Thoughts on Super Metroid

In case it was not apparent enough by the five Metroid-related posts since April and the multiple statements of Metroid being my favorite game franchise ever, Metroid is my favorite game franchise ever. Despite this, there always remained a sort of lingering absurdity with this claim. Prior to the other night, I had never finished what many consider the series’ magnum opus: Super Metroid.

Note the “finished” wording in the prior sentence. Prior to recently, I had actually attempted to play through the game via emulator with an off-brand SNES controller. The controls were floaty and occasionally unresponsive, and I could never get the hang of the game’s expectations. Such events soiled the initial impressions I got from it—not being able to defeat Phantoon didn’t help matters, either.

Hot off the heels of Dread, my desire to play through not just Super, but pretty much every Metroid title ever (including the pinball game; would not recommend) has skyrocketed to levels unlike anything felt in my adult life. Thus, on a whim, I booted up the subject of today’s post on the Switch Online SNES library and just went to work. It was here I learned that my first go at the fan-proclaimed masterpiece detracted me from something appropriately beloved.

Let’s Start With Something Irrelevent

Lately I’ve noticed that my reviews for things, in particular games and anime, have started becoming rather rigid. Maybe readers will disagree, but I’ve found that I adhere to some subconscious desire to organize my thoughts in categories. First, talk about the story, and then the gameplay, and then the graphics, and so forth. While this may make my posts more accessible, I end up believing they could be more… to my standards, I suppose.

Okay, okay; we’re getting there!

Such is why, starting with this post, I’ll try to simply go with the flow. No necessity to speak on the “basics” of covering the major components of a subject. I’ll just talk about the things that I believe are worth mentioning and let my hands “glide,” so to speak. What comes out comes out, and if I think other things are worth mentioning, I will.

A Little More Personal History

Unless you’re new to the gaming world, Super Metroid has quite the reputation. Renowned for establishing the formula for the “metroidvania” subgenre, along with Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. The precedent that all other Metroid games are held to, at least when it comes to supplying a nonlinear adventure. For a long while, I believed it to be incredibly overrated.

I knew of the fame the title held among fans, and to some extent that prevented me from wishing to dive in. Hipster Syndrome—it affects the best of us. Still, playing it for the first time, I wasn’t too keen on it, having been so adjusted to the tight controls of games that came afterwards. Fusion, Zero Mission, and even AM2R all have a much smoother, more responsive control scheme that I adore. Super Metroid, by comparison, was “weird.”

Turns out, when you stop being such a stickler for what you’re used to, you end up becoming more open to change.

Enough farming. Let’s get into it.

Actual Review

There is a lot said about the nonlinearity of Super Metroid. Speedrunners adore it, fans adore it; such is the number-one factor to its radical success, at least it seems so. Once one acquires super missiles near the beginning of the game, getting any assortment of power-ups is possible, though some are far more difficult than others. Replaying the game is practically guaranteed to be slightly different from the prior attempt.

For a time, this didn’t entice me. Even now, it doesn’t matter. Metroid can be as linear as it wants to be and still be brilliant—I love Fusion, and that’s often criticized for being too linear. So to constantly hear about how Super Metroid‘s nonlinear structure and design is part of its lasting appeal, I scoffed at it. Great, but it’s still an older game with floaty controls and weird inputs. Just because it’s nonlinear, suddenly it’s a masterpiece? Hardly.

Then an amazing thing happened: I rid myself of all expectations. When the mood came, I just played the game via the Switch’s SNES library and had fun. In time, the controls became comfortable enough (with some leniency provided to its age); the thrill of acquiring items in a random order is, admittedly, very thrilling; most of all, having knowledgeable insight into the Metroid series made this all the easier to exploit and immerse myself in.

Kraid is legitimately one of my favorite Metroid baddies.

I’m willing to admit (as I have before) that I was a stupid idiot caught up in being contrarian for the sake of it. That the quality of a game couldn’t possibly be defined by one central thing, no matter how well-implemented. All the more erroneous given I barely understood, having played the game minimally and with a haphazardous controller. Not until really going in with an openness to see what the game provided did it become clear.

Super Metroid is really good. Really, really good. But its superb quality probably wouldn’t have been so clear to me without knowing what came before. Playing this through in full has only convinced me that this shouldn’t be what players start with in the Metroid franchise. It’s perhaps too dense, too vague, too open for first-time players—not that they couldn’t figure it out, but I don’t think they’d really grasp what it did for the series.

When playing this again, I immediately went to the walls. Wall-jumping, specifically, it’s a staple of the series that makes sequence-breaking all the easier. Knowing to shoot every wall, investigate every corner, and various pro strategies against bosses, I was well-adjusted for a relatively smooth journey. And because my experience helped boost me, I was able to (mostly) avoid the struggles of running around aimlessly and trying to find progression.

Taking a ride on the wild side.

Put in a vague way, it’s everything Metroid is without any blatant hand-holding. Most modern games have at least some measure of accessibility that eases one into the experience, or at least points one in the direction they need to go. Super Metroid is almost totally hand-off. It is, by pure definition, an adventure, with no dialogue (past the opening cutscenes), very few cutscenes, and an always-changing line of acquirable items.

