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Game Reviews

Retro Game Review: Super Metroid

smetroid_3bDeveloper: Intelligent Systems, Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Year: 1994, 2007 (Wii), 2013 (Wii-U)
Genre: Action-Adventure, Platform
Formats: SNES, Virtual Console (tested*)
Players: 1
Metroid Series ® & © Nintendo

The Last Metroid is in Captivity… The galaxy is at peace…

Rare is a game that can potentially give you the creeps and feelings of dread before you even start playing it – especially a console release back in 1994. Yet the moment the sketchy music of Super Metroid fills your ears, it starts to creep its way into your senses. There’s the title screen, dead scientists lie either side of a bio-container, inside of which floats a small, baby metroid, it’s creaky call echoing in the lab room; something has gone horribly wrong, and you haven’t even started yet.

So much for the game’s opening statement about how the galaxy is at peace…

Shown in a brief flashback, Super Metroid takes place after the events of Metroid II: The Return of Samus (but before Other M). Samus has given the placid Metroid hatching that she discovered at the end of the previous entry to scientists of the Galactic Federation at a remote space station. Shortly after leaving said facility, it sends out a distress signal. Samus arrives just in time to confront Ripley, head of the Space Pirates, who heads off with the hatchling in his claws (setting of the self destruct as he goes). With no choice but to follow the fiendish reptile, Samus once again finds herself on the Space Pirate’s headquarters, the planet Zebes. There, she finds the ruins left behind from her last visit, but quickly discovers that Zebes’ isn’t quite as dead as it initially appears.

The Metroid series is, at its heart, a series about exploration and Super Metroid is no exception (in fact it built many of the series rules). Without any set objection – outside of reclaiming the baby hatchling – you’re theoretically free to wander around exploring at your leisure. At least in theory. In practise the game has areas which require you to obtain various equipment in order to access otherwise closed-off sections; from missiles, to the iconic morph-ball. As your inventory grows, so does the accessibility of the gameworld and your changes of survival. Along the way you’ll find yourself face-to-face with the local flora and fauna of Zebes, which range from relatively harmless insects, to gigantic, imposing monsters that serve as the games bosses.

smetroid_05The original Metroid and its sequel’s lack of any kind of in-game map made it easy to get lost, particularly as the corridors that Samus would traverse looked high-on identical to the next due to the limitations of the hardware; player-created cartography was the order of the day, creating one’s own map on graph, or even just plain old blank paper. While it is still possible to have no idea where you are suppose to be going. Super Metroid introduced an easy to understand map that lets you know where you’ve been, shows the whereabouts of various useful location, like save stations.

Game controls are spot-on and tight, which is pretty much a necessity given what the game asks of you at the later stages of the game. It’s just as well, as Zebes is full of treacherous terrain and tenacious creatures which lie in wait to take bites out of Samus’ power armour. As well as the general walking and jumping, the player also has a run button and the ability to shoot in eight directions (you’ll have to be airbourne in some way to shoot straight down however). You also have other skills, like the ability to wall jump from the get-go, although this is not immediately apparent. Although the default control settings are decent enough, you can freely assign them to your liking.

As noted earlier, Samus is pretty much a blank slate when you start the game, but as you progress through the caverns, you’ll find – sometime accidentally, sometimes by design – new equipment and additional tools which will both open up new areas and improve you chances of survival. Upgrades to your suit allow for traversing otherwise lethally hostile locations, like the searing heat in the volcanic Norfair region which would otherwise be nearly impassable. Likewise Missiles, that come in regular and super favours, allow you to attack otherwise impenetrable foes and are needed to open certain sealed doors.

Super Metroid offers some of the most impressive visuals of the 16-BIT era. With an almost organic quality to the deep caverns; as well as a greatly varied palette. Maridia’s watery theme is endued with cool blues and greens, while the volcanic norfair is ablaze with fierily reds and oranges. In a darkened area, bio-luminescence creatures provide the only permanent light source, making it a choice between keeping them alive – and a potential threat – or killing them and falling into acid pools.

smetroid_04The biggest nod to just how much care was put into the game’s graphics is Samus herself. Both sides of Samus’ sprite have been drawn independently of each other. point her right and her left arm, how facing the screen, still ends in a hand, her arm cannon on the far side. It’s a little touch, yet in an industry which usually mirrors sprites to save on space, it shows just how much love went into the game.

The animation is a bit of a mixture, while Samus herself and the smaller critters that roam Zebes move very smoothly, some of the larger sprites can be a bit stiff at times. Nevertheless, few games even today can boast anywhere near the atmosphere that Super Metroid evokes with ease. Nevertheless, the world of Zebes feels like as real a place as 16-BIT graphics technology can allow.

The music follows suit, with the creepy, scratchy opening title music setting the mood. At times eerie, at others serene, yet always designed more to set the ambiance than get you heart racing; Super Metroid’s tunes reinforce the notion of isolation at the game’s core. The sporadic pieces of action music which punctuates the numerous boss battles, showcase the desperate struggle between Samus and these hulking brutes.

Super Metroid was an astounding game on every level back when it was originally released; it remains one of the greatest games of its generation. That it still outdoes most modern games in atmosphere could be a damming indictment of the state of gaming of today. In any case, if you’ve never been to Zebes with Samus, you are missing out on a sublime experience.


Scoring Policy

*I do have an original SNES cart, I just played the game for review on the Wii-U.
Originally posted on gamingtilldisconnected in June 2012


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