Ultimate NES Remix – 3DS

Uh...I don't think Sarkesian really had this in mind.

Uh…I don’t think Sarkesian really had this in mind.

Question: If you could go back and fix or improve a classic video game, what would you change? Would you add save points to Castlevania? Give more experience per battle and an MP magic system in Final Fantasy? Extra stages in Super Mario World? Put Mega Man in the Adventure of Link? Or would you instead chop the game up into tiny bits so as to focus on minute, mundane tasks that have no relevance without the context of the full game, making them so pathetically easy that a comatose lemur could earn a 3-star rating for each challenge? I’ll give you one guess which option Nintendo chose for their Ultimate NES Remix.

Find yourself bored with the mundane challenge of running underneath a turtle with osteoporosis? Try running under a BIGGER turtle with osteoporosis!

Find yourself bored with the mundane challenge of running underneath a turtle with osteoporosis? Try running under a BIGGER turtle with osteoporosis!

With every new significant advance in video game technology comes an inevitable onslaught of ports from systems that had less computing power than my living room carpet. Nintendo develops the SNES and gives us Mario All Stars, Playstation devises a 32-bit disc based console and Namco immediately releases Pac Man for it, a move later followed by Midway Arcade Treasures for the PS2, and now that we have an awesome hand-held system with WiFi communications and 3-D technology without the need for glasses, Nintendo has decided that among all it’s remakes and ports of N64 games, it would give us the option of regressing all the way to the 1980s, but only in 30-second intervals with challenges less entertaining than most tutorial stages. No, If you must know, I didn’t exactly fall in love with this game. In fact, this sort of regressive nostalgia and half-assed attempt at creativity merely reinforces my decision not to buy a PS4 and comes dangerously close to forcing me to get up off the couch and go outside. But that would take too much effort, so let’s see what the game has to offer.

NES5Ultimate NES Remix contains selections from 15 well-loved Nintendo masterpieces and also Balloon Fight (a game that forces me to retract my statement about Joust from a few weeks ago: it didn’t need more variations of game play to make it worth playing for more than five minutes. It just needed to not control like a stack of Kleenex in a hurricane). Each game has between 6 and 25 miniature challenges, such as asking Samus to cross a room without taking damage, having Pit battle Medusa, or Link to find a secret entrance. However, while challenges sound like a lot of fun, Ultimate NES Remix hits their target about as well as a dart player on a carousel.

Oh no! How will I ever find the three coins with thirty seconds and only the silhouette of a few bricks?

Oh no! How will I ever find the three coins with thirty seconds and only the silhouette of a few bricks?

First, no matter what challenge you undertake, your score (from one to three stars, and on random occasions for no apparent reason, stars with rainbow outlines) depends entirely on your time. If Samus has to cross a room and enter a door, for example, you could opt to deftly weave through a crowd of monsters like a high-class thief stealing a diamond in a room full of lasers, but that might take time, and even if you got to that door, you’d probably get a lower score than the player who imagined themselves as Mongo from Blazing Saddles and just hopped in the pool of lava and waded across, hitting the goal on the verge of death. I enjoy timed challenges once in a while, but games that constantly hold me to a tight schedule just takes away the option to stop and smell the fire flowers. (an act I imagine would bear a strong similarity to snorting Tobasco) Dead Rising 2 timed everything, and that game completely took the fun out of beating heads and hacking limbs off zombies.

Second, who cares if Mario picks up the fire flower? If the challenge ends before you get to indulge in some freelance arson, the goal could have just as easily asked Mario to jump to a block, or walk forward, and it would have entertained just as much. One challenge put Link in the 2nd Quest dungeon room with the old man who offers, “Leave your money or your life,” with the instructions that you need to choose the latter and sacrifice one of your heart containers. The entire point of forcing a player into that decision depends on living with the consequences, but the game doesn’t ask Link to do anything afterwards, so we don’t have to consider our sacrifice, and whether or not we’d rather give up that blue ring we’ve saved up for, or if we want to bleed a little and tough our way through the rest of the game. And we didn’t have to go through an entire game to get to that heart container, or Samus’s screw attack, or Mario’s frog suit, so when you get these items, the level of satisfaction you receive almost reaches that of a hand job while under the effects of sodium pentothal.

Face insurmountable odds! Fight low-level bosses during the end game with full health!

Face insurmountable odds! Fight low-level bosses during the end game with full health!

Finally, I may have employed an undue level of generosity by using the term “challenge” to describe the tasks Ultimate NES Remix asks of you. If you’ve ever learned to ride a bike, at one point an adult probably touted their implicit level of trust, claiming they would never consider letting go of the bike while you pedaled, and–of course–let go, thereby shattering your eternal trust in them in exchange for the knowledge of how to balance precariously by your genitals on a knob of hard rubber moving at thirty miles an hour. Well, Nintendo, rather than letting go of the bike like most parents would to prove that you won’t fall over, instead puts on an extra pair of training wheels, then straps you to their back and rides the bike for you. As the challenges rarely last more than 30 seconds, they have a difficulty akin to poking a dead raccoon with a stick. In fact, a few of Link’s challenges, such as “find the secret entrance!” begin mere moments after he has set the bomb or cast the fire that will reveal said entrance, and if the game feels you can handle it, you only have to walk him into the newly revealed secret. Sound too hard? Don’t worry. The game imposes a bright yellow circle over the goal and often includes a yellow arrow pointing to it.

First, you sign them up for the Fruit of the Month Club, then when their intake of dietary fiber reaches epic proportions, you catch them by surprise in the bathroom and hit them with a hammer!

First, you sign them up for the Fruit of the Month Club, then when their intake of dietary fiber reaches epic proportions, you catch them by surprise in the bathroom and hit them with a hammer!

So knocking out three stars in each category didn’t take a whole lot of effort, so I thought, “Why not?” Well, I suppose I also had to consider Anne’s family reunion happening around me, and thought the game would give me an excuse not to talk to anyone. but still, I took a few days and earned each star in each challenge. I believe–although don’t quote me on this–that earning stars opens up more challenges for play, and that you also open up the truly remixed levels, but once I received all stars in each category, I opened up a new mode of play, the “Ultimate Famicom Remix”! Awesome! I know they made major changes when they brought these games to the US, so maybe I’ll get to experience their original difficulty levels, or play Doki Doki Panic instead of Super Mario Bros. 2.

