In every hardcore gamer’s decorated gaming past lies an insidious secret or two. We all call ourselves dedicated gamers, with supreme knowledge of the most obscure and remote videogame minutiae as well as a staggering list of games played. Yet even the most dedicated players, for one benign reason or another, have missed out on a couple of classic videogames, never getting to know the greatness that millions of others know so dearly. Of course, your humble Backward Compatible columnist is no exception to this rule. It is with regret that I admit to our readership that I had never fully played the videogame achievement called Super Metroid. In fact, I had never played a game belonging to the Metroid series (a revelation that, if known by Mr. Wolf beforehand, would probably have prevented my rise to DailyRadar columnist). [ed note: Yes. That’s true. You’re fired.]
But the great thing about this world is that you always have a second chance to right the wrongs. That is why I decided to finally experience Super Metroid in full — a game that I reserved a spot for in my all-time top 10 based on principle alone. Now, after beating the game and finally seeing all its sublime elements in action (the spot-on control, the tantalizing graphics, the suffocating atmosphere and especially the killer action), it is with great pride that I announce that Super Metroid still measures up to even the stoutest of games, and that this Nintendo gem clearly deserves its lofty ranking as one of the all-time greats. [ed note: Ah, redemption. You can stay.]
Among the notable strengths of Super Metroid are its strong story and atmosphere. After our hero Samus Aran kills off all the Metroids (powerful beings with mighty capabilities), a Metroid hatchling is born and takes an instant liking to the suited wonder. Samus, always on the side of good, takes the Metroid to be studied, so that its powerful capabilities may be used in helpful ways. Of course, it isn’t long before all hell breaks loose. The Space Pirates raid the lab, stealing the Metroid and leaving the station in ruins. Samus does not arrive in time to stop them, so she must now go back to the planet Zebes and rescue the Metroid before the Space Pirates can use its power for evil. It is important to note that once Samus reaches Zebes, not much happens in the way of “story.” It serves as a backdrop for the action that goes on, but it does not really progress as the game moves forward. In its place, however, is a healthy dose of atmosphere. Samus descends deep within the planet, and that, along with the cramped level design (a Metroid staple), creates a claustrophobic atmosphere and a true sense of being “in the thick of it.” The decidedly adult and sci-fi theme plays well; it is not a game solely intended for adults, but then again, there are no dancing bears or pastel colors that would normally send adult gamers runnin’ for the hills.
The graphics, though seven years old, still stun. On the surface there may not seem to be a lot of graphic variety (underground cavern after cavern), but there still is an immense amount of diversity. Rock-infested grottos, fiery pits, underground recesses covered in overgrown fauna and sterile spaceship passages are all full of life (or, when appropriate, very dead) and depicted cleanly. Samus is an imposing figure onscreen, and her full range of actions, animations and attacks is quite an exhibition. The enemies are a little simple in terms of design, but the bosses are staggering behemoths, both visually stunning and intimidating at the same time. Quite simply, there is never an ugly area in the game, a feat that is not to be belittled. Combine that with an impressive audio arrangement (replete with an epic score and plenty of atmospheric sound effects) and one can see that Nintendo knows its way with bells and whistles.
Despite all the wonderful graphic and atmospheric facets, the heart of Super Metroid is the gameplay. First and foremost (as mentioned earlier) is the level design. In most 2D games the horizontal aspect is emphasized, but in Super Metroid it’s all about the vertical. None of the areas are truly opened, and Samus must work her way up and around these areas. The level design caters to Samus’ abilities, especially since her jumping prowess is unparalleled. Her abilities at the beginning of the game are rather meek, but throughout the game Samus picks up a number of upgrades, including better blasters and armor, special missiles, the ability to roll in a ball, increased health, etc. These abilities will continually open up new areas for Samus to explore. Dozens of hidden goodies are spread throughout the game, and some are very tough to find. Nintendo did a wonderful job of integrating hidden passages within the environment, so much so that every out-of-place rock or discolored wall should fall under suspicion. Simply put, this game is the whole package in terms of action thrills and exploratory curiosity.
All this jubilant praise may sound like the ramblings of a callow, wide-eyed gamer, but as a new experience Super Metroid is unparalleled. I can only imagine how impressed I would have been had I given the game the thorough playthrough that it deserves when it was released years ago. I could have devoted many more paragraphs to the wonders of this game and every painstaking detail, every superbly designed element and every jaw-dropping moment it houses. But I will say that the individual parts (graphics, control, gameplay, audio) all stand as equals, and the result is quite simply one of the best games ever. It is truly a shame that Gumpei Yokoi’s (may he rest in peace) flagship series never did make its triumphant appearance on the N64, and any effort to try to justify that injustice should fall moot. All we can do is wait in anticipation for the Gamecube version to satisfy the masses’ Metroid craving. The important message in all this is not one that looks to the future, but rather to the past: All-time greats are still great the first time you play them, no matter when that is. Keep that in mind the next time you exhibit regret for missing a great game. There is always a second chance.