This game, more than any other, makes me wish I owned an SNES as a kid. I adored the original Metroid growing up and this game would have been amazing to 10 year old me. More so than Donkey Kong Country, Street Fighter II (hey that was cool in 1994!), Mario Kart, or even Super Mario World, Super Metroid would have enthralled me as a child. But alas, an SNES was not in the cards for young Ryan, and so this one passed me by until college when I figured out what emulators were. I think it’s very telling that a game I didn’t even play until about a decade after its release managed to immediately catapult itself to become one of my favorite games I’ve ever played on any system. I’ll do my best to be unbiased here, but damn is this review going to be hard.
Super Metroid was released for the Super Nintendo in 1994 and was the 3rd game in the franchise following the original NES Metroid and the Game Boy Metroid II: Return of Samus. Released partway through the life-cycle of the SNES, Super Metroid received near universal critical acclaim and is today regarded as one of the finest video games ever made. Having been re-released on both the Wii and now the Wii U virtual consoles, Super Metroid is once again readily finding its way into gamer’s hands, and as of this writing, is only $0.30 to download. Filled with fabulous environments, tight controls, and great gameplay, Super Metroid is a game that shouldn’t be missed by anyone. Super Metroid takes place chronologically after Metroid II: Return of Samus, which had Samus systematically eliminating all the Metroids on their home world of SR388. At the very end of her xenocide, however, a baby Metroid hatches in front of Samus and imprints onto her. With the baby Metroid confusing Samus for its mother, Samus is unable to snuff out the little sucker, so she brings it back to a science station on Ceres where it will be studied by Galactic Federation scientists. Immediately upon leaving, however, Samus receives a distress call from the station. Upon returning, she finds nothing but the dead bodies of the scientists and walks in just in time to see Ridley steal the Metroid larva. After escaping Ridley and the exploding station, Samus pursues the Space Pirates to their old home base of Zebes, where she sets out to find the stolen Metroid. Along the way, she faces 4 bosses along with a host of smaller minibosses, and eventually wind up in an epic confrontation with Mother Brain.
Super Metroid takes the good ideas from both of the previous games and melds them together to create a phenomenal experience. Similarly to the original 8-bit entry, Super Metroid starts you out with nothing except your default suit and your arm cannon. The opening space station sequence along with the first 15 or so minutes on Zebes are very linear and are designed to introduce the player to the basic rule set of Super Metroid. Samus initially ventures through the ruins of Tourian and into the exact part of Brinstar where the original Metroid started out. This provides a great feeling of nostalgia along with a hint of comfort; players familiar with Metroid feel right at home, while new players are introduced to core game mechanics in a safe, enemy free environment. Once the Morph Ball (Maru Mari), Bombs, and the first Missile expansion are acquired, the game world opens up very quickly, but in a manner that never seems overwhelming (although, certain MiiVerse players certainly have had problems).
While most previous items are retained (thankfully you start with a Long Beam), Super Metroid introduces a host of new abilities, including Super Missiles, Power Bombs, the Space Jump, and the Gravity Suit. The addition of Super Missiles and Power Bombs work much like the normal missiles and bombs – serving as ‘keys’ that can be used to control access to certain areas but also providing very serious amounts of firepower. The grapple beam is also introduced, which further serves to gate access to some areas, at least until the Space Jump is acquired which allows unlimited jumping in midair. Super Metroid uses these different tools to very seamlessly control access to different parts of the game in an organic fashion and perfects the formula set out in the original game. Exploration yields new items, which allow access to previously un-explored and restricted areas. Another great change is that unlike the original Metroid, different beam upgrades are not mutually exclusive, allowing the player to have the benefits of the Ice Beam, Wave Beam, and Plasma Beam all at the same time. This is a great addition, and allows you to never have to make a decision between different armaments.
Compared to its predecessors, Super Metroid’s world is massive. Gameplay takes place across different main zones, including some familiar ones like Brinstar and Norfair. The different zones all provide a very different feel, and each has a distinct musical score to provide an immersive environment. While the different zones are large, the player is never overly lost. Maridia is a little overwhelming at times, and has some unfortunate one-way gating in it, but otherwise the world of Zebes is incredibly well constructed. Certain areas require a little bit of experimentation to get through, especially when it comes to finding destructible walls before the X-Ray Scope is acquired, but overall the player should be able to get through without too much pain. There is just enough challenge to provide a sense of accomplishment without leading to frustration. While the world of Zebes is large and convoluted, Super Metroid graciously provides a mapping function that allows the player to better keep track of their location than the previous entries in the series. In addition, Super Metroid also includes the save feature of Metroid II rather than the horrendous password system of the original NES game – this is great for non-speed run playthroughs which will take place across multiple play sessions.