How effortlessly this is conveyed in most facets, too. In particular, the soundtrack and sound design—the latter being especially crunchy given the hardware. In a weird way, though, it kind of works regardless. The beam shots, the low rumbles of explosions, the jingle that plays upon collecting pick-ups; there’s a sort of… fish bowl effect to its quality that furthers the essence of isolation. How menial everything else is relative to the planet’s enormous size.

With ambiance in game soundtracks, I’ve always been kind of torn. More than anything, I like when something fits the nature of its story or overall atmosphere, though I can’t help but want to listen to music that is also very “boppy.” A lot of the time, games either go too far in either direction, but when it comes to search-action, it’s far more extreme on the “ambiance” side.

UwU? What’s this? O.o

Super Metroid does provide a more minimal soundtrack. Thankfully, and again unlike my first playthrough, I’ve found myself fond of its auditory beeps and boops this time around. Not my favorite soundtrack overall (Hello, Prime), yet it gets the point across.

Established classics were born and perfected from this soundtrack, including lower Norfair, Brinstar Red Soil, Samus’ Theme, and others. Brinstar Overgrown with Vegetation is another that (over)grew on me while playing. What plays during the final battle against Mother Brain has a climactic freneticism to it that remains timeless.

It’s not afraid to be quiet. Much of the soundtrack is simply built to sprinkle the gameplay rather than coat it. Again, more ambiance than anything, only there’s enough spunk to the rhythm of specific areas that enhance the high moments of stress. Overall, quite satisfying, and deserving of the praise it receives.

On the topic of stress…

When I think about it hard enough, Super Metroid is almost perfectly titled. Essentially, it’s a revamped, “perfected” Metroid—the debut title, not the franchise. Obvious continuation of the story aside, there are many similarities to the first game that return here: Defeating bosses (two returning) to access Tourian, intricate item-hunting secrets, basically zero help, exploring the same planet, Mother Brain as final boss followed by an escape sequence… Those are the big ones I can think of.

I’ll reiterate here that I think Zero Mission is a fine game, but too simplistic. Super Metroid ends up being a much more intriguing, more memorable, and more fun title that still feels within grasp of the “true” nature of Metroid‘s origins. Lost in an unfamiliar (familiar by this point) environment, taking advantage of one’s latent capabilities to explore and adapt to challenges further on. If this is your primary objective, there is no better example than this.

Though for as much as I semi-praise and fully praise the game, it was not a flawless trek. The controls on a Switch Pro Controller were far better than some off-brand knockoff SNES one—nevertheless, there is a learning curve. I adapted fairly quickly, though I’m vastly experienced in this franchise. Others will inevitably be somewhat turned off by how floaty Samus controls.

She will float all over this ship.

She can slingshot herself to great distances, so when it comes to precise platforming, it can be a hassle. Wall-jumping is another technique that takes some practice for rookies, as well as trying to figure out how best to use the run feature. A hill I will die on is that the tighter controls of games that came afterwards are superior. Regardless, with enough practice, it performs as well as a game of that era can.

Certain items are pretty fickle to use. Space Jump, for as fun as it is to simply jump around endlessly, is never consistent. Sometimes I get the timing down perfectly, other times I attempt to do the same thing and I lose the string after one jump. At one point, I just kept wall-jumping because it was an easier alternative for me. In other games, it’s flawless; here? Not at all.

Grapple Beam is another one. I almost don’t even wish to mention it because it’s bad in a sort of fun way. One can swing themselves to and fro recklessly and chaotically, which I’m fond of. But it’s also prone to not totally attaching itself to the platforms that it should, or just being out of reach when you really think it’s within range. Kind of like Space Jump, the foundation is there and it sometimes works; it’s just not perfect.

Just take the elevator. No jumping required.

Boss battles… are kind of mediocre. Kraid is a joke if you know how to manipulate him. Phantoon has a move that is borderline impossible to dodge. Draygon has a secret maneuver that makes her a breeze. Ridley you pump full of missiles / super missiles. Mother Brain you pump full of missiles / super missiles. Even sub-bosses don’t really prioritize any strategic method of defeat—just spam missiles.

Perhaps this is the result of being spoiled by more intricate boss battles that came afterwards (especially Dread). Perhaps I shouldn’t be so harsh on boss battles that are essentially much, much bigger enemies. Still, it’s a little too simple for my tastes. Draygon gets points for the secret method, because that’s clever. The others kind of make it all anticlimactic.

Reputation and legacy aside, there is something really unique about the way Super Metroid is. Nonlinearity, the atmosphere, the simple story, the crunchy soundbytes. It’s like a film from the time where all you needed was something that stuck to the basics and exceeded expectations in every capacity.

Oh, mother.

I’m really glad I took the time to try it out again, and now I’m somewhat enticed to play it again. Separating it into parts, the nonlinear structure isn’t everything, yet it’s so brilliantly developed that it ends up being the true highlight. One can almost literally never get stuck, there is always a way out of a situation, no matter what. It’s what ends up defining the game, and I’ve become a believer in the strength of its identity.

Magnificence is sometimes hard to recognize. It’s pretty clear with Super Metroid. While not without its age-related faults, it’s one of the best games of the SNES era and among the best games I’ve played in many years.

Final Score: 8.5/10

For more reviews on this topic, be sure to check out the associated archive.

All screenshots acquired from a playthrough by naswinger.

Thank you for your time. Have a great timezone.

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