MetroidAs a general note, I do like the Metroid series. The Prime series (no, Hunters does not exist) was simply epic, and Fusion showed me just how fantastic the 2D adventures could be. So the chance to go back and see the game that started it all was something I couldn't pass up. I'm not going to beat around the bush though. While I can offer credit to it starting a much loved franchise, it's clear that the original game was plagued with some critical problems.
So you're a bounty hunter with a pretty kickass armoured power suit. At first you start with very simple abilities - namely jumping and being able to shoot your power beam at anything that happens to even look at you the wrong way. Going against gaming convention, you're required to go left from the beginning in order to gain the means to progress, and this introduces you to the concept of upgrading. Many obstacles and places will be impassible with the stuff you start with and it only comes with gaining new powers that you will be able to progress. The first such ability is the morph ball, which is now an iconic power and lets Samus curl up into a ball in order to pass through small passageways. As you play you'll be able to collect more powers like missiles for more destructive damage and different beam types for that arm cannon of yours. Some of these play into your combat ability, some into exploration and some into both areas. This idea was implemented pretty well at least and sets the foundation for a genre that requires you to explore and then remember areas you couldn't reach before once a new power is in your hands.
Unfortunately, this is where the exploration element kinda falls apart. Unlike Legend of Zelda, where each area of the overworld at least looked distinct enough that you could recall landmarks, the various rooms in Metroid look eerily similar to one another. The layouts are often unnecessarily confusing and can very easily result in endlessly wandering around, going back on yourself without even realising because it's hard to tell at times whether the room you're in is a new room or the same blasted room you left several screens ago. This has the effect of turning what should have been enjoyable exploration into a chore, as players are left utterly directionless and end up trudging through similar locations numerous times. The lack of anything ingame to assist like a map or directions makes things worse. OK, players shouldn't need to have their hands held through a game, but going to the opposite extreme and being incredibly vague about it is worse.
The exploration is really where Metroid should have prevailed, as the other elements of the game simply aren't able to elevate it enough to rank in as a timeless classic as other Nintendo games of the era managed. The combat, for example, is something I could call good but fails to live up to anything beyond that. Samus has a simple arm cannon blaster to fire at enemies as well as calling on more powerful weapons like missiles that are stronger but require ammo to use. As you progress the combat options expand. You'll face a variety of creatures from simple wildlife who seem to hurt you simply by touch as well as predators that actually want to hunt you. Of course, you'll face some bosses as well that offer a tougher challenge than what you've already been facing. It just never gets to the point of wowing me and has a few irritating aspects to it. Endless stream of instantly respawning enemies seem outright silly and the odd design of enemies seemingly perfectly placed just to knock you back in the middle of a jump.
Perhaps the biggest problem I can point out is the save system, or rather the password system the game actually uses. Even though Metroid was released at a time where ingame saves were being used, it opts for a password system for continuing progress. OK, that in itself isn't bad. What is bad is that you always restart with 30 energy and no ammo. This means you have to spend a while killing boring grunt enemies just to refill back up to a reasonable level, and these enemies only infrequently drop small lots of health or ammo at a time. It's a frustratingly slow process and I simply don't understand why it had to be that way. It certainly manages to ruin any potential reason to start a saved game back up when most of the play time would go to restocking.
The graphics aren't anything to write home about. I can appreciate that the foreground elements have a bit of variety to them and reflect each given area reasonably well. What bothers me is the general lack of background, where endless black just seems to be given the OK just because we're traipsing around in caves. This all contributes to the eternally lost problem highlighted before, but it also makes things boring as there's little in the way of interesting landmarks to discover. Samus is clearly distinctive in the power suit, giving us the design we've since become very accustomed to. The actually animation of Samus is very strange though, showcasing a manic running style that simply doesn't look right. Special effects, such as those unleashed by the beam, are simply underwhelming.
The music is a bit hit and miss. There a few good tracks in here alongside some rather boring monotonous ones that I didn't care to keep hearing. Sadly, the music collection is as overused as the game's art assets and are mostly used extensively per area. Something like Zelda's overworld music could get away with it by virtue of being awesome. Metroid's music sadly lacks the same oomph.
Ingame there's little in the way of story. Most of the actual detail is stashed away in the instruction manual (so sucks to be you if you don't have access to that) and there's not really much of anything during the game that shows the progression of events. You've been sent into the pirate stronghold to defeat them and stop their plans with the Metroids, but after that nothing significant happens until the end of the game.
While other games like Super Mario Bros and Legend of Zelda still retain some of their appeal despite being dated, it's hard for me to see exactly what would appeal with Metroid. While the core mechanics are clearly there and would go on to craft an amazing series, the actual implementation is entirely too sloppy. I simply couldn't derive much in the way of enjoyment out of playing it. If you're really after a retro Nintendo game, there are many others that provide a better experience, and if it's Metroid you're after the later instalments in the series do it much better.