December 2, 2008

Superior Metroid

Metroid review
This review contains spoilers

1994's Super Nintendo treasure Super Metroid is one of the greatest gaming experiences I've ever had and one of my favorites of all time. It's also a mainstay of virtually every "best video games ever" list compiled. Whether it's placed somewhere in the top ten or even the number one spot, you'll get no argument from me. The game takes the rocky structure laid out by Metroid I and II and turns it into a smooth gameplay masterpiece. Originally touted as Metroid 3, as it was the third game made in the series at that point, Super Metroid has been bumped up to number 7 with the additions of the Metroid Prime trilogy and Metroid Prime Hunters, those games being set after the original game in the series chronology. Metroid Prime Pinball doesn't fit in anywhere, as it's merely a different platform used to tell the first Prime's story.

The first experience I had with the game was around the time it was released in '94, as a rental. My time with the Metroid franchise back then was limited to a few play sessions with a friend's copy of the original game. Needless to say, I didn't like it too much, so I wasn't sure how well I would take to number three. I guess you can judge by this review's opening sentences how things went. I would attain my own copy of Super Metroid soon after, and during the time I owned that grey game cartridge I played it to death, completing it numerous times and often starting a new game right after completing the previous one. My love affair with Super Metroid ended when I sold my Super Nintendo console and games to make way for the Nintendo 64, and it wasn't until the release of the game on the Nintendo Wii's Virtual Console service was I reunited with my old lover.

When beginning a mission in Super Metroid, you are treated to a brief recap of the events of the previous (at least, previous as it was in 1994) games in the series, Metroid and Metroid II: Return of Samus. You see Samus destroy the Mother Brain during her initial quest through the planet Zebes, followed by her discovery of the Metroid hatchling deep inside planet SR388. This Metroid is the last one in existence, so Samus takes the infant to a space colony for its scientists to study. Moments after leaving the gelatinous creature in their hands, or should I say containment unit, she receives an S.O.S. from them... they're under attack! Samus quickly returns to find the space station is a state of ruin, the bodies of the scientists motionless on the floor. The Metroid larva is missing as well, and as she searches through the colony for it, she encounters her old nemesis Ridley, a purple space dragon who has the kidnapped hatchling in his grasp. Following a brief battle, Ridley flees the space colony and returns to Zebes. Samus, after evacuating the collapsing space station, follows the creature in her Starship to rescue the larva before the Space Pirates are able to clone it and begin the Metroid menace anew.

Zebes Field Guide
The planet of Zebes is comprised of seven regions with unique environments and life forms.
Crateria- The rocky surface where Samus' Starship touches down. As it is your starting point, you'll find the weakest enemies here, and quite a few weapons if you dig far enough. It also allows passage to every other area except one. Holding the all-important Bombs is the bird-like creature Torizo, who impersonates the Chozo statues strewn throughout Zebes. Keep your distance and repeatedly fire away at his chest to dispatch of your first major challenge in the game.
Brinstar- An area overgrown with vegetation where most of the platforms are made up of twisting vines and fungus, and the enemies are insect-like. You'll revisit a familiar section from the original Metroid game where old "friends" are eager to see you again. The mini-boss of this land is the thorny, large mouthed Spore Spawn who can only be attacked when he periodically opens his indestructible shell to reveal a soft core. If you're lucky you'll discover the entrance to the hideout of Kraid, a mammoth lizard who hurls spikes at you and has a severe dislike of ammunition fired down his throat.
Norfair- The deeper you go within Zebes, the hotter it gets. Welcome to Norfair, where you can hardly transverse the area without a more powerful suit and steam comes up from the ground with every step you take. Thick skinned creatures who can either spit lava or are made up of the molten rock themselves lie in wait to ambush you. Drop in unexpectedly on the magma-fleshed Crocomire and get him to cool off with a hot dip. Even further within the bowels of this carved out furnace is where Ridley waits, employing the strongest enemies in the game to protect his dwelling, including a much stronger Golden Torizo.
The Wrecked Ship- Resting in a Craterian lake is a mysterious space ship just begging for a bounty hunter to explore. It won't be an easy plunder, as you soon stumble upon the bulbous, tentacled demon known as Phantoon. As he's sapping the ship of its power, you won't be able to explore the bulk of it until you knock the ecto-plasma out of him. He hates Super Missiles, and has a little strategy that will make you reconsider using them against him. Residents of the wrecked ship include the angry souls of the craft's previous inhabitants, robots run amok, and even the environment itself with snapped wires raining sparks upon you. What's the origin behind this abandoned mother ship? That's another tale for another game...
Maridia- Strap on your Gravity Suit and dive into Zebes' underwater caverns, where various aquatic alien life forms get in your way as you progress. One such creature is the large sea snake Botwoon, who dips in and out of the holes in his chamber to take shots at you. If you can survive the quicksand and prove to be an acrobat with your Grapple Beam, you'll enter the lair of the mutant Draygon, who will pound you into the sand unless you give him a gut full of firepower. Or maybe you'll find an easier, more creative way to dispatch this green monster that just might shock the both of you.
Tourian- The high-tech hideout of the boss of the Space Pirates. You'll discover that they were able to clone the baby Metroid as you'll find several of these flying fanged jellyfish eager to drain you of life force. Enter the final chamber that houses The Mother Brain and shut down her life support system and pulverize the lumpy grey matter to halt the insidious schemes of the pirates once and for all. Although it may be a bit harder this time than it was in your first encounter many years ago.

