Metroid 1-4 (1987-2002; 2004; 2016) game series review

So I’ve played the original Metroid games.  Can’t say I’ve finished all of them, just the 3rd (Super Metroid) and 4th (Metroid Fusion).

“Then how the hell do you expect to review these games reliably?  What the hell!?  Are you turning into one of those half-a-fag game journalists who bitch about games being too difficult and therebye make a lazy review that doesn’t accurately represent how the game in its entirety actually is?”

Well that’s the thing.  I have played the original NES Metroid, and the original Game Boy Metroid II: Return of Samus games, but I never beat them.  The NES game was too frustrating and dated (go ahead and bitch about me being a pussy; I may deserve it with that one).  The Game Boy one though, Jesus Christ.  That needed a map system, badly.  Don’t get me wrong, by Game Boy standards, the game is good.  But it’s so easy to get lost in that game, too irritating to do all that backtracking where everything looks the fucking same (even if you played it on Game Boy Color and had actual colors to make things stand out).  It wore out its welcome real fast.  I’d rather go back to the NES Metroid game than ever play that Game Boy version again.

As for the other two, I have played Super Metroid, and Metroid Fusion, in their entirety.  So I believe I can make a legit review whit legit opinions on those two.

So what about Metroid 1 and 2?  Well, that’s when things get interesting and fun.  Nintendo has made a remake for both those games.  One is known as Metroid: Zero Mission, which came out on the Game Boy Advanced (which basically had the tech equivalent of a Super Nintendo system), and is a remake of the original Metroid, except with updated gameplay and graphics, with some cutscenes, and an extended epilogue.  Then they did the same thing again with Metroid II: Samus Returns, on the 3DS.

I’d sooner play those remakes than the originals, especially with the experience I had with Zero Mission.  So, with that in mind, I’ll be reviewing the Metroid games that I believe provide the definitive Metroid experience that is still fun for gamers today:

 

Metroid: Zero Mission (Game Boy Advance; 2004; remake of the 1987 game Metroid 1 on NES)

Rated: 3.5 / 5

So before getting into what I liked about this game, some background on the original Metroid should be established, particularly with an 80s gamer mindset.  In particular, the manual to the original NES game.  The amount of backstory detail it provides is astounding, as is the descriptions of the creatures on the planet Zebes itself.  In a nutshell, there’s peace in the galaxy, the Federation brings back remnants of alien life from a planet called SR388, Space Pirates steal the remnants and bring them to their planet Zebes where they have established a defense Fortress, powered by the Mother Brain, capable of repelling Federation ships.  Once it has been determined that this alien life form, known as Metroid, could have been responsible for wiping out all life on planet SR388, and could be utilized as a weapon by the pirates to use against the Federation, they became desperate enough to hire the famed bounty hunter Samus to get into the fortress at Zebes, destroy the Mother Brain, and all trace of the Metroid.

“He” is the greatest.

When playing the NES game, this backstory doesn’t really mean much up until you face off against the Metroids and the Mother Brain.  But that aside, the manual refers to Samus Aran as “he,” with “his” identity and form shrouded in mystery.  So color hardcore gamers surprised when they got good enough at the game to beat it within 1 hour’s time on the NES, to get the biggest surprise reveal since Darth Vader:

This whole time you’re playing a badass bounty hunter, blasting aliens to pieces, killing a brain and pterodactyl, saving the world, showing off your guns and skill.  Only to find out all this masculinity was contained within a woman?  That you played as this entire time?

This blew adolescent 80s kids’ minds back in the day.  It made them all the more enamored with this character, making her all the more memorable.  A character that didn’t just break the glass ceiling, she blasted her way through it.

Anyway, with that out of the way, how is the remake itself?  Well, in all honesty, I don’t think there has not been an official release of a 2D Metroid game that has played any smoother than this one.  Which is probably a bad thing if you’re going to play this in chronological order, considering the rest of the serious gets a downgrade in control slickness from here on.

