Experience Points .32: Super Metroid

The last Metroid is in captivity

Experience Points is a series in which I highlight some of the most memorable things about a particular game. These can include anything from a specific scene or moment, a character, a weapon or item, a level or location, a part of the soundtrack, a gameplay mechanic, a line of dialogue, or anything else about the game that is particularly noteworthy and/or awesome.

It will no doubt contain spoilers for the games being discussed, so keep that in mind if you plan on playing the game for the first time.

This entry is all about Super Metroid. Feel free to share some of your own favorite things about the game in the comments!

Natural born killers

There are few creatures more innately terrifying than the Metroid. These gelatinous, jellyfish-like monsters are vicious predators who will attack anything they come across, gripping their prey with large mandibles and quickly draining them of their life force. They can float through the air with impressive speed while persistently homing in on their target. Not only that, but they’re resistant to most forms of attack, with ice being their one main weakness.

I never managed to get very far in the original Metroid growing up, so I had always wondered why the series was named after a particular enemy that barely showed up in the game at all. Players won’t even see them until the final area, which I was never patient enough to discover. I finally had my first Metroid encounter in Super Metroid several years later, however, and I immediately understood why they chose them for the game’s namesake.

But before that happened, I ran into the “Metroids” in the Maridia area. These weaklings are actually called Mochtroids, but since I had never met an actual Metroid yet, I mistook it for the real thing. The Mochtroids are rather pathetic. They move around quickly enough, but they just kind of lamely latch onto Samus and can easily be shaken off and destroyed. After swiftly destroying them, I thought, “Really? What’s so special about these things? That was nothing!”

Then I got to Tourian and came face-to-face with the real deal. “Oh, these guys again? This will be a piece of cake!” Boy was I wrong. The Metroid flew right at Samus, grabbed onto her head, and refused to let go. It proceeded to kill her in a matter of seconds while I feebly tried to escape and attack it to no avail. Then it killed me a few more times, just as quickly, before I finally figured out the Ice Beam was the key to subduing it.

But that single encounter was enough to instill fear. I was now terrified of Metroids. The second I saw one appear on the screen, my heart would skip a beat and I’d go into all-out attack mode, jumping and dodging for my life while throwing ice beams and missiles around like I was fighting off an army. No wonder they named the game after these merciless killing machines!

Not all Metroids

Of course, Super Metroid also showed another side of the vicious beasts, something that I certainly was not expecting. Near the end of the game, Samus finds herself in a fight against a large Sidehopper. Not a big deal. But as it hops towards Samus, without warning, an absolutely massive Metroid swoops down out of nowhere and kills the Sidehopper on the spot. I nearly wet myself when I saw it. How was I supposed to beat this thing?! Well, I didn’t have much of a chance to try anything before the huge monster lunged at Samus and began draining her life away. I struggled and struggled, but there was nothing I could do to stop it.

But then, at the last remaining bit of her energy, the Metroid suddenly just let go of Samus. It hovered above her for a bit, and seemed to make… a sad-sounding screech? Did this thing actually feel bad for attacking me? It then fled the room, leaving Samus to escape.

Little did I know, this was actually the baby Metroid that Samus had rescued at the end of Metroid II, the same one from the beginning of Super Metroid that Ridley had stolen. The once-tiny baby recognized Samus the moment before it killed her, and felt absolutely awful for hurting its own parental figure. I didn’t know about all this at the time, but I still sat there stunned that this monstrous beast had shown mercy. It was completely unexpected, especially after my previous encounters with the normal-sized variety and their bloodthirsty tendencies.

Later, the giant Metroid makes another surprise entrance during the final boss fight against Mother Brain, sapping her energy before she gets the chance to kill Samus. In a final twist, the friendly Metroid latches onto Samus once more, but this time it transfers all of its energy into the heroine, returning her to full health. But as this is happening, Mother Brain regains consciousness and starts attacking the Metroid, eventually killing it. Its body falls around Samus, granting her the power of the Hyper Beam so she can avenge its death.

Even though I was unaware of the baby Metroid’s history at the time, I still felt a twinge of sadness when it was killed. This creature that I had mistaken for a vicious monster gave its life trying to save me. I attacked Mother Brain with renewed ferocity, in the hopes that my friend wouldn’t have died in vain. It almost even changed my opinion of Metroids in general. Well, almost, but not quite. They’re still genuinely terrifying to me!

Beyond the glass tube

Some of you already know that I’m one of those weird people who really likes underwater levels in video games, so it should come as no surprise that Maridia happens to be my favorite area in Super Metroid. Maridia is the submerged sector of Zebes, crawling with crabs, spiky fish, mollusks, giant sea snakes, and other aquatic alien species.

Like many underwater levels, Samus will experience a significant speed reduction when moving through the water, which can make navigating the area feel like a chore. But don’t worry, Super Metroid takes the edge off of things by offering the Gravity Suit. This upgrade allows her to move freely underwater, so there’s no need to struggle through the area at a snail’s pace. It’s too bad more games didn’t take notes here.

