Super Metroid - The Best in the Galaxy (Part 2)
Samus Aran's mangum opus redefined an entire genre and provided me the gaming experience of a lifetime.
From there the experience played out similarly to the one I had with the original Metroid.
That is, I made a limited amount of progress (I'd beaten Spore Spawn
and acquired Super Missiles) before becoming hopelessly stuck because I
couldn't figure out what to do next. More specifically, I couldn't find a
way to advance past the energy-draining caverns of the sweltering
Norfair; I had no idea where it was the game wanted me to go or how I was supposed to get there. After spending hours
fruitlessly exploring Zebes, I was convinced that my game was
bugged--that either some access point was missing from my copy of the
game or some bombable wall had been improperly coded. I remember going
downstairs to express this sentiment to my mother, who couldn't have
been less interested ("Well, try again!" was her response).
Desperate to be proven incorrect, I
resorted to returning to the game's starting point, Samus' hovering
ship, and meticulously bombing every visible, navigable block in every
accessible room (just like old times). I was close to giving up,
devastated by the notion that it might be impossible to finish the game,
when I decided to try something silly. I decided to try bomb-spamming
the last place I would expect to find a secret: The right wall in the lower-Brinstar elevator room, which surely wasn't going to be hiding a critically important access point. Right? I mean, come on--it was an elevator room
for Christ's sake; they weren't going to hide anything behind the
surface of one of the game's most mundane, purely functional locations.
The thought of such was ridiculous.
But lo and behold, there were of course Super Missile-engraved blocks lining the wall (those sneaky
bastards), and blowing through them, to my great relief, opened up the
whole rest of the game, which I never ceased enjoying immensely.
I don't remember how I went about
finishing the game or how I ranked in terms of completion-rate, but I
recall the opinions I formed about its gameplay. Mainly, it was my
conclusion that Super Metroid had improved upon the series'
formula in most every way. I liked how the specially engraved blocks
made it clear how and to where I could advance, eliminating the need for
exhaustive guesswork; I wouldn't have to go about randomly bombing
every inch of the game, anyway, when cool new upgrades like the
all-revealing Power Bombs and X-Ray Scope existed. I loved how the beams
stacked upon one another, their amalgamation creating the potential for
awesome combos like icy Spazer lasers and wavy, surface-penetrating
Plasma shots; this also provided me the luxury of having to trek back
across the entire planet every time I wanted to switch weapons. Hell--I
could even go into the inventory and switch weapons off! I didn't know why I'd want to do that, but it was a neat option to have.
The Speed Booster was an ingenious
addition, the scenarios built to challenge its destructive force both
cleverly constructed and memorably designed; really, it was just fun to
run around and shine-spark indiscriminately (though, I could never
figure out how to pull one off diagonally) and let the move carry me
where it may. The way the Grapple Beam functioned again reminded me of a game mechanic from Super Castlevania IV
(whip-swinging, of course), and though its implementation was a bit
sloppy (particularly when it came to momentum), I had a lot of fun
experimenting with what turned out to be a multifaceted weapon (it could
also damage enemies and corral item drops).
The game's impressively programmed,
thoughtfully designed weapons and items offered me so many more new and
interesting ways to interact with its environments, whether it was
blitzing through walls with the Speed Booster or Screw Attack, using
Rippers as a grapple point, or Morph Balling into the waiting claws of a
Chozo statue that would come alive and aid my progress in spectacular
fashion (I'd always roll into a ball and pose as a Chozo orb in the
original Metroid, which is why I felt so rewarded when I discovered that they'd turned it into an actual
game mechanic!). I knew as soon as I laid eyes on it that there would
be a way for me to destroy that glass tube in Maridia, and I was close
to entering a state of euphoria when by chance I laid down a Power Bomb
and watched it shatter to pieces; the deceiving three-second
stall before the first crack appeared really added to the drama and made
the tube's destruction all the more satisfying!
Otherwise, Super Metroid
did a great job of improving upon abilities like the Space Jump and the
bomb jump, which weren't particularly intuitive in previous games.
