Backlogs, We all have them. Whether it be TV shows, video games, anime, books, or any other hobby you could be interested in. We all have things we wish we had time for. And I have decided to make that list a little bit shorter each day. Last time, I reviewed and beat Half-Life 2. Today I'm reviewing the SNES classic...
What is Super Metroid? For those who don't know, Super Metroid is arguably the progenitor in the Metroid-vania genre. These games involve a large map (usually 2D) with various areas that are closed off to you by various upgrades that you collect throughout the game. These games rely on exploration, backtracking and adventure in order to make sure you're always not quite sure where to go next but usually find your way there anyways. It was a fairly popular genre on the SNES, GBA, PS1, and NDS, but hasn't seen many notable entries in recent years. Modern AAA examples include: Batman Arkham Asylum, and Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. The indie craze, however, has revitalized the genre in recent years with games like Dust: An Elysian Tale and Guacamelee already out and games like ReVeN, and Axiom Verge coming out in the next year or two. This makes it the perfect time to revisit the genre.
Okay, this is probably the "weakest" part of the game, but it actually acts as a strength to the whole of the game as a product, because if it relied on the linearity that is necessary for traditional, good storytelling, it would probably weaken the strengths of the genre. Basically, the plot serves to set up a background, and a conflict and a goal for the game to take place, which is all a story really needs to do. The prologue at the beginning tells you all this anyways, but I'll give you a brief history lesson anyways. In Metroid/Metroid: Zero Mission, Samus landed on the Space Pirate HQ, Zebes. After defeating Kraid, Ridley, and Mother Brain, she escaped the base and destroyed the Metroids that the Space pirates planned on using as biological weapons. Samus had hunted down and killed all but the last Metroid on SR388(Metroid II:Return of Samus) which, after hatching in front of her, bonded with her as a mother figure. She took it to the Galactic Federation for scientific study. Receiving an alert from the federation, she arrives at the station to find everything destroyed. She finds the baby Metroid alone in the facility just as her nemesis Ridley, who she had previously defeated, appears and kidnaps the Metroid.
She follows him back to the location of the first game, Zebes. While the setup is fairly complex, the game itself doesn't have a lot of text or narrative making it seem as though the game doesn't have much in terms of actual story. However, after taking a look back on the game after I finished it, the story is actually kind of rich if you can dig deep into the minimalist visual storytelling that the game employs. It's less something that the game actually shows you and more something that you deduce from the way that events have played out in the past. A lot of the emotion can only be read into by trying to put yourself in Samus's place and understanding her past. The terror of fighting Giant bosses like Kraid and Ridley in the first game, only to have them come back to haunt her once again. To destroy the entirety of the Space Pirate organization on Zebes, to defeat powerful foes, to have destroyed the terrifying the Metroid threat in "Metroid II" and then to come back to Zebes to find the Space pirates as revitalized as ever and even more threatening than before. Maybe I'm just reading more into it then is actually there. But the more you think about it, the more sense it makes. And isn't the part of the point of video games to read yourself into the world of the game.
This being an SNES game, you can't expect too much from the sound. But what you can expect is executed quite well. The game has several recognizable themes that have been used in the rest of the Metroid series as it has progressed. The one extremely notable theme is the eerie background music of the prologue. The sound effects effectively communicate feedback from your environment, whether that be health loss, enemy damage, enemy invulnerability, intensity of weapon fire, space-jump sounds, save refill sounds, or especially the foreboding sounds of incoming Metroids. One notable thing for the game is that when you enter the primary water area of the game all the sounds undergo a kind or muted effect as though you were actually underwater. Overall, nothing revolutionary, but something that effectively augments the world of the game creating a sense of loneliness, and foreboding danger.
Okay, this may be the best looking 16-bit game I've ever played. Color's are diverse, animations are smooth, sprites look clear and precise, hit detection is spot-on, environments take on a life of their own, and each one looks extremely different. The haunted space ship, the underwater caves, the flaming dwelling place of Ridley, the final mechanical lair of Mother Brain herself. Additionally, the atmosphere of the different biomes each intimidate the player in specific ways. Samus is alone against the enemy the entire game, so it has to work hard to make sure that it nails the feeling of intimidating isolation and each different biome accomplishes this in a different way. The spooky crashed spaceship looks old, broken down, and enemies phase in and out of the visible plane like ghosts. Norfair feels hot, as heat distortion, a reddish tint, lend to the
frightening burning area and pools of magma make sure you land on your platform each time. Ridley's lair in particular feels significantly more intimidating with an almost reverent temple feeling surrounding the area. It's kind of hard to describe since the SNES can only make so much detail, but every area feels like it's own separate area without becoming to cluttered. You're always able to read what's going on and respond accordingly. All of the enemies, landscapes, backgrounds, everything looks unique, threatening and awesome. Even Samus' sprite changes and evolves through the game as she finds the varia suit and gravity suit adding a small scale of visual progression.
