#72: Super Metroid

There was a time when release dates for video games weren’t commonly known or anticipated. From reading various video game magazines, you could get an idea of when a game would be coming out to within a month or two, but it was a rare game (Not to be confused with Rare games) for which you knew the exact release date. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and the console ports of Mortal Kombat were two such games, and this was another.

Released in 1994 by Nintendo, Super Metroid was one of the most hyped games on the SNES to that point. Much was made of the fact that Super Metroid, at 24 Megabits (A whopping 3MB!), was the largest game on the SNES to date. Is that memory well-used?

First, the story. The game picks up immediately after Metroid II. Helpfully, there’s a brief intro that sums up the first two games, but to recap–after Metroid II, Samus found a cute baby Metroid that imprinted on her as its mother. Realizing that the Metroid’s powers could be harnessed for good, Samus brings thebabythebabythebaby to the Ceres Space Station, where Galactic Federation scientists will try to use the Metroid for the good of humanity. Almost immediately after she leaves, the station is attacked, everyone on it is killed, and the baby is kidnapped–by Ridley, who has grown up some since the original Metroid. A chase ensues, and Samus finds herself back on planet Zebes, site of the first game. Once again, she’ll have to explore the planet, collect power-ups, and find out what happened to the hatchling.

Doing so involves exploring multiple areas of the planet, beginning with Crateria. As you move through Zebes, you’ll acquire various powerups that will increase your energy, weapon capacity, or maneuverability (Some, like the Ice Beam, serve dual purposes, giving your beam more power while allowing you to freeze enemies, potentially using them as platforms to reach higher ground). These powerups, in turn, unlock new areas. In that sense, to use an analogy I’ve used before, you can consider this a bigger, better Metroid.

But it’s more than that. First of all, for the first time in the Metroid series, there are in-game maps to help you find your way around the planet. In addition, there are far fewer cut-and-paste environments (There may be none at all) than in the first two games, which further aids navigation. The environments themselves are also quite varied, and feel like a living world, as opposed to an unrelated collection of locales. Areas “wake up” when you accomplish certain tasks–getting the game’s first major upgrade causes spotlights to engage and enemies to appear in previously dormant areas.

The game includes a vast array of powerups, and in another series first, gives you the ability to turn them on and off to fit the situation. With one exception, your beams interact with and augment one another, instead of obsoleting them. The reason to turn them off is to perform a hidden technique that only works when exactly two beams are active.

Hidden techniques abound in Super Metroid. You’ll sometimes come across animal friends who will show you special techniques not mentioned in the manual (Although the game still won’t tell you specifically how to perform them). Watching the intro sequence will reveal other abilities and ways to move forward in the game, although again, working out how to make them work is up to you. Between these and the powerups, there’s always something new to collect, or some new place to explore.

Because Zebes is so much bigger this time around, there’s also much more backtracking, and areas that lie tantalizingly out of reach until you explore elsewhere, then come back with the requisite ability to allow you to proceed. There’s a sense of mystery, as you’ll come across a door locked by a specific item before you have the item that allows you to open it. This further expands the game, without feeling like padding.

The increased arsenal at your disposal is a godsend, because there are monstrosities old and new to contend with. The new bosses have tricks up their sleeves that weren’t available to their predecessors. And Ridley isn’t the only old foe who’s been hitting the gym since you last saw them either. One in particular is a multi-screened beast that wouldn’t be out of place size-wise in Low G Man. Suffice to say that the bosses make the planet feel almost evil in itself.

This atmosphere is enhanced by the music. After the first Metroid had music that was too melodic for the “hostile alien planet” atmosphere the developers were going for, and Metroid II swung a bit too far into the “ambient noise” direction (While, admittedly, capturing that “alone in an unfriendly environment” feel very well), Super Metroid’s music hits the perfect balance of being memorable while still immersing you in the environment. From Brinstar’s jungle-type locale, to the waters of Maridia, to the relentless, march-you-to-the-showdown-with-Ridley theme of Lower Norfair, the music and sound effects match the atmosphere and enhance the game better than pretty much anything game I’ve played before or since.

My first time through the game, it took me close to six hours of in-game time. This is to say nothing of the multiple times I died along the way there, which wouldn’t count toward that time. Super Metroid offers multiple endings depending on how fast you clear the game. In addition, while it doesn’t change the ending except to display your final percentage (Another series first), collecting all of the items in the game is a unique challenge in itself, and this is the first game in the Metroid series where doing so is a challenge in itself due to the sheer skill needed to pull off the moves involved in acquiring a few of them. Even better, once you learn it well enough, you can attempt to speedrun it, which effectively creates a whole new experience out of the same game. Speedrunning it is so different from playing it in the “intended” sequence, in fact, that it’s one of two games I am on record as saying I would never do a proper speedrun of (Though I will admit to using some speedrun techniques in my more recent playthroughs).

There have been other games in the series that I’ve defended against rational thought. Super Metroid is a similar game that it’s impossible for me to be objective on, although not in the try-to-convince-myself-it’s-good-despite-all-evidence-to-the-contrary sense. To be blunt: This is my favorite game of all-time. Obviously, I think you should play it. Besides the original release, it’s available on both the Wii and WiiU Virtual Consoles, and while the original version isn’t exactly cheap nowadays (Though it’s still a far cry from what it cost when it was new), it’s worth playing at any price.

-EE

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