Exploration/Puzzle Platformers That Aren't Metroidvanias

I am about 4 hours into my first playthrough of Monster World IV, and I am having a blast. I played Dragon’s Trap and a bit of the new Monster Boy but I am enjoying this much more.

It got me thinking about how Metroidvanias have really dominated the discussion of any sort of exploration based platformer. I realized that aside from the Monster Boy games (which I have seen labeled as Metroidvanias too, so I may be using a bad example!) I can’t really think of many platform games that aren’t made with Metroid in mind.

So what I’m looking for now are games you feel are good for exploration in a 2D world but are definitely NOT Metroidvaias in your opinion for whatever reason.

Shadow of the Beast 2 is one example I can think of. As far as I can tell, you pretty much have to go around the world and do things in a set order in specific ways to complete the game (I’ve never really figured this game out past a few initial moves). It really doesn’t feel like Metroid since you’re not backtracking across areas with new abilities generally. Instead it has almost an adventure game logic to it. This is a style I’d love to see developed in some modern indie games.


Limbo and Inside come to mind. They are made by the same team, but one is not a sequel of the other.

They might be a little more linear than what you’re after, but they are staggeringly good.


The Umihara Kawase games are the first that spring to mind, the protagonist’s fishing hook opens up a multitude of possibilities for exploring each level, with very malleable physics and arcade like stage progression from the beginning with different routes through the game depending on which exits you take.

My thoughts then turn to Wario Land 2, a game which turned the series flat on its head by making Wario invincible in the traditional sense. Instead, getting hurt by enemies is often a means to solve environmental puzzles, and the levels themselves really are the enemy, there’s a lot of exploring to be had and secret exits leading to different story chapters.

Wario Land 4 is another good one. You enter a level via a portal, and have to grab the key to progress to the next level and four pieces of jewel hidden about that level. There’s three difficulties - Normal, Hard, Super Hard - and each difficulty messes with your knowledge of the game by hiding those jewel pieces in different places. On top of this, to exit each level you have to trigger a timed race back to the portal you came from, which further tests your exploration knowledge up to that point. On the harder difficulties it’s common to ‘finish’ a level without having grabbed all four jewels.

It’s brilliant, and also much more arcade-focused than the previous games. Your score matters (Get over 10,000 points and you get a gold coin), and you can die again. One of Nintendo R&D1’s best ever games.

The last one that comes to mind is the Game Boy follow-up to Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong '94. It’s more puzzle platformer than exploration game, but Mario’s moveset is expanded beyond what was thought possible in 1994, which in turn led to some very tricky level design that forces you to consider your actions and interactions with the level furniture and enemies very carefully

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Popils is one that comes to mind for me.

It’s a single-screen platform puzzler where you have to destroy blocks around you to change the level structure and make a route to the damsel in distress. Truly brilliant Game Gear exclusive by the creator of Bubble Bobble. Maybe not quite what you’re after but it’s an amazing game.

Also what about Hermie Hopperhead Scrap Panic on PS1? That’s a bit like Super Mario World or Yoshi’s Island.

The two original Turrican on Amiga (sorry C64 but the musics…), action computer masterpieces.
And Shadow of the Beast 3, very good, very classy (more puzzle).

I know of a few:

FEZ is a big one. A very very fascinating game that is light on pure platforming action or challenge, but huge on exploration. It’s practically an open world game, but made of small rooms and warps. I loved it.

Cave Story is often referred to as a Metroidvania, but I don’t feel very strongly that it is. The levels feel more like pure platformers with a bit of exploration.

Braid is obviously another well known puzzle platformer too.

Funny, all of my examples are from the same timeframe.

Going back even further: Another World. And Flashback. Perhaps too linear.

I never played it but what about Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee?

Man, so many great games many new to me and some I had forgotten.

@matt Never heard of either of those first two, I’ll give them a look! Any PS1 platformer is automatically interesting to me. As for the more cinematic platformers I never got far with them but I need to try again and really immerse myself in them I feel. Those games always give me Heavy Metal vibes.

