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Metroid (NES) artwork

Metroid (NES) review

"You're looking at the original in a series that is extremely well praised, for obvious reasons. I gradually found myself falling in love with Super Metroid, one of the most pristine 2-D games known to man, and very quickly fell in love with Prime years later. And, for some strange reason, I had fond memories of playing the original as a kid. Between those fond memories and the near perfection of those latter two games, I figured this would surely hold an honorable place in the NES library, stand..."

You're looking at the original in a series that is extremely well praised, for obvious reasons. I gradually found myself falling in love with Super Metroid, one of the most pristine 2-D games known to man, and very quickly fell in love with Prime years later. And, for some strange reason, I had fond memories of playing the original as a kid. Between those fond memories and the near perfection of those latter two games, I figured this would surely hold an honorable place in the NES library, standing proudly next to its more legendary kin, Mario and Zelda.

Or not.

Perhaps part of its fall from grace comes from the lofty standards it imposes on itself, as it is quite obvious this was meant to be a great game. Despite the fact that the game itself offered neither plot nor a reason for this mission, the instruction manual gave an extremely detailed backstory, telling us who Samus is (or isn't!), who the pirates are, and why these flying jellyfish are such a big deal. You were meant to be part of a grand space adventure, presumably inspired by the movie Alien, and you were meant to feel the epicness of the story. Nintendo went through great pains to make this feel great, even giving a surprise ending, and from the very moment you land on Zebes you are made to feel alone, out of your element, creeped out, and determined to burst your way through.

You see, the world of Metroid had some rather high production values. Zebes itself was beautifully designed, with five completely distinct areas, each one looking and feeling different from the last. From the initial caves of Brinstar to the fiery depths of Norfair to Mother Brain's mechanical lair in Tourian, we move from the initial disorientation and confusion, to challenging environments to the showdown with the mastermind herself. And to help make your experience more complete, we have some of the best music you'll find in the videogame world. From the moment you turn on the game, you are greeted with so many musical masterpieces: the haunting opening theme, the adventurous Brinstar music, the mysterious Chozo theme, the creepy Brinstar depths, etc. Of course, the whole atmosphere issue isn't entirely perfect. Samus looks hokey and is animated even, uh, hokier. But on the whole, this game just looks and sounds and all around feels good.

But perhaps this game is most well loved for its exploration, and for good reason. There is strong potential in this maze like game. Here, like the original Zelda, you must seek out and find your objectives, where no clues await you. You must discover new powerups before facing your foes, or you will be quickly vanquished. There is absolutely nothing stopping you from going wherever you want, and there are so many secrets and passageways that you will certainly not find them all. The whole ''explorative adventure'' genre (a term I made up, but you know of what I speak) is easily my favorite genre, thanks to the focus on observation and guesswork, not merely nail-biting reflexes like some action games or attempting to stay awake like RPGs. With the explorative aspect, the possibilities seem almost endless, and every little progress you made feels like a major accomplishment. Indeed, there is no doubt that the game had a ton of potential.

But that's all it has, potential (and said potential was realized beautifully in Super Metroid). The gameplay just feels dated and, more importantly, doesn't feel right. Take the rooms, for instance. There are only a few types of rooms, and they are repeated endlessly throughout the game. What this means is that you will definitely get lost if you don't draw a map for yourself, and probably still get turned around even if you are careful. It also makes playing more of a chore, as you don't feel the delight of new areas or strive to remember certain landmarks. At least in the original Zelda every screen on the Overworld was different, allowing you to recognize features and navigate by the changes in the landscape. Here, it's unfortunately the same few rooms over and over again.

Likewise, there were only a few really ''secret'' areas, as most of the game is just one big maze. Since the number of secret areas (ie, hidden places only accessible by bombs) was so low, you were less likely to seek them out, and less likely to care. Why spend forever bombing every spare space when it will lead to so few rewards?

