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.
The 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.
While 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.
Super 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: