Ridley, Ridley good!
Super Metroid has been touted as one of the top games to grace the Super NES library, scoring close to (and in some reviewer’s eyes, supplanting) the classic Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Such is the calibre of Super Metroid that it notably reached the pinnacle of a handful of ”Top 10 Games of All Time’ polls in the early 2000’s.
Video Game’s Original Leading Lady
The storyline picks up immediately after the events of Metroid II: Return of Samus (Gameboy, 1994) with our beloved female protagonist Samus Aran transporting a newly hatched Metroid larva to the space colony Ceres. The scientists there believe they can harness the power of the Metroid for good, that is until the Zebesian Space Pirates show up unannounced.
The player rejoins Samus as she is responding to a distress signal from the colony. All is eerily quiet as she runs through the colony towards the Metroid lab. After encountering the dead bodies of scientists scattering along the lab floors, Samus is greeted by Ridley, a dragon-like pterodactyl creature and leader of the Space Pirates. After a short skirmish Ridley escapes with the Metroid larva, whilst Samus is forced to make a hasty getaway to back to her ship before the space station completely explodes. What an intro!
Samus tracks the Pirates to their home planet of Zebes, landing on the rainy surface of this strange, ambiguous planet. With her trusty energy beam arm-cannon and armoured Varia suit, Samus sets out on the hunt for Ridley, with the goal of ultimately ridding the galaxy of the Metroid menace once and for all.
What made Super Metroid such an alluring experience was the ambiance of the game. You explore a dark, mysterious world riddled with a plethora of creepy-crawlies and convincingly evil villains. The 16-bit soundtrack added to the eerie atmosphere; the songs growing darker as you blast your way deep into the underground caverns of Zebes. Exploration was made much more methodical with the introduction of an interactive map. The new map was intuitive, showing nearby save points, zone exits, and most importantly for an exploration game; where you had been and where you hadn’t. Players could finally explore without the need to fashion a crude sketched out mud map on the coffee table.
Weapons received welcomed upgrades, as did Samus’ utility belt. The ‘Space jump’, grappling beam and x-ray all added to the now infamous, ‘return-when-you-have-the-right-tool-for-the-job’ gameplay. Backtracking through terrain wasn’t always desirable in side scrolling platform games, but in Super Metroid there was always a purpose. Zipping through previously difficult areas with a new weapon or utility gave Samus a sense of character development. After exploring the five regions of the planet and discovering dozens of suit and weapon upgrades, the finale culminates with Samus giving the Mother Brain a super powered ass-kicking.
Super Metroid’s real qualities could be found in the details. Every claustrophobic room had something to find. The unfurling plot of Zebes and the Metroids didn’t require corny narration and the gameplay slowly but surely revealed your true purpose. Zebes even shows it’s softer side with cute native animals revealing tricks for you to save time and access hard to reach places on the map.
Super Metroid was also timed, giving the game plenty of replay value. The game was perfect for speed runs, rewarding competitive times with a treat upon the ending credits. You could leave out non-essential items and ‘sequence-break’ the game by eliminating the bosses in a backward hierarchy. The current speed run record stands at 32 minutes by Satoru ‘Hotarubi’ Suzuki. Such an achievement demands mastering the d-pad controller and using surprisingly complex combat strategies.
Despite Super Metroid’s celebrated success in North America upon its release, Japan had just seen the unveiling of the Sony PlayStation and Nintendo released Donkey Kong Country the same year. Nintendo decided to focus on their other franchises of Super Mario and The Legend of Zelda during the N64 era, believing these games would generate more sales. In all honesty, they were probably right.
It wasn’t until 2002 that Nintendo decided to return to their space aged heroine with the release of Metroid Prime on the GameCube. While Prime obtained outstanding reviews from critics, it unfortunately became overshadowed by a particular game in the Xbox’s library; an unexpected phenom and the new powerhouse in first person action, Halo: Combat Evolved. The loyal Nintendo fans stuck by Prime, but the game failed to generate the sheer devotion and excitement seen by its console predecessor.
Super Metroid is a classic game, a statement which can be enforced by an abundance of reasons. It clearly stands out on top of the other nine games in the series, due to the fact it was the most advanced and well executed game of its time. Prime brought the franchise to 3D fruition, but by 2002 Nintendo had some pretty stiff competition to first person action/adventure.
Whether your looking for a nostalgic trip down memory lane, or simply want to experience one of video games finest creations, then a graphically updated version of Super Metroid is now available to download via the Wii Virtual Console.
Lock and load Bounty Hunters.