Have you ever been spelunking? No, not those guided cave walks for the tourists! I’m talking about “wild caving'”, where you leave the tourists behind with their walkways and large areas and enter a world that few will ever see. A world of dark passages and underground rivers. A world so dark and solitary in its nature that if not for the sound of your fellow adventurer’s voices, you would swear that you are all alone …
Which brings me to Super Metroid, a game that is now known far and wide as one of the greatest games ever made. Unfortunately Super Metroid had the misfortune of coming out around the same time period as another one of Nintendo’s heavy hitters: Donkey Kong Country. This resulted in many gamers lining up to take the walk-through tour, never knowing the greatness that resided right next door …
So what is it that makes this game an immortal classic? Besides Ridley …
We begin the experience as Samus answers a distress call from the scientific space station that she gave the last Metroid to. Arriving to find the research team dead and arch-nemesis Ridley absconding with the baby Metroid, we are then given a few seconds to escape the exploding station. Then it’s off to Zebes to get it back, and it is here that your adventure REALLY begins.
Super Metroid’s gameplay is all about exploration, and every aspect of its game design centers on this. Beginning at your ship on the surface of Planet Zebes, Samus must run, jump, and shoot her way through a massive labyrinth of underground caverns. At the beginning of the game, Samus has very little resources at her disposal, limiting where she can go, but this will quickly change. Scattered throughout this massive maze are the tools that Samus will need to succeed in her adventure. It is the way that these items are hidden that makes Super Metroid such a replayable experience.
As you delve further in, you will begin to realize that no matter what path you choose, there is always some kind of reward. It may not be the right way, but there is almost always something worthwhile at the end of every tunnel! This completely negates the feelings of frustration that similar games leave you with when they force you to backtrack. In this way exploration is rewarded and encouraged. It also helps that you now have a mini-map at your disposal, eliminating the need to draw a map as you go like in earlier games. If you need additional help navigating Zebes, be sure to stop by each area’s map room, which will automatically update your map with the entire area’s schematics. For a challenge, play without using these!! It’s a blast.
Weapons are very well balanced, with each one giving Samus a new tool in her war against the Space Pirates. I love how even the weapons themselves give the player something to explore! The Charge Beam lets you charge your arm cannon. The Wave Beam lets your shots pass through walls and enemies. The Spazer Beam acts as a shotgun blast. And the Ice Beam freezes enemies solid. The best part of all is the ability to combine these beams into one super weapon!!! So if you want a freeze shotgun, equip the Charge and the Freeze!!! The combinations are limited only by your imagination, so experiment and see what you can come up with. To top it off, Samus also has her trusty missiles and bombs, each of which will also get power upgrades.
With just these expansive weapons, most other games would be content, but Super Metroid is not most other games. It also gives you some tools that can open up new paths for you! High Jump Boots let you jump higher and there’s also a speed boost that lets you run like the wind. While we’re at it, let’s not forget the X-Ray Scanner that shows hidden rooms or the Grapple Beam that lets you swing over gaps. It is in these items that Super Metroid gives you a paradigm shift. Every item or weapon you find has you looking back on everything you have seen and looking for where your new item might be able to take you! Suddenly, backtracking becomes a joy and not a chore!
It’s Pavlov’s experiment in game form. By being on the right track, you are rewarded with items and weapons that remove barriers that may have stopped you from progressing further. By following the “wrong way” you are often rewarded with a smaller, yet still appreciated reward like a health boost or an increase in your maximum ammunition. All of this ties together to make Super Metroid literally one of the most “rewarding” experiences ever crafted.
This is to say nothing of the world itself. Zebes has to be one of the most atmospheric places you will visit in the 16-bit era. It is a massive and varied environment featuring rocky caverns, lush plant life, heated crags, deep lakes, and a wrecked ship beckoning you to enter, devoid of life. Graphics have a living, breathing feeling that is just impossible to describe, with the soundtrack backing them up with some of the most memorable tunes of the era. From the brooding and creepy pulse of Norfair to the pulse-pounding and heroic Brinstar, this game will definitely make you feel like you are in the middle of an epic sci-fi adventure. Enemies are varied and interesting, from the dreaded Metroids to the side-hoppers that love to be a nuisance.
And that says nothing for the bosses themselves. From the towering Kraid to the ghostly Phantoon, these are among the best and most mind blowing boss encounters on the system! Every single one has its own intricacies. One of my favorites is Crocomire, where Samus faces a brutal tug of war game with the loser plummeting into the lava pits below! And when you finally catch up to Ridley, be prepared for a duel that will test you as a bounty hunter as well as a gamer…
Even when you are all done, go back and try the game again. Part of the fun is the game is that there is a meta-game within: How fast can you finish? Since the game saves your time as well as your progress, it can be fun posting a speedrun of your time and seeing if your friends can beat it! I promise you that Samus has moves that you may never have discovered. The Bomb Bounce, The Wall Jump, and the Crystal Flash come to mind. See how many of these hidden powers you can find! Then, once you master them all, have fun exploring areas that you should not even be able to access yet!
Playing this again for the first time in years, I cannot help but look back on my first adventure in the Martin Ridge cave system. Tired, sore, dirty, and bruised, I couldn’t help but still yearn for more. The joy of discovering something new in your surroundings and in YOURSELF. Super Metroid provides both feelings. This is how I like my Metroid: Fast, frantic, and maternal instincts free!
Sorry, Nintendo! Just kidding … but not really! Leave that crap at the door!
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