GAMING GREATS #1: Super Metroid (1994)

Look up at the banner to the right, and who do you see? Samus Aran. She nearly missed my upcoming “Top 10 Most Bad-Ass Motherfuckers to Ever Step Foot on a Starship”. Like Commander Chakotay from Voyager. She’s up there in the top fuckin’ 3, and the reason she features so prominently in the banner, created by yours truly, is because of this very game (and later the Prime series).

If you were to hop on over to Game Rankings, you would see the following under Super Metroid:

Overall Rank: 15
SNES Rank: 1
1994 Games Rank: 1
1994 SNES Rank: 1

The best game of ’94, or in my opinion the best game on the SNES, is considered the 15th greatest ever made? But I can settle for 15th out of however many tens of thousands of games that exist today.

The sad fact is that alot of gamers these days are younger than me, and unlike just about every other title in the upper echelons of GR, Super Metroid is almost 20 years old. Older than most gamers of this generation, no doubt. I met a member of this group recently who had never seen the macho masterpiece Predator, so what hope does a relatively little-known game like Super Metroid have?

Remember Metroid was made at a time when there was no internet, or at least the net existed in a very different way, and advertising for a game like this was very low-key. No TV adverts, no worldwide marketing push like many other highly-rated games on GR (GTA4, Super Mario Galaxy and The Orange Box, for example). Just a few reviews in Nintendo magazines, which isn’t even how I came across the game in the first place. I borrowed it off a girl who lived across the street in exchange for another title I can’t recall. She couldn’t comprehend the value of the treasure she handed over to me that day, and at the time neither could I. To cut a long story short, I’ve still got her copy of Super Metroid…and now she’s a crack whore.

How does it play? 

So enough of what makes this game nostalgic to me, it’s time to convince you why it’s great. Unlike many releases of the time, bar a couple, and certainly dissimilar to platformers like Mario, Metroid had a dark tone, as well as a vibrant and bleak atmosphere to go with it. It was also the pioneer of open-world games; there were no levels or stages in Super Metroid, just one big, rich universe with endless puzzles, enemies to navigate and bosses to bust up.

The predominate structure behind Metroid has been copied many times, and re-jigged by many different developers into many different things over the years. But at its core, it was always the same: Find item A, which helps you access location B (Resident Evil springs to mind as the most successful child of this formula), and while this does not sound interesting on paper, those who have played RE1, 2 and 3 will know that it works very well in dark, atmospheric settings. Although it’s worth mentioning that Super Metroid has far more powerups, puzzles, items and enemies than Resident Evil.

What’s it sound like? 

You might think that a section critiquing the audio of a 16-bit game is a little crazy, but you’d be dead wrong. The music in Super Metroid is still being re-imagined now, nearly 20 years later. Remember how I told you this game has atmosphere? This 2D side-scroller builds it through absolutely amazing audio work, not just the music but also the sound effects. They’re meticulously crafted for every enemy, every beam weapon, and every movement of Samus’ suit; perfect on a level that had never been heard before.

We should thank Kenji Yamamoto for his efforts in creating the sounds of the Metroid universe, music so popular it has been re-used in nearly every iteration of the series since. Those of you that have played Metroid Prime will recognise the cue “Lower Norfair” as being used in the Magmoor Caverns, and many other tracks re-arranged and reused to great effect. Super Metroid is a goldmine of high-quality, retro computer game music.

You can hear more remixes here.

How does it hold up now?

Having played the game again before I wrote this article, I realised my efforts were in vain, because it was as familiar to me now as it was 17 years ago when I first completed it. I remember the very first time I clocked it as a child; playing it in the same room I’m in now (although without a 42-inch TV as a computer monitor, and I didn’t sit 5-inches away from the screen). It was an old, retro TV but I take pleasure in the fact the 30-incher was better than most of my friends had at the time (Editor’s note: no pun intended). The colours were all wrong back then…I didn’t know why, although now I’m a little more educated: The guns in the back of the cathode were misaligned.

Where was I going with this?

I remember the final moments of Super Metroid being the most intense and thrilling conclusion I’d ever played as a gamer. Never again have I reached the same emotional heights this game provided, so much so that I couldn’t stand up after finishing the final stage, because my legs were shaking so much from the tension. Especially in that final endgame. The only title that ever really came close (and borrowed heavily from Metroid‘s pacing) was the original Resident Evil; the only game I ever turned off as a child because I was shit-scared (that guardhouse music was terrifying).

So, does it hold up now? Yes. It’s still amazing, and it’s still by far the best game I’ve ever played. Back then, there wasn’t thousands of people working on any one title, which just proves how incredible Metroid is for an independent release. In an era when millions of dollars are spent on marketing, I urge indie developers to look at Super Metroid and see what can be done with so little.

What the hell is “Speed Running”?

Because Super Metroid was one of the first open-world games, it wasn’t quite perfect due to that “get item A to  location B” format. With the freedom of an open environment people eventually found little glitches and flaws that allowed for “start game” and “get item F” (instead of A)  to “location M”.

This was called Sequence Breaking, which led to Speed Running, and gamers attempted to use these glitches to find the quickest way to complete the game. Some of these people even went so far as to use emulation software to slow the game down to half-speed, so that they never make a single mistake during their play-through. I have it on good authority that Super Metroid is the most sped-run game of all time.

The Current Speed Run World Record – 55 mins

Summing it all up. 

Well, all in all, what is there to be said about Super Metroid that I haven’t said already? Longevity is what this game has more so than any other I’ve played; it has spawned so many imitators and still continues to do so 17 years later. Immense is another word to describe this game…immensely difficult. Years ago, before anyone had even heard of dial-up, before there was even such a thing as a walk-through, this game was a real bastard. The game itself has almost no text or dialogue, and not even the hint system that was incorporated into the Prime series later. If you get stuck in this game…you’re stuck. I feel like this is something gaming has lost in recent years. It’s now far too easy to follow a path laid out for you, instead of experiencing the thrill of figuring it out for yourself.

If ever there was a game that deserves its cult following, this is it. Play it. Make love to it.

If your interested in remixes of Metroid tunes then you should check out both http://www.metroidmetal.com and http://www.Ocremix.org for a most complete listing of all remixes.

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About Randy Banjo

i am a little bit mental.
This entry was posted in Games, Gaming Greats and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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