Super Metroid – A Retrospective Review

There’s a strange coincidence which surrounds each of Nintendo’s Big Three series; that is, the Mario, The Legend of Zelda and Metroid games. The first game in each series is an unrefined presentation of the basic elements of the series, the second game is regarded as a black sheep of sorts, and the third game refines the elements found in the first game, leading the way for the first 3D game in each series to be critically acclaimed as one of the best games of all time.

Super Metroid follows on from Metroid II: Return of Samus, perhaps the game out of the three second-installment games in each of Nintendo’s biggest series with the least reputation as a “black sheep”. In the course of the story in Metroid II: Return of Samus, Samus Aran comes across a Metroid egg which hatches in front of her, leading the Metroid inside to imprint onto Samus. With the rest of the Metroid creatures destroyed, Samus brings the Metroid to a research station orbiting Planet Zebes, where it is discovered that certain features of the Metroid could be used for the good of humanity.

With the Metroid specimen safely in captivity, Samus takes her leave to pursue a new bounty. It isn’t long, however, before she is recalled – the Zebes research station being under attack. She returns to find the corridors empty, and the Metroid specimen left abandoned in the middle of a room. Just as it seems that Samus is about to retrieve the specimen, she is attacked by Ridley, the flying nemesis of Samus Aran. After a brief fight, Ridley snatches the Metroid, making his escape from the Zebes research station and setting the self-destruct sequence for the research station in the process.

After a frenzied escape from the research station, Samus makes her way towards the surface of Planet Zebes in pursuit of Ridley and the Metroid specimen. The planet looks abandoned when Samus first arrives – but it soon becomes clear that the Space Pirates have taken the planet over, leaving Samus to fight her way through the planet to hunt down the Metroid specimen.

The experience that Nintendo had acquired by that stage at platforming is clear as soon as the game starts, with a set of very smooth controls which lack that awkwardness apparent in the original Super Mario Bros. or Metroid. Jumping feels sufficiently precise, and while the limitation of targeting angles to 8 ways can be frustrating at times, once you get used to the controls, it isn’t a critical flaw in the game. The basic controls are largely a joy to work with, although some of the advanced control manoeuvres, such as Wall Jumping, rely on relatively precise timing which is difficult to get a handle on. Fortunately, such advanced techniques are not necessary for completing the game, and you can finish the game without ever learning, let alone perfecting, the Wall Jump or Shinespark.

You’ll need those controls to work your way through the winding corridors of the many areas of Planet Zebes, all with their own signature features. From the dull, rocky tunnels of Crateria to the lava-filled caverns of Norfair and the metallic interiors of the Wrecked Ship, each of the different areas of the game at least feel distinctive, if sometimes not original. The graphical design of each of the areas can’t be faulted, though, with a lovely mixture of vibrant and dull colours as necessary.

The crispness controls also contributes to the nice level of difficulty for the game, rarely getting controller-snappingly difficult, especially if you take the effort to collect all of the items in the game. Those who want a great deal of difficulty are facilitated by the great deal of sequence-breaking elements which allow a player to get through the game with a minimum of items, making many of the boss battles more difficult. As is typical in the Metroid series, the main challenge in any of the boss fights is discovering the enemy’s weak point, but unlike the Metroid Prime metaseries, none of the bosses is extraordinarily or frustratingly difficult.

The gameplay of Super Metroid is therefore commendable, and it’s backed up by a good series of aesthetic details as well. The aforementioned graphical details in the terrain of the game are matched by an appropriate set of enemy sprites which fit the alien aesthetic of the game. The real majesty comes courtesy of the music, which befits a series where the music has rarely been anything other than fantastic. Particular high points come from the theme music, the boss battle music against Ridley and the final boss battle, and the pounding, heroic music from the Crateria surface. It’s not for nothing that some of the tracks from this game made a return in remixes in the Metroid Prime metaseries!

One of the few negatives that you could associate with this game is a lack of story direction, and while the gameplay drives you onwards anyway, the story elements seem rather sparse compared to the later Metroid Prime games. The auto-mapping feature in this game at least gives you somewhat of a sense of direction, but it would have been nice to get a bit more in-game story besides the starting sequence.

Other than that, though, Super Metroid is an extremely accomplished game, the equivalent of Super Mario World or The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past in Nintendo’s other series. The game is almost immediately enchanting, and by the end, you’ll have a real sense of accomplishment without the frustration of absurd difficulty. Super Metroid is simply a very fun game with a lot of polish, even though it is almost twenty years since its original release. The game can be acquired easily and cheaply on a Nintendo Wii through its Virtual Console platform, although you should investigate it no matter what way you can acquire it.

Bottom Line: Super Metroid is one of the best games of its era, let alone the SNES platform. If you’re at all hospitable to platform games, it’s really worth a try, despite the sparse story.

Recommendation: If you have a Wii, get it off the Virtual Console – it’s only 800 points in Europe. Otherwise, you’ll have to find it on the SNES, but either way, it’s worth the money.