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Maybe it’s just me…but I didn’t play the Metroid games as a kid, and my first encounter with Samus was when I played Super Smash Bros. Melee, where she’s a playable character. So when I read up a little bit on the games to see what they were like, as a series, I thought that it sounded fiercely mediocre. I mean, if you read the three words capitalized up there, they more or less sum up the game, but also hundreds upon hundreds of others, so in reality, it should more or less blend in seamlessly with them.
Well, it doesn’t.
Space, Aliens and Guns, yes sure. But what is constantly emphasized in the reviews, and indeed almost any review you can find relating to this game, is the exploration and sense of atmosphere that pervades. Yet, no matter how many times I read it, no matter how often it is said, conveying just how well this game immerses you appears to be a nigh on impossible task. Words like ‘Atmosphere’ lose their meaning when you use them flippantly. E.g. I really enjoyed Crash Bandicoot 3, it had a wonderful atmosphere…
But Super Metroid closes off your peripheral vision as you play.
Super Metroid opens its arms warmly as you start it up and, within an hour, you are happily trapped in its embrace.
Super Metroid, in short, is a sweet game.
And, to the cynics, take note: I played this game in my twenties, long after my rose-tinted spectacles got lost behind the couch
Super Metroid is the third in the series of Metroid games. In the previous installment, Metroid II: Return of Samus, our hero Samus Aran comes across a Metroid larva, with Metroids being a type of badass space jellyfish. Believing Samus to be its mother, the larva becomes attached to Samus, who brings it the Ceres Space Colony. There, she gives it to a couple of white coats who hope to harness its power because, seriously, space jelly fishes are so hardcore. However, she receives a distress call from the colony, and she returns to find all the scientists dead. She also encounters her long running arch nemesis of the series, Ridley, the leader of the space pirates. She follows him to the planet Zebes, where she searches for the stolen larva.
The storyline of the game is not depicted through cut scenes. You have an opening cut scene and a closing cut scene, both of which introduce and wrap up the story nicely. The bones of the narrative, however, are constructed through the actual playthrough of the game. As such, the story is a relatively simple one in terms of actual events that occur. Yet your time spent on Zebes will still remain a memorable one.
Exploration is the core element of Super Metroid. The planet and underground caves you traverse are vast and labyrinthine, but by no means dull. When you begin, there are no enemies whatsoever, giving the atmosphere a kind of eerie malice. It actually comes as a relief when they begin to appear later on. The graphics are simple enough, being a 2D game, but the art design is excellent. Neglected shrines and dilapidated idols dot the alien planet, constantly giving the player the sense of a truly ancient world. This is also aided by an incredibly distinctive soundtrack, one that feels like it is composed primarily of echoes.
Now this is all well and good, but the novelty of an eerie atmosphere can wear off after a while. Spend any amount of time in a second-hand bible shop and you’ll come to understand this. What Super Metroid needs here, and it delivers quite well, is to be punctuated with a bit of action. A litte pew pew pew.
Samus handles particularly well. It feels really great to have a character who is so easy to maneuver. It feels very satisfying and solid to see her running and jumping. The only issue that I had, possibly with the entire game, was that some of the more advanced moves felt a little over complicated. The wall jump in particular, although explained in a novel and memorable fashion, is nonetheless explained not very well. That aside however, the controls are tight. You get a number of different guns and gadgets in the game, which always keeps things fresh. As is common knowledge at this point, Samus can also morph into a little ball to get into tight spots. On a side note, the reason for this was actually due to a technical restriction in the first game. The graphic designers deemed it too difficult to have Samus crawl, but because it was such a well implemented novelty, this feature has been included in all installments since.
The enemies of the game are well designed and fantastically suited to the apocalyptic world which they occupy. However, they don’t actually supply the action per se, they are simply part of the overall, trippin’ balls creepy decor. Instead, the action comes in, thick and heavy, in controlled blasts with the boss battles. These set pieces contrast against the sense of isolation that pervades the game, which is exactly what the game needs. The first boss encounter in particular, against a horizontally gifted Dragon fellow, stands out as being particularly heart racing, because it is the first time you really panic during the game. Ridley also, being Samus’ nemesis, deserves special mention for delivering even more of a climatic battle than the final boss.
I will admit freely that I did not have high expectations for Super Metroid and that this certainly contributes to by affections for it now. For that reason, this review is aimed primarily at those who have always viewed the series with indifference. It seems like such a standard game on paper, but it simply has to be experienced to be really appreciated. It is by no means a standard space shooter with lots of pew pew pew. It is a deep, immersive experience, that is almost poetic in nature due to its eerie atmosphere, punctuated by notably impressive boss battles….and a little bit of pew pew pew.