The best part about Maridia, though, is one of the entrances Samus can open up. She can get an early view of Maridia from a glass tube connecting two parts of Brinstar. I must have run through that tube back and forth so many times, without even realizing there was anything to do in that room.

Then I had a crazy thought. What if she could break through the glass somehow, like that scene in Jaws 3 only not totally embarrassing? I tried hammering the walls with missiles and bombs, but nothing happened. Then I got the Power Bomb and tried again. To my amazement, the glass began to crack and crack until it completely shattered, granting Samus entrance into the newly discovered area of Maridia. I couldn’t believe it actually worked!

Crusty crabs

Of course, there’s still one more awesome thing about Maridia that I haven’t mentioned yet, that being the main boss of the area. Kraid, Phantoon, and Ridley are all really great boss fights too, but Draygon is my personal favorite.

The fight takes place in a large, dark, algae-covered room underwater. When Samus enters, she sees a group of weird, pudgy shrimp-like creatures swimming around. They don’t look particularly threatening, and they can’t be attacked, but the boss music had started playing so I knew something was up. Suddenly, Draygon swoops in from the corner of the screen, lunging directly towards Samus.

Its entrance is extremely startling, due to its size, speed, and grotesque appearance. It’s basically an enlarged version of those shrimpy things from earlier, a giant alien crustacean with long legs, a bulging head, angry red eyes, and what looks like a giant spike or stinger protruding from its rear end. It’s one of those horrors of the deep that would make you never want to set foot in the water again.

Draygon attacks by spitting up weird, white goo and swimming in close to grab Samus so it can stab her with the spike on its butt. She can kill it the normal way with missiles and whatnot, or she can use its grabbing attack to her advantage for a secret method of taking it down.

Lining the walls of the room are turrets which can be destroyed, leaving behind broken mechanical bits surging with electricity. Once Draygon grabs her, she can grapple onto the electrical surges, which will hurt her of course, but it will also transfer that energy over to Draygon, quickly frying that sucker in seconds. Shrimp boil, anybody?

We’re screwed

Finding upgrades and new abilities is a key aspect of the Metroid series, but the greatest upgrade will always be the Screw Attack. This is one of Samus’s ultimate abilities, turning her normal spin jump into a deadly mid-air attack that can instantly kill most enemies and even break through certain walls. That’s right, she can kill things by simply jumping into them!

Combined with the Space Jump ability, which allows her to continuously jump through the air almost as though she could fly, Samus becomes an unstoppable wrecking ball. The Screw Attack is one of the last items she’ll find, but it’s definitely worth the wait. It makes traversing the world of Zebes incredibly easy, since she can basically fly anywhere and kill just about anything simply by pressing the jump button. It has returned in almost every Metroid game, and even became a usable item in the Super Smash Bros. series.

Can you imagine actually performing a Screw Attack, though? Especially while Space Jumping. How does Samus not get sick after somersaulting so many times through the air like that? You’d think she would at least be a little dizzy from all the spinning. Just think of how disorienting it would be if they had implemented a first-person view of the Screw Attack in the Metroid Prime series. It would have been absolutely insane, but that’s what Samus would see on a daily basis! She really is an incredible lady if she can physically deal with the Screw Attack like it’s no problem at all.

No one can hear you scream

Super Metroid‘s greatest strength is its atmosphere. It nails the “creepy, isolated sensation of exploring an alien planet” vibe so well that it’s almost hard to believe it came from Nintendo. There’s not a single human being or any other life form to talk to on Zebes, and there are barely any friendly creatures either, save for some weird green things that teach Samus how to wall jump. It’s just her, exploring a bunch of creepy caverns and derelict research labs while every living thing is trying to kill her.

She’ll come across unsettling spore-filled rooms, pools of acid, abandoned laboratories, a place that looks like the walls and floors might be made out of alien eggs, and other such places. There are giant worms bursting out of the walls, hives that seem to house an endless amount of insects, huge mantis-like creatures with deadly claws, and all manner of other frightening species. My favorite areas are the entrances and rooms shaped like monsters with gaping jaws, indicating that not all of these cavernous structures are naturally occurring.

And then there’s the wonderful soundtrack which really highlights that sense of exploration and isolation. The title screen music immediately fills the player with a sense of dread, while slightly more upbeat tunes like the Crateria Main Theme or Brinstar’s Jungle Floor music pack in that feeling of discovery. Most of the soundtrack goes for a creepier, more subdued sound to really drive home the fact that Samus is all alone on this alien planet where death looms around every corner. It’s the perfect soundtrack to listen to when you just want to feel totally apprehensive. Or when you’re working. Same thing, really.

Past Experience Points

Level 1: .01 – .20

.21: Katamari Damacy
.22: Tomb Raider
.23: Mother 3
.24: Deadly Premonition
.25: Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
.26: Dark Souls
.27: GoldenEye 007 
.28: Pokémon Red/Blue 
.29: Skies of Arcadia
.30: Dragon’s Dogma
.31: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

About The Author
Ben Davis
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