It feels cheap to say, especially since I said something similar in my review of Half-Life 2, but the controls just feel really sharp and responsive. Let me splain...your four face buttons are your jump, dash, shoot and weapon cancel buttons. Start pauses and shows you the map and upgrade screen, and select cycles weapon types. The two triggers (think LB and RB) are your angle buttons for shooting. Your left bumper aims 45 degrees down and your right bumper aims 45 degrees up. If you hold both, you aim straight up, or you can aim straight down while falling and holding both. This pretty much lets you aim anywhere on the screen while keeping yourself at a relatively safe distance from danger. A major problem with playing the original Metroid is that there aren't enough buttons. When you're navigating through the levels, it feels like you can't hit what you want to hit. In contrast, Super Metroid almost always let you hit everything easily from any position, whether that means standing still and aiming straight up, or running down a slope firing at an angle. Or shooting bats of the ceiling at a distance. With dedicated buttons for aiming, it becomes significantly easier to hit what you want to hit. The only gripe I had with the control system was the switching of ammunition types. In Super Metroid, by the end of the game you have 5 different types of special ammo/gadgets. So when you want to cycle through these in the heat of the moment it becomes rather frustrating. Especially if you accidentally pass the one you want. It could be forgiven if you had the whole game to practice cycling through the gadgets, but since you get most of these at the end, you don't have much time to practice. The last thing I'll mention is wall-jumping. I, personally, am terrible at wall jumping. Thankfully, this is only required in one room where you accidentally trap yourself at the bottom. Otherwise the mechanic is totally optional. Everything else worked great, which is impressive for a game of this complexity. P.S. You can switch which buttons do what in the game, so if you don't like the way it feels just change it.
I talked about this a little in the graphics section, but that dealt more with aesthetics. This has more to do with the may that the actual game world feels. Creating a world that feels connected, but at the same time distinct and separate is very difficult to accomplish. Especially in Metroid-Vania game where the players have to feel like they are backtracking, but at the same time aren't just held off by a series of colored doors that they can't open yet. Fortunately, Super Metroid has a couple of things going for it. 1) Super Metroid hides doors/sections of the map by disguising them as terrain. This has kind of become a staple of the Metroid series, but it's very hard for newcomers who've never played a Metroid game to get used to. A good way that the game accomplishes this effectively is by providing an X-ray visor in the late game. This lets players who don't shoot every wall and ceiling in order to find all the upgrades they need to succeed in the game. 2) As you walk through the halls, the game charts a map on your pause screen with doors, and a legend to keep track of the different areas. It also charts what areas continue past where it appears playable with the map as well as which rooms have power-ups hidden inside. So when the game has a hidden wall, it's usually pretty easy to tell on the map. This makes keeping track of where you need to go in order to get more power-ups significantly easier. 3) Every room in the game feels distinct. While there are more than a few connecting hallway passages, for the most part, each room has some kind of unique geography, obstacle or texture to help distinguish it from the rest of that particular section of map. That way when you backtrack through the game to find the next upgrade, you understand how to get there using visual cues from the environment to remind yourself of where you're supposed to go along with help from the map. 4) Areas that you've visited in the past become important again in the late game via connected pathways. The game opens on Zebes (after the space station, yes I know) with you landing on the surface of the planet. You can run around and shoot, but ultimately, the walls are to tall for you to do anything in the vertical direction. You immediately learn that if you want to progress, you are going to have to go down through the cave entrances on the left. But then, later, after going all over the map, side to side, up and down, left and right, you jump off a platform from above and land back on your ship without even realizing that you were in the same room as before. By then you have the space jump and you use it to find a whole new hidden area within the game. This area was hiding in plain sight all along, but you weren't ready to go there yet. You didn't even know that it was there. Eventually the whole map opens up as you just kind of mosey from room to room. All kinds of areas of the map appear to you for the first time. You really feel like you're exploring this planet and finding everything that it wants to hide from you.
