Metroid (NES) review
"In Zelda, this was no big deal, as youíd simply stroll to the nearest fairy pond and get a free recharge. Here, you have to find a room with a plentiful number of weak foes and regain your strength in increments of five points (20, if youíre lucky). Once again, itís not a pretty scene."
Make no mistake about it ó Metroid is a classic. Coming out in the early days of the NES, this sci-fi adventure possessed the necessary mood to almost feel like an altered take on Ridley Scott's Alien. Narrow corridors filled with hostile lifeforms awaited bounty hunter Samus Aran, while a number of excellent tunes did a superb job of crafting an aura of suspense. Admittedly, none of the monsters in this game are remotely as memorable as the chest-ripping, face-hugging monstrosities of that film, but there is one striking similarity between game and movie. Much like the characters of Alien, Samus is stranded in a strange land AND is at the mercy of its inhabitants.
Unfortunately for the unending hordes of crawling and flying critters on the planet Zebes, in controlling Samus, you will have a few more weapons at your disposal than a couple of flamethrowers. Not at the beginning, of course. Just like in all the classic adventure games, youíll start off with barely any offensive power ó the good stuff has to be found! And thatís when things go downhill....
A great atmosphere can only carry a game so far, and sadly, Metroid doesnít have much else to offer other than a large world full of hidden items to find. The problem is that much of it was created from a collection of rooms and corridors that all start to look pretty much the same after a while. You had better like drawing maps, as without a good one, it wonít take long to get hopefully lost as you bumble from one region to the next.
And you will likely find Samus to be quite clumsy and bumbling at times, as Metroidís control definitely could be better. When hit, youíll find your on-screen alter ego flailing backwards as dramatically as Simon Belmont in the early Castlevania games. Since many of the ledges in this game are quite small, one insignificant little bump by an enemy could either send you careening down a shaft (and then having to retrace a lot of progress) or flying into a pit of lava, causing you to take much more damage before getting back to solid ground.
More play control flaws are revealed when youíve picked up some of the more useful power-ups. Individually, the high jump boost is great for providing a quicker way to travel and the spin jump attack is an excellent way to wipe out enemies while on the move. Mix them together, though, and you are setting yourself up for a potential nightmare. Personally, I canít count the number of times I tried jumping to a higher ledge only to watch Samus start spinning and became very difficult to control, causing me to misfire on my landing and plummet into lava (or some other less-than-desirable predicament). And thatís not all. While in that lava, Iíve also gotten stuck a couple of times (usually near ledges), helplessly watching my life dwindle away as Samus REFUSES to cooperate with the control pad. Itís not a pretty scene.
You donít want to die when you play Metroid. You want to make it through the entire game on one life and in one sitting (good luck if youíre not intimately familiar with the layout). No, not because of the daunting task of inputting an immense password upon rebooting your system, but because regaining all your strength isnít a quick, easy process. Much like other games from this era, such as The Legend of Zelda, Metroid starts you out with very little life (30 units), even if youíve collected enough life-giving energy tanks to have well over 500. In Zelda, this was no big deal, as youíd simply stroll to the nearest fairy pond and get a free recharge. Here, you have to find a room with a plentiful number of weak foes and regain your strength in increments of five points (20, if youíre lucky). Once again, itís not a pretty scene.
However, like many retro classics, Metroid is able to succeed on enough fronts to justify at least a portion of the accolades it has received over the years. As stated above, this game simply creates an atmosphere that was unparalleled at the time and eventually only matched by a select few games in the NES library. That in itself makes Metroid worth playing, as itís incredible what Nintendo could do to create the vibe they manufactured despite the limitations of that timeís technology.
Metroid also is a good game for people who just canít find enough goods in out-of-the-way locations. While some Samus-enhancing items, energy tanks and missiles are easy to find, to reach others you have to know which walls can be blasted through and, at times, have the right collection of equipment to reach the goodie in question. Pack-rats get rewarded, too, as finding enough missile packs can make any of Zebes' three bosses fairly easy to topple, allowing you to fire at will without worrying about running out of effective ammo.
Back in the day, when this game was a new experience, I was able to focus on those positives and not put emphasis on the flaws. Itís a lot harder to do that now. I donít mind playing a difficult game, but Metroid really isnít that hard. Taking lots of damage from missing seemingly easy jumps and getting stuck in lava doesnít make a game hard and neither does having to kill hundreds of weak foes to regenerate life after starting a second play session. Those things do make a game frustrating, though, and that is how I look at Metroid today. It has nostalgic value, but definitely didnít age well.
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (November 09, 2005)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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