Metroid: Zero Mission (2004)

This one was a long time coming, and I honestly can’t believe it took me this long to finally play through a Metroid game. Thanks to Metroid Dread coming out this year, I got tired of feeling left out in the cold and decided it was high time to play through Metroid. Little did I know that the famous Zero Suit Samus was from Zero Mission and Zero Mission was a remake of the original NES Metroid with some better graphics and added stuff to make the game feel more fully featured. I only learned this because of a info graphic online that gave the timeline and what games fell where in that time, and once I saw that I could feasibly go through the whole game series, I had my quest in my sights and was ready to begin.

I have tried to get into the Metroid series several times, I played the original a few times but never got more than a handful of minutes into it before becoming bored and frustrated by how different it was than what I was expecting. When I was younger, my friend Andrew would gush over Super Metroid, and when it came to the Wii U, I decided to try it again and see if I could get interested in it; but sadly I dropped it after only about an hour and a half. Needless to say, my experience with the Metroid series is long and storied, but there has always been something compelling about it, enough for me to finally sit down and play through it fully.

Metroid: Zero Mission has Samus retelling her first real mission about landing on Planet Zebes and encountering the Metroid species, along with Space Pirates as well. Having the game presented in Game Boy Advance graphics, a minor step down from Super Nintendo, it really helped get me into the game more, as when playing the original Metroid, it always bugged me how lame Samus looked in the original 8-Bit presentation. And while I can always look past older graphics, since 8-Bit is the generation I grew up with, it doesn’t look quite that great, especially with the limited color palette.

I will say that knowing the Metroid series was going to feature a lot of backtracking through places I’ve been before wasn’t as bad as I was fearing. It’s something that I learned last year, when playing through the Prince of Persia Trilogy, that I always made backtracking in games bigger in my mind than it really is. Metroid Zero Mission does a great job of keeping the traversal of sections limited to a couple of times going back and forth. Usually only if you want to go for a 100% run is backtracking semi-tedious.

The map provided with the new GBA release is not only a welcome addition, but again something that without it, I don’t know if I would have been able to complete. One of my biggest fantasies with games is the fact that I wish I could have a massive Indiana Jones gaming journal/notebook of sorts. Being able to chronicle my progress as I go through a game, but having to map out the entire game on my own seems like something that I would have never done as a kid, and having zero knowledge that is something that needs to be done has made getting into the series so hard for me over the years.

While I can’t give a detailed account of the differences between the original NES release and the Game Boy Advance remake, I can tell that Zero Mission does add certain things that are more than just a graphical overhaul. Samus’ entire moveset feels like it’s lifted more from the Super Nintendo version than anything from the first game. Things like the super sprint and high jump have some nice ghosting lines that trail behind her, that gives off the illusion of super speed. One of my favorites was the Power Grip, where Samus would grab onto a ledge and dangle one her legs down the side while the other was pressed against the wall, allowing her to clamber up the side. That single move and animation kicked my brain’s thought process to remind me of the feeling of exploring and movesets that I associate with the Tomb Raider series. And as soon as I started being able to grab onto ledges and pull myself up, I was completely hooked on the game.

The traversal never feels too boring and going from screen to screen is really fun, especially when you do unlock the maps for each area. I always have a blast knowing that I can go to another corner of the map to uncover and fill in a small section because I acquired a new power up that will allow me to access a new place I wasn’t able to get to two hours prior. Maybe it’s just my compulsion to fully complete smaller objectives, but it does give me a sense of purpose and fills my desire to seek more and explore every little nook and cranny that the game has.

But, at some point, I very rarely ever do achieve a 100% completion rate, since most games simply do not give you anything of value to spend so much more time doing tedious busy work. But map unlocks and clearing off a checklist satisfies a hunger in my brain that has been carved into my DNA. Zero Mission will give a gallery of new at the time pictures of Samus in various suits and poses, but at this point, a single google search will pull full image galleries that are better than anything you can view on the Game Boy Advance’s tiny pixelated screen. Plus, it’s just a couple pictures, hardly worth playing through the game several times for.

Finally being able to put visuals to infamous powerups like the Screw Attack (one of my favorite old gaming websites) or knowing what the level for Kraid’s music actually looks like really does fill me with utter joy as I traversed the weird alien planet. The few cutscenes scattered throughout pivotal story beats of the game, helped me understand the storyline and setting a bit more. While the NES original did have a booklet to give you a better understanding, that stuff is a bit harder to pay attention to with emulators and digital gaming. So it was nice to be able to see some explanation of what exactly was happening.

While certain things that happened in the game still don’t make complete sense to me, knowing that the weird crab like alien creatures are actually Space Pirates in their own fully creepy space ship, and Ridley who looks like a giant pterodactyl is actually a General of the Space Pirates and is Samus’ main rival gives me so much more understanding into the series and the characters that people recall all the time.

One of the biggest additions to Zero Mission, is the ending. Where the original game ends after the fight with Mother Brain, the game continues on and sees Samus escape Zebes and get shot down by Space Pirates and crash land on the Space Pirates home planet. Her power suit has been destroyed and she has to explore the ship of the Space Pirates to get her suit back and get off the planet.

This is where the Zero Suit actually comes into play, which I had totally forgotten that this is the game that originally featured the famous suit, and doesn’t even get featured until the last hour of gameplay.

The Zero Suit mission actually is really fun, as the beginning starts you off with a single pistol and no armor of any kind. All powers and abilities have been completely stripped away and you now have to sneak around for about half an hour trying not to get caught by laser grids, spotlights and Space Pirate lookouts. It’s a fair but tense part of the game, and does a lot to give the game a feeling that there is a lot of value from this little cartridge. Little by little Samus does eventually get back her powers and you become fully powered to the point where you feel near invisible… and it’s a blast.

I couldn’t be happier to have finally gotten a chance to play through this game, and am extremely grateful that Nintendo did in fact remake it with some much needed “Quality of Life” improvements. While I might have started out attempting to make my own map with the original NES game now, I am almost certain I would have lost steam and given up half way through. The randomness of the original game is too much to compete with, but the remake tweaks that randomness and gives a bit of a guiding hand, which still isn’t holding it like a toddler, but allowing you not to band your head against a wall for 3 hours randomly bombing every single wall and floor tile.

Metroid is a series that I now understand, thanks to games like Ori and the Blind Forest, and Hollow Knight, and the exploration aspects of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. And with the first game in the storyline beat, I can’t wait to go onto Metroid 2, which seems like I now have to figure if I want to play the Game Boy original version, the official remake of Metroid Returns on 3DS, or the fan made remake of AM2R which got taken down from the internet by Nintendo.