Instead, I can sum up all the noticeable differences as follows:
1. Text in The Legend of Zelda reverts to original Japanese.
2. You can only pick up the trophy in the Adventure of Link by stabbing it.
3. Pit doesn’t fly automatically during his fight with Medusa
4. At the end of Kid Icarus, Pit no longer stands against a Grecian backdrop.

…”Congratulations! You’ve just mastered the art of classical piano and performed at all the major world concert halls. History will revere you as a virtuoso musician…now this note here sitting between the lines? We call that ‘C’…”

Exploit the glitch!

Exploit the glitch!

So I bought the game because the back of the box looked interesting, showing a stage in Super Mario Bros that ran from right to left instead of left to right, and Link climbing Donkey Kong’s scaffolding. I should, in all fairness, point out that Ultimate NES Remix does include three unlockable categories of actual remixes, for a total of 75 challenges, but like the rest of the game, you can’t play any of these long enough to enjoy them. Seriously, Nintendo…I have an SD card the size of a toenail clipping that stores 32GB of memory. If you want to swap out some graphics and data in a handful of 300KB roms, at least have the decency to give us the option of playing the entire fucking game. And that full version of SMB you gave us that plays at double speed? Yeah…I’d rather just go play Sonic the Hedgehog.
For my money, the true “Ultimate NES Remix” remains Super Mario Crossover, and it doesn’t cost a dime. Go play that.

(If they change the link…you can still Google the name)

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Metroid Super Zeromission – SNES Hack

Kraid's Room Redesign

So I should apologize for the all-things-Metroid theme lately. For anyone not into the series, I understand that you probably want to claw my eyes out, desperately waiting for me to do Mega Man or Onimusha or…I don’t know…Nintendogs or something. For those of you who actually enjoy the series (or any series for that matter), you know that a good game functions much like a gateway drug; sure, it excites you at first, and maybe for a few times afterwards, but eventually the high wears off, causing you to smash your piggy bank, rifle your couch cushions and shakedown everyone you know for cash so you can branch out into similar, but harder relatives from the same family, trying to get that same fix. (Wow…once again, I compare video games to drugs. Maybe I should seek help?) But as I mentioned last week, Nintendo has only released five 2-D Metroid games. So when I’ve run through all of them, I have no option but to increase my dosage and spend more time in the basement hunched over my obsession, trying to sate myself. Eventually, trying to get that rush, I work my way up to speed…running, until all the time and energy I’ve spent on Metroid pay off with an aneurysm and I drop dead. They find my body weeks later, reaching for Trauma Center to no avail.

Oh! Behind you! Look Behind you! I told you not to go in there!

Oh! Behind you! Look Behind you! I told you not to go in there!

You laugh, but every three or four years, some poor, overworked teenager in Korea will spend three days straight in a PC Room playing Star Craft with nothing but ramen noodles and a haze of cigarette smoke for nourishment, and winds up dropping dead. I’d prefer to avoid that, so for a fresh, unsullied bout with 2D space pirates, I’ve resorted to something a little unorthodox, a ROM hack. Yes, I know that rom hacking only lies the width of a computer science degree away from fan fiction. But while I don’t exactly see the appeal in spending ten hours of my life reading about some ditzy teenager’s difficult choice between her torrid, wild affair with Legolas and her stimulating romance with Will Turner, programmers tend to keep themselves out of the story–often by keeping the story out of the game. So with a little research I discovered a highly recommended rom hack blending aspects of Zero Mission into the basic Super Metroid data.

And for those of you sick of Metroid reviews, good news! Super Zeromission has cured me of my desire for Metroid the way an angry father cures his teenager of the desire to smoke by making him suck down an entire carton of Camels in an hour!

Ridley StatueI’d like to establish first that Super Zeromission rivals canonical games for brilliance. While veteran players will easily note the basic data from Super Metroid, the hacker (or hackers) has (have) redesigned everything from the map to the basic sprite patterns, even utilizing some of the coding for enemies left unused in the original ROM. The game also drastically alters the original item acquisition order and adds in some new puzzles and door locks. This amounts to the game feeling new, something worth playing, and not just a burgeoning programmer trying to pass for clever by giving Samus an afro without actually changing the game.

...you bastard.

…you bastard.

It also follows a predictable logic. Let me explain; when I play a game, I assume at the very least that at least one person in the testing process has completed the game. And although weird stuff does crop up from time to time like giant ice keys or weird islands past the Archangel Dam, I can also reasonably assume that someone has solved all the puzzles, completed all the challenges, and not gotten stuck anywhere that would force them to restart the game. In short, if I get stuck, I can assume the developers made the game possible to complete, and that I just have to stop idling my brain in neutral in order to move forward. Now, I’ve edited entire books before, a process with all the enjoyment of separating beach sand into groups of different minerals with only a magnifying glass and a hand full of swollen fingers, and I’ve done it without experiencing the hulk-smash anger that washes over me every time I have to debug three or four lines of code. For a game ROM, not only does all the code need to work flawlessly, but it has to translate into a a flawless game world.  Games demand layers of editing the same way a toddler expects you to give him food AND clean diapers, and they’ll both give you a massive headache if you deny it to them. Players should never have to resign a game because the developers let them get stuck. I often got stuck in Super Zeromission. In fact, I’d often get stuck in small areas, where I could only go back and forth between one or two rooms, usually with the only visible way out requiring an item that the jackass hacker wouldn’t give me for several more hours. Still, rather than assuming he screwed up, I could rely on a second, more hidden, method of escape. At moments like that, not only did I enjoy discovering a secret more difficult to find than anything Nintendo would dare put in a game, but I knew I found it only because the hacker trapped me in that room. I tip my hat to him/her for showing more brilliance in level design than the entire team at Nintendo.

