Tuesday, May 26, 2009

VC Look: Super Metroid

Although we are all familiar with what is considered one of the greatest games of all time I would be lying if I told you I was worried about the game when it was first announced. I've already talked about the first Metroid which is at least in my opinion a fascinating experiment but really too poorly designed to be considered a great game. Metroid 2: Return of Samus evolved some aspects of the series but I thought it was simply too linear and the level design was much to bland. It also happened to grow quite repetitive since in order to progress you had to clear ever level of these Metroid mini-bosses. When Super Metroid was announced I was worried that without a clear direction to establish itself the series would be doomed to failure. Little did I know that Super Metroid would not only become one of the best games ever made but it would become the blue-print for all future Metroid titles.

Alright did anyone really believe all that? No when Super Metroid was announced I immediately hated myself for sticking with the Genesis and I very well nearly crapped my pants when I saw maybe three seconds of footage on a local news station. Though I was twelve or thirteen at the time I hadn't really developed a notion of what could be considered good game design(in fact it could be argued that I'm still trying to figure it out). Thus I loved both of the previous Metroid games.

So what can be said that hasn't already been said? Super Metroid follows the events of Metroid 2. Samus locates a Metroid larva and takes it to a research center for testing. Before Samus can take off to seek out a new bounty(which'll never happen, Poor Samus needs Metroid like Batman needs the Joker) the research center is attacked by Ridley and the larva is stolen. After a brief encounter and a harrowing escape Samus arrives back at Zebes(the planet where Metroid 1 took place) to find the larva and so on and whatever.

Super Metroid is perhaps one of the most important games in terms of telling a story. Outside of the intro there are no cutscenes, bits of text, dialogue, or anything the our medium is known for. The story practically tells itself through innovative usage of background elements. From the remains of the first encounter of Mother Brain to the discovery of the escaped Metroid larva every bit of the story is told simply through intelligent use of object placement. Though some elements are forced upon you can you can't progress until they're completed you are in full control throughout, giving an almost interactive element to the story-telling.

Controlling Samus is a bit troublesome at first. She's a bit floaty and isn't terribly good at dodging attacks. Thankfully this is made up for by her flexibility. While jumping and falling she can morph into a ball to become a smaller target, jump off of walls to reach out of reach areas, and gain an incredible assortment of power-ups that can be turned on or off at will. Her firepower has also increased dramatically over the past two games now that any weapons she picks up will combine into each other for increased strength. She also has access to a ton of hidden techniques(most of which are shown in the demos at the title screen).

All of Samus's tools may or may not be useful but thanks to the level design of this game players have more than enough opportunities to test out her many attributes. While the first games had fairly mediocre area design, Super Metroid blows them both away by linking all of the various worlds so that going between them is smooth and exploration is constantly rewarded with shortcuts and/or items. 

Many of the foes will be familiar to Metroid fans and what makes them interesting is how they're used to supplement the levels. Sometimes a hidden area will be given away by enemies crawling out of it, other times frozen enemies can jumped on to reach items. Very few of the foes that Samus encounters are actively out to kill her. It's a very impressive tool in developing the world.

While prior Metroid games have doled out better endings(better in that they showed more of the protagonist's skin at the end of the game....yeah) neither of them really made an effort to design a world that helps move things along. All of the best times in the original Metroid were gotten by only beating one of the bosses and leading an enemy into the room with the statues to freeze and get a boost to the entrance to Mother Brain's lair. While genius it is also rather game-breaking. To alleviate this Super Metroid makes it impossible to enter the final leg of the game without defeating a certain four bosses. To compensate a charge beam is available early on so even without missiles bosses can still be destroyed. So while one very large door was closed a ton of windows were opened. Gamers could play through the game normally and collect everything as they progress while others could attempt to go with getting as few items as necessary. It definitely helps that Super Metroid is a relatively short game and thus gives quite a bit of replay value for players seeking out new ways to complete the game.

Why would gamers want to play through the game so many times? Well it helps that this game is masterful in its execution. The Mechanics are top of the line and every bit of the game is sensible, creative, and most importantly open. The open-nature of Super Metroid is its' greatest strength as there are so many ways to go through the game. Most of the aliens Samus encounters can be rushed past, while others can be used to her advantage. Still by mastering a few techniques entire parts of Zebes can be ignored entirely(the grappling beam for example is entirely optional). Every part of Super Metroid is practically flawless.

Believe me if I could I would find something about this game that doesn't hold up well but it's simply one of the best games ever produced. The sequels on the other hand...we'll see about those at a later date.

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