daneian's Metroid: Zero Mission (Game Boy Advance) review

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A Screw Attack to the Cerebral Cortex

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Go immediately left from at the start of Metroid: Zero Mission and you’ll find the Morph Ball upgrade exactly where it was in the original Metroid. The remake modernizes the first adventure of galactic bounty hunter Samus Aran, bringing it to the standards set by one of the greatest games of all time: Super Metroid.

The game from there applies the legendary SNES classics structure as Samus navigates the depths of the planet Zebes, finding new weapons that allow her to go further, tearing through the Space Pirate armada before encountering the parasitic Metroid life forms and the evil Mother Brain. You’ll be collecting items and abilities including the Super Missiles, Power Bombs and Speed Boosters, moves that became staples with the third game. The design fleshes out a game that was more ambitious than the tech of the time would allow, implementing enough new content to ramp up the pace without padding the adventure.

With Metroid Fusion, Nintendo learned how to tighten up Super Metroid’s controls. Where Super Metroid dedicated both shoulder buttons for diagonal shooting, Fusion used each as switches for secondary modes. They mapped the diagonal locking system completely to L, relying on up and down on the D-Pad to change its direction. Doing so allowed them to free the R button to activate the missiles and Power Bomb. The result is flexible, accessible and quick. But that agility of control was hindered by animations that left Samus’ movements loose and floaty.

Zero Mission corrects that mistake. The great animation makes every move from running to jumping and rolling in the Morph Ball snappy, precise and lend it a clear sense of weight. Controlling Samus feels great.

The excellent control is coupled with meaningful abilities that make traversal fast and easy. From the Speed Booster to the Space Jump + Screw Attack combo, Samus’ tools build on themselves and strengthen each other to provide a deep set of options that don’t require much thought. In Zero Mission, the act of moving is a joy.

And Zebes is a beautiful world to explore. The fantastic sprite work is appropriately minimalist to accentuate the eerie tone of the alien planet. Samus is well detailed, coming off as both sleek and strong. The environments are dripping with atmosphere and reveal the unfolding story. To make the narrative more explicit, animated cutscenes accompany key beats including Ridley’s arrival on the planet and the introduction of the Metroid’s. They’re simple but lend decent context to the implicit story without being intrusive.

That story ends with a new epilogue created for this remake. After she destroys Mother Brain, Samus finds herself stripped of her power armor sneaking through a Space Pirate frigate. In concept, the gameplay works within the traditional level structure but in practice feels disjointed from what the game had been to that point. Regardless, it’s short and ultimately important addition to the larger Metroid fiction.

In all the ways that Zero Mission is a loving remake, it’s strange how its final act retcons the original game’s place in the series, ultimately using it as a way to setup Metroid Prime. But these changes don’t impact the original, a game still available: it unlocks on Zero Mission’s cart to reward you for beating the game.

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