Game Overkill – Metroid
I can still remember the first time I played Metroid. It was within the first year of its release, so I was, at most, seven years old. I might’ve played it for about 10 minutes before deciding it was a terrible game and playing something else. My aunt’s step-son owned it, so when I would visit over the years, I would repeat this process. Get the Morph Ball, not know know that I got the Morph Ball, not know what the hell the Morph Ball does, accidentally morph into a ball, leave that accursed corner of the game, reach a red door, rip game from NES, throw it across the room, put better game in NES. As an adult, my opinion of this game has only slightly improved.
Over the years, I always wondered if others had gotten the same first impression of the game as I did. Most people I’ve talked to played it years later, so they were either much older and/or played it with access to walkthroughs, so they had a different take. Luckily, one of my best friends had this to say when I asked him why he listed it:
I remember as a kid putting this game on and then asking myself “the fuck I do now?” It was the same feeling I got when I first put E.T. in my Atari. The directionless feeling of this game for my 8 year old self didn’t leave me with any feelings of a classic. Watching my older brother and his friends play it, I kinda got the sense why the game is now revered to some so I put it on the list for that reason. But as an amateur gamer, without the internet nowadays or Nintendo power back then, this game would be on for about 10 minutes tops if I couldn’t figure out what to do. The series gets better and more entertaining to me with the next 2.
That “directionless” feeling is something another person who listed the game mentioned.
I’ve never been a fan of platformers. Metroid is different, though. It isn’t the unidirectional, side-scroller that Super Mario Bros. is. The world design creates a sense of being in a relatively large area that requires exploration and discovery found in adventure games I so deeply love. It made something I don’t like into something I relished.
I agree that lacking a clear “go right to win” objective in a game can feel amazing. Metroid does a good job at this, in a sense. I did feel like I was meant to go out and explore, but unlike the Zelda, Dragon Warrior, and Final Fantasy games for the NES, it just didn’t have enough to make me want to explore. First of all, the graphics, and this needs to be said, are terrible. Ghost ‘n Goblins and Super Mario Bros. came out in 1986, which is the year Metroid was released for the Famicom Disc System. It was released the next year in North America and in 1988, the year it finally came out in Europe, we also saw the release of Bionic Commando, Blaster Master, Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, Contra, Double Dragon, Faxanadu, The Guardian Legend, Life Force, Metal Gear, Super Mario Bros. 2, and Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. Clearly, Metroid was far from the best looking game regardless of what year you compare it to. I understand that its strange enemies and black background might have been meant to convey a strange, unknown, and desolate landscape, but it just looks drab, nondescript, and muddled. The sprites, especially the enemies, are just a mess of virtually meaningless colours. It boring and looked bad even when I first played it. Nearly 30 years later, it looks even worse.
Now, Metroid: Zero Mission, the “enhanced remake,” was released for the Game Boy Advance in 2004 and it looks great. The different areas are beautiful. The enemies look like actual things, no matter how alien. The terrible boss fights of the original are replaced by much grander battles. There are only two things the remake didn’t improve, but I’ll get to that later. Right now, here’s read what a cat had to say about it.
I remember beating Metroid Zero Mission before Metroid for the NES (even though I had played the NES version before). Therefore, I did not realize this was a remake. However, even though they are different games, there’s mostly one section that’s different, and that’s the Zero Suit Samus section. I don’t remember much about it, but it wasn’t really the best part of the game. The best part of Metroid is the beginning to the end. Sure it had only a handful of bosses, a terrible password system and most of the areas repeat, but dang it, you could explore as much as you wanted. Why was Metroid fun to explore? Because it wasn’t hard, because it had no extra life system. You explored at your pace and ended up knowing where you needed to go easily. The rest is known to many, the plot twist at the end, the ambiance and the soundtrack. I’m really not an expert on NES games, but I think THIS is one of the best soundtrack to explore a dungeon to (along with Zelda 2… Happy, Pierre?).
Anyway, Metroid is a classic for more than its sequels. I still have a great time with the original and, if you enjoy Zero Mission, it’s only a testament of how well designed the first one was.
