At one point, Metroid was my favorite game series of all time. However, upon revisiting the series and its games in the past few years, the overall glamour and appeal to the series started to dwindle in my mind. That’s not to say that I feel the games are lacking in quality, but rather they aren’t nearly as enjoyable as I once felt in the past. One such example is Metroid: Zero Mission, a remake of the first game in the Metroid series, for the Game Boy Advance. The game is essentially an updated upgrade with some added features here and there, including spectacular graphics, added items and platforming mechanics, and a brand new ending sequence. To its credit, the game is very well made and has a lot to offer in its time-span, but that effort can only be appreciated by those willing to overlook the key flaws.
Right from the get-go, I’ll admit that I really don’t care for the original Metroid. Its lack of a map, lack of any coherent purpose, lack of rewardable upgrades, and lack of health replenishments makes the game exceedingly dull, confusing, and needlessly difficult. Almost by default, this makes Zero Mission, which has more of all of these lacking aspects, better in comparison. However, I feel the game doesn’t entirely do a good job of balancing out all of these factors.
Zero Mission is almost laughably short. People complain that indie games like Undertale and Shantae aren’t worth the price tag that the amount of actual gameplay provides the player. But putting this into perspective; the last time I finished Zero Mission, I finished it in two and a half hours, on the normal difficulty, with 74% item completion. Retail cost for this game back when it was released was $25-30, from what I recall. That’s ripe for some complaints. In a sense, this short time-span can make the game feel like nothing really happened, or that everything happened too quickly to fully be immersed in the gameplay. I think both things apply in this case, but I’d probably be more disappointed if I felt the gameplay was easy to be immersed in.
One issue with Zero Mission that I never seemed to notice as a child is that the gameplay isn’t entirely varied. Most of the time the player will be tasked with jumping on platforms and shooting enemies in a rotation-like fashion, along with running down a straight corridor blasting anything in your path. That’s the issue: shoot. Press B. B-B-B-B-B-B-B-B-B-B-B-B-B-B. That is, for the most part, all you really need to do to progress, to defeat the enemy, to achieve your goal. B-B-B-B-B-B-B-B-B-B-B-B-B. Or. (Hold R) B-B-B-B-B-B-B-B-B-B-B-B-B-B. This, in the long run, gets far too tedious for me to really enjoy past the first few areas. What makes this worse is that it is the most effective way of eliminating all threats. You can experiment with missiles, Morph Ball bombs, or other gadgets, but the quickest and most effective way of taking down a majority of enemies is the normal blaster (until the Screw Attack, which you get very late in the game). It works for Mega Man because his level design compliments what he is capable of doing, while with Metroid, it becomes more dull the more powerful you become.
Boss battles aren’t immune to this, either. Kraid is entertaining simply because it requires a condition in order to actually hurt him, along with the platforms in which you stand on eventually breaking the more damage Kraid takes. It takes a little skill to defeat him as quickly as possible. Ridley is a complete pushover, as all you need to do is aim at him and fire missiles. Mother Brain’s difficulty skyrockets due to a bunch of shit flying right at you as you tiptoe along a narrow block suspended over a lava pit. Otherwise, wait for Mother Brain’s eye to be exposed, then shoot missiles. Simple. Mecha Ridley, the last boss in the series, is essentially Mother Brain but with a different weak spot. Wait for it to be exposed, then shoot it with a missile. Simple. There are a number of mini-bosses scattered throughout the game, too, but they’re hardly worth mentioning. Most fall prey to the same “wait for weak spot to be exposed -> fire” method.
This issue, like the first, never bothered me much in the past, but does incredibly now. The game is far too easy. Not only is it easy, but it is intentionally made easy and player-friendly. Most common enemies can be taken out with a few shots or one or two missiles. Boss battles are little trouble at all. Missile and energy expansions are marked on the map. Chozo statues show you exactly where you need to go and heal you completely of energy and weapons. Dangerous and hidden areas are marked differently on the map. There are save stations fucking everywhere. And I was playing all of this on Normal difficulty. I’d hate to see how easy it was on Easy mode. I died once during my last run, and that was because of the bullshit that was Mother Brain’s boss fight. Otherwise, it was a breeze most of the way through. This easiness factor only heightens the repetitive and overall gray feeling that overtakes me when I play the game.