But anyway, once I started playing this, I was hooked.  I couldn’t get enough of it.  This would showcase what people would love about this series (though many would argue that Super Metroid still hasn’t been surpassed when it comes to the complete embodiment of everything this franchise can and should be, more on that later).  Starting out basic, just running, jumping, and having a basic laser shooter.  But then, as you progress, you get upgrades that make you more powerful, and more capable of traveling around the map faster.  From the morph ball upgrade that will get you through tight spots,  the various missile upgrades that open doors (and walls) in addition to dealing more damage to enemies (some of which are invulnerable to most other forms of attack), the ability to jump higher, run so fast you’ll burst through walls and enemies, the infamous screw attack where you can jump for infinity and kill almost anything in your path.  It gets addicting just finding the next upgrade.  While the original metroid was all about that, the newer games take it a step further by having secrets hidden throughout the levels that give you more health, more missiles, more super missiles, and more super bombs.  And it’s not just collecting these for the sake of getting stronger that is appealing about all this.  It’s not just that you get to see extra stuff during the endings (basically a more scantily clad Samus).  It’s not just for bragging rights.  It’s also because each of these secrets requires some critical thinking, puzzle solving, and gamer skill when it comes to the timing of jumps, bombs, missiles, speed boosts, etc.

All buttons and pads provide the amount of control and precision anyone could want out of a game like this.  And while the original only allowed for 90 degree angles for shooting, Zero Mission gives you 45 degree angles to allow for diagonal shooting.  Granted, this ends up contributing to the games easier difficulty, since most of the enemies remade from the original were primarily designed with 90 degree shooting in mind, given the limitations of the time.  Regardless, I would’ve been peeved if this new version didn’t have 45 degree shooting.

And unlike the original, there are brief cutscenes that only last a few seconds, to set the mood for something developing.  It doesn’t happen often, but when it does it’s a great mood-setter.  And cutscenes aren’t the only thing added to the game.  Most of it has been redesigned from the ground up compared to the original, from a level design standpoint.  Plus new bosses and enemies have been added, along with an entire extended game sequence that comes after the fight with Mother Brain (where the original game ended).

Metroids

This extended sequence serves a few purposes that improve the game overall, in my opinion.  For starters, you are actually able to go up against Space Pirates now (kinda funny that all of them except for the head honcho Ridley is missing from the original, considering this is their fortress).  On the other hand, it is implies that they stay in a more protected area of the fortress while their monsters wander around everywhere else to take down any intruders.  Regardless, it’s a bit strange that they’re never encountered.  Even if it’s indicated they all died from the Metroids they resurrected and reproduced.

The cutscene with the metroids shows that they are so feared because they are invulnerable to most weapons (except ice beams), and can suck the life out of any biological organism until they are nothing but dry husks.  Hence why the planet they were on is dead (the manual says “destroyed,” but that’s literally impossible if it can still be visited).

So it’s a bit refreshing to see the pirates make their presence known after their fortress gets taken out.  Which then begs the question, “What the hell are all the Federation ships doing!  Twiddling their thumbs while the pirate ships outside of the fortress can run amok?”  It’s best if you don’t think about it too hard.  After all, this is 80s gaming logic we’re dealing with here, in a game where the story isn’t the main focus (the gameplay is).

Oh yeah, and what’s up with Nintendo changing brunettes to blonds?  Seriously, they did this with both Samus and Link.  Was there some Brunette game designer that pissed some new blonde boss off?

The other thing worth  noting is that this is a game released well past the time that the identity of Samus’ gender is unknown to the players.  So the game doesn’t make any attempt at hiding her feminine features from time to time.  That being said, it also doesn’t make a big deal out of it either.  As far as players are concerned, the gender can be interchanged with little to no impact on what plot there is.  Male, female, Samus is still a renown bounty hunter with a big reputation who always gets the mission done.  Another refreshing thing about games back then.

But you do still need to work for those images by acquiring all the unlockables and beating the game within a certain time limit.  She’ll only reveal herself to manly men gamers who are worthy.

What you get is an exploration game, with an upgrade system (the equivalent of leveling up in an RPG, except more satisfying), and a reflex-driven 2D shooter (or pattern memorization shooter).  And is the game difficult?  Not on regular difficulty.  But after beating the game, a hard mode is unlocked which proves to be a bit more satisfying for those looking for a challenge.  This is a solid game.  Though that being said, there is a good counter-review by Viscount on Gamefaqs.com where he probes into the games more subtle weaknesses, which he argues plagues too many games at large in the modern era.

PS: This all being said, while this remake is far superior to the NES original, there is an unofficial remaster of the original NES Metroid titled Metroid: Mother, which is considered the definitive version for those who want to experience the NES original (outside of a direct port of the original, or having an original cartridge copy on an original NES console).  Mainly due to interface improvements.