Weapons and Upgrades
Morph Ball- The most bizarre feature of Samus' Power Suit is the ability to roll up into a perfect sphere to enable her to slip through tiny passages and lay bombs. Pretty handy in dodging enemy attacks as well. Don't try this at home.
Bomb- An infinite supply of explosives required to break through most obstacles, or at least reveal which type of item you will need to get through them. Also can be used as a weapon against slow moving enemies who wander too close, although skilled players might be able to use the knock backs from a chain of detonations to reach higher areas.
High Jump Boots- Now you can really defy gravity with this metallic footwear, which allows you to finally make it to those ledges which were just out of reach only hours before.
Speed Booster- An addition to your boots that will allow you to run at blinding speeds over quickly crumbling bridges and through certain types of rock. If you halt yourself during the peak of your run you'll begin flashing, which can enable you to somersault through weaker enemies or launch yourself like a rocket!
Grapple Beam- One of the neatest additions to your inventory. This will shoot a beam that can latch onto certain blocks and enemies and let you swing over lava beds and chasms. It can also disintegrate smaller baddies.
X-Ray Scope- An upgrade for your helmet's visor that emits a search light that can expose secrets in the terrain. Along with the map system, this item is a godsend if you wish to explore the entirety of the unpredictable world of Zebes. As useful as it is, it's only a luxury item and is unnecessary to complete the game.
Spring Ball- If you're like me and suck at the bomb climb technique, this will be your saving grace as it allows you to jump while in Morph Ball mode. You may miss this one during your first run through Zebes, but you can easily beat the game without it.
Space Jump- The sky (or ceiling) is the limit when you equip this eternal jumping device. Now you no longer have to put up with that aggravating "wall jump" crap. But don't think you need to rebound off a wall to use it, a somersault into thin air is all you need to start reaching new heights.
Screw Attack- Sonic the Hedgehog would be proud of this somersaulting buzz saw attack that lets you cut through enemies and crumbling terrain alike. Nothing can withstand the electrified slicing terror of this upgrade except Metroids and bosses.
Varia Suit- An upgrade to the stability of the Power Suit, and the one Samus is oft seen wearing in Metroid promotional materials and the Super Smash Bros. games. It reduces damage received from enemies and traps, as well as enabling her to withstand the extreme temperatures of Norfair and boiling water.
Gravity Suit- The second and last upgrade to the power of the Power Suit. Besides giving it a neat purple color, it cuts damage even more than the Varia Suit did, and more importantly, allows you move under water without being hindered by its reduced gravity. You wouldn't be able to travel very far in Maridia without it.
Charge Beam- The no-brainer addition that I wish made its debut in the Metroid series sooner. Now your beams can pack a more serious punch without having to switch to missiles to eliminate increasingly stronger enemies. And if you go into Morph Ball mode while charged up, you'll deploy five rolling bombs at once!
Spazer Beam- Three beams are better than one. This splits your shot into a trio of lasers rather than a single blast.
Ice Beam- A Metroid series regular, and the weakness of the creatures from which the games take their name. Temporarily incapacitate the bad guys and use them as a stepping stone, even in midair!
Wave Beam- They can run but they can't hide! This purple beam will shoot through surfaces to trigger switches and deal damage to out of reach enemies.
Plasma Beam- While the Wave Beam can shoot through solid surfaces, the Plasma Beam goes through enemies, causing mulitiple hits upon entry and exit. It's usually strong enough to eliminate any alien with one supercharged blast.
Hyper Beam- The "Holy Shit" beam. Destroy walls and slice through pirates like a hot chainsaw through warm butter. And you have your worst enemy to thank for it?
Energy Tank- Essential to survive the onslaught of aliens as you explore Zebes. Each adds 100 units of energy to your overall life meter. There's quite a few to find on your adventure, and you'll need most of them to withstand the punishment of vicious enemies and unforgiving bosses.
Reserve Tank- Four poorly conceived energy tanks that you can use to "reserve" life. Why not just give us four more regular energy tanks? You can either set them to refill your energy automatically when your health hits zero, or allow you to refill them manually. Why wouldn't you want it set to auto? Would anyone rather die than survive? These are sort of like futuristic versions of bottled fairies from the Legend of Zelda series.
Missile- Your regular beam not splattering alien guts fast enough? Switch over to missile attack to waste them a bit quicker. Five are required to open red doors, but you won't run out of them too quickly. Additional packs are found throughout Zebes and are the most plentiful items in the game.
Super Missile- These green tipped missiles are much stronger than the regular ones, travel faster, and are needed to open green doors. The explosion they cause is so strong that if it hits a surface, it'll cause the environment to rumble and can even knock wall and ceiling bound aliens off of their perches!
Power Bomb- These provide a blast that'll cover the area of the entire screen, battering enemies and walls alike. These are required to open up orange hatches. Unlike your regular bombs, there is a limited amount at your disposal. Don't abuse them, as there is a large time frame between when you find your first pack and subsequent ones. Oddly enough, the knock back is the same as from regular bombs. The power bombs also are the key to a couple of secret abilities unknown to many players. One is the ability to absorb the energy from power bombs and missiles to refill your energy when it gets to a certain low point. Another is to add a second unique attack to each separate beam, although none are particularly useful.

