Symphony of the Night and the near-death of Metroidvania games

Episode 137 of the podcast returns to the Metroidvania well... only to find it dried up in the '90s.

There was a bit of a to-do a few days ago when someone noticed that Nintendo had created a Metroidvania logo to promote games on eShop. It is a little weird, really — the company that owns the name "Metroid" cheerfully grafted it onto another company's trademark to promote mostly third-party creations. Usually, corporations prefer to go the "oppressively protective" route when it comes to intellectual property. But I suppose that simply goes to show how pervasive the slang term has become, and how, uhhh, my willful misuse of the term to describe pretty much any 2D action-platforming game with exploratory and/or RPG elements has caught on despite that definitely not being the word's original intent. 

Fittingly, then, today we bring you the… fourth? fifth? In any case, the penultimate chapter in Retronauts East's journey through the Metroidvania genre. And it's… a little gloomy. I mean, look at the cover art. Poor Firebrand has been reduced to dancing for change in a back alley to Popful Mail's organ grinder. That's just heartbreaking.

The simple fact is, there's not really much to talk about in terms of Metroidvania games after Super Metroid arrived. You can pretty much see all the genre's representatives in the image above (except Tomba!, which we'll discuss some other time). Of all these games, only Symphony of the Night really has any mainstream appeal. Popful Mail was doomed to obscurity by appearing on SEGA CD, Demon's Crest is ridiculously rare now, The Divide slid right on past everyone's radar, and Monster World IV didn't see localization until 2009! So this episode consists in more-or-less equal parts of Symphony praise from all quarters, me trying to elicit even a crumb of interest on the other games, and a lot of speculation about why the 2D exploratory platformer vanished around the time the PlayStation appeared on the scene. (You can kind of think of this as a side story to last week's Shantae episode, in a sense.)

Retronauts Episode 137
Symphony of the Night and the near-death of Metroidvania
MP3, 48.3 MB | 1:44:07

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Episode description: Jeremy, Benj, and Chris explore the mid-’90s doldrums of the metroidvania genre, with a lengthy sidebar on the era's lone high point amidst industry-wide disinterest: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.

If you'd like to catch up on the first few Metroidvania episodes before diving into this one, please do, by all means!

We'll wrap up this series (I hope) in a few months by looking at the role handheld and indie games played in resuscitating the genre.