The folks at Gametrailers are currently doing a five part retrospective on one of my favorite series of all time: Metroid. The first installment, which came out last week is an overview of the original NES Metroid and its Game Boy successor, Metroid 2.Metroid 2, as a game, never really left much of an impression on me. The limited color palette of the old handheld combined with the title's linear game play wasn't sufficient enough to capture the magic that the original Metroid had provided.
Unlike other games, Metroid had no levels; there wasn't a scoring system, and nothing but the lack of correct power-ups could keep you from exploring wherever, and whenever, you wanted to.
Like many kids at the time, my classmates and I had become completely absorbed by the role of Samus Aran: Bounty Hunter. Countless hours were spent searching the deep crevices of Zebes for hidden missile packs, energy tanks, and power-ups. Reams of graphing paper had been donated to our cause in an effort to map out every one of the game's secrets, us never realizing that the games biggest secret was to be found in its ending.
I’m aware that everyone now knows that Samus is a female, but this wasn’t always common gamer knowledge. Back then, the fans of the game (who, like myself, were mostly 13 year old boys) were so convinced that the tough, agile, and wickedly cool bounty hunter that they were playing as was a guy; that the revelation of Samus’ true gender was met with shock and disbelief.
“No way! Samus is a girl?” Could be heard in every lunchroom across the United States for quite some time, but that revelation, as it turned out, was just the tip of the iceberg. The real secret of Metroid was what the player had to do to unlock this gender-exposing ending.
After months of searching, mapping, and a whole lot of dying, the amount of playtime my friends and I had put into beating Metroid was immense. Then, all of a sudden, we find out that to get the good ending (the one in which Samus fully removes her armor), we had to be able to beat the game in less than two hours. Two hours?!
The game had been timing us.
Without our knowledge, without any indication, whatsoever, we learned that we hadn’t been playing Metroid; Metroid had been playing us. Secretly counting away on an unmarked clock every second we spent searching for Mother Brain. For that, Metroid quietly judged our progress and rewarded our efficiency with hidden endings. This, my friends, was new.
In an era where games mostly consisted of high scores and saving princesses, it was Metroid’s new and unique game play innovations that set it apart from the crowd. Never before had there been a gaming experience so absorbing, that it left an undeniable stamp on the psyche of young gamers everywhere.
A stamp that can still be seen in the eyes of older gamers when they think back to how Metroid slowly, sneakily, and irreparably changed the way they saw video games forever.