"Aliens attack lone woman. Sexy results."
Despite its awesome design and admirable difficulty, the original Metroid has enough quirks that it doesn't really hold up these days. Starting off with just thirty health out of a potential five-hundred every time you boot the game up blows, and smacking tiny enemies around for hours to stockpile their paltry plus-five pickups isn't much better. Excusable back in the '80s, maybe, but so was Dio--nowadays, shortcomings like these make the whole thing feel more akin to a chore than a game. Fortunately, thanks to our friendly neighborhood plastic surgeons at Nintendo, we've got Metroid Zero Mission. By carefully grafting the SNES title's vastly improved mechanics onto the original's world (this isn't a Twin Snakes style kindergarten cut-and-paste), they managed to bring the original into today's decadent world of game-saves without tossing away its character like lesser remake developers are usually content to.
It's obvious as soon as Samus drops into Brinstar and us seething shut-ins instantly recognize its heroic theme music that MZM's developers haven't fundamentally altered the original's levels, though they have expanded upon them. This first area's trademark sapphire rock shafts and lime green brick corridors return in relatively unchanged form, for instance, yet they're littered with all-new secret paths made accessible only by Samus' expanded catalog of powerups. Abilities range from the Screw Attack, which lets you mangle anything foolish enough to oppose you with just a jump, to the series mainstay Ice Beam, with which you can freeze the planet Zebes' indigenous critters and use them as platforms. Progress mandates using one item to reclaim the next, and if you're clever, you can mix and match them in ways that'll allow you to "break" the game's suggested order and go your own way--just like in the original games, Metroid Fusion be damned.
This isn't just a one-trick pony that's only fun for those with fond memories of the original, though. Consider Kraid's Hideout. While similar atmospherically--the bright grey stone, oddly positioned ferns, haunting tune, and unsettlingly dark background seen and loved two decades ago haven't gone missing--the area's layout is even better than it was before. Its elaborately twisting paths are complimented by unfamiliar passages that grant it a labyrinthine feeling despite the welcome addition of a map, and the newly constructed wing in the northeast corner is home to some lava pits and, more notably, an enormous worm hell-bent on having a Samus sandwich. You can't forget dungeon overlord Kraid himself, either, the lovable two-story tall lizard waiting for you at the bottom of this maze. Putting an end to his fat ways requires you to use the massive spikes he accidentally lodges into the wall as stepping stones so that you can unleash some missiles into his gaping maw.
Nintendo were even kind enough to toss in some all-new features, most notably a segment where you're stripped of your weapons and dropped into a metallic area of Zebes patrolled by the deadly Space Pirates. As I'm sure survivors of Super Metroid's infamous golden-pirate skirmish are well aware, they're agile and just happen to have laser-blasting pincer claws that make them a bit more dangerous than the usual "spiky; climbs on walls" Metroid denizen. Putting acrobatic moves like the wall jump to the test lets you slink about in an on-your-toes fashion that's a nice change from the trial and error stuff in games like Splinter Cell, and if you're foolish enough to get caught, bolting it through uncharted territory while trying to shake your pursuit is a blast.
There's just one problem: the game is only three hours long. Just as you're really starting to get into it, Metroid: Zero Mission comes out of nowhere and ends.
Staff review by John L (February 21, 2005)
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