Super Metroid review
A Super Upgrade From Before
Metroid. While I love the later entries in the series (mostly - let's pretend Hunters is something else entirely) there was a major issue when I played the original NES game. In short, I hated it and couldn't understand where the love for it came from. So it was with some apprehension that I approached Super Metroid. Was the experience learned from the first two games and the leap in technology enough to fix what was previously broken? Well, the obvious answer is yes. I'm pleased to say that Super Metroid addresses many of the issues I had with the original.
The setting for the game is quite simple. Samus had acquired a baby Metroid during her destruction of their species and had taken it with her, but when Ridley ends up stealing the baby Samus gives chase. When she touches down on the planet normal narrative ends as the isolation settles in. Samus is left alone to wander through the various areas of Zebes in her search of Ridley and the baby Metroid. In this sense, the game does lack the same storyline oomph as later games such as Fusion as plot progression doesn't really happen until towards the end of the game, but the atmosphere built up by the setting is fantastic. There's a few neat touches as you explore Zebes that I'll leave to you to discover, but they help make Zebes feel more than just a connected set of levels.
The soundtrack is a major contributor to the atmosphere. It's quite melancholic in its approach and the subdued nature of it really does hammer home the desolation of your situation and that of the planet you're on. It works as a fine compliment to the gameplay as it doesn't feel the need to draw lots of attention to itself. Graphically it looks great. There's variety in the locations you visit and a good amount of detail has gone into the various objects that make up the foreground and some nice background designs to go along with them. The designs of Samus as well as the various enemies she ends up blasting with her weapons are great and well designed too.
Exploration is the single most important aspect of the game and is something you'll spend a lot of time dealing with. At first most areas will be inaccessible to Samus, with the obstacles feeling fairly natural such as not being able to jump high enough to reach a platform or intense heat quickly draining your energy. As you progress you will earn upgrades, such as boots that increase your jump height or a suit modification to resist high temperatures. With each upgrade collected new areas become available. The morph ball, one of Samus' most iconic upgrades, really lends another dimension to all this. Many small gaps and tunnels require you to enter this ball shape to navigate, giving you a lot more options in working your way through the game.
The thing about obtaining upgrades is how naturally the player is taught to use them without a wall of text to do so. Whenever you get a new toy to play with, the level design is done purposely to let you use it immediately. You'll drop into a room that you cannot leave using current abilities, but now you've just picked up an upgrade that lets you. In some other areas you find local friendly creatures who showcase other abilities Samus already has, like critters wall jumping up a shaft.
Things aren't really as straightforward as that though. There are many times in the game where progression isn't very clear and players must work out how to reach the next room. Seemingly standard structures can be blown apart and some things may hide passageways not immediately visible. The game is also far from linear, with gameplay causing the player to explore various regions multiple times with new upgrades. You might see a door beyond an obstacle but be unable to reach it the first time through.
Fortunately, players are given an actual map screen this time. In each area the map builds up as players explore rooms but a "full" map can be obtained by finding the relevant map stations. This makes it a far more enjoyable task to finding your way around this, along with a lot of distinct variety in the places you visit, help avoid the dread of accidentally revisiting rooms you've been through already. That said, the game certainly isn't going to make things easy for you here. Even once you've downloaded a map for an area, many rooms and corridors are still left unmarked until you reach them, which is often through some method like bombing holes into walls or diving through a fake floor. The only indication you might even have about this is when you notice rooms on a map that don't seem to be connected to anything. It causes a shift in player thinking where a dead end might not actually be a dead end. The X Ray Visor upgrade is useful for exploring, but be forewarned that you likely won't get it until late into the game.
Super Metroid in action.
Optional upgrades to things like health and missiles can also be found scattered around the places with varying degrees of difficulty in finding. Some will just be sitting in the open and you just need to find a way to reach them. Others will be hidden in blocks or be located in unmarked rooms. Interestingly there are some that require some cool manipulations of abilities, like charging the dash move and then launching in a specific direction with it. These can mean a lot of backtracking if you want to 100% the game though but can be useful to hunt down if you want more of an edge in dealing with the threats thrown at you.
Exploration can still end up being a fairly confusing affair at times due to some of Metroid's special traits. Fortunately nowhere near as bad as the original NES game, but there was a few instances where I felt that I only made progress through mindless trudging around rather than cleverly analysing the environment and finding the way through. This is especially true when your next destination ends up being in an earlier area with no real indication that you have to go back there, leaving you trying to find a way to that room on the map that you're not supposed to go to yet. While I'm not advocating blatant signposting, something like an optional hint system that at least gave a general idea of where to head next would have been nice. Still, that's a small matter in what is otherwise a pretty solid element.
Platforming is a little fiddly too. While movement controls are pretty solid, Samus isn't as floaty as I'd would hope for platforming sections and this game loves to throw loads of 1 block wide platforms at you in certain places. Often the only real consequence is a short scramble back up to where you were but it can be a little annoying missing the tiny platform.
Combat is vastly improved this time around. Samus has a beam cannon that starts off fairly weak but can be upgraded through different beam types and the ability to charge the beam for a more powerful shot at the expense of speed. You can also pick up limited use missiles and powerful bombs as well. This gives you a few nice options for raining destruction on anything foolish enough to be in the path of Samus Aran.
It's nice to see that Samus can now aim in more directions than before, allowing her to fire diagonally and crouch to hit small floor based enemies. This means the combat now presents a more reasonable challenge instead of feeling cheap because the enemy would sit in places you couldn't hit them. Early on enemies are affected by mostly anything but as you progress you'll run across enemies that are resistant to certain weapons. Along with this you'll face different movement and attack patterns, like some of the small critters don't bother to chase you while more aggressive enemies will fire weapons and chase you. While the threat of the regular enemies isn't that high overall it's a nice mix into the exploration.
Bosses, on the other hand, are more than capable of draining your health if your reflexes aren't up to the task. Each of these throws in a set of attack patterns and vary from something as simple as statue coming to life or the towering beasts like Kraid. These monsters are certainly much tougher than the regular enemies you've been fighting up to now. One of them did feel really cheap with attacks coming quickly from offscreen and a "dodge or lose most of your health" attacks but the rest were a treat to fight.
Switching between the weapon options feels somewhat cumbersome though. You press select to cycle from your beam, missiles, super missiles, power bombs, grapple beam and X Ray visor. Trying to switch between beams and missiles can be a pain in the middle of a hectic fight and this problem gets worse the more of these selectable upgrades you pick up. The select button isn't really in the optimal position on the controller either during action sequences. I had hoped to be able to unequip the grapple and x ray for when I didn't need them, but despite the game letting you unequip certain other upgrades it won't let you take these off. I also don't understand why power bombs need to take up a slot by themselves since you can't use bombs when standing and can't use missiles when in morph ball mode.
In terms of game length a first playthrough will like take between 6-8 hours. Once you have an idea of what places to visit in what order that time will be greatly reduced, and this is likely what replay value will be, as you can try to clear the game in the shortest possible time. Saving in this game is also a vast improvement on the original, providing you with save stations that properly record your position, health and ammo.
While I feel later installments have managed to improve on this game, there's no denying that Super Metroid is a fantastic game. It takes the ideas originally done in the NES game and executes them in a way that delivers a satisfying experience for the player. It still has a few issues to work out, but this is definitely a worthy game to play if you're looking for SNES titles to burn through.
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