There were an abundance of secret passages to discover and dozens of
expansions to collect. Older enemies translated wonderfully to 16-bit
form, their assortment joining a new cast of miscreants who turned out
to be just as memorable. Every area of the game was brilliantly
designed. It played amazingly. And its unmistakable aesthetic qualities
made marks so indelible that I knew I'd never be able to forget them. Super Metroid had it all, baby.
but I of course had some issues with it--at least at the start. For
one, I didn't know if I was fully on board with the music of the new
Brinstar, which I thought lacked the heroic spirit of Metroid's Brinstar theme; it seemed standard that a Metroid game have at least one high-energy musical piece as a source of hope and inspiration, but Super Metroid wasn't looking to have any
in that category (at this point, I might have still been a little
resistant to the game's ambition to be a creature of its own design;
naturally, in retrospect, I wouldn't change a thing about its
soundtrack). I wasn't sure that it was a good idea for them to make
energy replenishment so readily available, the convenience of such
potentially trivializing the all-important (I thought) survivability
factor. Detailed maps were great, sure, but they ruined the mystery of
The game controlled a bit awkwardly at
times, too. I was never in love with its default button assignment, but
then I couldn't find a fully comfortable scheme even when I created my
own custom scheme. It was either that I could run and shoot fluidly or
run and jump fluidly--never all three at the same time. I'd
always slip and slide off the narrow platforms--particularly those
placed above spikes or those obnoxious carnivorous plants. And I found
the execution of wall-jumping to be incomprehensible; more than
half the time, Samus would limply fall back to the ground as if I hadn't
hit a button, and I was lucky if I could string together more than two wall-jumps. Had they decided to whip up mandatory challenges that required its use, I might have lost my mind. (I can pull it off reliably, now, but that's only thanks to 20-plus years of experience.)
And, well, parts of the game might have been a tad too easy. It was my expectancy that the design of a Metroid game test Samus' physical endurance as a rule, but this wasn't always the case with Super Metroid
(the aforementioned readily available health pickups quelled any sense
of danger). The Kraid battle was indicative of this shortfalling: His
new form was impressively rendered, and the battle itself made for an amazing spectacle, but he went down so
easily--with maybe two or three Super Missile shots--that it hardly
seemed worth it to scale him up five-times his original size (as an
aside, I loved that they threw in a mini Kraid as an homage to the fake
Kraid from Metroid).
But Super Metroid had a way of trivializing its flaws using its power of emotional conveyance as exuded by every pixel of its wondrous world (it stomps even the original Metroid
in this regard). Take the final Tourian sequence, for instance: I was
terribly disappointed with how easy it was to cut through the largely
unthreatening Metroid horde and how both forms of Mother Brain went down
with little resistance (a sentiment as shared by my friend Dominick),
but it didn't even seem worth it to further explore that feeling when I
was too busy being engrossed in the in one of the most powerful,
emotionally charged storyline sequences in the history of video games.
of course referring to the events leading into the sacrifice of the
Super Metroid, which moments earlier tried to suck the life out of Samus
but relented for "unknown reasons" (it was obvious to me, as well as
anyone who played it, that the mutated Metroid was Metroid II's
hatchling, which suddenly became cognizant that it was killing what it
considered to be its own mother). The Super Metroid's death hit me hard
because I'm an animal-lover, and I can't stand the pained wails of dying or wounded creatures. I was pissed with Mother Brain for how she mercilessly killed my gelatinous friend and couldn't wait to get even; as that revitalizing Crateria music kicked in, I took firm grasp of my controller and readied myself to fry
Mother Brain with my new Hyper Beam--the Super Metroid's final gift.
The entire scene evoked so many different emotions from me, and it did
so without using a single line of text.
I thought it was such a clever
design choice to have the new Tourian spilled into the old one during
the escape sequence, revealing an unforeseen link between them. Before
the shroud fell, there was nothing to suggest that I'd been brushing up against the outer wall of the pirates' new hideaway the whole time. Those sneaky varmints.
wasn't a terribly difficult game, no, but that didn't matter. From
beginning to end, it was purely about the experience and how it made the
player feel. That it also happened to be a mind-blowlingly great game
was just a large bonus.
When it was all over, I didn't hesitate to declare that Super Metroid was one of the best games I'd ever played, and I had no doubt that I would play it dozens
of more times in the months and years ahead. It was a game that
resonated with me like no other, but I couldn't at the time explain why
that was; instead, I'd describe its allure using simple, overused terms
like "lonely atmosphere" and "feeling of isolation." Putting feelings
into words was difficult for me because I hadn't yet fully explored who I
was, and, frankely, I still lacked the vocabulary necessary to
articulate as much (though, those like ICOM's point-and-click adventure
games were helping me to grow in this area). Decades would drop off
before I'd find the words to explain how Super Metroid managed to evoke those powerful emotions.
