements. The series has seemingly moved away from the 2D Metroidvania style for 3D Action Adventure. An interesting note is that the man behind most of the Metroidvania titles had actually never heard of the term until around 2012 (though he quite liked it). He said his inspiration in creating Symphony of the Night actually came from Zelda II (which in turn borrowed elements from the original Metroid).
The first Mega Man ZX game features waypoints that allow you to teleport to any waypoint already visited, but all waypoints must be found by exploration first (except for the isolated area that becomes the Hub Level, which gets added to the teleport list once you complete a certain early mission), and very few areas have their entrance right next to a waypoint. The first Mega Man Zero game features the same, but has a habit of automatically placing you at the beginning of the relevant area at the start of each mission you accept; which, combined with the fact that many areas host two missions, means that if you never wandered outside the Hub Level in between missions, you would never notice that most of the areas are physically connected to each other (specifically, you would only notice that one pair of areas, plus the linearly-connected areas of the final three missions, are connected).
Mega Man ZX Advent, on the other hand, is a step back from ZX, with at least as many missions taking place in self-contained areas as otherwise. It wins back points by being more reliant on Ability Required to Proceed than its predecessors (and offering shapes to morph into with overlapping functions, thus offering multiple solutions to certain mazes and traps), introducing a Metroid-inspired minimap and encouraging re-exploration of completed areas to apply your new abilities to find hidden stuff just as much as ZX did before it.
In addition, Zero lacks the ability-gaining that is central to the genre (some Cyber-Elves can give you permanent upgrades, but they're never needed to access areas you couldn't reach before).
Mega Man Battle Network has a Gaiden Game for the Gamecube called Network Transmission (largely an homage to the classic verse, with platforming gameplay in classic 'verse level designs), whose main internet area qualifies for this. The main Internet alone branches to Lan's, Mayl's, and Dex's homepage, an outpost of Higsby's chip shop, the Zero Area and its guardian areas, the legendary WWW area, and the Undernet. There are alternate, disconnected areas, but most of the game occurs in the main Internet.
Kirby and The Amazing Mirror is unique in that unlike other Metroidvanias, instead of finding abilities to progress to other abilities, you have to eat enemies for their abilities which are near the parts you have to use those abilities in, and you can discard the abilities soon after. You could also get help from the 3 other Kirbies, and do things in any order, even reverse. The Great Cave Offensive in Kirby Super Star had similar gameplay, but was more linear. (Note that other games in the series, including the other components of Super Star, are Platform Games).
The series is a parallel or even sub-genre, as the games also focus on collecting Video Game Tools to bypass obstacles in the wide-open Overworld (often to the point of allowing sequence breaking). While the early games mainly feature a top-down perspective, some contain side-scrolling sections, and the transition to 3D saw the series leaning more towards the platformer genre. However, one major difference remains: the dungeons, fully self-contained areas separate from the Overworld that require only a single trip to complete. Zelda dungeons mainly require completing puzzles/tasks and collecting keys to progress, with the exception of one important item to be found and utilized to reach (or even to fight) the dungeon boss. After completing the dungeon, the item discovered there can be used in the Overworld to progress toward the next dungeon.
Zelda II: The Adventure of Link has all the action take place in 2D side-scrolling sections, including towns and dungeons, although these are all still contained within a top-down overworld. Some of the handheld titles in the series, starting with The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, also have a small amount of 2D side-scrolling sections, and even add a jump button to the top-down controls, making the entire game a platformer.
The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass has the best bridge between the two with the Temple of the Ocean King, a huge dungeon which contains maps and keys to access the other smaler and self contained dungeons which in turn hold the items and keys needed to progress further into the temple (and make previous sections simpler and quicker to pass through) while the overworld holds sands for the hourglass which allow you to explore for longer periods of time before having to turn back. Both the sands and the items from each dungeon are needed to safely and successfully navigate the massive dungeon.
Cave Story borders on this. It hits most of the requirements of the game type except for two: it's fairly linear barring sidequests, and areas aren't as interconnected as they could be due to just using the Hub Level. It does show influence from both Castlevania and Metroid.
Indie freeware game Iji borders on this - once you clear a level, you can't backtrack, but each level is huge and there are several secret areas that require Metroidvania logic to reach - to get one Supercharge requires getting a jump upgrade, using an enemy's rocket attack to reach an elevator back to a now accessible ledge that leads to a weapon necessary to destroy a wall blocking off the powerup.
Hero Core by the same creator can basically be described as the combination of a Metroidvania and a Shoot 'em Up.
Samurai Jack: The Amulet of Time for Game Boy Advance was a transparent wholesale ripoff of both the GBA Castlevania and GBA Metroid games. Not that it was bad...
The Nightmare Before Christmas: The Pumpkin King for Game Boy Advance was a transparent wholesale ripoff of the GBA Castlevania games. It was considerably better than Samurai Jack.
Hebereke for the Famicon (and the Euro Release Ufouria). Something about a drunk duck (hebereke translates into stumbling drunk) falling into an alternate dimension with his animal-ish friends who have to find a way back home (or so it appears). Plays like Metroid meets Mario. All the sequels (on the SNES) completely abandoned this genre and are party games.
Sorta; it was divided into levels for cartridge space's sake. But everything else played out like a Metroidvania, and you could revisit levels to look for new stuff.
Sonic Adventure had shades of this (all the levels were connected through a hubworld, you could backtrack and gain various items) Sonic Adventure 2 dropped most of this.
Sonic Advance 3 seemed to be another stab at this: All worlds are connected through a hub, and different character combinations beyond the initial Tails and Sonic are needed to explore the levels fully and achieve 100% Completion.
