Top 100 Retro Games: Metroid

Nintendo Entertainment System

I did not own Metroid myself, but I played it a lot at friend’s houses. At least a few of them owned it, so I was able to watch them play and then borrow it to finish myself. It was a complicated game that needed to be mapped, which thankfully a friend had done….we had to sneak copies at school for me…and had a hard sci-fi aesthetic that was complex and interesting.

Despite the game being great, I don’t remember going back to it really. The gender reveal at the end was discussed sometimes, but more of like “oh, that’s cool!” than the kind of discourse you would get today. Can you imagine if a HALO game ended with a reveal like that?

Actually, that would rule, but we know what else would happen as well.

In the late nineties I revisited the game after buying it as part of a lot on eBay. I wished I still had those old maps, and got frustrated by it. I quickly moved onto something else without thinking it through too much and didn’t think about the game often until the “Metroidvania” debate began in online circles.

We have not covered Metroid much on the podcast previously. I’m sure it has come up in relation to another game, but general not much. I did stream the game once or twice last year.

So the plot of Metroid goes something like this: Space pirates have seized Metroids from a research vessel. Bounty hunter Samus Aran must come to stop them before they weaponize the Metoids as a biological agent to take over the galaxy. But there is more to Samus than meets the eye.

Metroid was already out before Nintendo Power began, but they come back around to it as an “NES Classic” in the July 1991 issue. This is a pretty cool idea to cover older games from before their time, but I also realized as I looked through that issue and the next few that it was also a fairly conveniently timed to be used as promotion for the upcoming Metroid game on the Gameboy. Huh.

Nevertheless, it is a guide for the game on par with Nintendo Power’s standard coverage for new games, which is often fairly extensive. The hand drawn images all around the guide are very cool too.

For the record, Metroid is also in the first issue of Nintendo Power. A letter comes in talking about what a great game Metroid was. You ever wonder if some of those letters were shoots or works? Yeah, same. Real “Mr. Burns, your campaign seems to have the momentum of a runaway freight train. Why are you so popular?”… vibe to some questions in early issues.

By the way how do you already get letters for your first issue?

In more recent years, Metroid made it into Retro Gamer’s top 10 games on the NES list published in 2014 alongside other games we have featured like Super Mario Brothers, River City Ransom, Mega Man 2, and The Legend of Zelda.

The cover for Metroid is one of the original classic grey covers for the NES with Samus shooting at the enemy across the screen. It’s mentioned as being part of the “adventure series.” I never bought a game because it was part of one of those early Nintendo game categories, but I still thought it was pretty cool. Someone in my neighborhood had a big poster of this cover on their wall when we were in middle school.

Metroid has been reissued a number of times, but surprisingly, it was not re-released for the Super Nintendo. How cool would a Super Mario All Stars style revamp have been for this game? It was a bonus or unlockable game in various Metroid games on Gamecube and the Gameboy Advance. The Wii and 3DS Virtual Consoles also offered the game, as well as the NES Classic. There was also Metroid: Zero Mission on the Gameboy Advance.

For purposes of this article, I played the game via the Switch Online service for the Nintendo Entertainment System.

Here is the thing about Metroid. This is a good game. It is a classic. But there are some problems. I think the biggest problem it faces is the obvious comparisons with Super Metroid, which is fairly definitely considered to be a better game and a genre defining game. As I replayed Metroid I often thought “this is much better in Super Metroid.”

I think Metroid is a good game, but it’s also an imperfect game. I think a lot about my frustrations with games like Castlevania II and Mega Man while playing this game. It shares a lot of the negative, but also positive, attributes of both games.

You can see the template, like in Mega Man and Simon’s Quest, for what is to come next. Metroid has a fairly open map that needs to be traversed multiple times. Samus is there, and so are many of the tropes of the series. It’s just a bit rough in some places. I was glad I used the ROM hack that Nintendo gives you on the Switch Classic, so I could just wander around and have some fun with the game.

I think the biggest problem with Metroid, like the first Mega Man game, is all the slowdown. This plagues a bunch of games in this era, of course, but it’s terrible in this game. I found this to be especially apparent near the end of the game in the rush towards Mother Brain. There is so much going on all over the screen as Samus tries to maneuver through various screens, and it’s incredibly frustrating in a very not fun way. Remember, one of our big rules at Giraffe Feels is that games must be fun! The ending phase of this game ended up feeling like chores this time around.

In general, the slowdown is what harms the game the most. Weapon switching is not implemented well in this game either, but that will come in games later in the series. Going back to play this era of NES games, you experience plenty of interesting button choices. The limitation of a two button system harm it a bit, but the fact that they did so much with it anyway is spectacular.

But then, SURPRISE, it turns out Samus is a woman! Gasp! At the time, this was met with an “oh, cool,” from my friends and me. We were just a bit too young, slightly, to understand the sociopolitical issues connected to it. Years later when Super Metroid came out, I understood a bit more how cool and groundbreaking this was and, yeah, a certain nagging feeling regarding why exactly were there so many princesses and so few Samus Aran’s…

Nonetheless, like I said earlier, the template is there. You can see what is going to come in Super Metroid, other Metroidvania style games in this era, and then, of course, Symphony of the Night. You see it expressed in modern games like Axiom Verge, Aggellos, and Ghost Song.

While not my favorite, Metroid is a massive piece of the puzzle here. It’s influence, nearly 35 years later, is still felt today.

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