Nintendo / Intelligent Systems
Genre: Adventure Platformer
All right. Confession time.
Up until recently, I’ve never played through a Metroid title. I’ve honestly only ever even picked up two of the games in my life- the original for the NES and Super Metroid for the Super Nintendo. Fairly recently, I mentioned this on Twitter and after a few exchanges with some folks there, I resolved to finally play through the most vocally revered entry to Samus Aran’s adventures: Super Metroid.
I can pinpoint why it’s taken me so long to get to the series in a few ways. In its prime, Super Metroid didn’t appeal to me as a gamer on most levels. It’s taken me a while to embrace the science fiction gaming genre. The general mechanics of exploration- now dubbed as an entire genre called “Metroidvania”- didn’t appeal to me in the slightest when I was younger, either. By the time I started becoming intrigued by the Metroid games, the series already had a bunch of titles under its belt.
Since then, though, I’ve become endeared to a number of sci-fi flavored games and have played through a number of recent Castlevania games that play in a similar fashion to what I had been avoiding due to years. Given my mission statement to experience and learn about as much gaming as I can, it felt like it was time to fill in this gap in my digital past.
One might ask “how did I feel finally having played Super Metroid”? I’m more than happy to share my impressions about the experience with you folks!
(As a quick aside, I’m toying around a bit with the format of the reviews so you may notice some shifting of sections in the next few before I settle on the best format for what I’m going for. Any and all feedback is welcome, as I want these reviews to be as reader-friendly as possible, too!)
In her recent mission, interplanetary bounty hunter Samus Aran retrieved the larva of a Metroid, unique being that imprinted itself upon Samus, believing her to be its mother as she was the first being that it encountered. Her mission appeared to be completed as she relinquished the larva to a team of scientists at the Ceres Space Colony and retrieved her compensation. With that, she left to find her next bounty.
Shortly after leaving the team, she receives word that there is trouble in the colony. Upon reaching the laboratories of the team she had left the Metroid with, she finds that the site is in ruins, the scientists have been murdered- and the Metroid has been stolen by a notorious space pirate by the name of Ridley. As the station’s self-destruct mode activates, Samus narrowly escapes and follows the trail of Ridley back to the planet of Zebes.
Having arrived on the surface of Zebes hot on the pirate’s trail, Samus must dive into the depths of the planet and the base that has been set up by Ridley and their fellow crew to take back the Metroid before its potential power can be harnessed by the nefarious group.
Much like most platformers, the bare minimum of the controls revolves around running left and right and jumping but with Super Metroid being a game about a bounty hunter in space, you also get to enjoy shooting Samus’ hand cannon to get rid of your opposition. As to be expected to folks familiar with the genre or the first game in the series, that’s just the start of how Samus’ abilities can be utilized throughout her time on Zebes.
It doesn’t take long until the player is finding power-ups that allow Samus to do a number of maneuvers and attacks that will help her advance through the terrain. For example, one of the first upgrades is the Morph Ball, a now-famous trick that lets Samus roll into a ball and access areas through small areas she could not otherwise fit through. One add-on allows her to run at a super fast speed, breaking through certain barriers and enabling her to cross unsteady collapsable bridges. All of these expansions from the original mechanics grant the player access to portions of the game’s map that they could not reach before. Not only does this grant the player a feeling of constant advancement as a character, but it also allows for a gradual ‘unlocking’ of what the game has to offer.
Adding to the natural upgrades to Samus’ armor and weaponry are a few other techniques that must be found or played with to traverse the innards of the planet safely. Some of these are available right from the start- by pressing L or R on the controller, you can point at a diagonal up or down to make shooting your gun or grappling beam slightly more precise. Other moves can be picked up by watching certain creatures within the game. For instance, there is a ‘super jump’ that can be performed by using Samus’ upgraded run and ducking, making for a charged jump that can span a number of screens. There are a host of others that I didn’t need to utilize but learned about through reading about the game afterward.
As the game goes on, you’ll also notice that there are two screens you can access when you pause: a map and a ‘diagnostic’ ability equip screen. The equip screen is more like a footnote, as most of the upgrades are abilities that you don’t want to take off once you have them. The map, however, is something you’ll be accessing incessantly as you go further into the game. The most important part of exploration in these kinds of games is knowing where you haven’t reached yet, and the map in Super Metroid is easy to read and accessible through a button press.
The Good, The Bad and…
I’ll just get this out there ahead of time: Super Metroid is a pretty near perfect game. It’s easy to see why people have given it such acclaim. The game feels mechanically solid, and it is steeped in atmosphere. Each section of the map feels unique, as well, so if you like exploration, you won’t find yourself bored over the time you spend with the game. There are ample amounts of save points and power-ups that reward deep exploration. The folks at Nintendo and Intelligent Systems worked hard to produce something special with this title.
That doesn’t mean that it’s not without its a fault or two, even if they are subjective. The introduction of the game is where everything is given to the player in terms of the story and setting. From there, the only guidance that is given is through finding upgrades and then, it’s just a sentence on how that upgrade works. If you’re looking for guidance, Super Metroid appears to take the age-old tactic of letting the player discover how to proceed.