But I knew how I felt inside, and it was clear to me that Super Metroid was going to be a big part of my life going forward.
as I predicted, I played through it dozens of times. I spent hours
re-exploring every charted screen and observing its every foreground and
background detail. I'd think about Super Metroid any chance I
got; I'd wonder about the existence of the Wrecked Ship and how long it
had been there ("Was it parked on the planet's surface during original Metroid?!"),
or I'd try to come up with logical explanations for how Mother Brain
was able to resurrect Ridley and Kraid. I'd talk about the game with my
friends and record their thoughts on how they felt about its most
When Nintendo Power Volume 60 arrived with feature coverage of Super Metroid, I feverishly compared its maps of old Tourian and Brinstar to those from Metroid to see if they truly matched up block-for-block (there were a few differences, of course, but the reproduced designs still came remarkably close). I was shocked by the confirmation that the second-to-last vertical room in Metroid's Tourian indeed lined up with the game's starting point; it made sense, then, that Super Metroid's Tourian elevator would carry Samus down to that exact point!
I came to the conclusion that Super Metroid's red vertical room (with all of the Rippers) was one in the same with Metroid's mile-long blue-colored corridor; also, I figured, the lower portion of Maridia had
to be the flooded remains of Kraid's hideout due to its proximity to
Brinstar. For whatever reason, I always found it fascinating when
developers recycled level design between games, like when Konami
replicated the main halls of Castlevania in Simon's Quest (though now rendered in a state of disrepair, much like old Tourian).
I used my tape recorder to record my
favorite music tracks, which I'd listen to at appropriate times. I
would, for instance, pop open the windows and listen to the Crateria (Raining)
piece on a rainy autumn afternoon; its ominous vibe was the perfect
accompaniment to my reading sessions and monster-based art projects (the
Wrecked Ship theme and the downright-evil-sounding boss-statue theme worked to this effect, too). I'd listen to the
depressing "Red Brinstar song," as I called it, whenever I was feeling
reflective. And the stimulating Brinstar and Crateria themes were
perfect for providing flavor to my daydreams.
I was also sure to incorporate Super Metroid's major enemies (Phantoon, Crocomire, Draygon, Botwoon and the Super Metroid) into my "Master of Evil" card series,
their kind naturally overpowered due to my affection the game (the
bipedal "Super Mother Brain" ranked up there in power with Dracula,
Sigma, Doomsday, Satan and even the Master of Evil, himself).
I've had some breakthroughs in recent years, certainly, but it's been my ongoing struggle to explain what it is that makes Super Metroid
so endlessly compelling. I think it might be that its world, more than
any other in gaming, functions like a living, breathing organism, its
cramped passageways, haunted caverns and branching corridors sprawlingly
structured yet somehow interconnected as if the blood vessels of a
complex cardiovascular system. Its environments are rife with the kind
of motion and ambiance that could tell a story without need for textual
interpretation. Crateria's ominous acid-rain downpour speaks of the
planet's bleak long-term outlook. An eerily flowing mist obscures the
dilapidated, abandoned innards of old Tourian, its persistent cover
creating a sense that unseen danger lurks somewhere within the logically
unthreatening metallic ruins.
Pink leaves perpetually shower the
floral surroundings of Brinstar's jungle, the ceaseless abscission
telling the sad tale of the cold, lonely alien world's silently decaying
ecosystem. The sweltering heat of Norfair's fiery depths manifests in a
pulsating, shimmering backdrop, the sight of which is enough to evoke
feelings of discomfort and a strong urge move along quickly. The Wrecked
Ship's ghost-infested interior shifts from undoubtedly lifeless to
concerningly operational, the glow of its mechanical, computerized
components working to ward off the lost spirits and illuminate newer
The foreground layer of Maridia's
aquatic subterrane is embellished with an undulating texture filter that
simulates the flowing movement of water, its heavy saturation and murky
appearance contributing to the dreary, hopeless atmosphere of these
submerged, forgotten ruins (some
areas of Maridia once belonged to the Brinstar drylands, I've read,
lending credence to my Kraid's-hideout theory). When mercifully spared
of rainfall, Crateria's washed-out-yet-resiliently-luminous skyline
becomes a welcome sight--a temporary source of optimism for a player
who's been lost within Zebes' depths for hours.
And somehow the game's
unconventional-yet-masterful soundtrack functions not only as
augmentation but as synchronized environmental conveyance, the music's
affixed bubbling and rumbling sound samples helping to supply locales
their foreboding, spine-chilling complexion.
