This beautiful Metroidvania might be the most literal take on the genre yet, and I'm in love

9 Years of Shadows
(Image credit: Halberd Studios)

A stunning Metroidvania game called 9 Years of Shadows dropped on Steam today, March 27, and in addition to being a frontrunner for the most literal interpretation of the genre, it's one of the most eye-grabbing games of 2023 so far.

Let's break Metroidvania down into its root parts for a minute. The Metroid games, one might argue, are fundamentally about a woman collecting upgrades and armor suits in order to explore new areas and overcome challenges. Castlevania games, meanwhile, are often about exploring castles, generally in search of some supernatural villain. 

I wanted to lay this out because 9 Years of Shadows is a game about a woman collecting upgrades and armor suits so she can explore new areas of a castle in search of some supernatural villain. So you can see what I meant by a literal interpretation.

That being said, Mexico-based developer Halberd Studios has put its own intriguing spin on these familiar elements for its debut title. You play as Europa, a warrior whose only company is her trusty halberd and an adorable magic bear named Apino. Europa is on a quest to conquer Talos Castle and bring color back to 9 Years of Shadow's cursed but still gorgeous world, and Apino's healing and ranged attacks will apparently come in mighty handy as you cleave your way through. 

I could've sworn I'd seen 9 Years of Shadows before, and it turns out I was right; it actually appeared at our very own Future Games Show back in 2021 to show off its stellar music. As it happens, the game's score was partly composed by Michiru Yamane, who's also contributed to several of the actual Castlevania games.

One look at 9 Years of Shadows – the lovely retro art style, the grim setting, and especially the kick-ass halberd – was enough to sell me on it, but my interest didn't hit critical levels until I saw the launch trailer, which uses honest-to-god Sailor Moon transformations to show off Europa's Greek mythology-tinged armor sets. I've got nothing but respect for any Metroidvania dev channeling Sailor Moon in the year of our lord 2023. This one's going straight to the top of my Steam wishlist, and probably into my library before long.  

If you're looking for another gorgeous Metroidvania, feast your eyes on Afterimage, which left me equally enthralled last month. 

Austin Wood

Austin freelanced for the likes of PC Gamer, Eurogamer, IGN, Sports Illustrated, and more while finishing his journalism degree, and he's been with GamesRadar+ since 2019. They've yet to realize that his position as a staff writer is just a cover up for his career-spanning Destiny column, and he's kept the ruse going with a focus on news and the occasional feature.