Roguelike vs. Metroidvania: What’s the Difference?

As new indie video games continue to be developed every day and make it to your favorite video game store catalogs, labels such as roguelike and Metroidvania have become a common sight.

For those old enough to remember, roguelikes and Metroidvanias used to be a force to be reckoned with within the video game industry. This changed when the industry made the transition to 3D, opening much more possibilities than the otherwise limited 2D technology.

But what is a roguelike? What is a Metroidvania? And, what are their similarities and differences? Let’s find out.

What Is a Roguelike?

A roguelike is a video game that, as its name implies, plays a lot like, or, at the very least, whose gameplay is heavily influenced by that of the 1980s cult-classic video game, Rogue. At its core, Rogue is a dungeon-crawling adventure game, but it introduced several gameplay mechanics that were considered so groundbreaking that it spawned a whole new genre of its own.

The Main Gameplay Mechanics of the Roguelike Genre

As a dungeon crawler, Rogue’s gameplay mainly consists of exploring a multi-layered dungeon, with each level of the dungeon being harder than the previous one, while fighting your way through a host of enemies in turn-based combat. Although the main goal is to reach the lower level of the dungeon, the game does reward exploration, as you can collect a variety of items, such as weapons, armor, potions, scrolls, etc. that can help you throughout the game.

But Rogue is best remembered for two other gameplay mechanics. First, it introduced permadeath, meaning that if you die you can’t respawn and have to start over from the beginning, making every decision you make count. Second, every single playthrough in Rogue is unique, since all dungeon levels, monster encounters, and treasures you find are procedurally generated as you play.

Since the release of Rogue, new titles within the genre have incorporated gameplay mechanics from other genres, such as leveling up from the RPG genre. In contrast, in some other cases, new titles have dropped other mechanics, such as the permadeath feature or the turn-based combat.

The titles that drop mechanics are usually referred to as “roguelites”. Diablo, for example, features most of the gameplay mechanics of the genre, save for permadeath, making the influential dungeon crawler a roguelike. This fact alone can provide an idea of the impact the genre has had on the video game industry.

What Is a Metroidvania?

A portmanteau of the names Metroid and Castlevania, the term Metroidvania was originally used to refer to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, which capitalizing on the popularity enjoyed by some of the mechanics present in the Metroid series decided to incorporate them into its own gameplay.

The Main Gameplay Mechanics of the Metroidvania Genre

Metroidvania games are action-adventure games at their core but feature a couple of gameplay mechanics that set them apart from other genres. Usually two-dimensional sidescrollers, these games take place inside a single, large world map that the player can explore from the beginning of the game, although some parts of the world are often inaccessible until acquiring certain weapons or items.

Although the genre’s name was only coined by the time Castlevania: Symphony of the Night was released, this wasn’t the first title within the genre. Furthermore, even when it was the Metroid and Castlevania series that popularized the genre, the main gameplay mechanics associated with it precede both video game series.

The 1985 video game Brain Breaker, released one year before the original Metroid, already featured all the gameplay mechanics associated with the genre. The Castlevania series, however, took these mechanics, refined them, and, adding a couple of RPG mechanics, created was is largely agreed to be the best Metroidvania out there with Symphony of the Night.

Roguelike vs. Metroidvania

As we have seen, both the roguelike and Metroidvania genres have been a big driving force within the video game industry. Not only do new roguelike and Metroidvania titles continue to be developed, but both genres’ influence is easily discerned in modern adventure titles. Such is the case of the Souls series, for example.

Even when the Souls series does not actually feature permadeath, it does an impressive job at penalizing death with its experience system; if you die you drop all the experience you’ve gathered thus far, meaning every decision you make is consequential.

The Souls series’ world maps are an excellent example of the Metroidvania legacy as well. They are large open-world games that allow you to explore from the beginning except for certain areas which you will be able to access as you level up and progress through the game.

Nevertheless, even when the two genres share many gameplay mechanics and a single video game can fit both categories, as is the case of the Souls series, they differ in the way they approach the broader adventure genre, of which they are both subgenres. While roguelikes take place in various dungeons, or levels of a dungeon, Metroidvanias take place in a single, large world map.

Moreover, in roguelikes you cannot, or quite simply need not, backtrack your steps, as opposed to Metroidvanias which actually encourage players to backtrack their steps and further explore the game world, providing a feeling of non-linearity. Although both genres can be very similar they offer two different takes on the adventure genre, with roguelikes taking a more linear approach, while Metroidvanias take a non-linear one.

Different Approaches to Adventure Games

The reason these two genres are so closely associated with each other is that they both fall within the adventure game spectrum. And although they do share many similarities, such as leveling up, special weapons and gear that allow for character development, and exploration, they have one key difference: their world maps.

Because roguelikes feature different dungeons or levels of a dungeon, their gameplay feels much more linear. As opposed to Metroidvanias, which feature a single, large map that you are supposed to explore throughout the game. The two genres are just two different approaches to adventure games.

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