 

 

 

Another Metroid 2 Remake: Return of Samus (PC/Android; 2016; aka AM2R)

Rated: 3.5 / 5

This is not an official Nintendo release.  This is a fan-made project 10 years in the making.  The story behind this becomes a bit tragic.  When it first came out with its version 1.0 release, and then a 1.1 release, Nintendo made them take it down, cease and desist, etc.  It may have been within their legal right to do this, but it could be seen as nothing other than a dick move, treating the fandom like trash, and not following Sega and Valve’s example with Sonic Mania and Black Mesa respectively.

That being said, once it’s on the Internet, it’s out there.  And it can still be downloaded and played, and I highly recommend doing so.  Not just to stick it to Nintendo (ungrateful fucks), not just as a “play this instead of the official Nintendo remake that came out a year later, which is inferior to this version,” but also because this is a damn good game experience that shows just what die-hard fans are capable of.

So, how to get a hold of this:

1.) First download version 1.1 of the game: https://am2r-another-metroid-2-remake.en.uptodown.com/windows

2.) Then download the 1.4.3 patch (others have come to improve upon the game’s foundations, version 1.4.3 is currently the most up-to-date and best version of the game): https://www.reddit.com/r/Metroid/comments/9nopmn/am2r_release_143/

3.) Follow the instructions with the Readme on the latter download to patch the main game.

4.) Play it, preferably with a controller; it can also be ported to Android.

So, with all the drama out of the way, how is this fan-made remake of the sequel?  Pretty damn good actually.  It’s a Metroid game, through and through.  Plays about as well as Zero Mission.

The story setup is that, after taking out the pirate fortress, in order to avoid a similar event from ever happening again, the Federation hires Samus again, this time to go to the metroid home world of SR388, and wipe out all the metroids.  So she goes to do just that.  The problem, however, is that the living metroids that are on that planet (which have been revived thanks to scientists, I think some combination of pirates and federation) are beginning to evolve into more dangerous lifeforms.  Lifeforms that can only evolve to that state while on that planet, for some science technobabble reasons that I’ll just go with.  This results in metroids that are more difficult to take down than ever before.

Nice setup and all, but I found it a bit strange during the playthrough (this also applies to the Game Boy and official Nintendo remake versions) that, for a planet that’s supposed to be “destroyed” by the metroids of the past, seems to have plenty of life on it.  I don’t know, maybe they somehow managed to repopulate while the metroids lay dormant.  Eh, whatever, these games have plot holes when you think about it too much, and the gameplay is more important.

Aside from the different objectives, the flow of the game is the same as before.  You explore the world which is divided up into sections.  New sections get unlocked the more you progress (upgrading, and killing metroids).  The upgrades are basically the same as in Zero Mission.  But the level design is overall better (as incredible as that is).

By the end of the game, you have killed all but one last remaining metroid, which follows you around and views you as more of a mother/father figure.  And if you complete enough of the game fast enough, you will get a bonus epilogue scene that acts as a segue-way to Metroid Fusion (more on that later).

And, as in Zero Mission, there are new bosses that weren’t in the original Game Boy release, which will mix things up nicely.  In addition, the entire game map has been redesigned from the ground up, for a completely new experience.  This will feel nothing like the original 1991 Game Boy release, except in terms of plot and traveling down deeper and deeper into the depths of the planet.  And, of course, the graphics are far superior to what the Game Boy (Color) was capable of producing.  And the music, fantastic atmospheric stuff.

And that’s about all I can say with this game.  It’s basically like Zero Mission, except a bit better in the level design department, a bit worse in the narrative department (it doesn’t have cutscenes, or any interpretations as to why the acid/lava level of the planet lowers after killing a certain number of metroids; which if nothing else is something the official Nintendo 3DS remake does address).  It’s also a longer game compared to Zero Mission. Well worth playing.

 

 

 

 

Super Metroid (SNES; 1994)

Rated: 3.5 / 5

The last Metroid is in captivity.

The galaxy is at peace.

This is it.  The all-time classic that is not only considered to be the best Metroid game to date, but also the game that set a whole new standard for gaming in general.  This, alongside Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, are originators of the term Metroidvania to define this style of exploration and upgrade and action play.  And to this day, neither has been surpassed, at least in terms of reputation.  And it took me a couple playthroughs to truly appreciate this game.