A Sense of Progression
One of the reasons that I love Super Metroid so much is that as you go through the game, you actually feel yourself becoming stronger. In most games this just means that your strength stat goes up, and there's a little bit of that in this game. But what separates this game from others is the way that progression manifests in the enemies. At the beginning of the game, almost all enemies just slowly crawl towards you on the ground. Straightforward, you crouch and shoot a couple of times to kill them and them you move on. Next you get the ice beam which freezes enemies in their tracks, but by now you've already encountered hopping enemies. Later you get the spazer (tri-shot) beam or in some cases you can skip this and just get the wave-beam. Regardless, both of these beams make It so that you can shoot a wider beam. Now you don't have to aim quite as precisely. You can also aim from standing at enemies that are ordinarily below the height of your weapon fire.
However, by this time, you have now encountered hopping enemies, flying enemies, and sarlaac enemies (enemies that come out of the ground and pull you in). By changing enemy attack patterns and making them harder to hit instead of JUST raising their health, you can still be a more effective, powerful hunter while maintaining the difficulty. Some enemies are only vulnerable to certain weapons. Some can only be hurt from the back, by adjusting not just the health of enemies but they ways in which they evade and deal out damage you can make Samus' more powerful without losing the threat of death. On top of all this, you still get to pound enemies from earlier sections in when you're backtracking all over the station. By the end of the game you're unloading 230 missiles, and 50 Super Missiles in Mother Brain's face and your still taking damage and getting dangerously low on health. The feeling of awesome badass-ness balanced with the incredibly perfect difficulty is definitely the major payoff of the game.
The story is interesting and fun. The game-play is fantastic. The entire game makes you feel incredibly alone. The music is eerie and scary. The controls are completely customizable and work incredibly well. And when you finally get near the end of the game, you've found so many upgrades you feel friggin awesome despite the fact that the game is harder than ever.
Gameplay/Level Design: 10/10
Bonus Points (something I found especially unique or cliche): +5 (Sense of Progression), +2 (For beating the final version of Mother Brain with the ____ beam and feeling like a bad-ass)
Final Rating: 8.8/10
True Final Rating: 10.2/10
Platforms Available: SNES, Wii (VC), Wii U(VC, Played), Emulators(?)
A Note on Emulators: This game is worth buying, so actually do it filthy pirates. Heck you can even buy a digital code on Amazon, giving Nintendo the money that they deserve.
Time Played: About 18 hours, with lots of restore points and lots of dying
Tips for playing Super Metroid:
1) Don't forget about your dash button. This helps with long-distance jumps and collapsing floors. Dont' forget especially if you played Metroid Fusion first which had an auto-dash function.
2) If you're stuck, find a friend who knows their way around the game. Because of the non-linearity of the game, it's very easy to get lost or discouraged when you don't know where to go next on the map. Having a friend who is familiar with the game means everything. Especially since a walkthrough is generally un-helpful.
3) If you're stuck and you don't have a friend to help you through the game, make sure you explore every corner of the map. Look for doors you haven't gone through, sections of the room you haven't crossed completely. Sometimes its easy to forget an important power up that will help you get where you need to.
4) Find the map rooms. These will also help your exploration immensely since it just downloads huge portions of your map to the pause screen.
5) Don't be afraid to use Ammo. You usually get a lot of it, and it definitely helps to have more health than more ammo. Additionally, there are very few enemies who are only vulnerable to certain types of ammo, so you don't need to conserve it for special encounters.
6) Take the time to find as many power ups as you can. There are 4 reserve tanks, 14 energy tanks, 230 missiles, 50 power bombs and super missiles, so every little bit counts especially against Mother Brain.
7) If you're playing on Wii U, take the time to customize the controls. I added the weapon toggle (i think its - by default) to my empty ZR trigger which let me change items much more quickly. The in-game interface will also let you mess with the controls, but it won't recognize your extra buttons unless they've already been mapped to something.
8) Also if you're playing on Wii U, use restore points. Save points are hard to come by, so it's really nice to save right before you go into a boss room so you don't have to make the huge journey all the way back. It's also much easier to track your progress.