The Retrospective Review is something I've thought about doing for a while now. The premise is simple, I'll be taking a look back at a retro title, and then offering my opinion on whether I believe it's still worth your time and money.
Because, let's face it, while some games were critically acclaimed in their day, they haven't aged too well. Worse, there are those games still remembered as classics, but when you go back to them...well, they just don't hold up.
Technological limitations of the time, out of date design styles... both these things and more can effect the extent to which we enjoy older games. I'll be taking such aspects into consideration, but at the same time, judging whether they can be accepted as "products of their time" or whether they are simply too great an obstacle to your enjoyment.
(And to clarify, let's say "retro" means at least two generations old)
So, without further ado....
Third of the Metroid games released, Super Metroid is held by most as the series' coming-of-age game. It was at this point that "Metroid - the franchise" effectively evolved into what it is today (as far as the 2D games are concerned).
A quick glance at Amazon will tell you that Super Metroid still attracts a £30+ price tag, indicating the kind of respect this game continues to command. Fortunately, a while ago it was released for the Wii virtual console (and is coming to the Wii U VC in just a few months) and so can now be enjoyed without causing such a dent in your bank account.
So how does it hold up?
Well, the first thing you're going to notice is that Samus feels...sluggish. If you've played any of the later 2D games (ie Fusion or Zero Mission) the lethargy of Super's controls will feel especially pronounced. But even if you haven't, coming at this Snes-era giant with the expectations you've developed from playing more recent platformers will leave you feeling that Samus should be less awkward when in motion.
However, despite the initial frustration, it's something you get used to as you delve further into the game, so don't let it worry you.
And as you delve, you'll soon reach a conclusion: Super Metroid is massive - and it's all the more glorious for it. One of the things I've always loved about the Metroid series is the blending of platforming and open-ended exploration, and Super Metroid has both in droves. Visually varied environments, complex but never too tricky puzzles and a multitude of different enemies make the act of simply working through Super Metroid a joy that has not diminished with time.
The make-or-break aspect of any Metroid game, however, is that while exploration should feature heavily, it should never be a chore. The best 2D Metroid games manage this by making sure the player notices doors or sealed areas that they can't yet access, but will remember for when they've unlocked the upgrade that does make them accessible. It should be a perfect balance of player intuition and design-led guidance.
And mostly, Super Metroid handles this with the kind of grace that Fusion and Zero both manage. Unfortunately, there is one section about....halfway through the game, where I was completely stumped. I spent a good hour wandering around, before finally giving in and checking an online guide. It's possible that my terrible sense of direction contributed to this...but I can only speak from personal experience. It broke the flow, albeit temporarily.
A separate, but equally serious issue I encountered concerned the Grapple Beam. I'm sure that at the time of release, the Grapple Beam seemed like a dynamic and awesome feature. "The ability to build momentum and then release for a massive jump? Radical! The smooth way Samus swings back and forth? Groovy!" - are all things 90's people most definitely said. Now, however, that damn beam is a huge pain. Aiming it mid-flight for multiple swings (especially with Samus' limited directions of aiming) was a nightmare, and the grapple points were often difficult to latch onto, needing a perfect shot. Sections requiring the beam's use had me shouting at the screen.
In terms of presentation, Super Metroid is still pretty darn...pretty. Playing the original Snes version on your big TV will lessen the picture quality, but that's an unavoidable consequence of technology's endless forward march, and so can hardly be held against the game itself. (I'm not certain, but I believe the Wii VC version suffers less on the big screen). Regardless, overall Super Metroid is a shining example of the Golden Age of the Pixel. Everything about its visuals scream "I'm the height of gaming on the Snes, and for that alone you'll love me!"
And the music...oh, merciful Buddha, the music. Just have a listen of this:
Moody, tense, how can you not love it? Alright, I'll admit, it's a bit...90's, and the sound quality could perhaps be crisper, but this was as good as it got back in '94, and frankly, it's part of the charm of playing an older game. That rough-around-the-edges sound, it's sort of like listening to a Rolling Stones song on LP. Sure it's crackly, but that's half the fun. If you wanted "perfect", you'd have downloaded a remastered version.
So, to wrap up.
Super Metroid isn't the shining beacon of perfection that you've probably heard it to be. It has flaws with pacing and mechanics that can't be excused on the grounds of time's passage. It's also not going to look as nice now as it did back in the day. That niggle can be excused, however, because though the pixels might be a little stretched on today's behemoth TVs, enough of their original artistic brilliance is intact. As I said earlier: this is pixel gaming at its peek. Bask in the visual glory of a different age! Bask!!
If you're a fan of the Metroid series, but are (inexplicably!) yet to try Super Metroid, you'll doubtless enjoy it. Though the series may have changed in a few ways since Super's release, there's enough of the familiar here that it'll share all the reasons you love the rest of the games.
If you've never played a Metroid game before, but are looking to try a reputed classic, you aren't going to be disappointed. Super might not be perfection embodied (but then, what is?) but it is a fantastic example of Snes gaming at its best. Super Metroid has aged extremely well in the eighteen years since its initial release, and can certainly compete with newer games of a similar style.
And there's no avoiding the fact that this is a piece of gaming history. Play it, and you'll feel connected to a point in time when gaming was younger...in its adolescence, and you can't put a price on that.