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17 May 2015 @ 09:22 pm
Game Review: Super Metroid  
Metroid is one of the franchises that makes me wonder what it means to call yourself a "fan" of a series. I mean, I could say I'm a Metroid fan, but I've only played and beaten Metroid, Super Metroid, and Metroid Fusion. I've played Metroid Prime but never beaten the final boss, and I've played Metroid II for maybe 20 minutes. That's a better ratio than I have for Zelda games, but it's not that great.

I suppose that's not that relevant to the topic at hand, though, which is how amazing Super Metroid is.

Samus Aran does not practice proper OpSec.

If you put me on the spot and demand that I tell you what my favorite Metroidvania game is, I'll tell you that it's Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. And that is still true now, but a lot of it is because of the all the extra stuff it has: RPG elements, collecting weapons, upgrading familiars, shapeshifting, random Silmarillion references added in translation, and all the rest. Super Metroid doesn't have any of that and I think there's a pretty good argument to be made that it's a better game for it. One of the problems I ran into with SotN is that because of the ability to grind and because of the existence of the crissaegrim, it's easy to trivialize the rest of the game. Super Metroid doesn't let anything get in between the player's skill and the gameplay.

My fight against Ridley was a pretty good demonstration of that this time through the game. I had to try the fight twice. The first time, I fired pretty wildly, went through all my super missiles quickly without most of them hitting it, blew through all of my missiles as well, and died as I was firing charge beam shots and trying to avoid getting grabbed. The second time I was more careful and didn't just blow everything early on, had it mostly dead when my super missiles ran out, and never got below half health or missiles. That wouldn't be my first response in SotN, where instead I'd go off and level for a while and come back and try again, like it was a JRPG or something. But in Super Metroid I had to up my game. It's no Dark Souls, but it's closer on that spectrum.

Samus Aran vs. the Space Ghost.

There's very little cruft here. There's a big memetic complex among gamers that the best way to rate a game is dollars-per-hour, so you get RPGs bloated out with tons of crappy sidequests and make-work put into games in order to increase the run-time so the reviews can boast "Over 50 hours of content!" even if most of that content is pointless or actively detracts from the gameplay. This isn't a "lol modern games" argument either, because it's easy to point to a lot of Nintendo games that were made incredibly hard simply to disguise the fact that if played straight through, they were only about 45 minutes long. Super Metroid manages to thread the needle and never overstays its welcome or feel like it's wasting the player's time. I took six hours to beat it and felt like that was plenty of time, though part of that was because I spent some time screwing around and part of it was because it's been years since I played it and I couldn't remember where to go.

However, the multiple endings go down to less than three hours, and I think five and a half is the lowest I've gotten. If you asked me to classify what I thought the best ways for replayability in games to work, I'd say either that it should be based on seeing more content, like with The Nameless Mod where there are two major organizations to ally with and choosing one locks off the other's content, or on personal improvement, as is evident here by grading based on completion time. I'm never going to get good enough to beat that three-hour-timer, but I like knowing it's there and that the game rewards mastery. The fastest speedrun I can find with a quick googling is 45 minutes. I can't imagine how they did that.


I've heard a lot of praise for the control scheme, and the first time I played through this game I thought everyone was insane. These ridiculous floaty controls with separate buttons for aiming diagonally and Samus weighing a ton and not moving on a dime like Mario did were apparently some of the best platforming controls in gaming? Why did people think this?

Well, it turns out part of the reason that people think that is because they are actually playing the game as it was intended instead of trying to do it using WASD and the numpad. I actually got all the way through to Maridia that way, but I ran into an energy tank I couldn't get to and rage-quit over it, only to pick the game back up a year later when I actually had a real controller that I could use and understood everything. The physics and momentum that seemed like a constraint when played with a keyboard suddenly just seemed right in a fundamental way that I can't really explain very well. The tricks like space jumping and shinesparking that were really annoying when I was having to spread my fingers out were suddenly easy. Don't hate the game, hate the means by which it is played.

