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The Memory Card .08: A twist on a classic

8:56 PM on 06.21.2007 // Chad Concelmo

Remaking a game (especially a classic one) is a very risky endeavor.

On the one hand, designers don’t want to ruin what made the game a classic to begin with, usually just releasing an almost perfectly designed clone of the original and adding new and improved graphical polish here and there to keep things interesting. But is this visually enhanced approach too boring? Why remake a game just to make it a little bit prettier?

On the other hand, in the fear that the new version will be too similar to the original, developers will sometimes change way too much, turning the remake into an almost unplayable mess, with sloppy updated controls and pointless new missions. Why fix what wasn’t broken in the first place?

Basically, remaking a classic is, in most cases, a lose-lose situation.

So, is it even possible for a remake to be a better, more fulfilling experience than the original? In the case of Metroid: Zero Mission (a Game Boy Advance remake of the original, unbelievably classic Metroid), the answer is a resounding (and surprising) yes!

The next Memory Card inductee is a remarkably unexpected gaming moment near the very end of Metroid: Zero Mission that only benefits from the player’s strong memories of the original game. Hit the jump for the perfect example of a remake done (oh so) right.

The Set-Up

As mentioned before, Metroid: Zero Mission is a remake of the original Metroid, this time with a nice, fancy Game Boy Advance shine! While the bulk of the game is the same, some maps, enemies, and weapons were changed to offer the player a slightly new experience.

Everyone knows what goes down in the first Metroid: players control main character and intergalactic bounty hunter Samus Aran as she (hopefully you all know that Samus is a she by now) travels around the planet Zebes in the hopes of seeking out and destroying the villainous Mother Brain.

Many different beams, missiles, bombs, and energy tanks later, Samus arrives at her final destination, Mother Brain’s chamber in Tourian (one of Zebes’s sub-levels).

The battle with Mother Brain is as furious and chaotic as it was in the original game, with bullets and projectiles flying towards Samus from all directions.

Like in the first Metroid, defeating Mother Brain involves breaking open her glass case with your missiles and firing away until she is finally defeated. Instead of being rewarded with an immediate victory celebration, though, the entire chamber around Samus starts a self-destruct sequence and Samus is forced to climb up a huge, towering silo in a matter of minutes to safely escape in her ship.

This is where the angels of well-made remakes begin to sing their glorious song of awesomeness! The next Memory Card moment occurs as the “ending” of Metroid: Zero Mission is playing out.

The Moment

In the first Metroid, after the player defeats Mother Brain, ascends the crumbling chamber, and escapes in Samus’s ship, the game is over and the credits roll. Not only were players treated to the satisfaction of beating a huge, pretty challenging game, they were also shocked to discover that Samus was actually a woman.

In Metroid: Zero Mission, as Samus flies away in her ship, the ending is very similar to the first game (but with a much improved comic book style). This time, though, a new kind of shocking moment occurs.

Of course, players are treated to the nostalgic reveal of Samus removing her suit and exposing her “assets” to the world, but instead of the game ending, the sequence continues on …

As Samus is flying through space, a massive battalion of Space Pirate ships surrounds her. All of a sudden, and without warning, the war machines start firing on poor, exhausted Samus.

Because she is pretty much the coolest woman in the entire universe, Samus quickly avoids the attacking fire and zooms away towards the distant stars, the Space Pirates in full pursuit.

Just as Samus thinks she has miraculously escaped what could have been certain death, a giant laser beam shoots out of nowhere, piercing the bounty hunter’s ship and sending Samus crashing back down to the surface of Zebes.

Although her ship is destroyed, Samus, luckily, is not killed, only temporarily knocked unconscious. When she wakes up, she realizes that she has been stripped of her Power Suit (and all the weapons and upgrades that come with it) and left completely defenseless, with only her weak emergency pistol in hand.