-Believe it or not, your upgraded beam is more powerful than missiles, especially on bosses. Keep in mind that you do not have to wait until the charge-up animation is at its largest before you can fire the beam in its most powerful form. You only need to hold it for about a second and a half before it's ready to go at full blast. Plus it has wider range than missiles and unlimited shots. Become a markswoman with your beam, the space bounty hunter's best friend.
-There are two false walls in Ridley's Hideout that even the X-Ray Scope won't detect.
-Unless you're hugging a strategy guide during your first play through, you'll probably only be able to unearth about 70% of the items by yourself. But worry not, for that is enough to successfully ruin the Space Pirates' plans.
-If you wish to go back through Zebes to search for remaining items after conquering the game, I advise you not to use the second save unit that sits just before the Mother Brain duel in Tourian. That is because there is a door that, upon passing through it, remains closed permanently, barring you from returning to the rest of the planet. Just use the first save unit that you find as soon as you enter Tourian, as this section isn't that long anyway.

Super Metroid is easier than Metroid and Metroid II, mostly due to a much more diverse environment and the presence of an in-game map. No longer will you get lost in similar looking corridors, making you wonder if your hand drawn map is disjointed. While you're transversing this world, you'll encounter many familiar creatures from Samus' first run through Zebes. You'll also meet the infamous Space Pirates for the first time, who have the appearance of humanoid mantises, and possess the ability to shoot plasma from their pincers. Some of them even had martial arts training. The music in the game sets the mood and helps draw you into the adventure, such as the ominous music as you march down the hall to Kraid's lair and the hellish chanting within the lava-flooded ruins of Chozo civilization that Ridley claimed for his hideout. An interesting feature is the ability to mix and match the many beams you gain to increase effects and firepower. Metroid II's Spider Ball sadly doesn't make an appearance, but it returns in Metroid Prime and magnetizes the Morph Ball so that you can climb up certain rails as opposed to any surface of the environment. Why didn't they just call it the Track Ball since its function is different? Since I'm asking questions, did anyone else have an SNES game pad with turbo capabilities and use it to help you cheat on the bomb climbing technique?

Unlike many of the great classic games in Nintendo's history, Super Metroid was only released to consumers twice: on the Super Nintendo for its debut and Nintendo Wii's Virtual Console. It never was put out for the Game Boy Advance or as an unlockable bonus within recent Metroid games. So the opportunity to relive this epic space trek is welcomed with open hands. So how did I perform when I revisited one of my most beloved gaming experiences? I completed my first mission in 5 1/2 hours with 90% inventory acquired, missing a reserve tank, a power bomb, and some missiles. I backtracked afterward and discovered much of the missing stuff within the quicksands of Maridia, as well as a well hidden item just before Kraid's hallway. I think during my first play through back in '94, I logged something like eight hours with around 70% weaponry found. After that, I purchased the official strategy book and used that to guide me on subsequent tours of Zebes, this time completing 100% with a lower time, allowing me to view the best ending. I would go on to play this game numerous other times, now able to nab all items in a bit over two hours by memory alone. It was fun each time and never got boring. Is that statement redundant? As for the reward for a perfect ending, if you thought Miss Aran looked sexy in her body-hugging Zero Suit, the outfit she's got on under her Power Suit in this game makes the newer one look conservative.

Some final lingering thoughts. As you abandon planet Zebes after the self-destruct mechanism activates, you are able to save the speed boosting Dachola and the trio of wall jumping Etecoons. But what about the helpers you meet in Maridia, like the hovering turtle, its offspring, and that tunneling droid that enabled you to get the Spring Ball? Sure they could injure you and didn't seem to be intentionally trying to aid you, but I still feel HORRIBLE about leaving them behind to get obliterated. At least I can take solace in the idea that their deaths were quick and painless, being vaporized in one twenty-fourth of a nanosecond in the megaton explosion that annihilates the planet.

There. I feel better.

And that's just the way it is.