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Super Metroid: 30th anniversary

Three decades ago Nintendo brought Metroid to the 16-bit era in splendorous fashion with Super Metroid. They took everything good about the original Metroid and improved, expanded, and fixed it. No game is perfect, but this one comes awfully close. It holds up brilliantly today.

Super Metroid follows the formula of the original, with a semi-open world divided into different sections. In many respects it feels like a remake, similar to what Nintendo did with The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. The "bounty hunter" Samus Aran returns to the planet Zebes and travels through Norfair, Brinstar, and Tourian, facing the Space Pirate bosses Ridley, Kraid, and Mother Brain. The maps are different, though a few sections from the original are deliberately recreated. In fact, at the very beginning of the game, Samus passes back through the escape shaft and original chamber in which she defeated Mother Brain the first time, only now things look eerily abandoned. Then she has to leave again with another countdown timer, only this time the screen is tilting back and forth thanks to the SNES's Mode 7 graphics! What a beginning!

The gameplay is the same as the NES version. It's action-exploration with light platforming. Samus can now run and crouch, as well as shoot her gun at upward and downward 45-degree angles. There are many things to figure out and discover, though no puzzles per se like you find in the Zelda series. The difficulty level is on the easy side, so your reflexes will not be overly tested. The game's story is confined to the beginning and ending, and it involves Ridley taking the baby Metroid that bonds with Samus at the end of Metroid II. I won't spoil the ending, as it's fun.

As Samus explores, she finds new weapons, energy (health) tanks, upgrades, and tools, some of which let her access new areas. (No explanation is given as to how she lost all her things again!) The morph ball returns, letting Samus (somehow) shrink into a ball, roll through tight spaces, and drop bombs that can destroy certain floors and walls. There are many new items to find and use as well. Super missiles and power bombs are great. In addition to being powerful attacks, these weapons gave the developers additional ways to gatekeep. Green doors (and certain blocks) can be opened only with super missiles, and likewise with orange doors and power bombs. I still remember the thrill of discovering a tube I had traveled through several times could be shattered with a power bomb, letting you explore the cavern through which it passed! Several other items also enable wayfinding: the grapple beam lets Samus swing across certain gaps. The speed booster allows Samus to move very fast and crash through walls and floors. There's also an advanced super jump ability (later dubbed "shinesparking") that lets her speed through the air and into ceilings. The most difficult-to-find secret areas require this technique. A cute roadrunner-type creature (called a dachora) teaches Samus how to do it.

With such a wide array of upgrades, the designers were able to create a larger, more detailed world. The game has six areas to explore, bigger and more secret-filled than the five of the first game. Two of the new ones offer something different: a chance to explore the surface of Zebes (a little) and find the abandoned wreck of a Space Pirate ship. Even more so than the original, Zebes feels like a truly alien world, with many varied environments and secret passages to explore. The familiar enemies, such as zoomer and ripper, return alongside many new ones. Even speedrunners need a full hour to get 100% item completion! It takes me nearly ten times that long. The programmers cleverly put exactly 100 item pickups into the game, so that your completion percentage is simply the number you have.

In addition to the wave, ice, and plasma beams from Metroid and the spazer from Metroid II, Samus can now acquire the charge beam, which lets her charge up her shot, and the powerful plasma beam. The varia suit returns, protecting Samus from hot areas in Norfair, alongside the new gravity suit, which lets her jump high even while underwater in Maridia. The powerful screw attack and high-jump boots from Metroid, as well as the space jump (air-jumping) from Metroid II, can also be found. Finally, the most unusual addition, unique to this game, is the x-ray scope. It lets Samus scan blocks, walls, floors, and ceilings to see if any can be removed and how.

Another massive improvement are the many, interesting, fun—and large—bosses. Kraid and Ridley return, and the game cleverly demonstrates the superiority of the SNES hardware. Before the real Kraid appears, Samus runs into a miniature Kraid that is the same size as he was in the NES game. The real Kraid takes up almost half the screen, but that's not the end of the story! After taking a few hits, Kraid grows to be two screens tall! The battle feels epic. The fight with Ridley is similarly impressive, and there are two new bosses as well: Draygon, a gigantic flying crustacean (?) and Phantoon, a floating ghostly cyclops head. There is a room with a statue of the four bosses, and each time one is beaten, its glowing eyes go out. Only after all four have been destroyed does a path open up to the final area, Tourian, and Mother Brain.

The quality-of-life updates in this game make it vastly more accessible than the original. Health drops are abundant, and there are even recharge stations. The game uses save stations instead of passwords. The biggest improvement is the map. The game does not offer explicit directions showing you where to go (the way the later GBA games would), but the addition of a map subscreen (press START) makes it much easier to find your way around. Each area of Zebes contains a room with a computer from which Samus can download the map (excluding the many secret areas). The map is divided using a square grid; once Samus enters a square, it changes from blue to pink on the map. This map makes a world of difference in encouraging exploration without the frustrating feelings that come with getting lost and wasting time. In this regard, the vast graphical improvement helps distinguish areas. Each area looks and feels different, with different enemies and visuals. The large size of the world may still cause you to forget how to get somewhere (for which you can simply check the map), but you likely won't get confused about which area Samus is in.

And the music! Like the original Metroid, the music is exceptional and eerie. The sound quality of the SNES is obviously much better. I have a lot of nostalgia for Super Metroid, but it's well justified. This game is universally acknowledged as an action-adventure, sci-fi classic. As a kid, I didn't fully appreciate how superior it was, but I sure did enjoy it! I've played it on my SNES (as a kid), Wii U, SNES Classic, New 3DS, and Switch!

I have now reviewed every single classic Metroid game except one! I never owned a Game Cube and eagerly await a modern remaster of Metroid Prime 2.

Grade: A+
Linked Reviews
"Engrossing atmosphere, tight controls, pure exploration, and gnarly bosses are just a few of the things that make this an unforgettable experience."
— Dave Letcavage, Nintendo Life, 10/10

"With flawless action, impeccable level design, out-of-this-world atmosphere, a totally badass heroine, and an enormous overworld to explore, few games can hope to reach its rung on the ladder of pure gaming bliss."
IGN, #3 of Top 100

"Borne aloft by superior design and a peerless heroine, it's truly amongst the most magnificent titles every conceived in 16-bits."
— Asheton Phinney, Ultimate Nintendo: Guide to the SNES Library, 5/5


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