Chozo StatuesBut I also wag my finger at the sadistic bastard for his unnatural love–nay, his fetish–for shinesparking. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, after reaching full speed with the speed booster, hitting the jump button will rocket you toward the heavens, allowing you to reach untold heights and smash through speed blocks. Further manipulation of this will let you dash horizontally, diagonally up, or let you spin jump and start the dash in midair. In most games, running with the speed boster will get you through all the required puzzles and shinesparking only lets you access a handful of secrets. It also usually drains your energy, but the hacker shut off that feature. Why? Because as previously mentioned, he doesn’t want you to get stuck anywhere, and almost all speed booster puzzles require shinesparking. Lots and lots of convoluted shinesparking. While it made parts of the game feel like a platformer, I will say that it forced me to look up detailed descriptions of how to properly perform the maneuver, as well as how to master the wall jump. Well done, hacker. You’ve become that one teacher everyone hates, but has to respect anyway for actually teaching me something.

Fuck you, bitchtits! You fill your room with water and take away my platforms and I'll make a suitcase out of you!

Fuck you, bitchtits! You fill your room with water and take away my platforms and I’ll make a suitcase out of you!

He/she also has some interesting ideas about how to rethink the purpose for item collecting. Take the varia and gravity suits, which allowed the player in Super Metroid to access new areas, increasing your exploratory capabilities (thankfully, the developers opted for the X-Ray scope instead of the colonoscope). The hacker lets you access all those areas even without the suit, and usually gives you a way to navigate through them. He even goes so far as to require you to do so. That when, when you finally do obtain those suits, you’ll appreciate them like a burn victim appreciates the Klondike. I do like the way he/she thinks, although I have to admit that between playing through water rooms without the gravity suit and my emulator lagging to begin with, the game felt like it moved by at the speed of the film “300.” Even when dry, the difficulty  slowed the pace down to a painful crawl, and while I like the idea of worldwide locks that need releasing, but the releases gave no indication of whether or not you successfully released them. While I enjoyed the scenery redesign, it didn’t quite make up for the hours spent backtracking through a massive world map. Furthermore, the lack of walkthroughs online forced me to rely on youtube let’s play videos done by players who, to their credit, made me feel like Stephen Hawking by comparison.

Illustrating that a good game antagonist has more survival tricks than the Joker.

Illustrating that a good game antagonist has more survival tricks than the Joker.

The story…well, the story doesn’t exist. The game lacks any of that fluff we may call “plot” that the other games seem to like so much. Hell, even the first two Metroid games had instruction manuals that listed off a premise. Super Zeromission seems to follow the structure of Zero Mission, so maybe we can use that premise and assume this is another remake. Or since the metroid larva appears and Zebes explodes at the end, maybe the hacker wanted to reboot Super Metroid. I don’t know. I don’t think it matters. You fight Kraid, Ridley and Mother Brain, in that order, but the hacker recycled Phantoon and Draygon, redesigning their sprites as the ghost of Mother Brain and an oddly crustacean-like Mecha Ridley, both fought in the second half of the game. While electing for a non-kosher final boss seems like an odd choice, I understand the difficulty in writing new code, and feel like I should respect that this hacker has at least some limits. Every single boss fight, though, adds something to it that makes the battles more difficult than in Super Metroid. Spore Spawn lives in a room with rising lava–somewhat of a questionable move for a plant–and only the Crocomire can stand on the floor in his chamber, while Samus has to settle for small platforms. Kraid has no more platforms, and you have to rely on the ice beam to let you stand on the crap he shoots out of his stomach. But, at the risk of going too long, the bosses accurately sum up the experience of the game; harder than most 2D Metroids, but in a constructive way that adds to the experience.

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Play Online or Download Rom Here: http://www.letsplaysnes.com/download-metroid-super-zero-mission-rom/

So...replay value? Or does this intend to shame me with feelings of inadequacy?

So…replay value? Or does this intend to shame me with feelings of inadequacy?

So giant flabby monsters can stand on shoddy masonry, but Samus weighs so much she just goes crashing through?

So giant flabby monsters can stand on shoddy masonry, but Samus weighs so much she just goes crashing through?

Ridley battle

Why, hello there. Just thought I might ask, you know...how do you operate the console without fingers?

Why, hello there. Just thought I might ask, you know…how do you operate the console without fingers?

Metroid – NES, GBA

Riding an elevator down through the maw of a giant, two-headed demon. What could possibly go wrong?

Riding an elevator down through the maw of a giant, two-headed demon. What could possibly go wrong?

In the past few days, I’ve finished three games and written about four of these entries. While I enjoy the prospect of getting ahead a few weeks on my posts, the ol’ well of humor might risk drying up. Or burning out. I don’t know. I do know, though, that while I enjoyed Metroid Prime 3, it left me with an aching feeling in my heart (which beats Custer’s Revenge, which left me with a burning sensation in my pee) that nothing quite compares to the old school 2-dimensional Metroid games. To my surprise, when I tallied them up to see which one drew the short straw and had to cleanse me of my first-person nausea, I realized that Nintendo has only made five: Metroid, Return of Samus, Super Metroid, and Zero Mission, which only really should count for half credit as it partially remakes the original. Why do we get so few of these classically styled games, but jumping plumbers have such a fan following that they’ve metastasized into multiple series? Someone contact the New Super Mario Bros. team and tell them what we really need. Still, I needed something to fill the void, and since I’ve already written about Zero Mission, Super Metroid and Return of Samus, I opted to go with the classic 8-bit original.

The story, as typical for games on the NES, has all the complexity Nintendo could detail on six whole pages of an 11.5×9 cm instruction manual. In the year 20X5–because apparently the fact that half the decade has passed matters more than which decade–all intelligent life in the Milky Way has come together into a peaceful federation rather than Earth setting up colonies and raping foreign planets for their resources like would probably happen in real life. However, to fill the void of assholes, a group of space pirates have hunted the wise Chozo bird race to extinction,  taken control of their planet, and used it as a base of operations to rob and loot and pillage from everyone else in the galaxy. You know…like the United States in real life.  Too inept to land a force of Federation Police on the planet, guns a-blazing, the government decides to outsource the job to a single bounty hunter who promises to do a better job for less money while simultaneously dealing with severe PTSD caused by the very space pirates she’ll have to face with no back-up or emotional support. A sort of space Mowgli (fitting with today’s neo-colonialism theme), Samus lived with the Chozo after space pirates killed her human family.

