When the original Metroid first appeared on the Nintendo Entertainment System, few could have predicted not just the hit it’d become, but how it would influence the genre of action-adventure in gaming. I mean, here we had a game where you couldn’t finish in a single sitting, one that actually had you go LEFT as opposed to the somewhat typical right, and was a huge adventure where you could explore a little digital world. And that show-stopping reveal of its hero Samus Aran as a woman stunned everyone. Metroid II on the Game Boy was a fair effort, but Nintendo really needed to step it up to give this game a good sequel. And in March of 1994, they did. Big time.
Super Metroid, the third game in the franchise, is the stick by which all titles in the franchise will be compared to. I’m not kidding, the most often thing game critics do when a new Metroid game appears is compare it to Super Metroid. There’s no escaping that fact. Hell, one of the reasons I loved Metroid: Other M is because it was set immediately after this game, and the feel of its exploration reminded me so much of it.
Set after the events of the series’ Game Boy debut, the opening cutscene features Samus summing up the events of the first two games. In particular, her defeat of Mother Brain and her discovery of a baby Metroid after wiping out most of the species. Taking the infant (who had imprinted on Samus as its mother) to the Ceres Space Colony, she hoped further study would lead to some way to harness its energy absorption power to benefit the galaxy. When a distress signal brings her back (in one of the most atmospheric opening sections in a game ever), Samus finds the crew dead, and the baby in the hands of Ridley, her mortal nemesis from Mother Brain’s Space Pirates. After a boss battle that can’t be won, Ridley took off with the baby, and Samus gave chase all the way back to Planet Zebes. Not under orders, not for a profit. Samus was going to safe the baby at any cost.
Before I continue, it must be noted that this game is the ideal example of how to do a video game story with the bare minimum. Other than that opening narration before the opening section on Ceres Space Colony, there is no dialogue or cutscenes of any kind. There are no words used to explain the situation, but the visuals are enough to figure it out. When you find the golden statue of the four Space Pirate Generals blocking the path to Tourian, it’s easy to understand that you must find and kill all four to open that path. When you’re exploring Tourian and see the dead Pirates and catch a giant Metroid in the act of eating another one, you don’t need some high def unplayable cinematic to understand what’s going on. I miss games like this.
Graphics are great on this. Not just in the incredible designs of Samus, the monsters and the bosses, but the levels. Little touches like Norfair (the fire area) making the screen go all red and wavy from the intense heat, or Maridia with its underwater distortion and calming cool blue tones just sell the world of Zebes as a unique and varied world. And audio-wise, the music is amazing. Most of the times someone whistles the haunting series theme tune, its this iteration of it. And the boss theme from this game has persisted along with Ridley, now known as Ridley’s theme. And the sound effects as you fire missles and set off bombs just work. They all blast and crackle with glorious 16-bit sound.
Samus handles incredibly well, although those used to her easier controls on the GBA games will have to take time getting used to her jumps. The new items are also great, with things like the Space Jump and Speed Booster becoming staples of the series. Speaking of the Speed Booster, one of my few complaints is having a sprint button in this game to make the Speed Booster work. One of the better innovations in the franchise was just running in one direction without stopping to make the thing work.
Gameplay is great, especially if you love exploration. Planet Zebes is one of the largest game worlds in existence, and there is no right path to succeed. In fact, there are plenty of people who have made a point of finding all the possible shortcuts there are in this game. Regardless of how you go about it, there’s lots to see and discover, from cute animals that teach you advanced moves like the wall jump and Shine Spark, and all the health and ammo boosters. This is probably one of the most irritating aspects of this game, because more so here than in most others, not collecting as many items can make later sections just frustrating enough to throw a controller.
The boss battles are the best parts of this game. Each boss battle is awesome and unique from the others, and the four Generals are great enough to be final bosses in their own right. So, when you face off with Mother Brain in the epic finale, you know it’s going to blow your mind. And of course, there is the bittersweet ending (I won’t spoil it, but you may know what I mean already), which is still one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen happen to a game hero. If you wonder why I tolerate Samus’s depressing behavior in Other M, it’s because of this ending.
Super Metoid is still considered by many to be the greatest game of all time. Youtube is loaded with videos of people doing speed-runs on it, and the Virtual Console release of it has been greatly celebrated. Its influence on the action-adventure genre of gaming, as well as on its own franchise, cannot be denied. Here’s hoping that we may see more games like it in the future, whether they’re 2D or not.
|Massive world to explore, tons of incredible items to do that and take out enemies, epic boss battles, and one of the best minimalist stories of the 16 bit era.||If you don't find a lot of the power-up items for health and such, can be frustratingly hard to get past the later sections. Also, pressing a button to sprint to get the Speed Booster to work makes it rather annoying.|