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:
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):
Whilst the handheld sequel, Metroid 2: Return of Samus, was released in 1991:
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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!
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.