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CapnCrunk says:

I suck at games: Metroid and graph paper

// Submitted @ 8:50 AM on 08.23.2009

I was getting psyched for the Metroid Prime Trilogy, as I loved the first two games and havenít had a chance to play the third. New controls and widescreen for the first two, and a new (to me) third game? Awesome. It also got me thinking about how I have seen all the games in the series to completion, except for the newest and the original. Well, I only played through them; I never got the good endings. Usually Iíll get close to 100% items and nowhere near the required time. But I finish them, damn it.

Iíve attempted to play Metroid several times. Before I had the Internet, the time I had with the actual cartridge was short, and I had no graph paper. I was able to remember that the Morph Ball was left of the start, and there were Missiles and Bombs to the right somewhere, and elevators made the game hard, but that was about it. My memory is that of a housefly, and the backtracking to dead-ends I couldnít remember I already visited was extremely tedious and pointlessly backtracking in areas further than Brinstar drains your health fairly quickly. I know I came nowhere near finding the Ice Beam without using the password JUSTIN BAILEY. I love the Metroid games, but only the ones with automaps. I dunno how I cleared Metroid II back in the day; I guess the level design was more intuitive.

After I had the Internet, I had access to the game first through the original Prime, and secondly through Virtual Console. But it still had no automap, and I didnít see the point in downloading the map at all. Just like the other Metroids, knowing where everything is from the start would take all the exploration, and therefore most of the fun, out of the game. So again, I still didnít get further than a couple Missile upgrades and a fear of the deeper areas of the game.

Iíve always had the idea of dropping a screenshot map of the game into GIMP (poor manís Photoshop) and making a grid of black squares, each in their own layer, on top of the map. As I explore the map, I can remove the black square on the corresponding screen in GIMP. Itíd be an awesome automap, but setting it up seems like a lot of work. So I just decided to do it old-school, and went to the grocery store and bought some graph paper and colored pencils. I also figured Iíd make a blog post of me playing through the game, and uploading the map as I progress. Iíll go ahead and admit here that Iíll be checking a zoomed out version of a screenshot map occasionally, to make sure Iím not off by one in the corridor and shaft lengths.

I remember reading that the Famicom Disk System version of the game is superior to the NES version the West received. Thereís a real save function, like in The Legend of Zelda, and the FDS has an extra sound channel. So if Iím going to play Metroid it might as well be that version. Being a law abiding citizen, I went ahead and bought a Famicom and a copy of FDS Metroid off of eBay, which was prohibitively expensive, but Iím not going to jail for this. Then I ordered a Famicom disk copier, and read the Metroid image onto my computer. I then applied Alan Midasí English translation to the disk image, and copied it onto a special blank Famicom disk. After that, I modified the Famicom hardware to upscale the graphics to 4x the original resolution and apply smoothing to the pixels, and output to a window on my computer screen. Finally, I took apart the 1P controller, cut the plastic open, and wired in a turbo button. It took forever, and there are easier ways to do this, but I donít want the FBI knocking on my door.

Hereís the result. Itís still an NES game but it looks a lot better than the VC version. And the sound is better too. Unlike many NES games, the sound effects donít ďstep onĒ the instruments. The item collection medley and the title screen music are slightly different too. The game tracks your death/save count on the file screen, and the number of game days (1 day = 1 hour realtime) youíve played. All in all this is the best version of the game (considering only rereleases, not remakes), and is the version Nintendo would actually be justified selling for (maybe more than) $5 on the Virtual Console service. One interesting note is that the elevator shafts in this game are loading screens for the Famicom version, it takes about a minute to ride the elevators while the FDS loads that part of the map.

My Playthrough, part 1:

So go left, get Morph Ball, go right, and get everything else. Itís nice not to backtrack any more than necessary. I feel like I might actually finish this. I feel like I may even go for 100% items and 100% explored, and then copy the map and draw an optimal route to take to get the best ending. Iíve gone as far as I can in Brinstar without the Ice Beam and without killing Ridley and Kraid, so I headed to the elevator to Kraidís Hideout. I forgot how much that part of the map sucked. The enemies hit you for 20 damage each, and I only have 200 energy. I wasnít being careful enough, so Iíll have to be a bit more cautious when I come back later.

After death 1, day 1: Morph Ball, Bombs, Long Beam, 15 Missiles, 1 Energy Tank.

My Playthrough, part 2:

Next I headed to Norfair, since the Kraidís Hideout was traumatic. Death in this game is awful, you have to farm enemies for a good amount of time to fill up on energy. You need at least your original 100 energy filled, or youíll die pretty quick past Brinstar if you suck like me. Only two Missile upgrades in Norfair, I need the Ice Beam. Faced with dead ends, I headed back to Kraidís Hideout.

