‘Super Metroid’ and mystery

Somehow, Metroid has become a big part of my time this month. I recently finished (though not necessarily completed) Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze on the Wii U, which might have been my first 2014 console game purchase (possibly more on that in a future entry). As I am waiting for the releases of Infamous: Second Son, and Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes (and now to go pick up my copy of Dark Souls II), I decided to revisit the Metroid franchise–a series I consider to be well-acquainted with, but one with which I have never necessarily bonded.

Nintendo, for better or worse, manages to put out products that create some fierce fan-bases, regardless of whether Nintendo is paying attention to said property or not. Metroid as a franchise seems to attract a “core” demographic, though has remained rather dormant since Metroid: Other M released for Wii in 2010 to mixed reception. Since then, the company released two new devices, neither of which have a new Metroid to take advantage of their features (yet).

This Metroid run really began back in December when I had some leftover funds after Christmas shopping, and managed to secure a copy of Metroid Prime Trilogy on the Wii, which collects Metroid Prime (2002), Metroid Prime 2: Echoes (2004), and Metroid Prime 3: Corruption (2007) on one disc. Prime is the only one of the three I finished when it first released on the Gamecube. I started it again and got to the icy Phendrana Drifts when I looked at Super Metroid on my Wii U menu and decided to begin a game.

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Even the title screen evokes uncertainty and tension.

Super Metroid released, according to a search on Wikipedia and GameFAQs, released in North America in April 1994, which means it will celebrate a twentieth anniversary next month. I can’t begin to count how often it appears in “best games of all time” lists and has a lasting legacy as a “perfect” game. Not too long ago (a day ago, even) I finished a run hovering around nine hours, the first time I played Super Metroid in maybe five years or more. It continues to be a pretty stellar, well-paced game.

I know a lot has been written and said about it. Nevertheless, my first take-away was how impressed I was at the game’s ability to create tension and atmosphere in a fair majority of its map, twenty years later. A lot of its soundtrack is pretty understated. When you’re in Crateria, there’s a pretty serene version of the Brinstar track from the NES Metroid that leads into a sort of busy, thumping, fast-paced track once you’re underground in Brinstar that keeps the pace going, and the player motivated to explore. Norfair, the game’s scorching volcano-esque world, is probably the most aggressive musically with its hard drums and a darker use of synth.  A lot of the environments are low-lit, and filled with a variety of creepy-looking creatures. I quite enjoyed how lively some of the environments felt even if every creature there is looking to kill you.

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The environments carried with them some common design themes of wild jungle, cold metallic infrastructure, earthy tones, aquatic, “the lava world,” etc. I was intrigued by the wrecked ship as it was like running around a ’70s sci-fi film. I couldn’t believe how massive each world felt, and they’re all interconnected together through secret paths and shortcuts. This is the game that partly helped birth “Metroidvania” naturally (though it could use a new name now), and Super Metroid does a good job making each environment feel like their own.

Throughout the exploration, you’re bound to find an assortment of secret items: missile expansions, health expansions, new weapons, etc. It’s kind of amusing how Super Metroid delivers the sense of accomplishment. In my old age, I discovered that my tolerance for back-tracking has diminished moderately over the years. Super Metroid isn’t a long game, but I think how I now function, and how I value my time can add a sense of tedium to the experience–mostly if I’m playing in less-than-ideal conditions. I found myself playing the game a lot late at night, kind of tired. I don’t advise anyone to do this. Once you get past that feeling and your missile count increases, or you’ve unlocked a new ability, the sense of accomplishment is definitely sweeter.

"Do you like my hat?"

“Do you like my hat?”

One thing I particularly liked is how each of the game’s bosses served (almost) literally as a key to the final areas of the game. Each fight was relatively simple yet pretty tense. The confrontation with Crocmire, in which Samus does her best to push him into boiling lava (magma?) was probably one of my favorite fights, especially since it has a rather gruesome aftermath for a sixteen-bit game.

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There have been much better take-aways and essays from Super Metroid floating around, I’m sure. I understand its legacy, but I was still genuinely surprised how well the game does hold up in a medium that can age for the worse more easily than others. There is even an emotional impact during the final confrontation of the game, which then wakes you up as you escape the map under a time limit while the entire planet crumbles into oblivion. The sense of mystery is still there. The discovery is rewarding. It still captures the right moods and keeps you on your feet. I was even taken aback at the attention to detail regarding Samus’ movements and animations.

Super Metroid is often considered to be anything close to resembling a “perfect” game. I would be hard-pressed to argue otherwise.

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