Prepare to spend some time killing bugs for energy.

Prepare to spend some time killing bugs for energy.

To add to the list of reasons why not to send her in, you begin the game at 30% health.  The power suit she wears, which the instruction manual says makes her a cyborg…and also apparently a man…apparently serves more of a Darth Vader suit function. Anyone else starting a game at 30% health would fade into view during the opening fanfare in a full-body cast along with their IV drip. This feels like more of a scathing criticism of the Federation. Why even keep a standing law enforcement agency when a hyperglycemic cancer patient covered in third-degree burns offers a better chance at bringing criminals to justice? But yeah. Samus begins the game with 30 health out of a total of 99, and no matter how many energy tanks you collect, each time you die or continue a game via password, you’ll still begin on the brink of death with only 30 health. Farming energy proves difficult, as you get to choose between doing it safely and doing it quickly, and even the “quickly” option takes time, as the drop rate decreases the more you shoot monsters that continuously spawn out of pipes. So prepare yourself to spend long hours going back and forth, shooting monsters in hopes of seeing those flashing purple baubles worth more than gold. And don’t go in to fight bosses until you know you can take them.

...a lot of time killing bugs.

…a lot of time killing bugs.

Beyond that, I think I should apologize for some unfair criticism of the game earlier. Previously, the lack of an in-game map challenged me to keep my blood pressure from rising in uncontrollable rage as I wandered through endless, identical passages trying to find something useful to do. This time, I decided to try it au naturale. I referred to a map briefly before I started, and realized that the later portions of the game had smaller segments of absolutely identical passageways, and while no less confusing, I could manage them far more easily than I had previously assumed.  So I memorized the initial path, from the morph ball to the missles, through the bombs, and eventually the ice beam. From there I only had to check the map once while looking for a well-hidden path through Norfair.

I'd like to go into McDonald's and have a giant stone human hand me my fries.

I’d like to go into McDonald’s and have a giant stone human hand me my fries.

Once free of initial map frustrations and the exciting and indefinite bouts of energy farming, the game plays a lot like the Legend of Zelda. Samus begins with a piddly array of attacks and range of motion. She hunts down items that increase her abilities. Items like the maru mari (morph ball) let her curl into a ball, allowing her to access corners of Zebes previously available only to the most intrepid of hedgehogs. The high jump boots, well…I shouldn’t have to explain what they do, but they let Samus leap to new heights, as well as making older heights less of a chore to reach. Weapon augments like the long beam allow her to one-up the actual side-scrolling Link, letting her shoot all the way across the screen! And bombs…well, enough with the Zelda comparisons. You get the point.

Most heros just kill their enemies. Samus humiliates them first.

Most heros just kill their enemies. Samus humiliates them first.

These items show the major advantage that the 2-D Metroid games hold over their Prime counterparts; you can use them everywhere, and they might help you anywhere. Lately, Samus’ arsenal consists of items that interact with specific items in the environment, allowing her to open up new areas. Same basic idea, yes, but when an item doesn’t benefit her all around, it amounts to amassing a giant ring of the most eclectic keys the Nintendo designers could think up. Getting the plasma cannon early on in Metroid Prime 3 excited me, until I realized it didn’t actually power up my shots and could only either open red doors or melt patches of ice and scrap metal that obstructed my path. You know, like a door. In this game, the beams actually have a function; the ice beam lets you turn your enemies into stepping stones, and the wave beam broadens your shot, reducing the pesky need to aim at stuff.

Ret-conning Samus' hair color already! Mostly a brunette, it changes to blonde and sometimes green within the game.

Ret-conning Samus’ hair color already! Mostly a brunette, it changes to blonde and sometimes green within the game.

Born in 1983, I owned an NES before I even heard of any other video game system. I have a certain fondness for the system and appreciate the games for personal reasons as well as for their famously superb design. So when I say Metroid surpasses most Nintendo classics, understand that I don’t say that to demean other games at all–it actually plays like a game far ahead of its time. You may have to deal with some obnoxious ret-conning from the storyline. The instruction manual introduces Samus both as a cyborg and a man–both ideas they don’t stick with even through the end of the game. Ridley, apparently, has a claim as the first life form on planet Zebes, which sounds kind of interesting, but the later games’ stories (as well as the Metroid Manga) come off as more compelling.

Completion bonus: After making your way through Mother Brain’s jar and successfully clearing the planet before it blows, the game places you back at the beginning, sans power suit (or with suit if you cleared the game without) and lets you play through again, this time beginning with the items of power–spin attack, high jump boots, varia suit, maru mari, bombs, and whichever beams you had before–allowing for a speed run attempt. While I usually only play through games once before writing about them, I ran through Metroid twice. Energy farming doesn’t take nearly as much time or effort with the spin attack, and a nice quick dash through the game felt like a nice reward–rather than a too-easy cheat mode–for the effort put into the first round.

Metroid Prime 3: Corruption – Wii

TitleMovie sequels, almost without question, have a quality inversely proportional to the number of films that precede them in the series. Video games, fortunately, routinely buck that trend. However, the literary gymnastics required to pull off a chain of sequels, prequels, inter-quils, alterni-quels and the other host of ploys developers use to desperately milk their cash cows after the udder has long since dried up and broken off has a tendency to some creative game numbering. As if “Final Fantasy II” didn’t epitomize nonsense in titling, the series eventually moved on to things like “Final Fantasy X-2“ and “Final Fantasy XIII-3.“ Having recently finished Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, which comes sequentially after Assassin’s Creed II but still two games before Assassin’s Creed III, I often have to throw aside any suspension of disbelief that these people can title a game more meaningfully than Mary Poppins song lyrics. Probably the prime example of this comes from the Metroid games. This week I’ll talk about Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, the tenth game in the series which takes place as the fifth or sixth game chronologically (depending on how you interpret the original and Zero Mission), and fourth in the Metroid Prime trilogy. Wrap your head around that while watching the Lion King 1&1/2.

