Thursday, June 21, 2012

Super Metroid Review

Just a note, I have no idea why there are random spaces in the middle of this review. I'm trying to figure out how to get rid of them, but I've been unsuccessful so far.

Developer: Intelligent Systems
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: SNES (Also on Wii's Virtual Console)
Release date: March, 19, 1994 (JP), April 18, 1994 (NA), July 28, 1994 (PAL)

Throughout the years, the Metroid series has garnered a loyal following despite the fact that the series is not one of Nintendo's best selling franchises. This fanbase is rather unique among the various fanbases of Nintendo's different series because they generally agrees upon which games in the series are amazing and which are just okay. One of the games that the fanbase agrees is exceptional is Super Metroid, and they certainly are not alone in that opinion. The Super Nintendo classic has topped numerous "Best Games of All Time" lists and is even loved by people who do not avidly follow the entire Metroid series. But is Super Metroid truly an amazing game that deserves all the praise it receives, or are people just blinded by nostalgia when talking about the third Metroid game?

When you first start Super Metroid, you are given a recap of what happened in the original Metroid for the NES and Metroid II for the GameBoy. The famous bounty hunter Samus Aran has defeated Mother Brain and wiped out every Metroid except for one newly hatched baby Metroid. She then takes the baby Metroid to the Ceres Space Colony where the scientists there discover that Metroids can be harnessed to benefit mankind. Soon after Samus leaves the colony, she heads back after receiving a distress signal from the scientists on board. When she arrives, she discovers that everyone on board is dead and the Space Pirate boss Ridley has kidnapped the baby Metroid. After a short confrontation between the bounty hunter and Space Pirate, the space colony selfdestructs and Ridley escapes to the planet Zebes and is pursued by Samus.

The recap of the events from Metroid and Metroid II is a nice addition, but the story ultimately does not matter. While you never forget that you are on Zebes to rescue the baby Metroid and get your revenge on Ridley, the game does not bring up the story after the first initial cutscene. Its sole purpose is to explain why Samus traveled to Zebes in the first place and give you reason to actually play through the game. It is not there to tell a long winded narrative or a deep, thought proviking tale, and that is part of Super Metroid's appeal. Once you get through the first few minutes, the game is non stop gameplay without any interruptions, meaning it only relies on its ability to be a fun and enthralling game.

When the game actually starts and Samus arrives at planet Zebes, she is devoid of any significant abilities, only being able to jump and shoot her basic Power Beam. As you explore the large and complex system of caves on the planet, you start to retrieve some of Samus' stronger attacks and abilities, such as the iconic Morph Ball, missiles, and Power Bombs. The further into the game you get, the stronger Samus becomes. It is somewhat entertaining and rewarding to go back to the first few areas of Zebes and kill enemies like they are nothing because it shows how far you have come and how strong Samus has grown. Enemies that once took multiple hits to kill are suddenly wiped out with one shot from Samus' Power Beam.

Despite the fact that when you start out Samus cannot do a whole lot, she does have some default abilities that you do not need to gain or learn, such as the wall jump, but the game does not tell you outright how to properly use them or that you even have them. Instead, there are various animals around Zebes that are performing these default abilities for you, and it is up to you to figure out that Samus can actually replicate those moves through various button commands. It is an ingenious way to teach a new player how to play the game without interrupting the flow or mood of the game to inform the player on how pull off certain skills Samus has.

There are animals around Zebes that will teach you how to
perform basic abilities.

These core gameplay mechanics that you gain and learn as you progress through the game are so tight and well executed that it is hard to say anything negative about them. Nearly everything works as it should, it is just the matter of practicing and perfecting all the abilities Samus has. For most of the duration of the game, you will never be frustrated because you feel like the controls, physics, or mechanics are off. The only time you may feel cheated is in the latter half of the game when you have to travel through some annoying sand pits, but that section of the game is quite literally only a few minutes long, and once you get passed that area, everything works as it should.

As you traverse through the various areas of Zebes, you quickly realize that Super Metroid's world is extremely vast and open, allowing you to go anywhere as long as you have the ability to get there. The game does not tell you where to go, and it is up to you to figure out what you are supposed to do and what sections of the world you are supposed to explore first. The only piece of help you will receive from the game is a map, which, at first, will slowly fill in as you explore, but will eventually be fully revealed when you discover a room that shows you the entire layout of the area you are in. But even after you receive an area's entire map, there are still hidden areas that do not appear on it until you have discovered and explored those areas for yourself.

