Quick Review of the Best of the Metroid Series
Originally posted on my blog
Super Metroid is yet another one of those games that I never played during its actual lifespan. A full two systems after the launch of the game, I finally played Super Metroid on a ROM (DISCLAIMER: ROMs are morally and potentially legally wrong and I do not play them any more at all) prior to the release of Metroid Prime, just to see what all the hubbub was about and get some perspective on one of the most lauded franchises that I’d never played.
Since I was playing this game in 2002, I was decidedly unimpressed with the opening vocals, but I was very quickly pulled to attention by the instantaneous breakdown of events. The space station was trashed, thanks to the pirates, and here I was being called in to clean up the Alliance mess yet again. I’ll be the first to say that I’m a bit of a wuss when it comes to horror aspects of any type of modern game, but I remember being distinctly creeped out by the empty space station that provided no resistance to Samus as she wandered around, looking for traces of the Space Pirates and the last Metroid and passing the dead bodies of science team members. I also remember, and don’t laugh, this was my first Metroid game and I was playing it on a keyboard, losing to Ridley in the first boss fight of the game.
Poor video game skill aside, I also got a quick taste of the trademark Samus Aran escape sequence once I finally conquered Ridley. Yeah, I knew about the escape sequences, I mean, I didn’t live underneath a video gaming rock, I’d just never played Metroid. This is when the real story starts, as Samus lands on Planet Zebes and begins her trek into the Space Pirate’s subterranean fortress. Of course, when I say story, I mean it very loosely. We had that bit in the beginning and we’ll have a bit at the end, but the rest of the story, in typical Nintendo non-Zelda fashion, is really just boss battling and item collecting. Retro Studios would later correct this in its Metroid Prime series with a really cool scanner feature, but despite the lack of story, I still found myself feeling like I was a part of an epic mission. I can only attribute this to excellent game design if they can make me care about working my ass off to fight a boss just to get a heat-resistant suit to explore the next area.
This type of item/upgrade-driven gameplay is primitive, that’s for sure, but it’s also elegant in its simplicity. There’s no pretending that there’s some sort of necessity for you to get the wave beam beyond the fact that you can’t proceed any deeper without it. There’s definitely a more epic arc to, say, obtaining wings on the Epoch in Chrono Trigger to gain access to the rest of the map, but, as I’ve said, it says something when I can just get an upgrade for the sake of making myself more badass and still be content with that.
I think that the real reason that I had to put Super Metroid as a close fourth to Link to the Past has everything to do with the lack of a story. I can still connect with Samus as a gamer because she’s a part of an expertly constructed video game, but there’s no pathetic (as in pathos) connection. Samus Aran links up with the part of be that likes to blow evil Space Pirates up, but not to the more human emotional parts of my personality. I think Nintendo knows this now too and they’ve done a lot more on this front with Metroid: Zero Mission and Metroid Fusion, particularly in the latter, to try and connect you on a more than superficial level with the most badass bounty hunter in the galaxy.
What else is there to say about Super Metroid? The ambiance is perfect, the pacing (as in when they dole out boss battles and weapon/equipment upgrades) is spot on, and the bosses are all (mostly) really cool. From the first time you open a blue door to the moment you blast off of Planet Zebes trying to not get blown up, you’ll be on the edge of your seat anxious for more (unless you get hopelessly lost, like I frequently did).