Explain how a monster that, in 8 bits, looked like a demon child with down syndrome turns into a creature that Samus can only smite Gandalf-style.

Explain how a monster that, in 8 bits, looked like a demon child with down syndrome turns into a creature that Samus can only smite Gandalf-style.

Corruption immediately stands out as different from the rest of the series by having cut scenes (although disclaimer: I haven’t played Echoes yet), thus trying to have some semblance of storyline other than shreds of information given in instruction manuals and plastered on Metroid Wiki pages. The story begins, as usual, on a space station that will shortly swarm with space pirates. Samus, with the help of her bounty hunter friends, fight back. Recurring dragon-pterodactyl Ridley shows up, challenging Samus to a Balrog-style duel as the two of them plunge indefinitely into a dark yawning chasm. Just as Samus and Team come close to saving the day, Dark Samus shows up and infects them with large amounts of phazon.  A month later, Samus wakes up, and rather than receiving the proper medical care due to a combat veteran coming out of a 30-day coma, the Galactic Federation forces tell her they’ve harnessed the phazon in her body for use in battle, and oh, by the way, wouldn’t she kindly go and hunt down the other bounty hunters who may have gone insane from the effects of phazon?

Samus's posse. She gets a posse in this game.

Samus’s posse. She gets a posse in this game.

Unfortunately, while I generally prefer detailed story lines in games over all else (to the point where I have played Xenosaga Episode I several times), it doesn’t fit Metroid. At least, not the way they did it. Rather than playing as the super-awesome solo bounty hunter single-handedly fighting her way through planet Zebes, Corruption portrays a Galactic Federation Military who must have exclusively recruited from the ranks of the Gotham City Police Department. Each new transmission relays an objective that would convey less risk if Samus had, say, a highly trained team of space soldiers to aid her, but for some reason, they all want her to do this herself. Trying to portray her as a silent protagonist, she comes off not just a little festering and resentful.

Upon starting the game, the player will first notice the nausea. While generally I don’t get sick playing first-person games, the notoriously precise Wii controller has a habit of zipping the view around unexpectedly, or losing contact with the sensor and leave Samus twirling in circles. Fortunately, I adjusted to this after about two hours of playing, but the first-person perspective may not always provide the most realistic game experience. Judging from the exploration aspects that the original games shared with the Legend of Zelda, one might think that a 3rd-person over-the-shoulder view would work as well for Samus as for Link (They picked that perspective for Ocarina of Time, apparently because they thought players would want to see a cool character like Link. I guess Samus probably also gets paid 70% of what the male video game heroes make as well…) Still, that brings up another issue I had with the game–the decreased focus on adventuring and exploration.

Not many games give you the option of ripping the life right out of your enemies. This one does.

Not many games give you the option of ripping the life right out of your enemies. This one does.

The first Prime game takes place immediately after the original Metroid. So it makes sense that Samus has her high-jump boots and morph ball and missiles (even if it doesn’t make sense that she has the grapple beam, space jump, and plasma cannon). However, early-game disaster naturally strips her of all the weapons, armor, and bonuses in order that she can start over again, making for a cliched story, but a satisfying game. In Corruption, that doesn’t happen. She begins with the morph ball, bombs, space jump, and a form of the grapple beam, and just keeps them. This sends Metroid on a trend like the Legend of Zelda. Items in both series originally helped characters reach new areas, fight enemies easier, and improved movement. Once activated, the player could use them creatively at any point on the map. Now, items have much less pizazz. They have specific uses, interacting with easily-identified objects in the environment, and only have a worthwhile use at those spots. It makes new items much less exciting to gain, and raises questions about why so much of the galaxy’s architecture favors inhabitants with morph balls and bombs at their disposal.  Can everyone morph? If so, why don’t we see anyone else do it? Why can’t we find store fronts filled with morph balls?

Oh, hell no! Platforming...my arch-nemsis.

Oh, hell no! Platforming…my arch-nemsis.

The game borrows the central hub idea from Metroid Fusion, except that you travel to different planets to reach new areas, and while in Fusion you began to discover that each sector of the ship connected with the others, you can’t get that unfolding sense of lost-in-a-labyrinth horror you get from the atmosphere of the 2-D games. (Taking into account the series connection with the “Alien” movies, introducing non-aggressive characters also takes away from the sense of loneliness). And of course, the super-detailed environment, while graphically impressive, sometimes feels like playing in a magic eye picture, forcing you to stare at it for hours before seeing the supposedly simple tasks the designers wanted you to notice. They offer you a map, but the 3-D stylized blocks they give you works about as well as solving a rubik’s cube blindfolded. Twisting, zooming and panning through it reveals nothing more than a sense of throbbing astigmatism.

I don’t want to give the impression that I didn’t like the game, though. In fact, I thought the Wii controls drastically improved the Prime series, and (for a while at least) I got no small amount of pleasure from ripping the fixtures off of walls with my grapple beam. Boss battles became a little repetitive in this area, though, as most of them require shooting at obnoxious, fast moving targets in order to reveal a weak spot that would stun the boss long enough to rip off a segment of armor so you could switch into hyper mode in order to actually deal damage.  Hyper mode–attainable because of Samus’ phazon infection–added nice features to the game, allowing overpowered blasting, shooting, and electrocuting when whittling enemies down with the charge beam got too boring, and unlike other games’ super modes, you can switch into it at any time (at the cost of some life energy), rather than just when you fill up a gauge or collect enough items or take enough damage–in most games, this usually happens just after I finish a boss or other section where such a bonus would actually benefit me.

Other than your ship, the game gives you about one save station per planet. Prepare yourself to lose hours of progress.

Other than your ship, the game gives you about one save station per planet. Prepare yourself to lose hours of progress.

Metroid Prime 3: Corruption can’t really compete with the 2-D Metroid games, especially Super Metroid, Metroid Fusion, and the original, but it does offer some satisfying aspects, and offers a nice challenge without sending you scrambling for a walkthrough every other room. Still, I may write to Nintendo and demand back all the hours of my life wasted from stupid deaths because they only give me one save station per planet.

