By Nonused 0 Comments
Well, not really my childhood in this case. I was still writhing in my glass vial at this point. Regardless, I played this game, and it came out in the '90s. Childhood.
All I knew about Samus before getting into this game was that my dad liked to play as her in Super Smash Brothers. Then he figured out she was a girl, said, “Really?” and got back to doing boring, Dad stuff. I have also heard numerous individuals cite her as one of the best female characters in games, which really ruffles my feathers. I'm not gonna get into it here (that's a whole other can of sexist worms), but she's barely even a character. It's like calling Gordon Freeman number one...man. Whatever. Let's get to the game.
So, I don't know a lot about the Metroid series in general, just that it was a pioneer in backtracking game design. I don't mean that as an insult. I liked Arkham Asylum. I wanted to like Symphony of the Night. I also just recently watched Alien for the first time. I could never be more prepared for anything in my life. And, boy howdy, is this game is a hoot. From design to style to action, this game tries its damnedest to make me like it, and who am I to deny it?
Well, I am a pretty crabby motherfucker; I need absolute perfection before I even think about respecting a game. And Super Metroid isn't without its blemishes. Or maybe I should say, “It hasn't aged well.” There. I said it. Wait, a quick addendum: “It hasn't aged well, but it has aged better than most games from the '90s.” There. Put that on the back of the box.
I think I needed a manual for this game. Or some sort of button layout. Super Metroid has a tendency to throw these rad, new abilities at you constantly, and you're so excited to use them. You just don't know how. Now, I'm not saying every game should tell me how the controls work constantly (I'm looking at you Bioshock Infinite), but at least gimme a little primer, y'know? Don't just give me the ability to morph into a ball and then say, “Fuck it, you figure it out.” I never felt I was stuck in the game because a puzzle was super hard or the enemies were the next kind of challenging. It was always, “Okay, I know I can do this. Just, how do I do it?” That first morphball part is a good example. I knew I could do it (because it said I could, but mostly because I played Super Smash Brothers), but obviously I didn't know the combination of buttons it required. Maybe it was expecting that I had some prior knowledge of Metroid or something. So, after spending entire minutes pressing every button on the controller, I decided to head back above ground to see if there was anything that I'd missed. I was pretty sure there wasn't, but I wasn't about to be fooled by no game. DOWN DOWN. Down down is the answer to the question that I'm sure you were screaming into the heavens. That's how I morphball. Was this in the manual, Super Metroid experts? 'Cause, if not, I'm not sure I could handle it. Now, I get it game, maybe you don't want to tell me. Maybe you're playing coy. And you don't have to. Just...just give me a hint. Like, put two statues in the room with the morphball and have both of 'em point down. I realize that might be problematic regarding your ESRB rating, but I'm a grown man. Also, all this morphball talk brings me to my next point.
The n00b bridge.
I can see it now. All the Super Metroid veterans knowingly nodding their heads while simultaneously laughing at my plight. The morphball confusion is nothing compared to this. Again, Super Metroid, if you want to be opaque with your game mechanics, that's fine. I can hit buttons. I can figure out what they do. But sprinting? Did this game even need sprinting? Why include this mechanic?
For those of you unfamiliar with the n00b bridge (it may have been where you stopped playing Super Metroid), it's a bridge with collapsing platforms that you have to run across. This is key. Any time you try to meander across the bridge with your slow-ass, standard walking speed, you immediately fall down to the disturbingly average pits below. And so you fall and fall and fall and fall again, wondering, “What the hell am I doing wrong? Oh, well. Maybe I'll go to another zone. See if I missed anything.” “Nope!” says Sakamoto. “You get to attempt crossing this shitty bridge FOR ETERNITY!”
The game locks you in the room with the bridge, offering no alternative for progression. Now, this is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it tells the player that (assuming the game isn't broken) they're going the right way, they just gotta think about it differently. On the other hand, the game never tells you how to sprint (unless, I'm gonna assume, you own a manual). And there's no reason to sprint before this point. All the areas are easily traversable with the standard movement speed. In fact, it feels like the game was designed around this speed. And I realize that they have to convey the sprint's usage to the player, but this was not the way. It's like teaching someone how to play the guitar by saying, “Now play C.” I'd very much like to, Professor Whitta, but if you could just tell me how to do that. I mean, I didn't even know what a C was until fifteen seconds ago; I'm still reeling.
I'll confess, I don't really see how they could've done this better without explicitly telling the player, but that's just the thing. Why not? Why even have a sprint in the first place? Again, I'l address the fact that I didn't have a manual, and that may have remedied the situation. But, still, I don't think this game needed a sprint. Were people clamoring for this shit back in 1994? Like, “back-of-the-box” clamoring? Was sprint the iron sights of yesteryear?
Honestly, though, these were just minor roadblocks to an otherwise fantastic game. Maybe I shouldn't say minor, but they were certainly overshadowed by all the smart stuff this game did. Like that first boss fight. Was it a boss fight? When you get the rockets and the statue goes Indiana Jones on your ass. That was amazing! And terrifying. Seriously, I was impressed with how effective that reveal was at a sprite level. And when I figured out that jumping as an evasive maneuver was the pits and that I could just roll between the guys legs – brilliant. Applying what I had learned about the morphball, no matter how frustrating the process, was absolute brilliance. That's how video games should be, guys.
I'm of the opinion that video games should strive for this level of detail as well. For an SNES era game, there's a lot of world packed into this tiny cart. And it's all yours to desecrate! Super Metroid joins my extremely exclusive list of exploratory games that exemplify why its better to have designers craft subtleties into a world than have it all be procedurally generated. When I find a secret, it feels like someone was trying to hide it from me, not like a computer put a random chest in a cave somewhere. It feels like actual, intelligent beings designed these traps and encounters, making you believe you're traveling through a lost, alien civilization. And when the world is full of these secrets, the vibrance and desire to explore it increase tenfold.
To be honest, I'm surprised this is a Nintendo game. I was mentioning the detail of the world before, and it's no joke. However, it's the direction that detail goes that intrigues me. There's a horror element to all of this. I said before that I had just watched Alien and I am getting mad Alien vibes from this game. Everything seems like it's just designed to be some kind of foreign parasite or bug-man-thing that has no qualms with fucking your shit up. The walls are made of something...biological? It seems like it. If the planet's alive, I wouldn't be surprised. I can see why Nintendo might not be focusing on this IP as a first party title, and I'm curious to see where they go with it.
But, that's neither here nor there. This is about Super Metroid, and I'm happy to say that I enjoyed my time with it. In fact, I'm just happy that I get to try out all these older games from an era where I never really had the chance to. Which brings me to my next question: any games from your childhood that you've wanted to play? What are your thoughts on Super Metroid?