Welcome ladies and jellybeans to the first episode of "Stephen Pastic's Rewind" - a brand new series looking at titles from the past which i routinely return to. Kicking things off with a megaton sized bang for episode 1 is Super Metroid for the SNES. Released in 1994, it has since gone on to be featured on various 'best games of all time' lists, as well as being a massively influential title on the speed running community. So what is it about this game that compels players like me to regularly return to this classic?
Firstly, the game still looks great - while other SNES titles were starting to dick around with the whole 3D thing (i.e. Starfox), Super Metroid stuck to the 2D format of its 8-bit heritage and was beautifully animated to boot. At the time, i had not played either of the prior Metroid titles but yet was immediately drawn into the fictional world of the planet Zebes, with all of its varied and themed environments. From underground jungles, to what could be construed as a 16-bit version of hell itself, nobody could accuse Nintendo's R&D1 team of phoning this one in. Character sprites moved with remarkable fluidity, visual effects were impressive for their time, and most importantly the game's boss characters all looked legitimately intimidating.
Another part of Super Metroid that has stuck with me over the years is its crushing sense of atmosphere and isolation. Certain segments of the game have an almost palpable sense of foreboding dread that i don't recall seeing prior. For a SNES era 2D sidescrolling game to imbue the player with a heavy sense of apprehension was no mean feat - for it's time, one could almost call Super Metroid a psuedo horror game. The fantastic atmosphere, character design and animation is only helped by what may be one of the most popular game soundtracks of all time. Running the gamut from upbeat (Upper Brinstar) to orchestral (Lower Norfair) to downright creepy (Item Rooms, Tourian), the different aural backgrounds on show were nothing short of stellar - especially considering the technology constraints on the audio of SNES titles. Without a shadow of a lie, i was so enamoured by the soundtrack that i actually used to let the game run idle in various areas while recording the music onto cassette tape - and even to this day, i hear shades of Super Metroid in my own recorded tunes.
Super Metroid also managed to deftly tell a story without any words or dialogue, save for the couple of paragraphs of text at the very beginning. At the game's climax, i am sure many of us who have completed this gem clearly recall feeling something as the baby Metroid is annihilated in front of Samus' eyes. As the music then swells into a very heroic sounding theme, i would bet that most of us yelled something to the effect of "game on, bitch!" before rocking Mother Brain's head in the Chris Brown/Rhianna style. Whilst many games have come and gone since with much more gravitas, at least in my experience, Super Metroid was my inital exposure to the potential idea of videogames as a legitimate storytelling medium.
I would be remiss to omit mentioning just how brilliantly designed the game was - whilst there is a (for want of a better term) "proper" way to complete the game, by utilising many various techniques (many of which are somewhat hidden in the plain sight of players), it is possible to complete the game by skipping over significant portions of the ordinary sequence of events. To hammer this point home, there are several techniques available to players (some right from the beginning) that most people who finished the game may not even be aware exist - if the title screen is left to run idle for some time, the gameplay demo will give clues as to how these advanced moves are performed. Given Super Metroid's design, it is no mystery as to how this title has become a stalwart of the speedrunning community - with a ludicrous amount of options for 'sequence breaks' built in to the game, players are continually striving to find the optimal path for the fastest completion time.
If you have not yet played this title and have enjoyed either Shadow Complex or Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, you really owe it to yourself to check it out. Whilst it is older than the great games it inspired, Super Metroid still stands head and shoulders above it's direct competition.