Imagine for a second you’re a humble game reviewer at Try Hard Guides. Every week, you’re given the chance to review the newest titles in the gaming market, and in your case, you like to focus on indie releases. Each time you review a new game, you give the Steam page a visit to get an idea of what you’re in for. Quickly, you begin to notice a pattern.
Metroidvania. Roguelike. These two tags are present in nearly every, single, game you find your hands on. After about the tenth deck building roguelike or story-heavy pixel art Metroidvania, you begin to wonder if creativity is in short supply these days.
Okay, maybe that’s a bit of a harsh way to put it. I can’t for one pretend that I’m too offended by the variety of Roguelikes and Metroidvanias on the market right now, because I can at the very least understand the popularity. Heck, I for one love a good Roguelike, especially because of the way the randomized levels and tools exploit my ADHD. I make as much clear in my review of Have a Nice Death.
Every developer has their inspirations, and there truly is nothing new under the sun. It would be ridiculous for me to ask why so many games feature similar mechanics to one another, as everything creative is born from a love of someone else’s work. If you were a huge Metroid fan, it stands to reason that you’d make a 2d platforming-beat-em-up. However, there comes a point when a cynical part of me begins to wonder how many of the multitude of games toting these popular, highly marketable tags on the Steam store were truly made by developers who were inspired, above all else, by the original games in question.
Conspiracy theory time: Probably not a lot of them.
I want to emphasize that I don’t have any specific games in mind when I say this. I judge every piece I look into as a work of art and assume the developers have the best intentions until shown otherwise. If a game is truly inspired, you can quickly tell by playing it.
I can’t help but wonder if the developers always set out to make a game that plays almost identical to Metroid or Hades or other titles in the Metroidvania or Roguelike tags, or if they compromised on their vision to make something they knew would sell. I become even more suspicious now that so many games not only associate with the aforementioned categories, but advertise themselves as “Roguelike” or “Metroidvania,”
This is far from outside of the realm of possibility. Latching onto a formula that’s proven successful is common practice in many industries, and is most obviously prevalent in entertainment. We see it in movies all the time, but strangely people don’t seem to be as quick to point it out in the gaming industry.
I also have to point out the explosion of such titles in recent years. This could partially be due to a huge influx in indie game releases that I’ve noticed recently, thanks to the increased accessibility of game dev tools. The new Unreal Engine has done more good for the gaming industry, in my opinion, than the last five years of tech combined. Roguelikes in particular however seem to have a huge boom in releases since the success of The Binding of Isaac and, arguably more so, Hades.
That’s not to say that titles that use the Metroidvania or Roguelike gameplay styles are void of creativity, but that they might be lacking in some places. A frequent argument I present in my review of Metroidvania titles is that developers seem to sacrifice any new or interesting gameplay mechanics for the sake of presenting a beautiful art style or intriguing story. As fantastic as those two things might be, the question has to be asked of how much a game deserves to be a game if you don’t spend any time on the gameplay.
A great example of a Metroidvania-type game that. in my opinion, has cookie-cutter gameplay in favor of a focus on art direction would be Curse of the Sea Rats. In my time with Curse of the Sea Rats, I found that the game actually fights itself, as the charm of the game’s art is quickly lost with lackluster at best and frustrating at worst platforming segments. On the contrary, a Metroidvania title that I found delivers phenomenal presentation while still having unique and interesting gameplay would be Chronicles of 2 Heroes: Amaterasu’s Wrath, showing that you don’t have to sacrifice on one aspect to deliver the other.
The point of this post isn’t to throw shade or accuse the genre of lacking creativity. Instead, I hope that we can start a conversation about the state of trends in the gaming industry. How many of the titles under the Roguelike umbrella sacrificed early concepts to make sure they had the Rogue gameplay? How many storytellers jumped to the Metroidvania style simply because they didn’t know how else to tell their story?
Whether you agree or disagree with me, I’m interested in hearing your reasons in the comments below. At the end of the day, a good game is a good game, and the reasons it was made the way it was shouldn’t matter so much — but we should wonder if developers are truly creating their artistic visions, or just chasing trends.