Any other issues, much like the one above, are completely subjective. Some of the bosses feel a little too hard, there are plenty of passages that are a little too tough to find, and if you end up with too few energy tanks- items that give you more life bars to withstand more damage before Samus dies- you can really shoot yourself in the proverbial foot. If you play the game as it’s intended, though, you’ll find very little fault in Super Metroid.
The high standards don’t stop with the quality of the mechanics. The game is graphically beautiful, it not occasionally mired in muted blues, greens, and gray. While it drives home the science-fiction feeling, it’s my one detriment to the visuals of the game. Everything is so detailed and interesting to look at, though, so I’m really leaning on nitpicking to find some kind of flaw. The palettes do a great job of highlighting Samus and the enemies that you come across. Boss sprites are marvels to witness, too, as even when I was frustrated during a battle, I still enjoyed how everything moved and looked as I experienced them.
The music in the game is fitting and atmospheric. Like nearly all of the iconic Super Nintendo titles from the time, there are sound effects and themes that have weaseled their way into my memory. From the beginning, the transition from the theme of Samus arriving on her ship to the unnerving near silence of the planet’s surface sets a tone for what you’ll be experiencing throughout the game. Also notable is when Samus arrives in an abandoned ship, power cut and shrouded in darkness. The soundtrack takes an eerie turn that elevates the mood and happenings by a number of degrees, making that area my favorite of the entire adventure.
Graphically and musically, this game is a serious treat overall.
Finishing Super Metroid made me feel ashamed that it took so long to check out Samus’ most famous excursion. The game is really well constructed while it’s a little short on narrative and direction, it does a great job of rewarding the player for exploring every corner of the map and digging into the mysteries therein. I would be hesitant to suggest the game to anyone new to platforming (along with most “Metroidvania” games, to be fair). As someone fairly experienced with the genre, I managed to get through the game in about six hours, but I could easily see it taking double that.
Regardless of Super Metroid’s mildly obtuse interface, it’s pretty near perfect in its execution and has become a new favorite of mine on the system. I understand why it felt so inaccessible to me as a kid now. The game feels cold and dismal, especially considering the colorful offerings from the Super Nintendo at the time. I honestly believe I needed to mature in my tastes a bit before I could actually try this game in earnest. To anyone on the fence about trying a Metroid game, Super Metroid is probably your best chance at breaking into the series- and one of the most well-made games in the Super Nintendo library.
Plot Discussion and Therefore Spoilers
The plot of the game is pretty concisely laid out so there isn’t a lot to discuss. What there is to talk about, however, is a huge spoiler. I will say that a lot of the weight of the plot points made are most likely lost on the player unless they played the original Metroid.
The moments leading up to the conclusion of Super Metroid involve a series of events that are a bit more emotional than the rest of the game sets the player up to expect. As a quick summary, while Samus approaches the final sanctum of Mother Brain, she is suddenly confronted by a large creature- the fully grown Metroid that she rescued in the first game. The Metroid attacks her, draining her energy to near fatal levels before she shoots it, driving it away. The explanation behind this is that the Metroid, having been taken from its “mother” and placed in a hostile environment, mistakes her for an enemy and attacks her out of fear. After regaining her composure and energy, Samus reaches the final confrontation with Mother Brain deep in the heart of Zebes.
A fierce back and forth commences. As the battle rages, Mother Brain catches Samus in a life-draining beam that leaves her in critical condition and at the mercy of her nemesis. Before Mother Brain can deal the finishing blow, the Metroid reappears and latches on to her, sucking away at her energy which it then siphons into Samus, reviving her energy tanks and granting her more power. In a gesture of vengeance, Mother Brain blasts the Metroid, destroying it. As would be expected, this brings about her demise, as Samus uses her newly found power to put an end to Mother Brain’s assault.
This is the lone emotional moment in the game for a number of reasons. Two of them stand out to me, the first being that the Metroid sacrifices itself for Samus. It sees her as a mother and most likely due to attacking her previously, it is atoning for its transgression. Of course, this also ingrains the idea that the recently matured Metroid understands and feels emotions like fear and guilt. It’s actually kind of an interesting idea that I needed a little bit of time to process afterward. This concept alone made me more interested in the series as a whole, given that the title centralizes the Metroid as a primary concept.
Second, this gesture of Mother Brain destroying the Metroid nullifies all of the work Samus has put in toward seeking out the larva, bringing it back for research, and then going off to Zebes to rescue it from Ridley and friends. As a bounty hunter, she has shown a lot of personal investment in this situation and has gone through hell twice to see this Metroid retrieved safely. In an instant, Mother Brain- who Samus believed she had already taken care of- destroys her objective and her reason for going through everything she has over the span of Metroid and Super Metroid. Despite not achieving her primary goal, Mother Brain has wounded Samus deeply and rendered everything she has done concerning this Metroid meaningless. When Samus unleashes the Hyper Beam that the Metroid bestowed upon her at Mother Brain, there is a huge sense of catharsis. The more you think about it, the more that feeling grows and feels much more personal than professional in the eyes of our protagonist.
Both aspects make for a weighty moment in a work that is light on plot. It’s impressive how much analysis the small scenes presented to flesh out the story actually resulted in. I’m intrigued to see how the rest of the series plays off of this despite Super Metroid being one of the last parts of the series chronologically.