Hit Replay: Super Metroid
I’m not the gamer I once was. College, money and love entered into my life and video games took the hit. There was a time when I was making it my goal to play the best classic games, as well as the new. I fell away from that life but it will always be a part of me. So, this week, with a few days with nothing to do, I started up a new file on Super Metroid, a game I’ve never beaten.
I’ve played the original Metroid, Metoid: Fusion on the Gameboy Advance, and Metroid Prime on the Gamecube. I liked all of them, with Prime being my favorite. Now, I can safely say that no matter how great the Gamecube version was, nothing beats out Super Metroid.
Replaying a Super Nintendo game is always going to give me goosebumps, as it's most likely tied with the PS2 for my favorite console. As soon as the title screen came on for Super Metroid I felt a wave of nostalgia roll over me, from the 16-bit sound to the stylized graphics, it felt like coming home.
Super Metroid starts with Samus on a simple opening mission where you explore a distress signal coming from a space station. Quickly, things go awry when Ridley, that purple space dragon, takes the last surviving Metroid and escapes. After fleeing the self-destructive base, you find yourself on the planet Zebes and the real fun begins.
Zebes is a fully realized planet, with different levels of underground facilities that have fallen into decay. As you explore the planet and use your trusty map system, you begin to locate upgrades to your armor. In many ways, it feels like an action take on the Legend of Zelda formula; explore, discover, destroy. It’s much more open ended than Zelda, with a lot more backtracking, but the similarities are there. As I got excited to find the Grapple Beam or a new energy capsule, I was reminded of looking for boomerangs and heart pieces.
Every part of Zebes is different and has its own element of danger. Brinstar is full of vegetation and life but Norfair has high temperatures and pools of fire. I loved how connected everything is in the game. It’s not a level-based game like Super Mario World but a free roaming maze. You can go anywhere, as long as you have the items needed to get there, but it’s all one place. You can see why the Castlevania series would borrow this element; it works wonderfully for an action-adventure game.
The action part of the game gets intense. While regular enemies are easy enough to take down, the bosses can be terrifying. I haven’t been this impressed by boss design and aggressiveness since my time with The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. They take up the full screen and seem impossible to dodge. Their animations are full of character and their designs are beautiful. It’s hard to watch them get destroyed, but better them than Samus. Even mini-bosses impress; such as Crocomire and his painful death scene. The final battle with Mother Brain wasn’t the hardest, but my palms were sweaty and it came to a point where I was sure I was going to die.
The graphics, for a game that’s almost twenty years old, still hold up. It’s one of the things I love most about the Super Nintendo; its games age incredibly well. Because they’re sprite based and the designers put all their love in making each square worth its space, a pretty game from 1994 is still pretty today. There are moody areas where you can see grime coming from the wall and the animations hold up. Considering how limited they were, it’s amazing how much story Nintendo was able to tell with this game, all due to the simple graphic cues.
One the best things about Super Metroid, and one of the reasons I decided to play it after all this time, is the music. I’ve been listening to remixes of the soundtrack for years now, but the original tunes still do their job. Brinstar’s theme is great and had me humming it all day. Every track fits the area and gives you a sense of the dangers you might face; slow moving but creepy fish or powerful monsters made of stone. It has one of the most atmospheric score’s since Donkey Kong Country.
It’s great to go back and finally play a game that everyone holds up to high standard, it’s even better when the game is as good as everyone says. The Metroid series has a wonderfully high quality with all its games, but Super Metroid wins for shear perfection. It’s hard to say what would make the game better. It’s now up there with The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and Final Fantasy VI as one of my favorite Super Nintendo games. Considering how easy it’s to find, now that it's available for the Wii via Virtual Console, anyone who hasn’t played the game should go do it today.