Surprising the player even more, the game now becomes fully playable, with Samus in her “Zero Suit,” completely unable to do anything except basically run, jump, and shoot her puny pistol (Pew! Pew! Pew!).

Samus is then forced to have to sneak into the Space Pirate’s lair to try to figure out a way to retrieve all her belongings and find a way off the alien planet. And this lair is not a small, quickly finished add-on to the main game. It is a huge, massive structure that offers hours of extra play time to an already deep, full game.

Using all the stealth tactics she can muster (that’s right, stealth!), Samus eventually discovers all of her lost items, defeats an even more difficult and intimidating final boss (the towering Meta Ridley), and procures a Space Pirate ship, finally escaping back into space.

It is after all of this that that game finally ends, sealing Metroid: Zero Mission as arguably one of the greatest remakes in the history of videogames.

You can watch the surprising “ending” to the game right here:

… and check out the first minutes of “stealth” gameplay with Samus stripped of her Power Suit right here:

The Impact

Even after replaying this gem of a game today, I really don’t think the original Metroid could have been remade any better. Seriously, Metroid: Zero Mission is as close to a perfect remake as a game could ever get. Everything is wonderfully familiar, but with just the right amount of adjusted maps, bigger bosses, and added items, making everything feel perfectly fresh and endlessly playable.

And that new, twist ending? Oh, how I could wax poetic about it forever!

I can’t say it enough, but it helps immensely that this risky, genius extension was added on to a game as memorable and classic as Metroid. Think about it: if a smaller, lesser-known game was remade with a new and much improved ending, yeah, it would still be cool, but would it have the same impact? The answer is definitely no.

The ending of the original Metroid is one of the most remembered endings in the history of videogames. Who doesn’t remember defeating Mother Brain, racing off of planet Zebes, and discovering Samus was actually a girl? By taking this iconic moment and adding a huge twist, the player is thrown for a mind-bending loop.

And the designers were far from lazy when incorporating this extended ending sequence. Instead of easily adding on a simple extra boss fight or a retread of an early part of the game, the innovative element of stealth is introduced for the first time in a Metroid game. This addition is shocking unto itself, but to have it work so successful in a 2D side-scrolling game is nothing short of impressive.

Very reminiscent of the classic game Flashback, the stealth sequence at the end of Metroid: Zero Mission is wonderfully designed (dodging lasers and playing a veritable cat and mouse game with the Space Pirates is amazing!), a breath of fresh air in a Metroid game, and, most importantly, a blast to play. Seriously, I get giddy just thinking about how new and different it was to play this part of the game for the first time.

Gameplay aside, the original Metroid was not known for its deep, genre-defining story (bounty hunter defeats giant brain on alien planet – that was pretty much it), but the extended Metroid: Zero Mission ending sequence actual goes so far as explaining the origins of Samus herself and establishing a firm connection to the mythology in the GameCube Metroid Prime games. While exploring the Space Pirates lair to retrieve her Power Suit, Samus discovers that she was raised by the Chozo (a bird-like race with strong ties to Prime) on the same planet she had been exploring all along, Zebes.

When I first played Metroid: Zero Mission I really did not know much about it, other than the fact that it was a remake of the original Metroid. Heck, even the release of the game was a little quiet, with brand spanking new iterations of the series, Metroid Prime and Metroid Fusion, stealing the spotlight from the “simple” remake.

I will never forget finishing the game and truly thinking the game was over once I escaped Zebes after defeating Mother Brain. I think I even set the Game Boy Advance down in my lap to watch the credits roll.

Needless to say, I was more than pleasantly surprised to experience not only a twist ending, but a whole, surprisingly huge, playable addition to an already amazing game.

Metroid: Zero Mission really raises the bar for what can be accomplished in a remake and, in particular, the moment the original Metroid tale ends and the additional story begins is one of the greatest surprises in videogame history: one that I will fondly remember for the rest of my life.

The Memory Card Save Files

Chad Concelmo,
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