Righty-ho! I recently completed Super Metroid and just got through writing a review of what I now consider to be one of the best games on the SNES. I can’t believe I’ve never played it before now. Terrible. Anyway, here it is, feel free to tell me what you think!
The experience of playing Super Metroid is very much akin to reading a really good book. Once you’ve started, you don’t want to stop, and even when you do you’re still thinking ‘what’s going to happen next?’ ‘Where will that room I last saved in lead to?’ ‘What remarkable power-ups are waiting round the corner?’ Super Metroid truly is an extremely rich, deep and involving experience.
Developed by Nintendo R&D1 and published by Nintendo <i>Super Metroid</i> is the third installment in the Metroid series, and possibly the best. At the time of its release way back in 1994 Super Metroid was the largest game available for the Super NES (having a 24-megabit cartridge size), a fact that is more than evident when you play through the various locations in the game. The scope of the game is huge, considering that it was a 2D platformer released in the 90s. This is a game that was truly way ahead of its time, and many of the modern platformers and adventures we play today have their routes firmly set in its design.
Once again you take on the role of Samus Aran, the sexy yet uncompromising bounty-hunter, armored in her trademark battle suit created by the mysterious Chozo. Samus finds herself on the planet Zebes for a second time, facing the menacing Space Pirates and their plans for galactic domination. In all fairness the story is very light on the ground, although the approach to its telling has changed substantially from previous installments, which reduced storytelling to the instruction booklet. Here Samus narrates the short introduction herself, revealing to the player that she has received a distress signal from the research lab where she took a Metroid hatchling saved at the end of the previous game (1991’s Metroid II: Return of Samus). She returns just in time to see one of the game’s many bosses stealing the hatchling. She follows the beast to the planet Zebes. This is the setting, and it is where you prevent the Space Pirates from bringing their new plan – that of cloning the Metroids and using them as a weapon – to fruition.
The player is thrown right in at the deep end. One of the very first things you do it fight a huge flying monstrosity, then escape the research lab/space colony before it explodes (a countdown timer flashes incessantly, reminding you that you have just one minute to make your escape). Phew. This sets the pace for Super Metroid, one of constant action and suspense. At its core Super Metroid is an adventure based on exploration and time-gathering, with platformer and shooter dynamics. However the game reaches beyond these simple outlines and crafts a whole new experience with the implementation of nonlinear gameplay. True, you are basically collecting items and power-ups that give Samus the ability to defeat enemies and overcome obstacles, but the way this seemingly straightforward design is applied raises the game to a whole other level.
You start off with nothing. A suit and a blaster are your only protection. By the end of the game you’re a one-woman army, and an extreme hazard to the Space Pirate’s existence. You’re able to walk through water, grapple your way across ceilings, jump off walls, defy gravity, freeze enemies in their path, and execute super jumps to get to previously inaccessible areas. Start from the beginning again once you’re completed the game and the difference in Samus is considerable. Getting the items to achieve these feats is no easy task. You have to fight enemies, perform death-defying jumps from ledge to ledge, and solve puzzles to get each power-up. Add to this the multiple paths you are constantly offered, and the fact that some paths will only be available to you later in the game, meaning you must constantly remember the places to which you have been and will have to return to at a later point, and you’ve got a pretty demanding gameplay experience on your hands. Finding yourself stuck and wondering where to head next is not an uncommon occurrence, and it takes not only memory but a whole ton of exploration to find the next section of your adventure. As the game progresses you will find that when you gain new maneuvers - such as the ability to jump higher than before, or a weapon that can blast through solid rock – you will find yourself recalling a ledge that was just a little too high before, or a closed door that wouldn’t unlock a few rooms back. You’ll be constantly taking note of these areas, ready to backtrack when the next augmentation is provided.
Investigation really is key to this game. Every little opening and every door will beckon to you. If you’re incredibly attentive in your explorations you’ll find Samus becoming increasingly powerful as there are plenty of missile upgrades and energy tanks to be found, hidden away in the many of Super Metroid’s secrets. It is possible to achieve 100% completion by collecting everything there is to be found in the game, but this certainly would be no easy task. The game’s map is extremely complex, intricately designed to give you many different routes whilst always making sure you’re gong the right way and doing the right thing. One glance at the entirety of Super Metroid’s map is enough to intimidate any hardcore gamer.
Innovative gameplay and design aside, the look, feel and sound of this game are, simply, some of the best in all of the SNES’s history. The music is sublime, and quite possibly some of the most memorable ever put to a game. Kenji Yamamoto and Minako Hamano did an excellent job of making music that adds a continuous mood to the gameplay, enhancing it whilst still being subtle enough to not overcome the player. The music lurks in the background at all times, changing when new areas are discovered. The music mostly consists of reserved, dark melodies, eventually consuming you and immersing you in Samus’ role. Creepy and eerie at times, stunning and amazing at others, the music is implemented with such subtlety that the graphics and sound form a wonderful relationship, creating an almost tangible atmosphere. The graphics, although not amazing, do the same job. The game has an even, stable and thoroughly crafted graphical style. Each area has its own distinct look, and thoroughly gives the impression that you are, indeed, on an alien planet.
The controls are well implemented and are very easy to get used to. Controlling the height of your jumps presents no problems, and maneuverability is not inhibited at all when dodging multiple attacks – especially when fighting the larger bosses in the game. As you play you’ll learn a couple of new moves by watching friendly creatures performing them first, revealing hidden abilities that the player is only made aware of once they’ve seen them.
On a first play through this game will take the average player anywhere between 8-15 hours. If you’re really diligent and want to find every last secret it could take anywhere up to 20 hours. It is possible to complete the game in under three hours, if you’re an absolute maniac. Super Metroid has been a major contributor to the speedrun phenomenon, opening its distinctive nonlinear approach to 2D platforming to a whole new demanding level of gameplay. If you do manage to complete it in under three hours you get a little surprise (I won’t ruin it for you) so there’s plenty of additional gameplay here if your willing to devote that much of yourself to it. First and foremost it’s a much more enjoyable experience to take your time with it though, as there is so much to see and enjoy.
So there we have it. Super Metroid is a game that has truly stood the test of time. It is hailed as one of the best 2D adventures ever and rightly so. As IGN once so deftly put it, ‘Nintendo’s sci-fi epic still provides one of the most thought out and intriguing gameplay experiences around. Ranging from extensive platform challenges to gigantic boss battles to a comprehensive power-up system, Super Metroid has attained a divine place in the hearts of lifetime gamers. Certainly, it stands as something players and developers can idolize for years to come.’ It really does. As a first time player of the game I felt that this was not only one of the best games on the SNES, but also one of the best games I’ve ever played. Super Metroid elevated gameplay to a whole new level, and its mark on games and their design to this very day shows no sign of slowing down, especially with the release of Metroid Prime 3: Corruption later this year. My only regret is that I waited until I was almost 23 to play this game, because to have played it with a younger mind would have been a phenomenal experience.
To this day, Super Metroid remains one of the most popular and critically lauded games, not only on the SNES, but in all of gaming history. If you haven’t played it yet, do so. Right now. Go on, off with you.