Metroid II: Return of Samus – Game Boy

RetroArch-0305-133132After the events of the original Metroid, the Galactic Federation decided the Space Pirates had gone too far! Perhaps they damaged relations by attacking galaxy cargo and transport ships.  They may have even ruffled a few feathers in wiping out the entire race of Chozo.  The galaxy may have thought about issuing a stern warning when they killed off Samus’ family. But damn it! Now they’ve gone too far. The Federation had no alternative but to…eliminate the entire species of metroids. I can see the activists lining up now–signs that read “Metroids don’t kill people: Space Pirates kill people!” Bribery and lobbying from “Big Metroid” must not have measured up against the prices offered by the Space Pirates. I may come off as cynical, but I can’t help but think that any government who would consider apprehending and prosecuting known criminals as a less-favorable alternative to wiping out the apex predator of an entire planet’s ecosystem must suffer from a fair amount of corruption.

Beats hunting them by their droppings

Beats hunting them by their droppings

The idea of writing about a Metroid game has me bashing my head against the same wall I bash against for Mega Man. What can I really say that doesn’t already apply to all the other games in the series? Samus rolls up like a hedgehog.  Samus finds items like Link and jumps around like Mario. Samus fights monsters. Freeze the metroids, then blast them with missiles. Metroid really doesn’t innovate too much. While the original frustrates me on account of having no map and exceedingly large rooms that all somehow look identical to each other, and Prime annoyed me on account of Samus’ power suit not including the feature to see your feet as you leap from rocky precipice to rocky precipice (I hear that feature cost extra, and she preferred to go with the cup holders), I really can’t point out any significant difference in quality from one game to another.

Well, they hired me to kill you, but...just this once.

Well, they hired me to kill you, but…just this once.

As other games in the series tend to roughly follow the plot of the Alien movies, Metroid II: Return of Samus calls upon a character to invade a planet and wipe out an entire species, a request by a group of people collectively too dumb to read a job description. As a bounty hunter, I imagine Samus’ passion and skills fall in the area of tracking space criminals who have skipped out on their space court dates, receiving their space bail money as payment for her services. Or by a more archaic definition, capturing runaway space slaves who have liberated themselves from oppressive space plantations where their space masters whip them if they don’t grow enough space tobacco or pick enough space cotton. Apparently, though, that profession only lies one step away from “Orkin Man,” as the galaxy seems to have contracted her as an exterminator. So tired from her last mission and grumbling about the nature of this one, Samus lands her ship on the dark side of SR-388 with an inaccurate list of metroids to kill.

Remember: they mostly come out at night. Mostly.

How did these guys get everywhere in the galaxy? Bad tourist policies? "Take only photographs. Leave only chozo statues."

How did these guys get everywhere in the galaxy? Bad tourist policies? “Take only photographs. Leave only chozo statues.”

While I don’t usually consider graphics vital for a good game experience, Metroid II makes them significant. On the tiny, dimly-lit game boy screen, the lack of color offsets the background design, meaning that I spent as much time wandering around SR-388 looking for a gas station to ask directions as I did in the original game.   Unlike Mega Man II, the Samus’ size-to-screen ration doesn’t leave her burrowing through the map like a ferret, leaving plenty of room for her to roll, space jump, or bounce like a rubber ball.  In fact, quite the opposite; sometimes the game encourages hefty upward climbs with nary a ledge to stand on, requiring long chains of space jumping.  Unfortunately since the controls demand the clockwork input of a hungry toddler, one slip-up can send Samus plummeting back to the start.  Sometimes the spider ball tool helps out, but sitting too close to a bomb, getting hit by a monster, or just nudging the wrong button at the wrong moment can likewise invalidate your efforts. Item management has taken a downgrade from the original, as beam weapons no longer stack effects, and with no menu system (as in Super Metroid), if you want to switch between weapons, you have to backtrack to the last place you found that particular item. Because the Game Boy only had four buttons and a D-pad to work with, some of the ways to activate tools come off as clunky and random as the tools themselves. The spider ball commits this offense more than anything, and it doesn’t help that in spider-ball form, Samus moves more like a lazy tarantula when I’d prefer her to move like the spiders I nearly step on in my bathtub, yet like bathtub spiders she seems to have no qualms about randomly dropping from the ceiling.

So if we watch them hatch and view them through every stage of their life...when do they turn into the jellyfish things?

So if we watch them hatch and view them through every stage of their life…when do they turn into the jellyfish things?

I mostly maintain a Mega Man-esque appreciation for Metroid; the original concept worked, more or less, and as long as the game doesn’t tweak that too much, I can enjoy running and rolling through 2-D subterranean tunnels, murdering local wildlife and opening doors with a gun. If I needed to raise serious complaints about the game, I’d have to express a mild frustration that they’ve traded off challenging, unique boss fights like Ridley and Kraid, for simple, straightforward metroid battles, and while they included a lot of them, it takes less firepower to kill each one than a Northern Michigan mosquito–about five missiles.

Beatiful scenery, well designed textures, a wonderful, distinct world and...oh shit. Spikes.

Beatiful scenery, well designed textures, a wonderful, distinct world and…oh shit. Spikes.

While not nearly off-the-wall enough to merit inclusion in my WTF category, the Metroid II map deserves honorable mention.  The original map infuriated me to no end, but at least they programmed it all on a single grid. So if you traveled in a circle, they at least had the decency to drop you back to where you started. Not so in Metroid II, as entire regions overlap–imagine finding that gas station I mentioned before, only to find that the cashier gives directions entirely in Shakespearean sonnets. It might get you from place to place, but you can’t help but wonder if a more direct approach would have worked better.

Still, fans of the series should invest some time into this game. You won’t miss any story if you don’t, since Nintendo still included the plot entirely in the instruction book and they give you all of it in the opening of Super Metroid, but you’ll at least get another subterranean gauntlet to run around, fight monsters and….wait, what? You don’t get to open doors with a gun? Well, forget it then.

