Super Metroid: The Best Game Ever Made.
Is Super Metroid the greatest game ever made? Now that’s a tough question to answer. Once upon a time, my answer would have unequivocally been ‘yes!’ My first play through of the game was actually in 2007 when it released on the Wii Virtual Console, followed by another playthrough on an emulator at around 2013, and then once more much more recently on the Switch’s SNES app. Playing it through what are essentially three different eras in gaming has given me a unique perspective on the game. Obviously, I wasn’t there when the game landed, and I can only imagine how it must have utterly blown people’s minds back then, as it still blows minds today.
The Switch SNES app has really put this into focus. Having all the big hitters of the time in one place and being able to bounce around between grants a glimpse into how it must have felt when these games were at the cutting edge and regarded as the best of the best. As well as Super Metroid, the app also houses Super Mario World, A Link to the past, Starfox, F-Zero, Stunt Racer and more. When compared with its contemporaries, Super Metroid’s individual aspects (atmosphere, gameplay, map design, progression systems) are easily as highly polished as any other game in the collection. But when you combine them, Super Metroid leaves every other game in the collection in the dust. I can only imagine, but when this game came out, everything else must have felt like a toy in comparison.
As a standalone piece of entertainment, Super Metroid is a perfect videogame and, for a time, it absolutely was the best game ever made.
I mean, is Super Mario Kart still the best Mario Kart of all time? Answer in the comments!
Super Metroid: The Best Game Ever Made… For Better and For Worse
Super Metroid's legacy cannot be understated. Twenty-six years later it is still considered as the greatest game in its genre and one of the greatest games of all time. What other game holds such a legacy? Super Mario 64 has arguably been overtaken by Mario galaxy and Mario Odyssey. A link to The Past has had a sequel which matches if not surpasses its predecessor. Twenty-six years is a long time to be king (Edit: Queen) in this medium. Many pretenders have come for Super Metroid’s crown, but for a long time it seemed like nothing would be able to match it for finesse, atmosphere and presentation.
It took a long time for momentum to build, but with the advent of the indie genre, developers began to take a crack at the Metriodvania genre. For a while, it seemed like the entire genre owed a debt of gratitude to Super Metroid. There was a reverence for the game that was apparent in almost all the games that it has inspired; in Gato Roboto, you play as a cat in a power suit. In Xeodrifter, you’re basically playing a Metroid-lite. Axiom Verge might as well take place in the Metroid universe. Almost all Metroidvania games have a power up analogous to the power ball. All these games exist in admiration to Super Metroid, and I feel that this reverence actually held the genre back for a long time.
A casual observer would be forgiven for assuming these games were from the same franchise.
Don’t get me wrong, the games I’ve mentioned are all very good, but they pay such deep hommage to Super Metroid that they’ll forever be in its shadow. And not only these games; I feel that the Metroid series itself has not been able to cast off the bonds of Super Metroid and as such no game since has been able to surpass it. Metroid Zero Mission is fantastic. Metroid Fusion is my personal favourite 2D Metroid. Samus Returns- god bless it- was actually a somewhat fresh take on the formula yet it doesn’t even come close. None of them received the accolades that their older sister did. I am glad Samus Returns tried to shake things up though; it had some cool new mechanics which I hope to see expanded upon in a future release. The game itself fell a bit flat in some areas, but if developers Mercury Steam get another crack at the whip and manage to iron out some of the kinks, we might actually have a contender on our hands.
Super Metroid: The Queen is Dead
Instead, it has fallen to other developers to move the genre forward. In the twenty-six years since Super Metroid’s release, many developers have poked and prodded at the Metroidvania genre and discovered what made it tick; what aspects of its gameplay and setting were quintessential to the experience, and which parts could be thrown off or adapted. The sprawling, organically expanding worlds? Check. The rewarding powerups and progression system. Check. A claustrophobic, foreboding alien atmosphere? Actually, maybe we don’t need that in every single Metroidvania game.
Can a Metroidvania also be a tropical, pinball joyride? Yes it can!
Play this game by the way (Yoku's Island Express).
It was Guacamelee, released in 2013, that made me realise that Metroidvianias don’t absolutely have to be trudges through dead, damp worlds. Metroidvianias could in fact be jovial. They could feature awesome hand to hand combat. They could give you challenge rooms which test your platforming and fighting prowess just for the fun of it. A gun wasn’t the only way you could interact with the world! Guacamelee was a game changer for the Metroidvania genre. It married its combat and its platforming in a way that was constantly fresh and allowed you to express yourself in combat encounters that Super Metroid never could. It was also executed on flawlessly. The controls were excellent and the length of the game was pitch perfect (I actually prefer the original version to the Super-Turbo-Championship Edition, which gets a bit long in the tooth thanks to its extra content by the end.)
The combat in this game is just euphoric.
To me, Guacamelee was the first sign that we might be seeing some true innovation in the genre, and it was Drinkbox Studio’s willingness to move away from the conventions of Metroid specifically that allowed it to create the next true masterpiece in the genre. Once people saw that these games could be done differently, the Metroidvania scene blossomed into one of the most well represented and varied genres in the entire industry.
