The untold history of the Metroidvania genre.
Latest updates: Wizards & Warriors III (NES, 1992), Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall (PC, 1996), Spider-Man: Web of Shadows (NDS, 2008), Shamang King: Master of Spirits 2 (GBA, 2005), Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction (PS2/XB, 2005)
Platform Adventure is a subgenre of Action Adventure and Platform games. In short, these are games that focus on platforming, exploration, gradually making the player character better able to traverse the world that they're exploring by acquiring various upgrades, and (usually light) puzzle solving. They feature interconnected worlds with some degree of persistency, that is gated in content by persistent abilities or tools acquired by the player (as opposed to just keys, non tool/ability-based puzzles or combat) and which gradually opens up more as the player overcomes its obstacles. Generally these games have some degree of non-linear progression while subtly guiding the player towards the next intended path, and to some extent a "loopback" structure where the player happens upon ability gates that they'll come back to later on to progress. Historically they have been side-scrolling and in 2D but they can be third-person or first-person and in 3D as well.
The term possibly originated in the late '80s (C&VG review scan) as a way to describe the first Metroid and is a portmanteau of Platform(er) and Action Adventure, although similar terms like Arcade Adventure were also in use at the time and other terms have been coined since. If you're a zoomer or millennial then you may have heard the term Metroidvania to describe these kinds of games, however that term seems to first have been used by a publication in this 2003 review of Aria of Sorrow and became commonly used around the mid-late '00s elsewhere.
According to wikipedia, the first source is Scott Sharkey and he used it specifically to describe Castlevania games that played more like Metroid games, but the Gamespy review is obviously older (this Dawn of Sorrow review from 2005 by Jeremy Parish seems to feature the second use of the term in a published review). Since then, the term's meaning has evolved to mean basically any game in the style of either the Metroid games, the Metroidvania-style Castlevania games, or both. When exactly this started happening "officially" I'm not sure, but this 2005 article about Cave Story calls it both a MV and a "side-scrolling Adventure-RPG". There are also a few Shadow Complex reviews from 2009 that call that game one.
If you have a look around, one site dedicated to the genre attributes the term to Jeremy Parish, and another one describes the genre as originating strictly from Japan. Personally, I've been using "Platform Adventure" since the '90s and prefer it to metroidvania for these reasons: It's more consistent with other genre names, sounds better, doesn't bring specific games to mind which can cause some confusion and needless bickering about game X not having feature Y, isn't contradictory to certain games in the genre which fans wouldn't see as part of it if their structure and mechanics were described to them (Metroid 2, Cave Story, Ori and the Blind Forest, Monster Boy), and is a bit broader than the metroidvania term in that it includes games with a central hub structure or an overworld and dungeons structure.
Anyway, this site isn't about trying to replace one term with another, but rather an attempt to succinctly document the early history and evolution of the genre, using a definition which is rooted first and foremost in game structure and mechanics that took shape back in the '80s. Think of it as a quick reference guide to older games in the genre. It is also something to help me focus on playing more of the kinds of games that I've always wanted to play. Below is a list of key features that I think almost everyone would agree with, along with a list of optional ones that I and others have picked up on, but which are more subtle, seem limited to fewer games and/or evolved later on in the genre's lifespan.
Defining features of Platform Adventure (aka Sidescrolling Action Adventure or Metroidvania) games:
Optional but often associated with the genre:
I've recently added some subcategories to the game entries as well, for easier viewing:
Ok that became a lot longer than I thought it would, but it's good to have these thoughts collected in one place. Just one last thing: In listing various features from these games that relate to the genre, some unique aspects are spoiled so if you want to go in blind, use the list format page and check video playthroughs or reviews instead. Now that we have that out of the way, please enjoy the rest of the site!