The first playthrough is a bit on the frustrating side.  Unlike Zero Mission, and unlike AM2R to an extent, this game doesn’t hold your hand in any way whatsoever once you land back on Zebes (Samus has a habit of returning to those planets in these games).  Why does she return to Zebes?  Well, because she brought that Metroid from the previous game to Federation scientists, who saw a way to get a new energy resource from the creature, only for the space pirates (and Ridley, who is back, again) to show up, steal it, blow up the station, and take the Metroid back to Zebes, where they have regrouped.  So, here we go again.

super metroid

That being said, it’s an interesting feeling, going to some of the locations on the planet, and seeing places that should be familiar to anyone who has played the first Metroid game (either the original or Zero Mission).  In particular, the room Mother Brain used to lie in. Nice little touches like that, making callbacks to previous games.

I shit you not, this is a real mod.

The one thing this game absolutely nails is atmosphere.  From the look of the levels themselves, to the background music, the sound of the environment, the creatures.  It’s about as immersive as a Super Nintendo game can get.

And this may be older than those two previously mentioned remakes, but the graphic design is more endearing here.  Nothing really beats true 16-bit graphics, when sprites were at their best, and capable of delivering anything a 2D experience can muster.  The only thing limiting their capacity was RAM speed, how many sprites in motion they could have at a time.  And unfortunately, there are times when it shows in this game.  When action gets too hectic, there is some slowdown.  It’s minor, and does not happen often (only like 3 times throughout an entire playthrough), but it does show that the SNES was nearing its limits with this game.  While as the Sega Genesis could handle all those sprites at once, but lacked the storage capacity for it all.  Bottom line, from a graphics standpoint, it holds up well today, and is perfectly playable as-is.

Not in the game.

That being said, there is one aspect of this game that annoys the ever-loving shit out of me, mainly at two points in the game.  The wall jump.  While this is a nice mechanism, it is designed so that you need skill to pull off the longer jumps.  By skill, that means timing these button presses to less than half of a split second.  You can eventually get used to it when you figure it out, maybe even last 2-3 jumps.  But anything more than that, it could make you break the controller.  Probably why all the other Metroid games I’ve played didn’t force you to utilize this as heavily, even for finding/acquiring the optional upgrades.  Also the in-air jumping can get a bit tricky at times (more tricky than the two previously mentioned remakes).  Nowhere near as tricky as the wall jump, but there are a few times where you will want to do an in-air jump, but can’t, because you missed some timing mechanism that seems to not work when it feels like it for just that one moment.

That aside, the open-worldness of it all is refreshing, allowing you to progress at your own pace and leisure.  Even the backtracking becomes interesting, because aside from attempting to find hidden secrets along the way (thus more missile/energy upgrades), you may also find alternative routes to the destination you wish to get to.  And the more upgrades you get, the more paths that open up, increasing the speed at which you can go from one area to another.  And the game was also designed with both the average gamer, and hardcore gamer in mind.  While an average gamer can eventually beat the game (it’s not too difficult, it’s just a matter of knowing where to go, where to get object A to get to boss B, etc.; the bosses themselves are challenging, but not too challenging; Ridley is the hardest), the hardcore gamer can utilize wall-jumping skills and knowledge of areas from prior plays to gain access to certain upgrades out of a sort of intended order.  Thus bending the game to their will.  It also puts you more into Samus’ shoes in a subtle way.  She can do things her way, and not necessarily at the behest of someone else (she doesn’t like taking orders, as she will state in another game).  And that’s part of the game’s appeal, it’s intended design.  You aren’t playing Samus, you are Samus, in this game.  You are given enough freedom to have that feeling.  Not many games can match this one on a subtle level, and many that have tried have failed.

It’s not just the sound effects, the graphics, the music, the pacing, or the gameplay.  It’s how they all mesh together, and how the levels are masterfully designed.  Level design has proven time and time again to be the biggest factor for a game’s longevity, especially in the 2D realm.  Which is the biggest reason why this game holds up so well.  Plus the subtle plot progression indications, when you take in the details of each section of the planet.  The bodies, the pirates, the creatures, the damaged structures, how so much is deeper underground than you’ve ever been on the planet before.  And the fate of the last metroid in captivity, and its relation to you, and what you are to make of Samus herself as a character.

And this seems like a good place to end the franchise.  On a high note, with the best game it has produced, with some closure regarding the Metroids and the Pirates (I guess, even though they seem to re-appear about as often as Bowser does in the Mario games, and Ganon in the Zelda games).  But it seems like a fitting end to it all, even if it does have the typical, “See you next mission!” ending.

And yes, it has the typical rewarding 100% ending bonus.

But then again, no franchise ever seems to end on a high note, because it always has to get milked for that one more cash cow.

