It’s finally the day, Metroid Dread is out in the wild! But maybe it’s a bit too high of a price point for you. Or maybe you already burned through it and are itching for more 2D action platformers. Whatever brought you here, I’ve got you covered. Here are some recent 2D action platformers that I think you can have a lot of fun with!
Retro Run and Gun Action
Alright, listen: Steel Assault isn’t a Metroidvania game. It’s just not. It’s an old-school, side-scrolling shooter in the vein of Contra, which is not at all a Metroidvania game.
I get that, I understand it completely.
You should still go play it.
First of all, Steel Assault pays tribute to its retro roots as well as any modern game I’ve played. From the outstanding pixel art to the absolutely mind-melting metal soundtrack, this release feels like it is straight out of the Sega Megadrive catalog. It really gave me big Contra vibes, other than being armed with a whip that cracks out electricity like it was made by the Ferengi.
The cool extra wrinkle that Steel Assault brings to the run and gun genre is its zipline. You can shoot lines out in opposite directions at any time. You can shoot one straight up and down to climb up to platforms above you or shoot it horizontally to bridge a gap. One of the coolest (and most Metroid feeling) applications of this ability is in the very first level, where you have to shoot out a series of ziplines to climb up an elevator shaft. It’s a super-cool ability that feels super good to use.
Unfortunately, the zipline is mostly a neat optional thing, rather than the big hook of the game. There are a few places where it’s necessary and a few others where it is strategically beneficial. Sadly, for large parts of the game, I didn’t end up using it at all.
The only other thing that bugs me about Steel Assault is its difficulty. Yes, the game is hard, as it should be. That’s not what bugs me, or at least not entirely.
When I started up the game I played on the default difficulty level. I ended up getting completely stuck on a mid-boss in level 2. I tried over and over again and couldn’t figure out any way to beat this crazed, chainsaw-wielding automaton. Eventually, I switched down a difficulty level just to try to see more of the game. At that point, I ended up breezing through the whole thing with no problem. Even most bosses I was able to beat in a single go.
My final playtime on the easier difficulty was less than forty minutes for the whole experience.
Steel Assault is a super fun throwback to action games of old. It’s not a game that will have a 1-to-1 overlap with Metroid fans, but it absolutely feels like a game you would have checked out from Blockbuster when Super Metroid wasn’t available.
The Metroidvania That Wasn’t
This release has felt like a bit of a bait and switch to me. I really expected a Metroidvania when I first saw it, but almost immediately found myself on a world-map/level select screen that’s straight out of Super Mario World.
You work your way through the game as a sword- and magic-wielding kid on a quest to save his pet dog, who also happens to be the guardian spirit for your home. The narrative is fairly light, but when it pops up it’s really adorably written. The focus of this game is on 2D action platforming that feels really, really good. Each level is made up of several areas that you traverse through, and several levels have hidden exits that you can’t get to right away.
For the first hour or so this felt like a fairly straightforward game. Eventually, you unlock different forms of magic and an ability skill tree, and the game starts to open up. This is when backtracking to prior levels to look for those extra exits starts to come into play, but exploration still feels like more of an afterthought to this game than I was expecting.
I feel like Flynn: Son of Crimson is a game that started development as a Metroidvania game but then abandoned most of the tropes of that genre in favor of its level-based world. It’s still a super fun game, and for some reason, it reminds me a lot of the Hook tie-in game on the SNES, which is one of my favorite retro games.
I’d recommend Flynn: Son of Crimson to Metroid fans who love platforming and are interested in a more linear, straightforward adventure.
Vibrant Cartoony Ax-based Action
I went into Jack Axe expecting a very Metroidvania experience and got something… very different. This is a very bright, colorful, cheerful platforming game. It claims to draw inspiration from both Norse and Filipino mythology, which is a super interesting mix.
You play as a girl named Jack who takes possession of a mystical ax and uses it to explore an open-world 2D environment. From a gameplay perspective, though, this feels more in line with something like Super Meat Boy or Super Magbot than any exploration game. The game is divided up into large rooms full of enemies, pitfalls, and traps that you navigate through. Taking a single hit kills you, which causes you to lose some coins and restart that room.
One cool platforming twist to this game is how the ax plays into things. Rather than swinging it as a melee weapon, your character throws the ax. It’ll spin in place for a moment at the end of its range before coming back to you. While it’s spinning, you can pull yourself towards it, which is a huge part of the platforming challenge in this game. This ends up meaning that your 2D platforming is based on both jumps and carefully timing a thrown object, like in Super Mario Galaxy and Boomerang X.
Harder Than It Looks
Jack Axe has been a really fun game so far, and I love that it’s gotten an option for three other players to join in on local coop for some really chaotic platforming action. My only real complaint is that some of the platforming and especially some boss fights can be really punishing. I don’t tend to mind having to take on a boss over and over again (in fact I’m almost disappointed when I don’t have to do so in anything resembling a Metroid game), but the fact that you come away with fewer coins is frustrating.
At one point I got stuck on a boss that I just couldn’t figure out the rhythm of and lost about half my coins before I even knew how to fight him.
Overall, I’d recommend Jack Axe for Metroidvania fans who have also had fun with twitchy platformers like Celeste or N++ and to those looking for a game that it’d be easy to have friends pick up and play with them.
Hand Drawn… something
You probably thought that Steel Assault was the least Metroid-y game on my list of Metroid alternatives, didn’t you? Well, let me introduce you to the wonderfully weird hand-drawn world of The Bear and the Admiral.
Just look at this game!
The whole thing has this weird, kind of offputting yet super charming hand-drawn aesthetic, but plays like a very traditional 2D shooter. You run through fairly short levels blasting everything in your path with upgradeable weapons, pick up collectibles, and move on. It’s simple, but the super surreal vibes make it a game I’m comfortable recommending, even though I’ve only spent about ten minutes with it so far.
Support weird art!
… and so many more!
The Nintendo Switch feels like it’s a haven for 2D action games. Whether it’s retro games included in the NSO subscription, rereleases like Castlevania Advance Collection, or awesome indie titles, there are endless options to pick from. Join us on our Discord or Slack to chat about some of your favorites, or leave me recommendations in the comments below!