Shadow Complex on Xbox LIVE Arcade has been described by pretty much every single reviewer as an (awesome) callback to Metroid and Castlevania. This was intentional: the developers have openly admitted to basing it on said games, and spent the entire first month of developmentplaying them. Even the minimap in the top right corner looks eerily familiar. On top of that, the debut article about the game in Play Magazine mentions Super Metroid 17 times. On the first page.
Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver, although its sequels were much more linear in nature.
Mega Man Legends is a partial case, in that it's a third-personal shooter but has a very similar nonlinear explorative feel to it. With the proper special items, nearly all the underground areas can be made to interconnect too.
Exhumed, also known as Power Slave, is possibly one of the earliest examples of a Metroidvania FPS, predating Metroid Prime by almost a decade.
Banjo-Tooie borders closely on this, and can be used to illustrate the genre differences between this and a straight Platform Game. The levels, as in the previous game, are non-linear, large and focus on exploration and item collection, have a lot of puzzles and pathways between each other, and there are a lot of unlockable moves and attacks required to progress through the Hub Level and to complete everything. On the other hand, progress in the game is limited by having later levels mostly inaccessible until opened one at a time by turning in Plot Coupons at a central location (unless using a certain in-game cheat), so Sequence Breaking is fairly limited.
Rygar, the NES version, which has a whole series of items to collect in order to improve your climbing skills more and more, and then makes you try to remember which previous stage had that unreachable ledge.
Terraria is somewhat of an example, since although the game is based around freely building and mining in a randomly generated map, certain areas are very difficult before finding or crafting the right tools or equipment.
The Dark Souls-based modThe Story of Red Cloud includes a massive pre-built map with strategically placed items and removes the player's ability to freely build or destroy, turning the game into a full-fledged Metroidvania.
Prince of Persia (2008) is an interesting example of the 3D kind. While the abilities the Prince and Elika gain help them explore new areas, they don't find the abilities, they buy them... but they use light seeds to buy the abilities, and the only way to find enough light seeds to buy a new power is to use your latest power to explore a new area.
A Valley Without Wind has large elements of this, with the added bonus of being procedurally-generated at random.
There are many areas in Pokémon series that are not inaccesible because of Broken Bridges, but because you need the right HMs, usually Cut, Strength or Rock Smash. An important HM is Surf, which allows you to travel into islands, where some gyms and Legendaries are. Where does the ability to use HMs outside of battle come from? Badges from Gyms.
DNA is a short example of the genre made in 48 hours for a game making competition with the theme of evolution.
ASCIIvania - as the title suggests, it's a Metroidvania style game with ASCII graphics. The Ability Required to Proceed element is mainly provided by finding different letters, which you use to complete words that are blocking your way. There are also the abilities to jump, double jump, and reverse gravity, all of which you will need to find all of the letters of the alphabet and complete the game.
Wine & Roses is this in Eastern RPG form. The game is very non-linear, and there is nothing impeding you from exploring the entire game aside from the first tutorial fights. Each battle rewards you with specialized powerups that help you fight stronger enemies.
Guacamelee!: A Metroidvania where you learn wrestling moves (from goatmen or fighting chickens) to access more areas.
The Adventure Time video game adaptation Hey Ice King! Why'd You Steal Our Garbage?! has elements of this. Finn and Jake run around the Land of Ooo, fighting monsters and learning new powers in order to progress at certain points.
Operation Smash: A heavily Super Metroid-inspired indie game involving time travel and hammers. Currently available from Desura, and also up for voting on Steam Greenlight.
Subbania: A Metroidvania where you pilot a submarine through underwater caves, collect upgrades to explore new areas, and survive against the creatures within. Everything figuratively and literally goes to hell as you go deeper.
The final levels of the two main games in the Emogame series (especially the second one) play out like this, though it's doubtful that any of the Castlevania or Metroid games ended with Belmont or Samus beating Dracula or Ridley. The third game would've been done entirely in this style, had it ever been finished.
Steamworld Dig: As you proceed deeper into the mines, obstacles appear that require a specific upgrade to pass.
Upcoming Kickstarter game Re Ve N is heavily influenced by Super Metroid but adds the wrinkle of mining materials to make your upgrades.
Poacher, a freeware release made in Game Maker by Yahtzee Croshaw of Zero Punctuation fame. A bit unusual in that most of the overworld opens up after a certain point early in the story and you're free to tackle the different areas in any order. Each major area uses the basic jump-and-shoot controls for a different gimmick, such as a sneaking arounda dark tomb or vertical platforming up through gigantic trees. The big upgrade in each area is also only required to clear that particular area and generally just makes things easier or allows you to access secrets in the others. The progression gets more linear again after clearing all the areas and making it to the last act of the story.
Endeavor requires players to find different items/collect special upgrading fruit to be able to reach new areas.
Teslagrad is one. Interestingly, it's very light on combat, making it mostly about exploration and puzzle solving.
Valdis Story: Abyssal City is an indie title for PC that adheres to the genre very closely. More in common with Castlevania than Metroid, with a focus on melee combat and magic spells. It has a fairly robust skill tree with your typical Castlevania-style stats and equipment to go along with it that allow the player to create a good number of fairly varied playstyles depending on what they choose. The combat system is more in-depth though with freeform melee chain combos and a skill cancel ability that also functions as a dodge. There ends up being a pretty high skill ceiling as you gain powers and figure out the intricacies of the systems. There are currently two playable characters and the devs have plans to add 2 more in the future.