Just like the original, Super Metroid gates your access to Tourian and the end of the game until all the bosses of Zebes have been conquered. In the order you fight them, they are Kraid, Phantoom, Draygon, and Ridley. Defeating each of them allows access through a statue room in Crateria, which opens the way into the depths of Tourian. Similarly to Metroid, Tourian is the only place where you will encounter true Metroids that require being frozen and then assaulted with a barrage of 5 missiles. Metroid are found earlier in the game, but they are degenerative clones produced by the Space Pirates, and can be destroyed as easily as any other enemy.
The battle through Tourian culminates in a confrontation with Mother Brain. It originally shapes up to be much like the end battle of Metroid (however significantly easier), but after Mother Brain initially appears defeated, she rises again with a massive cybernetic exoskeleton. This fight is incredibly slanted against Samus, and eventually Mother Brain will unleash a gigantic mind laser at Samus, draining all her items and a significant chunk of energy. Eventually, Samus will get to the point where her energy is completely drained, and defeat is imminent. When all appears lost, the Metroid that you rescued in Metroid II rushes in to protect its mother (you). The (giant) Metroid viciously attacks Mother Brain, dealing immense amounts of damage. Once Mother Brain is subdued, the Metroid returns its energy to you, before ultimately being killed by Mother Brain. It’s sacrifice is not for naught, however, as the death of the Metroid imbues Samus with its power, and grants her the Hyper Beam – an incredibly powerful weapon that can take Mother Brain down. Once Mother Brain is truly defeated, the typical Metroid self-destruct sequence is started, and Samus must escape Zebes before the entire planet explodes. This entire ending is incredibly well played out, and the inclusion of the rescued Metroid and its sacrifice is a very touching and poignant addition.
Another feature that makes Super Metroid great is its replayability. Similarly to the previous games, Super Metroid tracks the amount of time it takes to complete the game and provides different endings (involving less and less clothing) depending on the completion time. This provides incentive for players to try to strive to beat their previous best times, and in fact, Super Metroid is probably the subject of more speed run videos on the internet than any other game. Players can also return to strive for 100% item completion – which is no small feat without a guide; some of the items are incredibly well hidden. Super Metroid is not without its flaws, however they are very few and far between. My major annoyance revolves around the timing required for wall jumping – it is ever so slightly different than that employed in most modern games (Mario, Super Smash Brothers), and it definitely took some getting used to before I was able to pull it off reliably. Similarly, the Space Jump is a little tricky to pull off sometimes, as I would somewhat regularly find myself falling despite mashing the jump button at a regular interval. These are really the only control issues to speak of – everything else is very tight and well executed. It is a testament to how expertly designed Super Metroid is that these are the only complaints I can really come up with. Despite these small flaws, Super Metroid still comes across as a phenomenal experience.
Gameplay: Super Metroid features probably the best 2D adventure gaming to be found. Fixing pretty much every issue from the previous entries in the series, Super Metroid is a amazing integration of everything you could hope for in the adventure genre. A huge, non-linear world to explore, fantastic environments, and rock solid mechanics.
Graphics: The graphics here are some of the best to be found for 2D sprites and levels. The environments are compelling and engrossing, while the enemies are varied and appropriate to their locale. The bosses are large (especially Kraid, who spans two full screens) and well detailed. Super Metroid is a pinnacle of graphics on the SNES.
Sound: The score to Super Metroid is truly great and makes excellent usage of the sound hardware in the SNES. Musical tracks are varied and incredibly fitting to their environments, while sounds effects are spot on and expertly put together.
Nostalgia X-Factor: I have played through Super Metroid numerous times as an adult, but I never experienced it as a child – only the original Metroid (never owned an SNES until recently).
Worth Playing? Stop what you’re doing and play it right now! If you’re one of the approximately 30 people who have purchased a Wii U, you can even pick it up on the Virtual Console for $0.30, so you really have no excuse! This game is so great, however, I recommend owning it on the original cartridge if collections are your thing.