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15 August 2016 @ 07:50 pm
Game Review: Metroid: Zero Mission  
Last week was the 30th anniversary of the original Metroid, and I wrote about it. But this weekend I was looking to play something short as a break from the multiple sprawling dozens-of-hours RPGs that I'm working my way through, and while I originally was deciding between Kirby's Adventure, Super Mario Brothers III, and Slain: Escape from Hell, I realized that I hadn't yet played Zero Mission. I've heard multiple times that it's good enough to make the original Metroid completely obsolete and I've been meaning to play it for years at this point. What better time than in honor of the 30th anniversary? And now that AM2R is out--DMCAed, but the internet never forgets and it very specifically did not get C&Ded, so the author is still updating--I Wanted to play the first game before I played that.

I don't want to bury the lede, so I'll say that everything I heard about Zero Mission is right. It really does make the original obsolete.


Ominous.

What I was most worried about was the developers going back and adding more story to a game where the lack of story is what allowed it to work. Metroid doesn't need an intricate backstory and compelling character motivations and in-depth conversations with secondary characters. Down that road lies Other M and Samus refusing to use her suit abilities until a man authorizes them or panicking when Ridley shows up even though she's fought him multiple times before. Just drop Samus alone on a planet filled with hostile alien life and a few Metroids and that's all I need.

And other than a bare handful of text interludes, none of which is more than a single screen, that's all Zero Mission gives you. The original Metroid manual had more story, including really cute drawings of alien congress members and space cops. And also details the powers including the Long Beam, which I completely forgot was in the original Metroid and thought was put in Zero Mission to lengthen the playtime. They were even more faithful to the original than I thought.

Honestly, I liked the minimal story that the splash screens and text provided. There was a quick cutscene introducing Kraid, another one showing Ridley arriving on the planet, and then a few more with the added section that takes place after the original NES Metroid. None of them are longer than about 30 seconds and none of them detract from the game. Except maybe the Chozodia one showing baby Samus, but that's only because it's the source in the games of Samus Aran as the magical alien chosen one with alien DNA instead of just a really good bounty hunter, and I prefer the latter story. And looking this up, I learned all this came from a manga. Some things are better left unexplained.


Baby Samus is really cute, though.

The controls were a little strange, though coming from Super Metroid it was going to seem strange no matter what. The jumping was a little off and the inability to shoot across the screen threw me at the beginning, though you pick up Long Beam before too long. The hi-jump took longer, but once I picked that up the controls felt a lot more familiar, and then I realized the problem--the game was designed for a GameBoy Advance screen, so it doesn't even have the resolution of an old CRT TV, and the jump height was adjusted for the screen size. Everything felt cramped because it was.

Once I collected all the upgrades, though, I didn't notice at all. I was space jumping and leaping and running all over the place without much of a care. Shinesparking took more effort to get into, but I've never been very good at it, so that's not Zero Mission's fault. Blame my aged fingers or my lack of practice, whichever you find to be the most believable.


Note to evil overlords--make sure your maintenance tunnels are not accessible to infiltrating super soldiers.

The part I was most worried about was the post-game content, or what would be the post-game content when compared to the original Metroid. I knew it was a stealth section, and stealth sections are almost universally terrible in every game that doesn't build its mechanics around sneaking. It turns out that I needn't have worried, because Zero Mission's stealth sequence--Samus is infiltrating the space pirate mothership after her own ship is shot down while escaping Zebes--is the kind of stealth sequence that should have Yakity Sax playing in the background.

Samus doesn't have her suit for it, but she's still a superhuman bounty hunter who can jump 10 yards straight up from a standing start, survive multiple laser blasts while unarmored, and run faster than an Olympic sprinter. Zero Mission fulfills the most basic requirement of a stealth game--it makes getting caught fun. Samus is sneaking around through air ducts or running through corridors and hits a tripwire or jumps onto a platform where a space pirate is hiding, and then it's a madcap dash away as space pirates start coming out of the walls. Samus only has her zero suit--this is the first game where it appears--and a stun gun, so no matter how skilled you are, the only choice is to run away.


