Post Game Wrap-up: Super Metroid

Posted: February 3, 2016 in Current Gaming, Post Game Wrap-up, Retro Gaming
Tags: , , , ,

Super Metroid - Title

Best. Game. Ever.

The Set-up:

“The last Metroid is in captivity. The galaxy is at peace.”

You are Samus Aran, and so begins the most amazing game to grace the Super NES. Samus Aran has faced down the Metroids on Zebes, and completely eradicated them on their home planet of SR388, with the exception of a Metroid larva which attaches to her as if she were its mother. Unable or unwilling to destroy it, Samus delivers the infant to Ceres Space Station so that it may be tested and researched. Assuming all is well, Samus sets out for a new bounty to hunt (a woman has to eat) when she receives a message. Ceres Station is under attack.

The Story:
The game opens with your return to Ceres Station. As you work your way through this small facility, you’ll notice that the scientists have been slain and the infant Metroid is missing from its containment unit. In the next room, you’ll find the infant Metroid, but before you can get it, two red eyes appear, and the leader of the Space Pirate army, Ridley, snatches the infant, fights you briefly, then bails the scene. This is one of those impossible to win or lose battles. Upon hitting a health level of about 32, Ridley will zoom towards the screen, the space station will begin a self-destruct sequence, and you, as Samus, will need to exit stage left while Ridley flees towards, where else, planet Zebes.

The greatness of this game begins with an almost immediate visit to the site of the first game. After landing on the planet, you proceed through the only accessible area to an elevator and a familiar shaft which leads to a destroyed Mother Brain tube. The entire area is deserted and reeks of age. This portion of the game is identical, and brings back fond memories for those of us that played through the original Metroid. This was an amazing design idea that lets you know, without explicitly stating it, that much time has passed since your last battle here. After collecting some missiles, however, things come to life and the space pirates show up.

Super Metroid - Old Tourian

The most impressive aspect of the story is that it tells you so much without actually having to give you dialogue or text. The opening monologue by Samus Aran recaps the history of the Metroids and her encounters with them. The opening space station level sets up the conflict of the game, the taking of the infant Metroid. The initial exploration on Planet Zebes gives you familiar ground to explore, while also letting you know that there is much more that is new here than is old. Without speaking of the ending of the game (superb), Nintendo manages to get across more plot and story using level design and a short monologue than some games do with 30 minutes of narrative. This is no easy feat, and never fails to impress me when I replay Super Metroid.

The Gameplay:
Starting with the very first game, Metroid has been about exploration, discovering new areas, and using new items to access other new items and areas you could sometimes see, but not yet get to. Super Metroid not only keeps this aspect of the franchise, but perfects it. Initially, you only have access to missiles and morph ball bombs, but you can see doors of differing colors, ledges that are just out of reach, and other various impediments which block your exploration. Your first time through the game, you won’t know how to access these until you find the needed item. This is old hat now, having been utilized by the Castlevania franchise and, more recently, Batman: Arkham Asylum. At the time, however, there were exceedingly few games that worked this way, and of those that did, none did it better than Super Metroid.

Super Metroid - Energy

So close, yet so far

In addition to new areas of Zebes to explore, Super Metroid also introduced new upgrades for Samus Aran to use. In addition to the traditional missiles, you gain access to Super Missiles and Power Bombs. You obtain the Grapple Beam which makes use of specific blocks located throughout the game. Also included is the X-Ray Scope, allowing you to scan areas for breakable blocks or false walls and is helpful, if not necessary, along with the Varia and Gravity Suit upgrades, and the speed boots (personal favorite). Super Metroid also fixes a flaw from the original Metroid in regards to beams. In the original title, one beam would replace the other (an aspect that bit me once when I took on Tourian with the Wave Beam and couldn’t defeat the Metroids as a result). Super Metroid makes beams stackable, meaning that your beam gains an effect with each new pick-up. This is a small, but extremely helpful improvement.

Super Metroid also includes abilities that are not mentioned in the instruction booklet, and have to be discovered on your own in game. For example, there is the wall jump, the shinespark, and the morph ball bomb jump (there are others, just not mentioned here). For the first two, if you explore fully, you will find alien lifeforms that demonstrate how these work. Much like the story of the game, there is no dialogue included, you simply watch the critters, then mimic them. This is a very subtle, but highly effective way of teaching you something in the game without holding your hand or giving you a tutorial.

Super Metroid - Wall Jump

Now, while these “secret” abilities are not necessary to complete the game, or even collect everything, they are essential if your goal is to complete the game as quickly as possible and sequence break. This is part of the brilliance of the game design. Super Metroid is set up in such a way that sequence breaking is expected, and seemingly encouraged. The game is open world, with controls in place to guide you, but you can still attack it in differing ways. You can simply go through the game, revisiting areas when you have the proper items, or you can work around some such controls, accessing areas earlier or via a different path. To this day, I still get to Crocomire, the mini-boss in Norfair, via the exact opposite path that you are meant to take. But that is part of the joy of this game. There are multiple ways to attack it, and each playthrough can be different than the previous one.

Again, this design is simply brilliant. It’s as if the developers set the game up to be completed a specific way, but then added in difficult, but obtainable, shortcuts so spice things up. In the time period of the Super NES, the internet was not a “thing.” Therefore, we had to depend on gaming magazines and guides, or, in my case, simple perseverance to find all of these exploitable shortcuts. In doing so, the game became a true adventure, and you felt that you were truly in control of the situation. Not because you were breaking the game, but because the game was designed to let you explore instead of locking you into one path of exploration. The original Metroid and its sequel did the same, but they only accomplished a fraction of what Super Metroid presented.

What else can I say about Super Metroid? It’s my favorite video game. Period. It’s expertly crafted. Wonderfully paced. Superbly designed. It perfectly captures the feel of being alone in a foreign land, facing, essentially, an army of enemies that want you dead, and in many cases, tower over you. Metroid has never seemed to have the level of fandom of Mario or Zelda, but I will always take the Metroid franchise over those. Mario, Zelda, Starfox, etc… all are great franchises, and I love them, but there is a magic to Metroid that those do not possess. I can’t put that into words, and maybe it’s something specific to me. I don’t believe that it’s nostalgia though. I can recall renting Super Metroid shortly after it came out. I was immediately in love with the game, and rented it multiple times. It would be a while before I owned my own copy, but once I did, I played and replayed it. That feeling I had then has not gone, and I simply can’t imagine another game ever toppling that.

Super Metroid - Ending

Still a better love story than Twilight

  1. Awesome post! This is one of those games that I want to love, but every time I sit down to play it I end up getting distracted and when I come back to it I’ve lost my spot and feel the need to start over. I’m sad to say I’ve never completed it.

    I love this style of game. You mentioned Castlevania and I love the “SOTN”-style CV games. I also finished and adored Metroid: Zero Mission on the GBA, so Super Metroid’s gameplay and charm aren’t lost on me, it’s just one of those games that I never seem to beat!

    • JAVGB says:

      I think we all have “that” game that we like, but can never seem to actually play through (multiple FF games for me). I lucked out in getting to play this when it originally came out. It’s harder to revisit, in my opinion, older games now that there are so many newer games to occupy your time.

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