Back in 1994, I didn’t even know this game came out. I was ten years old, and this game completely missed my radar. I didn’t get very many games per year, maybe one or two around Christmas time and my birthday, and I was mostly playing sports games like NHL ’95 or WWF Monday Night Raw with my brother and dad.
Fast forward a little over twenty years, and you have Nintendo announcing the New 3DS XL is going to support Super NES games on its virtual console. By this time I definitely knew about Super Metroid and I also knew that I needed to play this game. After reading many greatest games lists and consistently seeing this in the top 10 or 20 of virtually all of those lists, and seeing a few gameplay videos, I knew it was a game right up my alley.
Now, after beating the game recently, I can say that I agree that it is one of the greatest games ever made. It has perfect pacing, the artwork is tremendous, and the controls are outstanding.
A Gameplay Masterclass
After a short cutscene explaining the events of the first two games (Metroid on NES and Metroid II: Samus Returns on Game Boy), and a brief introductory level, you start the main game with just your blaster and your jump button. The rest of the world is yours to discover. Having a map to refer to is very helpful, but even after you find the data banks that give you the map layout for each section of the planet, you still don’t see all of the secret nooks and crannies that come with diligent exploration.
The game slowly opens up as you gain new powers and abilities, and the pacing is a masterclass of game design. Each upgrade will allow you to backtrack to places previously unreachable, which then helps you progress until you need to backtrack again, but it’s never tedious. It hits the perfect balance and the gameplay loop is very satisfying.
The only area I ever had difficulty with the gameplay was the jumping. In my opinion, it never quite reaches the perfection of Mario’s platforming skills, and later sections with sand and wall jumping seem a bit random in its success or failure than on your actual skill and timing as a player.
It’s a minor gripe however, because your ability to shoot and aim at enemies is all about skill and it is merciless to players that can’t hack it in that area.
Pretty Pretty Pixels
For the game being 23 years old, it still looks fantastic. The 16-bit sprite and pixel work are outstanding. The detail they’re able to put into the environments is actually quite extraordinary if you think about the limitations of visual output at the time.
The different visual effects on display with your weapons is also amazing. Not only is each upgrade more powerful, it gives each new upgrade a new look so that you know you’re using something different and better than before.
I also enjoyed the hazes that they would put in certain rooms, like a foggy or misty look, and they were even able to make it look very hot in the lava areas midway through the game. It’s still astounding to me the detail they were able to pack into this game.
Tell Me Your Story
The plot is definitely the weakest part of this game, but besides the cutscene at the beginning, it isn’t very cinematic. It has to deal with space pirates and a baby Metroid and it’s all kind of nonsensical.
However, the environmental storytelling is pretty outstanding. As to the last section, the detail in the settings help to tell you what happened to the planet. Broken down research stations tell you the story of how things may have broken down for whoever was here before you, and that’s how you learn the “story” of this game.
This game stands the test of time very easily. It’s graphics are still gorgeous, and the gameplay and pacing is perfection. You won’t even be thinking about how silly the plot of the game is as you explore and discover this colorful, broad world.
At the end of these retro grade reviews, I’m gonna put some interesting (at least to me) facts about what else was going on in the world when the game was released. So without further ado:
The game was released in 1994 in North America, so here’s the rundown of America at the time
President: Bill Clinton
Number one song: Bump N Grind by R. Kelly
Avg price for gallon of gas: $1.11
Defending World Series Champs: Toronto Blue Jays
Super Bowl Champs: Dallas Cowboys
NBA Champs: Chicago Bulls
Stanley Cup Champs: New York Rangers (albeit a couple months later)