You can't see me.

Fortunately, Zero Mission has the most stealth game AI I've ever seen for the space pirates. There were multiple times where I'd shoot a space pirate in the face, run past them into a room with no exits but with a tiny crawlspace, and Samus would hide there. The space pirate would look around for a few seconds, then leave and turn the alarm off. One time, there was a room with a collapsing floor, which I shot while the space pirate was walking on it. It fell out of sight and the alarm deactivated a couple seconds later. Suddenly, I understand the Metroid Prime space pirates "I shall do science upon it!" approach to research.

And then at the end, you're rewarded with an upgraded power suit and the activation of the mysterious unusable powerups you collected back on Zebes--the plasma beam, the space jump, and the gravity suit, the three powers in Super Metroid that Metroid didn't have--and become an unstoppable titan, blasting your way through all the space pirates you had to run from before. Even after a stealth sequence as non-aggravating as Zero Mission's, it still feels amazing to turn the tables in such an over-the-top fashion. This may be one of the best implementations of stealth I've seen in something that wasn't a Thief or a Metal Gear, so hats off to Nintendo.

And it's not Zero Mission, but imagine the escape sequences as a bit like this.


Trusty Brinster E-tank, I'll always remember you.

There's a bunch of quality of life improvements that I appreciate. Diagonal aiming, chozo statues that turn into health/missiles replenishment points after you activate them, wave beam and ice beam stack instead of being exclusive, an in-game map and minimap along with minimal guidance as to where to go next. To my mind, all of that just fixes things that were limitations of the technology at the time. I mean, would you want to try to navigate around the full NES map just by memory? I've done it, and I might be able to do it again, but I'm happy not to have to.

Other than that and the stealth section, and a brief excursion into the "Chozo Ruins" aboveground to pick up an upgrade that lets Samus hang from ledges, Zero Mission is Metroid with better graphics--some of the places I went I even recognized from my memories of playing the original. Most of it didn't particularly stand out to me, though I did really like the way that the Metroids zoomed in from the background in Tourian rather than just coming in from offscreen. And the bossfights with Kraid and Ridley have been redone to their Super Metroid versions, but I like those a lot better anyway. Kraid is a multi-screen-high nightmare in Zero Mission, and in the original he looks like this.

Wow, listen to those bleeps and bloops. I like the original Metroid soundtrack a lot, but the sound effects leave something to be desired.


Oh. Hi.

This is what remakes should aspire too. All the fun of the original game, and the additions don't take away anything or ruin what was already there. The only real addition to the main game was the mantling powerup and the jumps that it enabled, but it was well-integrated enough that it felt natural after just a few minutes. The story didn't detract from the game either, and though now I have questions about how Ridley shows up again in Super Metroid after so obviously exploding in Zero Mission. But considering how well Metroid has done with trying to answer questions about the characters' pasts (the baby the baby the baby the baby the baby the baby), I think it's better off unexplained.

I beat it in just over three hours, quickly enough that Samus took off her helmet at the end, which is the same ending I got in Super Metroid and, assuming I remember correctly, the same ending I got the last time I finished Metroid. And the same ending I would have gotten if I ever finished Metroid Prime, though that's kind of cheating because all the endings there have helmetless Samus. It was a lovely diversion for a Sunday and a great palate-cleanser before I dove back into the sixty-hour JRPG I'm playing.

And now I feel like I'm ready for AM2R, which was the selfish reason for playing Zero Mission. But play it anyway, if you haven't played the original. This is the definitive version.

And once you win, you gain access to the original NES version on the same cart. So there's really nothing to lose.
 
 
Current Mood: satisfiedsatisfied
Current Music: Super Metroid - All the World in One Girl (The Wingless OC ReMix)