The fact that the map slowly fills in as you explore each new area you enter helps exemplify one of Super Metroid's main attractions, which is the sense of exploration. It feels like you are mapping out a new section of caverns under Zebes' surface, and it encourages you to search anywhere and everywhere. Even when you receive the entire map of an area, you will still feel like you are the first to explore the system of underground caves due to the hidden areas that are not on your newly found map. It is a small detail, but it goes a long way when it comes to giving off a certain sense of exploration in an isolated and desolate system of caves.

Scattered throughout these unmapped caves are hidden upgrades and items that increase the amount of missiles, energy packs, and power bombs you can carry, among other things. These hidden items are represented on the map by white dots, so the game shows you exactly what rooms have these hidden upgrades, it is just up to you to figure out how to get to them. Because of that, it never feels like the game is unfairly hiding certain upgrades and items and it can even be a surprisingly fun challenge to try to figure out how to reach quite a few of them.

The core gameplay mechanics are some of the most perfected
mechanics in gaming history.

The only gripe about hidden upgrades involves the map. While the white dots on the map are convenient for locating hidden items you have yet to pick up, they become unnecessarily confusing later in the game due to the fact that they never disappear from the map, even after you have picked up the upgrades. It becomes hard to remember which items are still there waiting for you discover and which items have already been found. It would have been nice if the white dots either changed colors or were removed from the map all together after acquiring the upgrade.

The open nature of the world and the amount of secrets hidden throughout creates an exceptional sense of reward when you finally manage to snag an item or upgrade or stumble across an area that is currently not on your map. It also encourages you to look in every nook and cranny Zebes has because you will never know when you will stumble across a new room or power up. You will find yourself bombing every wall and morphing into Samus' Morph Ball in every room just to make sure that you are not missing anything.

Because Super Metroid allows you go anywhere as long as you have the ability to get to the location desired, it is one of the most customizable games on the Super Nintendo, but not in the traditional sense. While there is a general path to follow, it will be hard to find someone who played the game exactly like you did. While you may have gone to one specific area to get a certain Power Suit upgrade, other people may have skipped that area completely since not all the upgrades are required to beat the game. Couple that with the fact that the control scheme is completely customizable in the options menu and the fact that you have the ability to turn off all or some of your upgrades you stumble upon, and you have a game that no two people will play exactly alike.

Also due to the open world of Super Metroid, there is a lot of backtracking involved just like every other Metroid game. However, it never takes more than a few minutes to go from the deepest parts of planet Zebes to the surface, making backtracking fun and not a chore. Also, as you progress through the game, you will discover new paths that create short cuts between certain sections of the world, making backtracking even faster.

The white dots on the map represent rooms with hidden items
and upgrades.

One of the most noteworthy parts of Super Metroid aside from its open world and exploration based gameplay is the atmosphere you experience as you play through the game. Samus is the only one of her kind on Zebes, and the game does exceptionally well at giving off that feeling. For the most part, every environment is either a pristine, untouched piece of land or an abandoned and ruined man made area. The graphics and art style of Super Metroid do an amazing job at showing off all the various environments, and you still get the feeling of isolation nearly twenty years later. The music also helps set the mood, with each track fitting each environment due to dark and moody themes.

Yet another great aspect of Super Metroid is the fact that it is highly replayable. Even if you are not one to replay games, Super Metroid is one of those games you will find yourself playing over and over again, trying to discover all its secrets and finishing it in record time, and it does reward those who replay it. The more you play through the game, the better you become at the core mechanics and the faster you can beat the game. The first time you explore planet Zebes on the Super Nintendo, it can take you up to ten or so hours to finish, but after a few playthroughs of perfecting Samus' abilities and learning where everything is, you can beat the game in under three hours. It is an amazing game for experienced and new speed runners alike.

Concluding Thoughts
Super Metroid is one of those rare gems that nearly everyone can play. There is very little to criticize Super Metroid over because it excels at nearly everything it sets out to do, which is to create a large, open environment that encourages exploration. When you play it, it becomes exceedingly obvious why it appears on so many "Best Games of All Time" lists. If you have not played a Metroid game yet, and you are wondering which game to start with, you cannot go wrong with the Super Nintendo classic. It has everything Metroid is known for, including moody music, a sense of isolation, a vast world to explore, and hidden power ups.

Final Score

1 comment:

  1. Another well written review! Complete, with a very professional tone! I've actually never touched a Metroid title, but I think it might be a good time to start with Super Metroid!

    Super Metroid must be another one of Nintendo's masterpieces; I'll add it to my list!