 

 

Metroid Fusion (Game Boy Advanced; 2002)

Rated: 2.5 / 5

Also known as Metroid 4.  Currently the last Metroid game made progression the story that the first game setup (not including the Metroid Prime series which take place between games 1 and 2, and I sure as shit am not including Metroid: Other M, which is a prequel anyway, and that prequel is reviled by just about everyone).  And compared to the previous games that came before it (literally all of them, even the originals), it is a disgrace.  It’s a disgrace because it does the biggest no-no any true game worth its salt would never do.  It holds your hand and guides you to locations, and intentionally restricts you from deviating from this set path.  Any attempt to try causes you to meet a wall you can’t blast through, climb over, roll under, or find a work-around.  Super Metroid allowed for this, Metroid: Zero Mission also allows for this to an extent.  AM2R, well, not really, you’re on a set path with that game.  But it’s nowhere near as restricted as this game, if nothing else than due to rooms and map sizes so small they feel claustrophobic compared to the other games.

And on top of that, it really shoves the story into your face, and lets you read Samus’ internal monologue, and her verbal statements.  Which is stupid.  Some of the mysterious aura around her character is lost.  And it results in a storyline that, while it does have potential, isn’t executed very well.  It also results in gameplay that gets irritating.

For example, you have to check in to these computer rooms at regular intervals for guidance as to your next objective.  There’s no getting around this.  You have to do it.  To force the plot to progress.  This game is the most story-focused Metroid game yet, and it feels so non-Metroid.  It also results in a game that isn’t as fun to play.

And that’s just from a pacing perspective.  From a level design perspective, when you are allowed to explore the small spaces you are given, the way you go through them is very fucking irritating.  The subtle issues reviewers like Viscount warned us about in Zero Mission, they are amplified here, to the extreme.  You have to utilize skills normally reserved for finding hidden missiles, or energy capsules, or power bombs, to progress to certain areas.  You are forced to bomb certain areas to find places to get to.  This is not good level design.  You aren’t allowed to progress at a leisurely pace (at least as leisurely as a standard Metroid game would normally allow) through this.  You have to make an extra effort to seek out that one tiny hidden space to roll through or blast through, to get through the regular game.  When a good portion of the areas are like this, I couldn’t give two shits about looking for the secrets at that point.  Such an infuriating design choice, it made me glad when I got through this fucking thing.

As for the bosses, they are a decent challenge, but some of them are the most difficult I’ve faced in the entire franchise up to this point.  Especially stalker Samus (your evil clone), until you figure out the easier way to beat her (which makes you realize the programming for that boss isn’t anywhere near as intelligent as the designers believed, considering all the platforms and jumping they expected you to do, when you can just stick to the ground).  And Ridley is a complete joke in this game in terms of difficulty.

The main thing this game has going for it is the story, since it puts so much emphasis on it.  And it had potential, but like I said, the execution was poor.  Ideas of uploading past leaders’ personalities into a computer program to make them think and act in a certain way towards a certain goal.  Samus becoming infected and weakened as a consequence to her past actions involving the genocide of the metroid species (and how those consequences threaten to be felt throughout the galaxy).  How the Federation may not be as peaceful and transparent as they seem.  Facing yourself.  How the caring unselfish actions of the past can also come back to help you in the present.  It just needed a better game to be placed into.  There is a mod that I last heard was being worked on in 2016 called Metroid Fusion XEROX, but I haven’t heard anything about it being completed.

But I don’t know, maybe I’m just being too picky about this game, and not appreciating the better aspects of it.  Sure the game tried to be like Super Metroid while also being linear at the same time.  Sure the level design isn’t as good.  Sure you can’t skip over the story moments and are forced to sit through them each playthrough.  But the story has its moments.  It took the story in an interesting direction that isn’t entirely without merit.  The gameplay is still there and fun and as challenging as ever.  It’s just getting over all those other irritations that’s the issue.  Still though, the Adam twist was a bit of an eyeroll.  Like a, “Oh, how convenient,” type moment.  That being said, there is a way to make it work better I’m sure.  After all, the best bounty hunter in the world should be trained by the best.  On the other hand, that brings into question how she was able to maintain her secret identity for so long.  If you’re going to focus on the plot so heavily, I’m going to focus more heavily on the flaws it presents.

Your boobs are too big, they’re trying to distract me from your horns, and you’re going to have back problems later on.

So giving it the benefit of the doubt that, that it will have enough of an enjoyment factor upon a revisit (which won’t happen for a long while), I’ll give it a 2.5 / 5, which is currently being generous.

 

 

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