Super Metroid (1994)

Now that I have played through two full Metroid games, it was finally time to get to the one most hold up and not only the best Metroid, not only one of the best Super Nintendo games, but also one of the best games of all time period. Super Metroid has always been in the back of my mind as a game I’d love to play, but never was able to. I never owned it when it came out, I never really felt the need to play it either, as my friend Andrew was the one to beat it when we were younger as well. It’s always just eluded me and whenever someone brings it up as one of the greats in gaming… I was usually a bit puzzled as to why.

Super Metroid not only continued the story as the third game in the series, but also was a showcase for what the Super Nintendo was capable of back in 1994. Even with a bit of digital compressed spoken dialogue, and interspliced cutscenes of what happened in the first two games with the Super Metroid Engine. We see that Samus has given the scientists the little baby metroid that followed her out of the cave back in Metroid 2, Then subsequently have it taken by the evil Space Pirate Ridley, and having Samus chase him down and return to the original game’s planet Zebes to try and find the little metroid was interesting.

I’m of two minds when it comes to Super Metroid. First, the good. Like I said with the setup, the game is a showpiece for the Super Nintendo’s hardware. Within the first five minutes, Samus escape a self destructing base while the screen rocks back and forth with Mode 7 enabled, allowing the pixels to shift, scale and rotate. Each boss feels larger than life, and as a kid I imagine can be almost overwhelming to come into contact with something that massive on screen. Along with it’s solid gameplay elements like gating off areas until the player explores further to receive the right equipment and upgrade to progress, or the beautifully crafted underground cave system and eerily tense soundtrack to make one feel utterly alone. Super Metroid is definitely a game that deserves the praise that it gets.

Now… for the second part. Which is going to make a lot of people disregard anything I ever say again. And I encourage you to read to the end, because I believe I will make some fair statements that everyone could agree on. I really didn’t like my time with Super Metroid. I found the game bafflingly frustrating at almost every turn. And that has everything to do with how the game’s designed.

My progression of the game was halted on a moment by moment basis most of the time. And it comes with the fact of the time in which the game was made. Super Metroid was one of, if not the first game with a major integrated map system that the games in this genre are known for. With that first comes a lot of things that can and need to be improved on. One of my biggest issues was the fact that when looking at the map, there is no way to know if an area has a way to connect it to its neighboring screen. Pulling up the map in something like Zero Mission allows for you to know if you can go through an area and get to the next section, or if it’s a solid wall that you can’t pass through.

Couple that with the fact that if you are in a certain section of the map, in the map screen you can’t pop out to the larger area to see if you can get to Brinstar, or Norfair or Marida from where you currently are. Not knowing exactly where you are in the game creates a lot of wasted time with exploration, and the game itself is massive. Much larger than I initially thought it was going to be, and seeing people’s completion times of sub 3 hours for this game, I never understood it. I continually got lost so often that I am sure my real playtime is around 15+ hours (or it felt like it at least).

This is the issue that I think people will have a problem with. I found Super Metroid so complicated and hard to navigate that I can’t understand how anyone could like the game after playing it more than a couple hours. I don’t see how anyone could find their way through the game without the help of a physical guide, full blown map and internet playthough videos… until I actually watched a few videos after I completed the game.

Everyone loves Super Metroid. And it’s because they’ve beaten it tons of times. They know where all the power ups are, they know the bosses and their patterns… they know where to go because of repetition. The game does provide a scanning tool to be able to spot hidden blocks or passageways that you’d never know about unless you use the tool, or randomly bomb every single square block the game is compiled of. The scanner needs to be selected in the weapon selection menu at the top of the screen by pressing select, and if you have it selected, you can’t run, in fact you have to stop and slowly scan up and down and side to side on each block to hope you find something good… most of the time you won’t. And that slows down your progress and momentum to a standstill.

Every video I watched praising this game is made by someone who has memorized the game and it’s layout. They know every boss pattern by heart, they know every spot for each hidden block and know when you use special moves to even sequence break the game to get to areas before you are supposed to be able to get there. These are people who have spent hundreds of hours playing this game and that is just not how I operate. Even my favorite game of all time I’ve only beat 3 times in my life. Playing through this game blind and for the first time is the worst experience you can do. Because it takes time… much longer than I even wanted to give it after only a hour or two. I don’t have the time to devote to memorizing map and dungeon layouts, or lean when and where hidden blocks are, or scan every room I enter.

I really wish I took the time to create my own map as I played through the game like I thought of when playing AM2R, because it would have saved me many hours of backtracking for zero benefit. And this is what I think a lot of people did when they originally played it as kids, or at least bought a guide. I even have a Super Metroid Player’s Guide made by Nintendo on my Server that I tried using, but without having the physical copy in hand, it was pretty much worthless.

So here are my opinions on Super Metroid. It’s an incredible game, where the art style, the story, and it’s gameplay mechanics are welded together to create a video game that stands the test of time. However, certain choices to it’s map and design; be it because of technical limitations or because of the lack of foresight, makes new players, like myself struggle endlessly because they didn’t know where to go next, or how to get there. Simple changes to the game like marking doors on the map, or a more elegant scanning solution would solve almost all issues with the game. I still reserve the fact that hidden blocks are the devil’s work and should be abolished in all games. Hours of my life and my personal sanity would have been saved if I didn’t just bypass a hidden block because I was accidentally standing on it when I was scanning and didn't know it was there.

A final thought, is that while I really didn’t like my initial experience with Super Metroid (4th experience technically, I tried playing it several times and always dropped it once I got stuck and didn’t want to waste my time and further). I would like to replay the game in the near future to try and have a better experience now that I know what to do, and roughly where to go. Every time I was actually playing the game, and not stopped by getting stuck or not knowing where to go… I had an absolute blast. Playing with some quick notes on basic areas of where to go next when I get a new power up, or a more helpful map would elevate this game to a much higher spot in my gaming list. And since the series continues to improve with each release, I know the games will integrate some of these “Quality of Life” improvements and allow the game to be much less frustrating to explore.