A Hopper in front of Samus, and a Geegas on the right flying up for the killing blow. Samus was dead as soon as she entered the door.

Entering any room here from the left door is extremely cheap on the gameís part. The Hoppers will knock you backwards for 20 damage before you get a chance to make any input, and if you enter through a Missile door youíll get knocked back into it. Worse, when that happens the Geegas keep moving and get to hit you for another 20 damage while the screen is transitioning. You lose 20% of your energy about half of the time you enter a missile door from the left! If you look closely you can see where I wrote ďFUCKĒ repeatedly where those rooms are. I kept getting murdered there so I decided heading left first was much healthier.

Key: Squiggle = Beam door, MIS = Missile door, ICE -> = Need Ice Beam to move in that direction

Without the Ice Beam, most of the paths were one way trips. If you go to the bottom of the shaft under the elevator, you have to make a small loop with no upgrades. Going left from the top of the shaft is a larger loop, but at least you get two Missile upgrades. I needed the Ice Beam to enter the door in the middle of the shaft under the elevator, so the only place left for me to explore were those two death trap Missile doors.

It's like an energy refill station in the later games, except it takes four minutes.

I went through the top one first, and I figured out in these rooms that pickups are poison, because the Geegas that come through the floor and kamikaze you donít respawn until you grab the pickup they drop. Thereís one Missile upgrade, followed by 15 completely pointless screens. Wow, what sick bastard put that in? Doesnít matter, this place isnít that bad, except you can lose 100 energy in 3 seconds, and you frequently have to farm the respawning enemies to get your health back up. That idea I had earlier about trying to speed through and get the best ending had about died at this point. Oh well, I had to be getting close to the Ice Beam.

Except I wasnít. Behind Missile door number two was 3 screens, ending in an Energy Tank. Mental note, this is the first place to head in this area on my next playthrough. Where is the Ice Beam? Iím stuckÖ

After death 8, day 5: Morph Ball, Bombs, Long Beam, 35 Missiles, 2 Energy Tanks.

Does this set off any red flags? Every time I tried to play this game, I've gotten the Bombs and wandered merrily past this hallway.

Well, playing Metroid without referencing a walkthrough has failed. I looked it up and determined that I should be bombing the bottom of every hallway (the 1 screen of tighter horizontal parallel lines between longer corridors on my map). One of those is the path to the Ice Beam. I have a feeling I would have dicked around in those 15 pointless screens in Kraidís Hideout for a long time before even thinking of going back to Brinstar, and Iím pretty sure I would have tried Norfair before that. This is the only Metroid game I couldnít figure out without some kind of outside assistance. Further, Iíve been exactly this far in the game several times before. I managed to ignore that hallway every time I played.

Do I suck at Metroid? Is this a failure on my part, or the level designerís? Should I have stuck it out, possibly for a couple of more hours of backtracking, revisiting dead ends until I finally discovered the bomb spot I needed? You could say I'm dumb for not calling the Nintendo Hint Line all that long ago and asking a counselor where the Ice Beam is. In my recent attempts I could have looked at a walkthrough sooner.

I'll give you two guesses where the bomb goes.

I know the game is over 20 years old at this point, and not all games of this age are the most player friendly. But all of the action adventure games Nintendo put out after Metroid were pretty intuitive. The Legend of Zelda, which was released six months before Metroid (in Japan), had the same ďflawĒ of having to bomb random areas. But that game had a map for the dungeons, and the important spots to bomb looked conspicuous. Zeldaís first quest is absolutely clearable without any outside references, even if you donít have the maps that came with the game (I didnít).

Further, on the ďI suck at gamesĒ theme, I have never seen the best ending at any of these games. Finishing these games in a timely manner is something that requires tons of practice, skill, and memorization. It requires much more than one playthrough. Itís the same with the Resident Evil series for me; I play through them once, get a horrible score, and donít have it in me to play through repeatedly to figure out the optimal path. Iím lucky to finish a game at all. I feel somewhat frustrated that I donít play these games more than once, but on the other hand that leaves time to play games that are completely new to me.

Iím considering pressing on and trying to finish the game, making my map and noting my experiences. Should I go ahead and continue documenting my playing experience in another post? Do I suck or would you have wandered past that hallway without a second thought? Have any of you gotten a ďbest endingĒ without using a walkthough, but through practice and determination? How would you rank that among your accomplishments in your gaming career?

If you want to see a higher res image of the map so far, it's in the gallery. The playthrough is continued here.
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