Skip to content

Month: October 2015

Why I love… Super Metroid!

Welcome to this, the first article in my regular series called “Why I love…”!

This week we’ll be taking a look at the game that stands proudly at the pinnacle of my “Favourite games of all time” list:

Snes9X v1.53 for Windows 29_10_2015 11_30_32_cr

Lineage & History

Super Metroid is a 2d platformer and adventure game where you play as Samus Aran, a Bounty Hunter who roams the galaxy hunting Space Pirates. In this particular case she’s chasing after Ridley, a Space Pirate commander, who has stolen the last known surviving Metroid and fled to the planet Zebes…

It was originally released in 1994 for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), and was actually the third game in the Metroid series, following on from the hugely popular Metroid on the NES and Metroid 2 on the Gameboy.

Metroid itself was released in 1986 (and later remade as Zero Mission in 2004 for the Game Boy Advance):

Metroid European boxart
Metroid 1 on the NES
Metroid 1 remade: Zero Mission
Metroid 1 remade: Zero Mission

Whilst the handheld sequel, Metroid 2: Return of Samus, was released in 1991:

Metroid 2 on the Gameboy
Metroid 2 on the Gameboy

Metroid 3, AKA Super Metroid, came along on Nintendo’s new powerhouse 16-bit console, the mega popular SNES. The SNES was home to many, many classic games, some of which I’ll cover in later articles. However Super Metroid was for me the pièce de résistance of the console’s entire release history.

Graphics

When Super Metroid was originally released, I was blown away by the graphics featured in the game. Whilst it obviously has lost a lot of that graphical impact these days, back then this was the best looking game on the SNES, or any other console for that matter.

Taking its design cues from the earlier games, particularly the colour design of Metroid 1, with the improved graphical fidelity afforded by 16-bit, Metroid’s threequel was a graphical tour de force.

Dank corridors, hot lava-filled caverns complete with heat-distortion, a rainy lightning-splashed over-world, entire areas located underwater, glowing consoles, small non-descript critters that skittered away into the darkness whenever you approached near…

Samus and her ship in the overworld…
Making your way through ancient structures…

The list goes on and on. The environments that had to be traversed during the game’s journey were a large part of the reason why it has stood the test of time, and they were all presented beautifully. Small details like footsteps outside in the rain throwing up small splashes of pixellated water showed just how much detail and effort was put into this game by Nintendo.

Going down…

The character design also stood out amongst not only games of its time, but also to this day. Bosses that were 3 screens tall, bosses that only had one weak spot that had to be hit with precision whilst avoiding their huge attacks…

Bosses to this day that still stand out clearly in the memory, 21 years later: Kraid, Ridley, Mother Brain et al.

Seeing what the future holds…

Samus herself was a masterpiece in design, and again the attention to detail told here. Unlike most sprites in 2d platformers in those days where the character’s sprite was simply flipped to move either left or right in order to save precious system memory, Nintendo actually drew separate sprites for both sides! In a system limited for memory this was an extravagance, a luxury even!

As her suit got upgraded, visible components were added to it, effects were changed, or the suit itself changed colour to reflect new upgrades and abilities, such as heat resistance, not being slowed down underwater and so on.

Sound Design & Music

The sound was partnered with the environmental design to a huge degree. The sounds produced for each environment really sold the feel of the place. The rain and thunder and lightning outside where you land, the bubbling of lava underground, the creature sounds, the sounds made by the bosses whilst trying to kill them, man it was glorious.

The music too had a massive part to play here. Ramping up in areas of frought action, quiet or ceasing completely during key moments of exploration, foreboding and dark during the haunted section in the Wrecked Ship. Some of the themes still recur to this day in the modern sequels.

However the one stand-out memory for me will be the music during the final encounter with Mother Brain. It was heart pumping and majestic and provided the perfect soundtrack to your taking down the final boss of the game.

Gameplay

This and its 2 immediate predecessors could arguably be considered the first truly open world games. You were given a massive planet to explore, and exploration was the name of the game. Access to most new areas was completely impossible until you acquired a particular item or ability, which were invariably acquired in a distant far off area. This made exploration mandatory to find areas that you could now access thanks to your new upgrades. This back and forth style of gameplay has been copied by other games over the years, to varying degrees of success, most notably recently by Ori and the Blind Forest.

Together with Konami’s Castlevania series, the entire genre or style of gameplay has been dubbed Metroidvania, and with good reason.

Spot any similarities?
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.