There now lies a crop of games that I think are as good as, if not better than Super Metroid, and they are so because they don’t play by Super Metroid’s rules. If they tried to take on Super Metroid on its own terms, they would invariably come up short. It is because of these games’ divergence from the Super Metroid mould they were ultimately able to surpass it.
The Metroid Killers
For me there are three games that have achieved the accolade of ‘Metroid Killer.’ The first of those games is Gucamelee, for reasons I’ve briefly outlined above. The other two are below, with brief explanations why, along with some honourable mentions (there are a lot of excellent Metroidvanias out there, even if they’re not Metroid killers.)
This one was obvious wasn’t it? In retrospect, taking Metroid’s level design and wrapping it around a Dark Souls’ aesthetic was a no-brainer. What other series has offered up a world that marries a deep sense of exploration with such an oppressive atmosphere? The premise alone beckons success. Yet beyond this, Hollow Knight does so much to push the genre forward. The way it handles power ups is a beautiful marriage between non-linear level design and an FPS style perk system, allowing you to change your loadout to match certain trials whilst still giving you that great feeling of achievement when you find a new ability. The map is the biggest I’ve ever played (which for me is a bit of a double-edged sword), and the sombre atmosphere of Hallownest is a tantalising riposte the bleakness of planet Zebes. The game is also hard as freakin’ nails, which is something I wasn’t expecting when I dived in.
In terms of atmosphere, Hollow Knight is, at the very least, equal to Super Metroid. In terms of game length and variety of gameplay, Hollow Knight surpasses it. Although not my personal favourite Metroidvania of all time, it is almost impossible to argue that Hollow Knight is the not new king of the pile. Just good luck 100%-ing it.
Ori and The Will of The Wisps
In the same way that many Metroidvania-style games owe a debt to Super Metroid, Ori and The Will of The Wisps owes a similar debt to Hollow Knight. Maybe it was coincidence, or maybe Moon Studios were taking notes, but a lot of Hollow Knights innovations find themselves in Ori as well. Even so, they are all implemented with the same level of care and Ori himself has an expanded traversal set which makes just moving around in his (her?) world a constant joy. This game is agonizingly beautiful; awash with colour in a way that so few Metroidvanias are. The game is seeped in golds, reds, blues and blacks. If Metroid is aping Alien’s aesthetic, and Hollow Knight Tim Burton, then Ori and The Will of The Wisps recalls The Lord of the Rings. The entire land is saturated in colour and exudes a whimsical melancholy. Although some of the game’s puzzles can be a little too obtuse, a quick google for the answer never felt like cheating and it is definitely worth it just so you can see the next wonderful landscape. Praise needs to be given too to how well movement is handled in this game. You are given an utter treasure trove of traversal options, from standard wall jumping to swimming, followed up later in the game by drilling, air dashing, air bashing, lassoing and more. Each one feels unique, and although it threatens to become overwhelming, my hand never got muddled thanks to the awesome controller layout that keeps all of your abilities in reach. Many abilities have attributes overlap with one another, allowing you to choose which ones to use to traverse a cliff face or pilot through an enemy infested tunnel of spikes. Like Guacamelee, the game lets you play it your way, which seems to be a defining trait of all the games I’ve talked about on this list.
Ori and The Will of The Wisps is the game I recommend most highly on this list. The entire game is sublime and provides the perfect balance between challenge and beauty whilst forging an identity that is equal parts fresh and mesmerising.
The Return of The Queen?
And what of Metroid in this day and age? I find it ironic that Metroid, once a series that was touted as a great innovator, is now beholden to tropes codified over twenty years ago. While other developers have moved on from Metroid’s template and pushed the genre forward, Nintendo have uncharacteristically been reluctant to shake up the Metroid formula. And here lies the dilemma for anyone looking to creating the next ‘Super Metroid’. If Nintendo are going to make the Super Metroid, they actually have to sever ties with the game itself. It might sound melodramatic, but they need to let Super Metroid go. Look at Nintendo’s other franchises. Mario has never stood still. Each game changes the formula in a fundamental way, giving us new gameplay experiences and ensuring that no one game outshines the others. SM64, Sunshine, Galaxy 1+2 and Odyssey are all essential and all unique. Nintendo needs to identify what parts of Metroid are truly essential and which parts they can leave by the wayside. Only by moving away from the classic Metroid formula and giving us something new will they be able to escape from Super Metroid’s twenty-six-year-old shadow and the next genre-defining title
Honourable Mentions in no Order
Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet
Yoku’s Island Express (Play this game!)
My Metroidvania Backlog
Shantea: Risky’s Revenge
Let's Talk About AM2R
I have't finished it. What I have played of it was phenomenal. I prefer it over the 3DS remake. I was more than half of the way through it when my save file corrupted on my PSVITA. I'll get back to it one day. Who knows, maybe this is the game to topple Super Metroid's crown.
This game really did up the ante when it came to matching Super Metroid for quality.
Shame those Metroid fights were so annoying though (that one fight in the dark, jeez!)
Below is a great article talking about that game. It asks questions of Nintendo that I think they should have asked themselves during this whole issue. Give it a read if you have time.