At first, it seemed he was talking about the original, but when I got to the part where he said the game “wasn’t hard,” I got confused. The original Metroid is not an easy game, made all the worse by a terrible password system, three bad boss fights, areas barely looking different from each other, boring backtracking, and NO MAP! I can almost excuse all the rest of it, if only this game had a fucking in-game map. Besides all that, the game is still generally difficult. The enemies get tougher. You will accidentally wander into an area you are absolutely not ready to be entering. The boss fights are merciless. You will die, very often. This game is “Nintendo hard.”
Luckily, Zero Mission fixes the problem of not having a map. Unluckily, it overdoes it with fixing the rest. If Metroid could be faulted for being too difficult, Zero Mission can be faulted for being much, much too easy. In a strange way, it was so easy, it ruined the game almost completely. I got next to no satisfaction out of reaching a new area because there was virtually no challenge in getting there, outside of finishing a boss.
To me, Metroid is nearly a perfect game. Yes, there are scores of games since that have done “Metroidvania” better than the original, but the fact that it has a video game genre named after it should say something about the games relevance. It is a sci-fi masterpiece, inspired by Alien and with a female protagonist to boot. It was influential on virtually every exploration/collect-a-thon style game since, not to mention what it did for female characters in video games. The dark atmospheric environment, the musical score that comes across like a complex 8-bit symphony, the upgrades that can literally shape the way you play the game around you, all lead to an experience that should be experienced by every gamer.
Now, here’s the thing. I’ve spent most of my time telling you what I don’t like about the game; however, I don’t disagree with anything zfunk said. It is a seriously flawed game, almost to the point where I’d say it isn’t playable, but it is nearly perfect. The fact that a whole genre’s name is based on it is also significant. It is a sci-fi masterpiece. At the time, yes, it was “cool” that it featured a female protagonist, but this is one point where I might agree with him, but not in the way you might think. I think it is very telling that this one instance retro gamers hold up as evidence of how great retro games were, the fact that an early hit platformer had a badass woman as the main character and only revealed the fact after you beat the game is essentially ruined by the fact that if you beat the game fast enough, you get to play as the character in her underwear or bikini (it really doesn’t matter which). More than being held up as an example of diversity and inclusiveness, it is really nothing more than yet another early example of sexism in video games. Yes, she’s not a damsel in distress, but Samus Aran is set up as a reward for, let’s be honest here, male gamers. The “shocking” reveal at the end of the game would’ve been much more striking without suitless Samus. It was cheap, crass, and boring. Samus, and gamers, deserved better. Sadly, it seems little has changed since this game was released.
Metroid is a weird game. I think its major flaw is something that was never within its control. Dertysixxxer mentioned E.T. for the 2600, which was very fortunate for me because I wanted to bring it up at some point. I think E.T. isn’t a terrible game. I think E.T. was ahead of its time, and so was Metroid. I’m just not sure why one is reviled and the other revered. Maybe because the vast majority of gamers were too young for E.T., while more were at the right age when they played Metroid? I certainly wasn’t though. I couldn’t read English yet, so even if the manual had anything useful to say, I couldn’t have read it. I wasn’t quite old enough to want to bother to sit down and draw my own maps. I wasn’t ready for a game this difficult, obtuse, generic-looking, atmospheric, and unique. Serisouly, the game looks and plays terribly (and I didn’t even talk about the jumping and the awful Screw Attack), but it’s still an amazing classic.
So, the original Metroid made the list, ranking 38th, which I think is a bit high, personally. I think everyone should play this game, but I also think it’s a bad game…and a good game. I guess I still don’t know how I really feel about Metroid, which you could argue says something incredibly impressive about a game I’ve been playing off and on for almost 30 years. Zero Mission is also good, but still way too easy. Disagree with any of this? Let me know.
As for the next game, I’m gonna tackle a game I’ve always been interested in playing, but never even tried once: Crystalis. In this case, I will not be playing the Game Boy Color remake, since no one listed it and I’ve heard nothing but bad things about it.