The game is at its core a 2d exploration based action platformer. You explore the limits of the map with the equipment you have, picking up upgrades and new items as you go: More energy tanks (hit points), different weapon types (beams, bombs & missiles), ammo capacity increases, movement upgrades and so on. As you acquire these new upgrades, as mentioned above some may give you access to areas previously inaccessible, leading to yet more unexplored areas of the map.

This style of gameplay, combined with the aesthetic both visually and aurally, combined to create a masterpiece of game design that has yet to be surpassed, at best equalled by Metroid Fusion.

Metroid games since Super Metroid

The games that followed Super Metroid have had varying degrees of success. The most famous examples amongst these were probably the Prime games on the Nintendo Gamecube & Wii. These translated the gameplay elements of their 2d ancestors into 3d with less success than I personally would’ve hoped for, but they remained great games in their own right, even if they didn’t quite hit the same heights.

Metroid in my opinion has always worked best in 2 dimensions. Proven by the superb Metroid Fusion on the GBA in 2002 and the less superb Other M on the Wii in 2010.

MOFO!
Metroid Fusion’s hardest boss: Nightmare
Metroid other M

Metroid Fusion was the superior of these two sequels, being another 16-bit style 2d Metroid. Other M was more refined graphically, being 2.5d and powered by the Wii, but Samus’ characterisation was somewhat lacking and disappointing. It was still an enjoyable game, and it was good to have some form of 2D Metroid after going nearly a decade without.

To this day, we’re still awaiting a chronological sequel to Metroid Fusion, which remains, 13 years later, the latest game in the series’ time-line. Methinks Nintendo can’t figure out where to take the story next…

Main Metroid games (in-game chronological order):

Metroid (1986, NES) / Metroid: Zero Mission (2004, Game Boy Advance)
Metroid Prime (2002, GameCube)
Metroid Prime 2: Echoes (2004, GameCube)
Metroid Prime 3: Corruption (2007, Wii)
Metroid II: Return of Samus (1991, Game Boy)
Metroid III: Super Metroid (1994, SNES)
Metroid: Other M (2010, Wii)
Metroid: Fusion (2002, Game Boy Advance)

Other Metroid games:

Metroid Prime Pinball (2005, DS)
Metroid Prime Hunters (2006, DS)
Metroid Prime: Federation Force (2016, Nintendo 3DS)

Lasting Legacy

As mentioned above, this entire genre of games have long been dubbed Metroidvania games. You see the hallmarks of Super Metroid in later games, such as Ori and the Blind Forest, the Arkham series of games from Rocksteady, Dust etc. In fact there’s an entire section on Steam featuring just Metroidvania games!

The impact that Super Metroid had on gaming cannot be understated. Even by simply looking at the litany of modern or recently released games that owe their core mechanics to Super Metroid and its prequels shows that in clear abundance.

I’m currently playing through Ori and the Blind Forest, and I’m loving it to death. Not only because it’s one of the most beautiful games I’ve played in years, but it’s that Metroidvania hook that has me so deeply. It’s a damn sight harder than Super Metroid though!

Conclusion

This is a fantastic, superlative game. One of only a handful of games, from the thousands I’ve played in over 35 years’ worth of gaming that I still regularly replay over and over again. Normally I leave it a couple of years between playthroughs so that I’ve forgotten most of the locations in the game. All the better to re-kindle that sense of wonder and discovery anew.

If you have never played this, I urge you to go and acquire a copy from somewhere. Most people these days will play it either via the Wii store, or via emulation, the details of which I won’t get into here.

Trust me, if any game is worth the hassle, it’s this one.

supermetroid

Why I love… Stuff

I love stuff. In fact I love a lot of stuff that ain’t even games! Shocker, I know.

With that in mind I’m going to be writing a regular series of articles where I’ll be gushing over various things, such as:

  • TV Shows
  • Music
  • Games
  • Retro Games
  • Movies
  • Tech
  • Science
  • Psychology
  • Philosophy
  • Design
  • Diet & Exercise (noooo, don’t make me!)
  • And much more…

Essentially all the subjects I’d be covering in general on Crux, but this series of articles will be focusing on specific examples of the above list.

I’ll be working out a full posting schedule, for these and other articles, but at the moment I’m thinking this series of articles will be going out each Wednesday.

This is one of the reasons for the change from sargaming.net to sarcrux.com, so I could talk about all these sorts of things, both here and on Twitter freely without it looking or feeling odd, being on what was a gaming site in name at least.

Or indeed making me feel like I was mis-selling what this site and Twitter account were about.