He died, alone, on an alien world.

Super Metroid also has great environmental decor. It's not really a secret that the setting is heavily inspired by Alien--I mean, one of the bosses is even named "Ridley"--but the feeling of space horror it evokes is part of its charm for me. I think that's one of the major reasons why later Metroid games never had the appeal of the first few. Even beyond the whole THE BABY thing, once you have someone else on the other end of a radio signal telling you where to go and giving you advice, you've moved beyond the primary focus of the space horror genre, which is that you are alone, there is no way to get help, and you have to solve all the problems yourself or you will die. That screenshot there is one of my favorite ones I took during this playthrough, because it serves the same purpose as the the escape pod scene in System Shock II--there were people here, but not anymore. There is no one who can help you. You are all you can rely on.

I mean, here's the title screen theme. Creepy heartbeat-esque tones that speed up before morphing into the Metroid theme, alien rumbles, mysterious rasping noises, and all over a picture of a metroid and a bunch of dead scientists. That tells you what they designers were going for right away, and while it's more evident in the earlier part of the game before the themed zones come into play, it comes through really strongly there.


You land on Zebes, and the planet is empty. You traverse the surface, descending through the corridors to the place where you started the original Metroid, and then those cameras activate. They know you're here, but there's still nothing. It's not until you descend to the point where Mother Brain waited for you previously that the enemies' trap is finally sprung and seemingly-dormant Zebes comes to malevolent life.

It's a bit like the Alien vs. Predator game, whose first level infamously has no enemies on it at all, but does everything to make you think that they're there, waiting, ready to spring on you at any moment. Super Metroid isn't a very good horror game because Samus is too individually powerful and horror is mostly about vulnerability, but there are times when it does a good job of evoking a horror atmosphere and those are my favorite parts of the game.

Grognard that I am, I tend to put the best game of the major Nintendo series in the SNES days and Super Metroid is no exception. Of the Metroid games I've played, it is undoubtedly the best. None of Metroid Prime's reading meaningless text and dealing with annoying visor modes, none of Metroid Fusion's linearity and constant reassuring computer voice telling you that everything will be okay. And while I've never played Metroid: Other M, everything I've read online tells me that Super Metroid comfortably comes out on top.

There's a philosophy that refining a creative work is about taking things away, and Super Metroid is a good example of when that works. There's nothing here other than jumping, shooting, picking up items to get to new areas and going back to places you couldn't get to before, and it's a better game for it. It doesn't matter why the space pirates are attacking you and if the game spent time explaining it, it would only make it worse. This is the pure essence of a Metroidvania and the game that other Metroidvanias should aspire to.

Bonus link: An online exhibit about the game at the University of Chicago Library, worked on by drydem!
Current Mood: happyhappy
Current Music: Super Metroid - All the World in One Girl (The Wingless OC ReMix)
q99q99 on May 19th, 2015 02:28 am (UTC)
Good point on the lack of 'radio'. The first several games were *alone* (Metroid 2 was the first I ever played, btw).

Metroid really does feel like you're a badass going through a horror *scenario*.
dorchadasdorchadas on May 19th, 2015 01:49 pm (UTC)
I complained about Metroid Prime's text, but now that I think about it, the tone of the text is really what brings down the horror feel of the game. here are the logs. They're all incredibly boring, and reading them turns the space pirates from enigmatic enemies to middle-management incompetent science bros.

"So, we captured a sample of the galaxy's apex predator? Let's science it and see what happens!"  photo chryssalid.gif

Metroid really does feel like you're a badass going through a horror *scenario*.

That's a good point. It is to space horror as superheroes with fangs is to gothic horror, and is just as amazing to play as throwing cars at Sabbat shovelheads is.
q99q99 on May 19th, 2015 03:32 pm (UTC)
Yea, that doesn't help the mystique.