Super Metroid Review

-Shawn Trautman

I have to start this review by saying that Metroid Prime is my favorite game of all time.  In terms of immersion, atmosphere, level design and pure weighty gameplay, I believe it is as close to perfection as I have ever seen in a videogame.  And while Metroid Prime is certainly loved, one of the main reasons I’ve heard people give it praise is that it is a near-perfect translation of what made Super Metroid so great, i.e., “Metroid Prime is like a 3-D Super Metroid!”  So, when I sat down to play Super Metroid, I was understandably excited at the idea of playing a 2-D Metroid Prime, and that may have colored my expectations a bit.  

Because Super Metroid is a great game, fantastic even, and at the time it was released, it probably blew everything else on the market away.  But in a world where Metroid Prime exists, I have a hard time putting this, as so many media outlets have done, at or near the level of “best game of all time.”

GAMEPLAY Super Metroid was released in 1994 for the SNES, the third game in the well-received Metroid series.  I suppose, technically, it is a “side-scrolling platformer,” although that genre doesn’t seem to quite fit when vertical movement is just as important as “side scrolling” and the platforming elements are de-emphasized in favor of exploration.  But this should come as no surprise - the Metroid games have always defied easy classification.

This game contains perhaps the purest form of the classic Metroid design (which we can see in Zelda and handheld Castlevania titles, among others) in which you explore a relatively open game world with certain inaccessible areas, then acquire a new item or ability (often by beating a boss) which gains you access to new areas, where you explore, gain new items, and so on.  It is an incredibly addictive and engaging play mechanic, not to mention a personal favorite of mine, and Super Metroid does it perfectly.  If you see something you don’t understand, an item or ledge you can’t reach, or something that’s out of place, you can be assured that later in the game you will have the skills and equipment necessary to figure it out. 

This is incredibly good design.  As a player, your intelligence is not being insulted, and you can be sure that absolutely everything is there for a reason.  And if you ever get stuck (which almost never happened to me), the answer is always able to be found with a bit of experimentation.

The pure exploration is also complimented with a bit of gunplay, boss fights and feats of platforming, and there lies my biggest complaint with the game - the controls.  The 16-bit era is known for really tight controls that just “feel” right.  They are usually precise and simple, and devoid of all the “floatiness” of the 32-bit era.  But the controls in Super Metroid were very disappointing. There seemed to be a slight delay when jumping, and jumping felt very slow and imprecise.  There are a number of abilities in the game (wall jumping, grapple beam jumping, and spin jumping) that are either poorly executed or poorly explained or both.  There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to when these things would decide to work, and in the (mercifully few) sections where they were required to progress, it was always a frustrating slog of trial-and-error that dragged the whole game down.

NARRATIVE -  Being an action game from the early 1990s, the story is fairly bare-bones.  The intro sequence gives you a brief overview of the series thus far, through a diary entry of sorts from lead character Samus Aran.  Samus explains how she defeated the evil Mother Brain in her scheme to use the parasitic lifeforms known as metroids to attack civilization, and how she then went to the metroid’s homeworld and eradicated the entire species, save one larva who followed Samus as though she were its mother.  After delivering the baby metroid to a lab for scientific study, the base was attacked by Mother Brain’s minions, leading Samus to go back to the planet Zebes to do battle with her and the Space Pirates once again.  Standard stuff, but it does the job of moving the game forward and providing context for the action.

PRESENTATION - I’ve said it time and time again - the two videogame art styles that hold up the best and never seem to age are cel-shading and 16-bit sprite art.  And Super Metroid is no exception.  The character and enemy sprites are very detailed and animate incredibly well.  The settings and backgrounds deserve special commendations, though.  There exists in this game an insane level of variety in setting.  From the rain-soaked outdoor starting environment to the underground corridors, lava floes, lush greenery, underwater caverns, and a spooky derelict space ship, every environment was meticulously crafted and just plain gorgeous.  At any given moment you can stop, look around, and notice some detail or artistic touch you might have otherwise missed.  A lot of care went into creating each of these worlds, in both the level design and art direction.

CONCLUSION -  I loved this game.  Superb level design, a workable plot, and a unified artistic vision all came together to make this an absolute must-play for fans of the series, fans of “metroidvania” style games in general, or just fans of unique older games.  But some nagging control issues, as well as later games having done similar things better, keep Super Metroid from breaking into my top ten.  Is it worthy of a playthrough?  Absolutely?  Is it worthy of the title “best game of all time”?  Not quite.


Super Metroid Trailer

Have you played Super Metroid? Is it in your top ten of all time?