I love loads of different TV shows, movies, bands, genres, etc, and I’m excited to start writing about them all!

If you guys have any ideas for subjects you’d like mentioned let me know in the comments below!

Did Blizzard screw up with Legion already?

Or, how to cope during downtime…

So, Blizzard announced Legion as the follow up to Warlords of Draenor about 6 weeks ago, and whilst we were all excited to see what comes next, the announcement has had a palpable negative effect on the game as it stands right now. So how can we cope in the downtime?

Too soon Executus, too soon!

Ragnaros, the Firelord
And lo, fiery the angels fell…

Blizzard mistimed the announcement of Legion. They announced it way too early in my opinion. Just look at what has happened with the game since the reveal back in mid-August: the population of the game as it stands has declined massively again. Subs may be active, but people aren’t physically playing right now. Is this because people no longer view WoD as current content?

Possibly, because once you announce what’s coming next, it takes the shine off of the current expansion (or in WoD’s case what little there was of it to begin with) and people just want the next big shiny content drop.

The announcement killed interest in playing the current game for far too many people, and raiding especially has massively suffered as a result. Certainly on my trio of merged servers raid signups right across the server have dropped to an all time low.

Our raid signups seemed to dry up a week or two right after the announcement, and presently we can barely scrape a 10 man side together at the moment to get anything on the go. We’re testing out joint raids with another guild on the server just to see if we can get regular games out, but it’s a largely untested premise as yet.

What Blizzard should have done was hold on, at least until Blizzcon, and done the big reveal there. At least there might have been a chance of a beta right after, igniting people’s interest even further still, because as it is, it was a brief bright burst of interest for a week or two, before dying back down to a background noise level and taking more subs out of the game.

Coping in the downtime is hard

After all this time, you better be prepared...
After all this time, you better be prepared…

As we continue to get closer to the Legion release date, whatever that may be (we should get it revealed at Blizzcon), continued long term interest in the game will surely wane further still.

In fact, the longer that players are out of the game for, the less likely they will feel like they’re still invested in the game as a whole, and the less chance there is of them coming back with any great gusto and renewed longer-term plans come Legion.

As this happens, communities and guilds within the game will only continue to fracture and break down as more and more players let their subscriptions lapse.

This in itself places further peril upon the long term future of the game, as subs numbers continue to decline. The subs decline over the course of WoD has been screamingly and worryingly rapid. Faster than any expansion drop off before it.

Even during the 14 months of Siege of Orgrimmar at the end of Mists there was nowhere near the level of drop off that WoD has seen during the first six months of the expansion.

Was Mists a fluke?

Dear Mists, please come back, love, Warlords.
Dear Mists, please come back, love, Warlords.

I read an article on Forbes the other day from a game analyst and WoW player that stated that after Wrath, WoW’s storyline was essentially done. Everything after that has felt like an added on excuse to keep the game going long after the main protagonist has left the stage. And up to a certain point, I find it hard to disagree with him.

Cataclysm was terrible, and until WoD it was the worst expansion without question. Unlike WoD however, the first tier and first six months of Cata were its strong point. Tier 11 was one of my favourite raid tiers.

The remaining raid tiers in Cata were pathetic, with minimal bosses and massive recycling of mobs and locations. Mind you we’d see Blizzard being even more environmentally conscious and recycle mounts, quest rewards and storylines in WoD…

Mists came along after Cata and whilst the so called purists hated the entire premise “Pandas, in my game? Eurgh!”, those of us who actually went with it and played it loved it.

The oft-mentioned dailies burn out at the start of Mists, and the poor quality of the Heart of Fear raid instance aside, Mists was IMO the best expansion overall, very narrowly edging Wrath out of the number one spot.

Then Warlords came out. Everyone was massively hyped for it, they loved the notion of seeing these iconic figures brought to life again, and they presented a real and credible threat not only to Draenor, but potentially to Azeroth as well.

I mean, we were going up against the pre-nascent Lich King in Ner’zhul for crying out loud, and he was only ONE of them!

Then he got killed in a 5 man dungeon and everyone went, “Erm, what? Nah, he’ll be back, he’s the fucking Lich King bitches!”

Spoiler: He, like over 5m others in the game, didn’t come back.

Bazinga!
Bazinga!

Levelling was excellent, as I’ve often admitted, the first couple of times through. It was fresh and different, and it seemed like there were a stack of things to discover.

