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RELEASE DATE (NA): April 18, 1994 GENRE: Action/Adventure
// review by SoyBomb

Quite possibly the best Metroid game ever?

A few weeks ago, I was able to get my hands on a copy of the original NES game Metroid in very good condition. I was rather joyous because this is pretty much universally known as a classic. So I eagerly slid it into an ailing NES and (after much cartridge blowing sequences and use of expletives) prepared myself for an epic journey deep in the caverns of the now misspelled "Planet Zebeth".

But all it did was remind me of how good Super Metroid is.

I found myself quite frustrated at the immediate difficulty of the game. The fact that you don't even get to start out with a full health meter is a stark sign of horrific things to come. But this is not supposed to be a reflection on the original Metroid. No, sir (or ma'am) -- instead, I'm here to dwell on the vastly superior Super Metroid, which took the seedling set by Metroid and its Game Boy sequel, Metroid II: Return of Samus, and sprouted a divine beauty. Super Metroid is, according to many a gamer from the golden 16-bit era, the best game of the series (or even the best on the system, or best game ever made period, depending on what degree of crackpot the person may be). Having played many Metroid games at one point or another during my life, I can say that Super Metroid IS all it's cracked up to be -- in fact, later games (of which there were none until eight years after Super Metroid was released) owe much to Super Metroid.

Super Metroid may not necessarily keep you glued to the couch for extensive periods of time -- seasoned veterans can complete the game in less than three hours and receive the "best" ending. But for those of us who take a more relaxed position towards adventuring, you can definitely enjoy all the fine nuances of the different areas and explore. There is no time LIMIT to completing Super Metroid, so make sure to take that extra time and look for secret nooks and crannies. There are definitely plenty of those, perhaps more than many gamers will be able to locate without a walkthrough and/or some serious cunning. In particular, keep an eye out for anywhere where missile capacity expansions or energy tanks may be hidden. You'll need many a missile to survive this place, and you'll need even more life energy to survive.

Never a dull moment. Always a freakout moment.

This may be the first opportunity for real insight into the mind of Samus. In the introduction, she speaks for the first time in the series about the events preceding where the game begins. Samus tells of how she discovered a Metroid larva, which took quite a shining to her and has now latched onto her like a child to its mother. She took the larva to the Ceres Space Colony, where scientists were able to study it carefully. However, as Samus was leaving for further bounty, she received a distress call indicating that the colony was attacked and the Metroid stolen by Space Pirates. Samus must return to Planet Zebes (now spelled the way it will always be spelled) in search of the lost specimen.

Super Metroid is a solid action-adventure title, and there is a generous balance of both the action and adventurous aspects. In terms of action, there are definitely many things to kill out there from the lowliest flitting insects to mighty Space Pirate bosses who will be a bit more devious and difficult to destroy. Not everything can be defeated with a simple shot of the standard beam; many require a special weapon to exploit the weaknesses of peskier foes. And there's definite platforming going on: you'll have to hop, skip, and space jump your way past perilous spikes, nasty lava pits, and more. Better get that right thumb ready!

The adventure half makes itself apparent immediately as well: you start out with just a pitiful, average beam weapon. That's all well and good if all you're fighting is woodsy creatures. Such is not the case, and so you have to venture forth and seek out these weapon upgrades! Because this is an open-ended world, you won't find what you seek at the end of any "level". Instead, using the weaponry and abilities you already have, you have to figure out where you can and cannot go, and then go (obviously) where you can. The game is designed in that manner: if you can go there (without exploiting any glitches or crazy tricks), you probably are heading in the right direction. But the nice thing is that you have quite a good amount of freedom to explore the various areas (and return to old ones in search of missed opportunities to find bounty and new paths). You'll also come across new suits (such as the Varia suit, "suitable" for really, REALLY warm areas) and abilities, including the now semi-awesome Grappling Beam for making your way across larger pits. You'll also NEED to go back so that you can get those extra missile packs and energy tanks. Seriously, I said it before and I'll say it again: you need those things to survive. Look hard!! All in all, the different regions of Planet Zebes meld together well to create a coherent journey where you're never feeling as though you are truly trapped; likewise, the level design is just challenging enough for casual players and veterans of older Metroid games alike.

Samus can travel in style, thanks to the Morph Ball. Of course, she's good by land as well.

I've always admired Super Metroid's very crisp and straightforward graphical style. In particular, I have to make mention of the excellent sprite work done on the main character, Samus. She just looks great -- and I don't mean that in a sexy way just because she's female. All her movements are smooth as silk, and she even changes appearance as you switch suits. The varied environs are also worth noting. Every area has its own clearly separate atmosphere that sets just the right tone for your quest. As well, the bosses may have been small in the Metroids of olde, but this time around, they could potentially take up multiple screens! That's pretty damn big. Thanks, advanced graphics technology of the Super Nintendo. Music in the game is kept fairly minimal and out of the way so that you're not distracted and forced to attempt a conga line while battling Kraid. I did think the sound effects were somewhat muffled, though. The console's sound chip just wasn't built to emit such... unusual noises. (Then again, neither was I, but I manage.)

I believe that Super Metroid set some pretty high standards for itself as a series. With excellent graphics for its time and varied gameplay that was second to none, Super Metroid was one of the cornerstones of the SNES library to own. But surprisingly, it didn't fly off the shelves much in Japan and was placed in the "Best Of" line of Super Nintendo software in North America and Europe based more on critical acclaim than financial success. However, the lack of sales DID leave an unfortunate gap between iterations: it wasn't until 2002 when the Metroid brand was revived with Metroid Fusion, a return to the mechanics that made Super Metroid so good (though in handheld form), and Metroid Prime, a stark departure on the GameCube which provided an action-packed first-person shooter experience while trying to maintain that Metroid feel (and it ALMOST succeeded... ALMOST...) Regardless of sales figures, those who look back fondly on the SNES (the population of which is huge) will likely add Super Metroid as one of the higher-tier additions to their collection. And I will, too.

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