Speaking of which, that reminded me of another 2D exploration game I like a lot, Blackthorne!

@Tchiko I have only played some of Mega Turrican and I was under the impression is was a straight up action game (maybe why I never got far!). Are they better on Amiga? I never even knew there was another SotB game after 2, if I ever figure it out I’ll have to check out 3! Do you prefer 3 over 2?

@Peltz FEZ I played and loved, especially with the killer soundtrack. That is exactly what I am trying to think of, really fresh ideas that don’t just copy the greats.

@harborline_765 I had heard of Umihara Kawase before but never tried it. I’ll definitely look into that and the other titles you recommend!

@raskulous I had played a demo of Limbo and I did enjoy it back then. Only heard great things about Inside.

Bummer we’ll never get the sequel. And yea, soundtrack was the best part!

Yeah I think if you have towns and stores they’re just side scrolling action RPGs. Monster World games are much more influenced by Zelda II than Metroid. Castlevania Nocturne/Symphony added some of this RPG stuff to essentially a straight Super Metroid clone map, Igarashi started spamming out clones of that, and people have been confused ever since.

There’s also the more literal puzzle ones, with just box/key puzzles instead of new weapons or armour etc.

Yeah I love the genre, 2D or 3D. Ever since I was a kid I loved an open world to explore, it felt more real if you can revisit areas.

Obviously the Monster World games MW2, 3, and 4. (MW1 is kinda a weird hybrid and the non MW Wonder Boys - Wonder Boy 1 and Monster Lair are just action games)

There are a truckload of these on Famicom:

Battle of Olympus.
Goonies (stage based but the same concept)
Goonies II
Maze of Galious
Getsu Fūma Den
Montezuma’s Revenge (Master System version is best)
Friday the 13th

Overhead perspective but basically the same thing:

Ai Senshi Nicol
King Kong 2
Dragon Scroll
Star Trek 25th Anniversary

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Inside is incredible… the sound design alone is worth the playthrough. I won’t spoil anything, but it’s truly something that everyone should experience. Mind blowing.

You know, I think I’d classify River City Ransom this way. It isn’t really a platformer but the exploration is definitely there. It’s also one of the best games on the NES.

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Never really thought about 8-bit but it makes sense seeing as things were far less in ruts that early on!

Structurally it is basically the same as Wonder Boy/Monster World Dragon’s Trap. Heck it even has actual platforming.

It’s just that the combat method is Double Dragon (belt scrolling beat em up) instead of Mario/Castlevania (side scrolling whack em with a weapon).

The Goemon games are pretty much the same thing too.

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There’s a 4th Adventure Island game that never made it out of Japan, as Takahashi Meijin no Bouken Jima 4 that fits with this group. It plays more like Monster World 2 / Wonder Boy 3, ironically given the origins of Adventure Island as a Hudson debranded Wonder Boy game.

It’s really annoying now that I think on it how literally every game that tries to be an explorative platformer must be a SotN mold metroidvania from that point onward.


Mega and Super Turrican 1/2 are different yes, not the same animal.
In the original Turrican 1/2 you still have levels, but based on (shooting) exploration. They are more unique (particularly on a console standard perspective) and way better (I only love those two in the série).
Shadow of the Beast 3 is an Amiga title only, not as open as the 2, just levels but with exploration and puzzles. I personally prefer it over 2, It’s a great game with beautiful art, incredible music.

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Yeah, it’s a shame a specific combination/appearance of mechanics and design elements became a standard of sorts. In modern times it’s even more cynical when you see words like “roguelike Metroidvania” and other genre combinations attached to new game releases, almost like it’s being thrown in there to appeal to a commercial need above all else.

That’s really the reason I started this thread. For the most part, the second a platformer adds an exploration element it instantly must take from Metroid. I love a good Metroidvania, don’t get me wrong, but if you look back at the period of time where platformers were not as tightly bound to conventions like that, there are some really cool examples of explorative platformers that have different takes on how to do things.

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