I have a busy week, but look for upcoming articles on Resident Evil: Deadly Silence and Valkyrie Profile: Silmeria. Thanks to my regular readers for following me, and to those who just found your way here because of the BDSM tags in my Shadow Hearts and Custer’s Revenge articles, I offer my apologies.

Metroid: Zero Mission – Game Boy Advance

Like the 80s never went away.

Like the 80s never went away.

As I’ve written before, I like Samus Aran.  She managed to break through gender assumptions after a programmer casually mentioned, “Hey, what if the person in the suit was a chick?” and everyone at Nintendo just went with it.  Unfortunately, every subsequent game turns her into some sort of space-floozy who rewards you with a striptease based on how fast you finish, and the animation in Metroid: Zero Mission makes her vaguely reminiscent of a Barbie doll, but hey, it takes a real woman of the 1980s to pull off shoulder pads the way she does.

The fact that the original game came out in 1986 does actually reflect on Samus as a character during Zero Mission.  She explains the game’s premise in the opening sequence: “Now I shall finally tell the tale of my first battle [on planet Zebes]…my so-called Zero Mission.”  Great! We’d love a remake of the original! Except that the 2004 “enhanced” remake actually plays like someone’s mom trying to tell a story about what happened nearly 20 years ago, and not getting it quite right.

I once caught a lizard THIIIIIIS big!

I once caught a lizard THIIIIIIS big!

“No mom, you didn’t get the speed booster until Super Metroid…sorry, I don’t remember you being stalked by a giant centipede….I swear Kraid gets bigger every time you tell the story.”  Furthermore, the bonus level tacked on to the end of the game, during which she loses her power suit, sounds like an aging beauty queen trying to remind the young folk how hot she used to be.

This guy would appear occasionally, take a few missiles to the eye, then leave. Never explained. Never beat him. I named him "Wikipede"

This guy would appear occasionally, take a few missiles to the eye, then leave. Never explained. Never beat him. I named him “Wikipede”

See, we played the 1986 game.  We know what happened.  Samus can’t fool us by adding exciting stuff to the story.  Calling Zero Mission a remake of the original is like calling a BLT sandwich a remake of a pig.

That brings up the questions as to how far developers need to go when doing a remake.  Honestly, the 1986 Metroid only really had two flaws with it: lack of an in-game map and the need to camp out in front of pipes for hours until enough monsters popped out to refill your energy tanks.  Except for these things slowing the game considerably, I wouldn’t change a thing about it.  According to Wikipedia, Nintendo “enhanced” the re-make to play more like Super Metroid.  Pardon me, but if we want a game to feel more Metroid-ey, shouldn’t we remake the later games to feel more like the original?

Still, Zero Mission improved upon the original gameplay in a number of ways.  For starters, they give you a map, and they designed each area to look distinct from the rest.  I always felt like navigating the 1986 planet Zebes had a difficulty curve akin to looking for a bathroom in the metro when all the signs are written in Chinese.  Furthermore, the extra items available do allow for more abilities, giving more control to the player, and video games mean very little without control.

How did this...

How did this…

...turn into this?

 

It would almost help to think of Zero Mission as a reboot rather than a remake.  The game does resemble Super Metroid and Metroid Fusion, and while I did get occasionally get stuck expecting the same sequence of events as the 1986 game, it actually does a pretty good job of forcing and guiding the player in the right direction.  I also enjoyed the addition of the quasi-animated cut scenes.

I didn’t as much care for the bonus level, however.  After defeating Mother Brain, Samus escapes the obligatory time bomb (shout out to Mother Brain, the original number one Load-Bearing Boss) only to be shot down.  She crashes on Zebes, which somehow robs her of the large metal suit strapped to her body, and all the gizmos and gadgets that went with it.  She’s left with her skin-tight blue body suit and a pistol that will stun most enemies if you let it charge up between shots.  She somehow reasons that she should embark upon a forced stealth mission through the space pirates’ mothership to regain her suit and steal an enemy ship.

While forced stealth may have actually worked in Batman: Arkham Asylum, it detracts from the point of Metroid.  Batman lives for stealth.  Arkham Asylum gives the player neat ninja-like options for sneaking around and mixes it with a healthy amount of beating the shit out of bad guys.  Metroid, however, relies on action and tool using.  When you strip that away from Samus, all you have left is a metaphorical form-fitting blue body suit which leaves nothing in the gameplay to the imagination.  Sneak sneak sneak.  Don’t fight the badguys.  Did they see you?  Well, you can run away or die.  I know game makers feel obliged to deliver more hours of gameplay than they used to, but sometimes the padding just reaches the point of absurdity.  The map of the mothership, if you compare it to the map for the rest of the game, has about as much tunneling as half of the entire planet Zebes.  Since you get your suit back halfway through it, that means that you have to crawl, sneak, dodge, and flee your way through an area about one quarter the size of the rest of the game.

Then when you get the suit, it powers up to let you use the space jump, plasma beam, and you get power bombs shortly afterwards, and the rest of the level (again, about 1/4 of the size of the main planet) consists of powering through enemies who crumble like flies under your god-like might.  The game becomes too easy, and it stays too easy for too long.

I’d probably have no doubts about the game, but this final level throws me off.  I could easily suggest Zero Mission.  If you play with the mind frame that the game uses similar areas and items as the 1986 Metroid, but expands greatly on the world, then it becomes like Super Metroid; entirely new, but charmingly familiar.  However, the bonus level introduced boredom and tedium as a prerequisite for actually finishing the game.  While I may not condemn the game merely for that, I would like to end my post today with a letter to the Powers That Be:Dear Game Makers,
Forced stealth sucks.  No one likes it.  Stop using it.
Sincerely, Everyone

Super Metroid – SNES

RetroArch-0713-103210

I might say I like the original Metroid, but I’ve heard other people say they like coffee or wine, and I always find myself wondering why.  They might be good ideas, but one taste leaves a bad taste in your mouth and the feeling that you’ve just wasted a little bit of time and a lot of money.  I’ve made it through Metroid, although if I didn’t dig up a map online, the game would have lasted long enough for me to realize that every room differed from the others only by location, and since the developers didn’t have the foresight to include a ball of string among the gear Samus finds on planet Zebes I had no way of knowing whether or not I was actually progressing through the game.  I also find refilling life a bit tedious since it requires camping out by pipes, toasting enemies as they pop out one at a time until I’ve consumed enough monster s’mores to rival a seven course meal in order to refill my energy tanks.  Modern developers, I’m afraid still insist on padding out games with long tedious fetch quests and back tracking.  Metroid Prime spent an entire game sending me to the farthest edge of the map from wherever I happened to be standing as though the game were a popular kid trying to find amusing ways to get rid of me whenever I tried to hang out with the cool crowd.

