Last night, in a sleep-deprived stupor, I decided to scroll through my collection of classic retro games and spend the night playing through one, much like my father did in his youth. And just like my father, I settled on an NES sci-fi adventure that has been part of my life for as long as I could remember.
In the Archive post ‘The Best Nintendo Games’ (link here) I told you all that my favorite Nintendo franchise was non other than the underappreciated Metroid series. After my dad introduced it to me in my youth, I have always had a love for these games. I’ve played every one so many times that I can finish them in a day if I so wanted.
Which I won’t, because I’m an adult with a day job, so don’t expect a day-by-day Metroidathon. Although that would be pretty fun. And strenuous. And emotionally challenging when I got to Other M and Federation Force.
Actually no. I’d never play Federation Force, even if you had a fucking double-barrel shotgun aimed at my head.
Anyways, getting back on topic, I wanted to review this game because, as fun as it is, it has fucking aged dudes. Seriously, this game does not hold up very well, especially when compared to Super Metroid or even it’s remake Zero Mission.
I’ll talk about them one day.
Let’s start at the story. It’s exactly what you’d expect from an NES game in 1986. Simple, to the point, and only presented in a text crawl before you start playing. Samus Aran is on a mission: go to the planet Zebes (quick side note, out of curiosity, how do you guys pronounce these names? Please let me know, I’m really curious. There is no right or wrong, let’s just discuss it) to exterminate the Metroid menace, destroy the Space-Pirates and kill their evil leader: the Mother Brain! It’s simple and it gets you going. Just like an NES game should be.
Now, before we talk about the gameplay (and how it has not been treated kindly by time) let’s discuss the thing that has aged reasonably well: the visuals and music. For a reasonably early NES game, this game looks pretty good. All the sprites are nice looking, all the areas look cool (a little same-looking sometimes, but nice) and the music is fantastic, easily some of the best on the NES (in my opinion at least). In terms of that retro-flare, this game has aged reasonably well.
Okay. I’ll stop beating around the bush. Let’s talk about the gameplay.
At it’s core, Metroid is about two things: exploring the world and getting stronger. You run around, getting new weapons to murder stuff and new ways to progress through the map. This was the first side-scrolling adventure game (Zelda was a top-down adventure game, so don’t bring it up) and it was really solid for the time.
Your goal was simple: find the two bossed Ridley and Kraid, murder them, and progress down to the lowest level of Zebes, where you will murder the Metroids and the Mother Brain. To do this, you need to upgrade your suit, gun, and jumping ability.
It’s simple, quick to figure out, and fun to play. But here’s the thing: Samus herself is kind of… clunky to control. Precise platforming can be a challenge (which makes the final screen of the game a fucking nightmare) and you can only aim in two directions: each of your sides (okay, three I guess) and directly up. No in-between.
You may think this isn’t a problem. It absolutely is. Enemies come at you from all angles and heights in this game, so it becomes far more challenging when you need to maneuver your way around even further just to hit them, which may or may not put you in perilous danger. And since you can’t crouch, you can’t shoot at enemies that are shorter than you. Meaning you need to either get up close and personal and blow them up with the Morph Ball Bombs, or simply avoid them.
Then there’s the exploring itself. While it is certainly fun to explore Zebes and it’s depths, the game is a little… too open ended. It is nigh impossible to know where you’re supposed to go, and since many of the screens look almost identical, navigating is super hard. Plus, there are tons of non-choreographed walls and floors that you can either blow up or simply walk through.
Those aren’t just blocking off extra Energy Tanks or Missile Tanks, by the way. Some of those are necessary for finishing the game. Hope you have the patience to scan literally every square of the map. Because if you’ve never played the game before and you’re not using a guide, this game can and probably will stop being fun.
Still, this game is more fun than not. Exploring is a treat (until you actually want to progress and you bash your face against a wall) and the game looks and sounds pretty good to this day. It’s challenging enough to be super rewarding, and it even has a significant part in the creation of video game speed running.
See, there’s one thing I forgot to mention: when you finish this game, you get an end screen where Samus takes of her helmet, revealing that she is, in fact, a woman (I’m told that it was mind boggling at the time). If you finish it quickly enough, she’ll go down to only a bikini.
The designers of this game knew what they were doing.
This mentality of ‘finish as fast as possible’ was a huge part in birthing the speed run. Was it the sole creator? Oh certainly not. But you can’t deny that it did play a part in it.
And that’s about it. It’s a classic game that marked the birth of one of my favorite franchises. It’s rough around the edges, yes, but it’s still a good time that deserves to be remembered for many years to come.
Oh wait! I forgot to mention the biggest issue that this game still suffers from! The single biggest issue that drags this game down!