Just to rub salt in the wound, Ice Beam also makes the game about a hundred times easier. Depending on the strength of the enemy being fired at, the enemy will freeze over for about eight seconds after one to four shots. What easier way to defeat an enemy than to freeze it and continue to fire without any feedback? Ice Beam is also one of the first beam upgrades available in the game. B-B-B-B-B-B-B-B-B-B.
What I said above about balancing out this game in comparison to the original Metroid is most of the issues I have with Zero Mission. While the original game made it far too hard and vague, this game makes it far too easy and clear. It doesn’t have that sort of balance that makes traditional games in the Metroid series so fun to play. There’s little variety, little challenge, and little experimentation, only a watered down shoot ’em up with pretty visuals and designs. Thankfully, the game does try to some extent to make this game a little more juicy.
Some of the more memorable and fun aspects to Zero Mission are when the player is challenged to platform or complete specific tasks to progress further. Most of these challenges are done through breaking blocks in the structure of the area with various weapons or suit upgrades like the Speed Boost. Other times, it’s just trying to take advantage of timing the Morph Ball bombs correctly to boost the player to new heights. I will give the game credit for giving the player the ability to sequence-break, without having to resort to glitching. In a way, this may feel too “Mario-esque” in nature, but I rather like the platforming bits in this game. After all, Nintendo knows how to make a platformer. The Power Grip item, while making the platforming easier, also makes jumping from place to place feel more fluid.
There is actually one thing about Zero Mission I genuinely love, and that is infiltrating the Space Pirate frigate at the end of the game. Ironically enough, I hated this part in the past, only to rediscover how fun the entire section really is. Through means of story I don’t entirely wish to spoil, Samus ends up infiltrating a Space Pirate frigate without the aid of her Power Suit, showing the debut of her Zero Suit in-game. She has a single pistol that can do nothing but stun enemies once charged up. The only thing from her Power Suit she retains is the Power Grip, leaving her almost entirely defenseless. This part of the game is awesome. Everything that I complained about up to this point is now nil. Suddenly, the game is challenging, the game has some sense of fear. The game has you hide from the Space Pirates, requiring you to be stealthy and to be quick when the Pirates (inevitably) discover you. And you can’t fight back. The player’s only choice is to run; run and hide. It seems almost uncanny to praise a Metroid game for being anything like a Metroid game, but it works wonders here, and part of me wishes they’d flesh this concept into an entire game. Alas, it isn’t until <insert story plot here> that you’re able to regain your (now more powerful) Power Suit… and the game goes back to being rather easy and bland.
As much as I complain about the context, the game has a lot of effort put into it. The visual interpretation of the game, its environments, and its atmosphere are all very detailed. The music is atmospheric and chilling to a degree. I wouldn’t call it great, but certainly memorable. The visual aspect is also very noteworthy, as the smooth animation and crisp, colorful design of the game is magnificent and easy to appreciate. The backgrounds are interesting, the enemies are varied, and the bosses all look fantastic. It’s one of the best looking handheld games I’ve ever played and is always a pleasure to take in.
From a technical standpoint, the best thing about this game is the control. Samus controls about as tight and as accurately as she possibly could in a 2D side-scrolling game. I haven’t a single complaint about how the game handles or how it incorporates movement or button-specific scenarios. It’s almost so good that it only further proves my point about how dull it is. It feels so good that its effortless to traverse the area the way the player wants to, running and jumping and shooting all the while. This by no means implies that I think the control suffers from my subjective criticisms, but rather that it enhances my subjective criticisms. The game responds well enough to make the platforming, the preciseness of certain obstacles, and the overall experience far more enjoyable.
Putting everything aside, Metroid: Zero Mission is a game with a lot of heart, but simply doesn’t give me the same type of thrill while playing other titles in the series. A lot of the factors behind this are based on the decision-making of the developers when deciding how easy to make this game, along with its relative shortness. The argument many people have behind the rating of a game is how much fun they had while playing it. Well, I only had fun sporadically when playing this game, so by that account, the rating will suffer accordingly. However, I feel that the amount of effort put into all aspects of a video game are worth taking note of, and Zero Mission isn’t an entirely bad game; rather, it’s more good than bad. It’s just not really a game catered to my interests, as cold as that sounds to my younger, Metroid-loving self. I appreciate the effort and love put into it, but it’s wasted on the cracks that appear beneath the surface.
Final Score: 5.5/10
(All gameplay screenshots courtesy of SaikyoMog.)