Fortunately, though, Nintendo has provided us with a period of their history when they made games that challenged us without being convoluted, and as such, today I bring you a review of Super Metroid!

At least, I’d like to review it, but that would require thought, objective reasoning, integrity, yada yada.  But I’ve played this game far more than any other game I’ve written about yet, and don’t really see much of a downside. Nintendo conceived the series as combining the action/platforming aspects of Mario with the adventure and item collection from the Legend of Zelda.  I don’t know whether to credit them with brilliance for figuring out how to make platforming games bearable, or with more luck than the human mind can fathom since they managed to add platforming to Zelda and not screwing up completely. For further spice, Yoshio Sakamoto, in a power play move I outlined in my Pitfall review, ripped off tone, setting design, and a name for a recurring antagonist from Ridley Scott’s 1979 film, Alien.

Super Metroid follows the continuing adventures of Samus Aran, intergalactic bounty hunter, role model for young girls, and prime candidate for Miss Universe (having been one of only a few women in the gaming world to have actually lived in the Universe), as she hunts down the galaxy’s last remaining metroid larva.  Stolen by Space-pterodactyl-dragon-thing, Ridley of the Space Pirates, she tracks it to the planet Zebes, home world of Samus and the extinct Chozo race, as well as the setting of the first game.

RetroArch-0713-075234The brilliance of Super Metroid shines through very early on in the dismal, gray, creepy section of the game.  Samus lands on a seemingly abandoned planet, and immediately explores areas identical to the few areas from the NES game that actually stood out from the others.  Having lived on a planet that takes millions of years to move continents, I’ve often found video game geography a curious phenomenon that redesigns plate tectonic structure sometimes within a matter of hours.  While an entirely new map does give a fresh new take to each instalment of a series, the fact that a few areas present actually make sense to be there helps make the game seem a little more plausible.

RetroArch-0713-082146While I’m on the topic of geography, Nintendo bestowed another gift upon us, an in-game map!  Honestly, I jest, but as the lack of a map seriously hampered the players ability to finish–or play through–the first game, simple changes such as this make the game highly valuable. Other additions to the game just add flavor.  Samus once again travels through the plant-infested tunnels of Brinstar and the liquid-hot ‘magma’ of Norfair, but also takes a swim through Maridia and explores a wrecked ghost ship on the surface.  Some old bosses return–as a prank played on fans of the original, you fight a kraid who is proportionately the same size as the 8-bit morbidly obese uncle to Godzilla, only to find out that the real Kraid has grown to double-screen size.  New bosses and mini-bosses join the mix, each with a unique attack pattern.

Samus finds new items on planet Zebes, which as usual make me question the sanity of Chozo engineers.  While people in a fantasy-inspired medieval setting could reasonably find uses for all of the items in The Legend of Zelda (at least, the first handful of games), I still wonder what use a sci-fi bird race has for an item that turns them into a ball, especially considering that a majority of Americans would pay top dollar for a device just like it, but that works in the opposite direction.  Still, tools such as the spring ball, space jump, and screw attack give the player a certain satisfaction out of being able to explore new areas and reach new items.  Many games place high-value power ups in difficult to reach spots, ensuring that once the player reaches them, they’ve already completed so much of the game that the new item may surpass all else in coolness, but becomes absolutely worthless since there’s nothing left to use it for.  Super Metroid, though, offers the ability to increase missile, super missile and power bomb capacity, so the player has the opportunity to use high-value items to locate useful missile upgrades near the end of the game.

CrocomireSuper Metroid adds up to a colorful, in-depth game that you can still play through in under three hours.  If NES developers kept falling back on beefing up difficulty to enhance replay value, then current-console developers can share their guilt for buffing up play time.  Yes, it’s nice for a game that cost $50 to last a little while before you get tired of it and throw it on the heap, but that doesn’t mean we’ll never want games we can play in a day, and some games just drag on indefinitely–by the tenth hour of turning giant stone gears in God of War, I can just about feel the burn for myself.

Metroid, on the other hand, not only takes less than three hours, it also rewards you for completing it that fast! The quicker you finish, the more parts of her power suit Samus takes off after the end credits.  This feature of the game holds me up (shut up! That wasn’t a pun!) a bit, though. The NES Metroid featured a character that everyone–developers included–assumed came equipped with standard action-hero genitalia.  Near the end of the project, one programmer mentioned offhand how neat it would be if the person in the suit was a girl.  The rest of the team ran with it, and as a result, the original Metroid ended with a surprisingly powerful statement on gender roles and assumptions in society, along with giving us a positive female role model (however manufactured she may actually be).

Still, she took off the suit regardless of your performance (shut up! I’m not making puns!) in the first game.  Here, she offers it as a reward, and the broken-down gender roles patch themselves up and slather on a new coat of cement.  The purpose of setting this as a goal does nothing more than prey on a young male audience desperate for any sort of vicarious, pixellated sexual encounter they can pretend they’re having.  If I had to pick out a flaw in this game, I’d have to say the goody at the end turns Samus into pre-adolescent nerd porn.  Hopefully, the fact that she’s a kick-ass female Boba Fett with no goofy femme problems or love affairs shoehorned into the story (I’m ignoring “The Other M” for the time being) will cover up this indiscretion.  And if you don’t agree, here’s a picture of Samus in a bikini:

Samus gets naked. Mostly.

Sexy…if you go for women from the 1980s.