“The last metroid is in captivity. The galaxy is at peace.”
This simple phrase is the first step of a wildly satisfying, epic journey in quite possibly the most perfect action and exploration video game ever made: Super Metroid.
Of all the games I’ve owned, rented, or played over the course of my 28 year existence, it ranks right up there with Chrono Trigger as a textbook example of gaming bliss.
In many people’s opinions, it could even be considered the definitively best video game experience ever created. You’re all well aware that my loyalty still lies with the aforementioned time-traveling RPG, but it’s only by a very narrow margin.
Let’s first take a moment to discuss the overall basis of the Metroid franchise’s Sci-Fi storyline.
You play as a blonde beautiful bad ass named Samus Aran, an intergalactic bounty hunter on the hunt for Space Pirates led by the monstrously powerful Mother Brain.
The Space Pirates themselves are in constant search of one of the galaxy’s most mysterious and powerful creatures, the Metroid, in order to harvest them for their own personal gain.
You see, the Metroids are seemingly simplistic, jellyfish-like floating blobs, but their ability to drain life and energy from living things makes them a hot commodity for power hungry space conquerors.
After defeating mother brain and her lackeys, traveling to the Metroid home world, and all but bringing around their complete extinction in the first two games of the series, Samus comes across the last Metroid egg. The egg hatches and, instead of attacking Samus, the Metroid regards her as a motherly figure and shows her an odd sort of squeaky affection.
As Super Metroid begins, Samus arrives at the Ceres Space Colony and delivers the newborn Metroid for scientific research. Unfortunately, everyone’s favorite purple space dragon, Ridley, attacks Ceres unexpectedly and steals the hatchling.
Samus escapes before the self-destruct mechanism goes off and travels to Zebes in pursuit of Ridley and the young Metroid. This explosive introduction set the stage for the fantastic world that was about to unfold.
Super Metroid accomplished an impressive feat for most sequels: it outdid, polished, and improved all aspects of the original Metroid games that made them so great in the first place. I guess that’s why the game was a whopping 24 megs in size, which was the biggest SNES game to date at its time of release.
These amazingly campy, memorable television ads for Super Metroid do a good job of expressing how awesome the game seemed before it was even released:
The first thing you notice about the game upon arriving on Zebes is just how dark and desolate the game’s world is. The way the lightning flashes in the background as the rain pelts off the side of Samus’ ship is really beautiful.
There are fiery chasms, claustrophobic metal corridors, underwater zones, slimy bubbled walls, and long-dead electronic industrial areas, to name a few.
The designers of this enigmatic, labyrinthine, eerily beautiful world knew how to make the planet seem alive and crawling with activity from the tiniest crawlspaces to the airy spaces above ground. The animations are beautifully fluid and the lighting and transparency effects are used masterfully to give gamers a real sense of how it would feel to explore all of these creepy caverns and tunnels.
There are so many more subtle details to love about this game, but I could never find enough words to do it any sort of justice, so I’ll just move on.
Aside from the visuals, the music also deserves a huge nod. As soon as you load the game, you’re greeted with ominous beeps and a creature’s screeching call punctuated by a room full of dead scientists, lab equipment, and futuristic computer consoles.
Right from the start, the game takes pleasure in introducing you to its bleak, technologically-advanced world through an array of multi-layered music and sound effects.
There’s the somewhat optimistic theme of the jungles of Brinstar, the dramatic boss theme that reminds me of a more intense version of the ghost house song from Super Mario World, and the hopelessly hollow drum beat of the wrecked ship.
There are many more tracks that deserve recognition, so I’d suggest you just listen to the whole soundtrack:
As you stumble haphazardly through the game, you start to get the hang of what you have to do to uncover secrets in the vast world of Zebes. You’re constantly turning into a morph ball and blowing up everything in sight to find hidden tiles and entrances that could be concealing a much-needed upgrade.
There are upgrades for your weaponry ranging from increasingly powerful bombs and missiles to a chargeable shot, a projectile that can go through walls, a beam that freezes enemies solid, and even a grappling hook.
There are also multiple suits that Samus can don with their own special abilities ranging from the ability to walk through hotter areas without taking damage and being able to jump efficiently under water.
The most enjoyable items, however, are the ones that upgrade Samus’ jumping ability, enabling her to access new areas out of order and find shortcuts.
There’s even a jump upgrade that damages enemies considerably as she spins through the air.
Additionally, some special abilities like the Shinespark are not mentioned in the instruction manual and you’ll have to find those out on your own.
It is with these upgrades that the fun of exploration really becomes apparent. You don’t want to stop playing as soon as you find something new.
Throughout the game, you’re reaching rooms that have doors you can’t get through or special blocks that you do not yet have the correct item to disintegrate.
You’re constantly making mental notes of all of these locations for future plundering and, each time you find a new item, you’re unable to resist the urge to try it out immediately and see what’s on the other side of that previously-inaccessible door.
Super Metroid is a mind-blowing experience and a shining masterpiece in the halls of video game history. The sights, the sounds and the gameplay all complement each other flawlessly and form a game that is both timeless and unforgettable. It can’t be described accurately or completely enough in words and, really, it’s just something you’ve got to experience for yourself.