But after those first few trips through the 90 to 100 journey, it slowly became apparent that there wasn’t really anything worth discovering out in the world, and the levelling process then quickly became very strained and we were back to the normal drudgery on the scale of pure quest levelling again.

The Warlords themselves were all dispensed with rather rapidly and without much fanfare. In fact the only Warlords that got anything more than insultingly minimal lip-service were Blackhand, Kilrogg and Daddy Hellscream.

Even Garrosh, the reason we were here to begin with, was killed off cheaply in a cut scene. Naturally by the green Jebus himself, kill stealing a major villain in a cut scene for the second time (Deathwing anyone?), robbing players of any agency in his demise. Criminal.

But then again, robbing players of agency was something Blizzard has excelled at in Warlords, but I’ve spoken about that already at great length…

How to cope with lengthy downtime periods?

So very, very bored.
So bored. So very, very bored.

So how does one cope with these periods in WoW, where raiding is for all intents and purposes dead in the water, and progression is by and large finished? Especially in an expansion like Warlords, where non-raid content was already very thin on the ground to begin with?

Well, if you’re anything like me you are a bundle freak, and you more than likely have an embarrassingly large pile of neglected games on various services, most likely Steam. At this present moment my Steam collection numbers over 620 games, and according to SteamDB, I’ve not played 72% of those.

Now a large percentage of that 72% will be games that came in bundles that I have absolutely zero interest in playing. Similarly I have about 50+ games in my Gog.com account, only a handful of which I’ve played at all, let alone completed.

That’s one of the reasons I was trying to run game giveaways several months ago, but given that that initiative fell flat on its arse I knocked it in the head. I guess people just don’t like free games…

So the obvious route to go is other AAA games, even other Blizzard games. However over the past couple of years, I’ve found I’ve gotten a lot more joy from playing games from the more Indie end of the gaming spectrum. Games like Ori and the Blind Forest, A Story about my Uncle, Her Story, Pillars of Eternity (currently 50% off!) etc etc.

In fact the only AAA game I can remember playing recently outside of the Blizzard stable that I’ve really enjoyed is the one I’m currently playing, Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain (hence the header image, make sure to use this -23% voucher though!), Hideo Kojima’s final MGS game. One that brings the MGS storyline full circle, and is seemingly Konami’s last big release outside of yearly PES updates.

Quick side note: If you’ve been completely in the dark about recent goings on over at Konami and why Castlevania and Silent Hill and indeed MGS are now all but dead franchises, I thoroughly recommend you go watch or indeed read yourself some Jim “fucking” Sterling son. PS: #fuckonami 

But Bundle websites are a great place to build a game collection if you’re only starting to do just that. Likewise there are some great websites to visit in order to get really cheap games outside of the obligatory Steam sales.

Places I recommend:

I’m sure there are hundreds of other smaller bundle and sale sites out there, and if there’s any I missed let me know (comments are working now!). Just be aware that quite a lot of bundles will have one or two gems whilst the rest of the bundle is filled out with complete dross. Caveat Emptor and all that jazz.

Looking to the future

Likely going to be utterly shit, oh well.,,
Likely going to be utterly shit, oh well…

Looking on the bright side for WoW players, we have several things to look forward to. Legion of course is released next year, the earlier the better for the long term health of the game as well.

The Warcraft movie is due out next June, and whilst I have serious misgivings as to the quality of the movie itself (in all honesty I think it’s going to be a car crash, sadly), I’ll no doubt be a good little fanboy and toddle off and see it in the cinema, and cringe alone in the dark…

Legion will of course bring with it promised lore and answers to some long standing questions, prime amongst them for me: What is it about Azeroth that makes it so important in the Warcraft Universe? Yes it’s the planet we call home in the game, but beyond that, what is it that makes this particular planet so interesting to the Burning Legion, demons that we’ve found out in WoD that have easy access to multiple dimensions and versions of reality?

The caveat I’ll place on that though is that we were promised new Blood Knight lore in WoD, and we’re still waiting….

So yeah, not holding my breath 100% on answers to any of my burning questions.

Of course there’s the usual end of expansion things to take care of, such as farming old content for mounts, pets, titles and so on, as well as old transmog gear.

And for transmog junkies like myself, of course Legion bears the promise of a Diablo/Wildstar style transmog system, which alone will free up something ridiculous like 90% of my storage space!

Wrapping up

So how are you guys coping with the current downtime, especially as it looks like it’s going to rattle on for another 6 months or more while we wait on Legion? What other games are you playing at the moment? Any good sites for deals on individual games or bundles that I’ve forgotten? Let me know in the comments below!