Note:  Astute readers from Reddit have brought to my attention the process of Sequence Breaking, but after reviewing the list and finding that 90%+ of the sequence breaks in other Metroid titles depend on bugs and glitches I feel that my point stands.

 

The best

The Best

Metroid (1986) is the best Metroid.  It also has no sequels.  Some of you may believe that the other 10 games with the name Metroid are part of a franchise called Metroid.  But really, those other 10 games should be called something else.  Maybe, “Legend of Robot Suit Lady”?  I don’t really care ’cause they’re all kind of crap.

There is a whole subgenre of games that follow a similar pattern.  Explore an area, gain powerups to grow stronger and allow access to new areas, search for more hidden items.  The so called Metroidvania genre includes dozens of titles in the Castlevania and Metroid franchises, but realistically also Legend of Zelda and more.

So what makes Metroid (the original) different?

 

 

Full of optional content

Full of optional content

 

Look at that map.  That’s how you play through Metroid.  You have choices in Metroid, choices which matter.  Notice how close all of the bosses are to the Morph Ball / Missiles / Bomb setup?  They’re all you need to get to the bosses.  Do you need to get High Jump and Varia?  No, but they make the game easier.  Wave beam is way out of the way but makes exploring the map exponentially easier.  It’s not on the picture but there are more energy tank pickups in the game than Samus is allowed to carry.  You save the extras for heals or maybe you don’t find them.

In fact, in preparing for this article I actually beat the game without getting the High Jump boots.  It was incredibly hard, and there were a number of places where you can fall in a pit and not get back out, but it IS possible.  In fact I died fighting Mother Brain ’cause the hole in front of her tank is too deep to jump out of with no High Jump.  Fuck.

Compare:

 

Every other fucking Metroid game

Every other fucking Metroid game

 

Every other “Metroid” game in the series looks like that.  The Metroidvania games all do, from the very worst (Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest) to the very best (Castlevania:  Symphony of the Night).  A straight path through collecting powerups with the occasional optional Energy Tank or Missile Pack.  It is, in a word, boring.

No.  Two words.  Boring and lazy.  It’s Final Fantasy XIII (the game where you hold up on the controller and tap x to win) cleverly disguised.  Lazy, because as a game designer you get to know exactly how powerful the player will be at any point and calibrate the game effectively.  When you get a powerup in any other Metroid you’re not getting more powerful, you’re getting as powerful as you’re supposed to be for the next section of the game.

These rigid gateways between sections of the game remove a significant element of agency from the player.  You’re not progressing through the game, through the areas at your pace; you’re given the illusion of having power and then progressing at the designer’s pace.  Not that this is necessarily a bad thing.  Adventure Games, RPGs, and others all have a story element that is very hard to engage when the player is free to roam as they will.  The game becomes less of a game game and more of a storytelling game.  But let’s be serious here, is the story in Super Metroid significantly more compelling than that of Metroid?  Even the Metroid Prime series which sort of has an ongoing story isn’t exactly telling a compelling narrative.

What’s left?  I don’t really know.  I loved Super Metroid as a youth, but going back to play it now I find no compelling reason other than nostalgia.  Metroid, on the other hand, is still a delight.  Modern game designers have more or less failed to recapture that sense of solitude and exploration but for one very notable example:  Dark Souls.  It’s you, more or less alone, against a grim and unforgiving world.  Ruthless, torturous, savage and satisfying.  Dark Souls is the distant, bastard prodigy of Metroid.

 

End of Metroid

Also Samus was a brunette in Metroid.

 

If you’ve never played it, and you can stand the 8 bit graphics I urge you to try Metroid again.  Resist the temptation to get a map online, grab an analog keyboard and draw yourself a little map as you explore.  It’s all kinds of satisfying.  Plus make sure the music is turned up, the soundtrack in the game is great, for 1986 era bleep blorp music.

 

PS.  I am a fucking legend at Metroid.  I can draw a map of the whole game from memory.  Fuck yeah, that’s gonna make me feel good on my deathbed.

 

Thanks for the .jpgs Scott!

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