As in the case of Metroid II,
some of its tracks can be described more as "enriching ambiance" than
"music," which is the sound designers' way of using alien-sounding
compositions to supply their game an unmistakably unique personality and
therein differentiate it from all others in the action and adventure
genres. The best example of such is the unsettlingly dissonant ditty
heard in the item and elevator rooms. The original composition, heard in
Metroid, was merely a curious series of high-pitched beeps with an accompanying pattering noise; Super Metroid's
version retains the original's structure but embellishes it with
additional strains of unmelodic bleeping and the eerie resonance, which
creates the sense that the walls around you are alive.
There's not an area of the game that can escape the soundtrack's characterizing influence, which is a big part of why Super Metroid feels like a living entity--even when you're in a room where nothing seems to be happening.
creatures like the tortoise-shelled Tatori and its Buzzy Beetle-lookin'
offspring occupy their marked territory and operate as though they'd
always been there. The speedy Dachora and the nimble Etecoons dash and
wall-jump about as if they know this place inside and out. A single
Choot rests in a tiny, out-of-the-way pocket of Maridia that exists only
for the purpose of housing it. Their presence creates a sense that
Zebes was alive and kicking long before Samus' ship touched down in even
the original Metroid.
There's so much going on in every corner of its map--so many tiny details I'd like to discuss. I want to talk more about Super Metroid's
world and provide hundreds of screenshots in accessory, since every
pixel of it has meaning to me. But I can't; there isn't enough space
left on the Internet. I'm going to stop now and start to wrap this up.
(Though, I'm sure I'll have a lot more to say about this subject in
In the end, my reasons for frequently revisiting Super Metroid
haven't changed. It's a top-tier action-adventure game, yes, and always
worth my time in that regard, but I also like to have fun by
meticulously exploring Planet Zebes and soaking in every aural and
visual vibe available throughout its masterfully crafted, wondrously
designed world, which still feels fresh to me 20 years later (I'm
definitely not the type to play for best time, and I only sequence-break
to grab a missile expansion in Brinstar and the Spazer Bream).
For certain, I continue to be astonished by the hidden depth of Super Metroid,
which seemingly never runs out of secrets. I remember being floored by
the discovery that you could score a cheap victory over Draygon by
frying him using the Grapple Beam. I don't know how I missed it, since
it was right there in the game's demo sequence, but I had no idea
that you could pull of a "Crystal Flash" and replenish all of Samus'
health (though, the process by which you execute the move still seems
arcane to me). What a shock it was to learn that each beam had a special
attack assigned to it. That Phantoon was acting so aggressive because
Super Missile fire pissed him off. That I could make a quick stop in
Crateria's Torizo room during the final escape sequence and rescue my
animal friends (who I always make sure to save). That it's possible to beat the game without seemingly
yet there's still so much more to explore; speedrunners are discovering
new things about the game every day, be it interesting glitches or new
I can further quantify the enormity of Super Metroid's
impact by telling you that it stands atop the list of the handful of
exceptionally inspirational games (a group that includes Rygar, Castlevania and Shadowgate)
that have managed to weave their way into every fabric of my being,
their impressionable subject-matter helping to shape my thinking, my tastes, and my creative endeavors. The seeds it planted continue to bear fruit even today, the ever-reverberating emotional resonance of Super Metroid a huge factor in why I've grown so passionate about this idea of exploring my video-game history in print and sharing my deeply embedded memories with others. For sure, my mind would be a much-emptier space without it.
is my favorite entry in the series and a permanent resident in my
pantheon of greatest games, and it's unlikely that it will ever be
topped--not by Nintendo or any of the independent companies that feel so
compelled to replicate it ad infinitum. Sure--its GBA successors might have improved upon
the formula mechanically and control-wise, but I've always regarded them as pale imitations despite their high quality; they could neither recapture its spirit nor boast of the same level of influence.
That's because Super Metroid is already the
perfect version of itself. The best of its kind.
When my adventure came to a close--after
all of the totals had been calculated--I was assured by Nintendo and
Intelligent Systems that they would "see me next mission," which was a
desirable prospect. In reality, though, it would be a long time before
that promise was delivered upon--nearly eight years, which seemed
exponentially longer to the younger me. But that was OK; I never
lamented that a sequel didn't arrive in timely fashion, nor did I wonder
about lost opportunity. I didn't have to.
After all--Super Metroid was good enough to last me a lifetime.