Furthermore, the game hides a few missiles here and there, but overloads you with them when you defeat one of the two bosses in the game. Because of this discrepancy, there are not only less items to seek out throughout the game (an integral aspect of this genre), the missiles gained through actual hunting seems kind of miniscule compared to the 150 gained through beating bosses. Bleh. Speaking of fewer items, there is the completely unforgivable fact that the wave beam is absolutely useless in the game. You can't have both the wave beam and ice beam, and anyone who knows anything about Metroid knows that roaming around in Tourian without the ice beam is, well, a very bad idea. Not only does this mean there is a powerup you should definitely avoid, but it also means you are stuck with the same wussy arm cannon that you had since the beginning of the game. Sorry Nintendo, that's just ridiculous.

And if they failed the whole exploration bit, they didn't do much better on the challenge. Let's just say the game is hard for all the wrong reasons. Imagine coming into a room, standing on a ledge roughly half way up the screen. You need to drop down to continue on in this corridor, except for the unfortunate fact that there's an enemy merrily hopping around down there. You can't jump over him - the ceiling's too low. You can't fire downward - that's too high tech. So you either get lucky and barely miss him, or you get hit. How stupid. But that's just one painful area. Fall into lava or quicksand, and health will naturally drain away. But jumping out is a pain due to the controls and other enemies in the area. This is especially true on the final boss, where it is possible to get stuck in an area where your only recourse is freezing an enemy. Stupid, stupid, stupid. I must also protest enemies that immediately respawn, especially when coupled with plenty of other enemies in an area. The fact that you jump backward in a very awkward fashion after getting hit doesn't help things either. And then there are the bosses, where exciting tactics and skill will get you nowhere and cheap, unfun tactics are the way to go. Ridley and Kraid were far, far cooler in Super Metroid.

These are all minor issues, and I guess some people are able to ignore or explain at least a few of these things. And I can understand that, even if I myself do not agree with them. But there is one issue that no one can deny is flawed, one issue that is absolutely central to the reason I can no longer play this game. You start the game with 30 units of energy or hit points or whatever you want to call them, out of a maximum of 99. That's fine. You will find energy tanks to increase that number, eventually to 899 energy. That's great. Unfortunately, whenever you continue your game from a password, you will always start with 30 energy! Now, until you reach Tourian, enemies will only give you back 5 or 20 energy if you kill them, and only, say, 25% of the enemies will give you energy. Think about that for a second. Think about how many enemies you will have to kill before you are ready to actually start playing, and how much time you will spend mindlessly blasting away at boring enemies just to build up enough energy to do what you want to do. Go on, try to defend that; it's inexcusable. Spending more time trying to build up your energy than you spend actually playing the game is a horrible flaw, something that should have been noticed immediately by the developers and should have been remedied. This is either laziness or incompetence, charges that are not often brought against Nintendo.

The end result is that a game I should love is not fun at all. Yes, the first moment you set foot on Zebes is cool, as is the immediate reward of the Morph Ball. Yes, finding a missile pack gives some sense of satisfaction. Yes, Ridley and Kraid and Mother Brain are kind of cool and all. But where's the fun of continually having to pause in order to draw your own map, especially after you've screwed it up twice over thanks to never truly knowing if you've been in this room before or not? How can one enjoy spending forever refilling up your stocks once you continue your game? How does one stem the frustration of encountering these stupid annoying enemies, getting smacked around while your pathetic blaster does nothing? Can one truly enjoy the explorative aspects when the rewards are so few, the environment so dull, the secrets so simple, and the mazes so aggravating? I guess in my ignorance I was able to enjoy this game somehow. But I've played Super Metroid now; I know what a great explorative game is supposed to be like. And the fact that this game fails on so many levels makes it that much more frustrating. I love this genre, yet Metroid's mechanics and design is so slipshod that it fails miserably. And I cannot support such a game.

In the story of the ugly duckling, a lone duckling is ridiculed, looked down upon, and completely wretched in its existence, but eventually grows up to be a beautiful swan, adored by all and majestic in appearance. The parallels to the Metroid series are obvious. This duckling of a game is ugly; there are far too many flaws, rough edges, poor design choices, and aggravating moments that hide the inner beauty of the Metroid style of gaming. But this beauty blossomed on the SNES, shedding its rough edges and stupid mistakes for a nearly perfect realization of what Metroid should be. Sadly, though, the old duckling did not disappear when this beautiful game appeared, and there are still people lulled into believing any game with the word Metroid in the title has to be great. Don't say I didn't warn you.

mariner's avatar
Community review by mariner (November 07, 2004)

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