Video game Retrospectives! The first three Metroid games. NES, Gameboy and SNES!

I like to play retro games as they usually aren’t quite so ‘heavy’ as modern games. They don’t demand a  huge amount of time or effort to be put into them. You  could easily pop Super Mario Bros. on for an hour and a half and finish it. A lot of games from the 8 or 16-bit era were like this, you could just boot ’em up and easily finish them. Games these days often require days to finish, which is good from a “getting your money’s worth” perspective but not if you are impatient like me and want to finish it quickly and get stuck into something else.

There are obviously exceptions to this as some retro games do require a fair amount of hours to complete.  RPGs like Final Fantasy and Dragon Warrior were often very text heavy, and required a lot of tactical thinking to beat.  Even home console ports of arcade games like Bubble Bobble or Ghosts and Goblins the player needed to beat the game more than once to unlock the best ending. Then there were games like The Legend of Zelda and the Metroid series which required quite a lot of time, skill and patience to complete. It is the original three Metroid games that I will be looking at today!

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The original Metroid for the NES came out in 1986, a couple of months after The Legend of Zelda. In some ways, it was very comparable to the original Zelda, but in overall style it was vastly different.

I had never played the first Metroid for the NES until this year, nearly thirty years after its release. “What is it like, Does it stand the test of time, was it easy?” I hear you ask. Well if you stop intruding on my typing with your questions, you will soon find out.

Booting up the game and you are taken to a very simple title screen. A blue logo that merely says “Metroid” against a backdrop of  rocky terrain and space

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Music is a fantastic thing.  It was used so effectively as an emotive tool even in the 8-bit era (a time that was far away from the quality of sound we have come to expect today) and adds so much to the atmosphere and the story. Take the first Legend of Zelda for example. It’s opening theme sounds ancient and mysterious, but also warm and heroic. It is not a fast piece of music like later incarnations of the Zelda theme but it isn’t overly slow either. It feels like the beginning of a journey or a story.

The Metroid theme sounds ominous from the start, a kind of rumbling bass noise followed by a few higher pitched  sounding notes. This then turns to a warmer, more human sounding little melody before returning to the cold and alien sounding bass and high notes. Atmospherically it feels very unfamiliar and far from home. 

After a while on the title screen, the opening logo disappears and you are theninformed what your mission is.

EMERGENCY ORDER

DEFEAT THE METROID OF THE PLANET ZEBETH AND DESTROY THE MOTHER BRAIN THE MECHANICAL LIFE VEIN.

GALAXY FEDERAL POLICE

M510

Reading the instruction manual further informs you that you will be taking the role of Samus Aran, the ‘greatest of all space hunters’, a spacesuit clad cyborg. So now knowing the objective, and the character I am playing as,  the game begins!

 

I have played some truly difficult games. I really have. But Metroid is  one of the most merciless bastards I have ever come across. That isn’t to say there aren’t more difficult games out there, but it is definitely up there.

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You start off with 30 health. Which is nothing. The little alien creatures wandering around can drain that in seconds if you come into contact with them. Your gun range is ridiculously short as well. I don’t know how Samus Aran managed to get the title of greatest of space hunters, but I can only assume that the other hunters were equipped with sticks or just pointed their fingers and shouted “BANG! BANG!” because Samus’s weapon is really feeble.

The planet Zebes is wrought with dangers everywhere. You are never far away from something that will drain your health, and the only way to get health back is by killing  aliens which drop little orbs, restoring a pitiful 5 amount of health. A larger enemy will sometimes drop more but not always. One of the first items you can pick up in the game is the morph ball, which makes Samus curl up like an armadillo, albeit without any of the defensive capabilities. You still take damage. Curling into a ball is only for the purposes of  rolling under gaps in walls.

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The planet is a maze of areas that you can only access after you have acquired certain items, and sometimes you have to go back to an area that you have already visited that you couldn’t access before. It can get a bit tedious, all of the backtracking and the getting lost, and then dying and having to start over. But fun can still be had. After you have powered up somewhat, have more health and better weaponry, it becomes a game that you want to play. You want to navigate the caves and mazes, and search and kill the bosses. I cannot imagine how difficult it was originally without the internet or  guide books. Nintendo Power magazine didn’t start until two years later, so I am guessing a lot of kids were having to draw their own maps and share tips with their friends. An aspect of gaming I think has been lost, which I think is a shame. Thankfully a password feature allows the player to pick up and carry on if they have had enough for one day. Something I did many times.

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What I love about Metroid is that it is so un-ashamedly inspired by Ridley Scott’s Alien, but doesn’t straight up use the design of the Alien creature like a lot of video games from back then did (Contra and R-type spring to mind), instead it tries to capture the atmospheric tone of the movie. You really cannot help but feel very alone as your wander around Zebes, perhaps akin to how Ellen Ripley felt when she was alone facing the creature, aboard the Nostromo at the end of the movie.

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Anyway, after many many many hours of backtracking and dying and finding more rockets and increasing health capacity, and having to ‘farm’ enemies to collect health to fill that capacity, it is time to fight the Mother Brain. She is protected by many Metroids that latch on and sap your health extremely quickly. The only way to kill them is by using an ice beam to freeze them followed by a quick succession of rockets.

 

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Perseverance will reward you and you will arrive at Mother Brains chamber.  I found her to be one of the toughest final boss battles of  an 8 or 16-bit game. There is no great tactic to beat her, just hit her with rockets and try to jump out of the lava when you inevitably fall in it, and try not to get hit by the bubbles that jump around the chamber. Finally, after enough missiles, Mother Brain explodes and you have to escape before the self destruct goes off, (not a cliché or anythin’!).

If you are quick and reach the surface before the explosion and depending on the amount of time you have spent playing the game, you will be privy to a then surprising piece of information. Samus will shed the spacesuit, and you can gaze at what battle-scarred warrior looks like beneath!

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She was a girl the whole time!  Oh how the perceptions must have been challenged by that. I think that was quite an awesome idea, the character wasn’t defined by her gender. I know video games as we know them today were still relatively in their infancy, but this was a character that didn’t need saving or rescuing, as was often the norm for females in games back then. This was a female character that was saving the day. Nowadays in a world of Lara Crofts and Bayonettas, it isn’t as shocking, but from what I can gather, back then it was pretty groundbreaking. I really think hats off to Nintendo for their forward thinking.

 

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The sequel game, Metroid II Return of Samus is the one that I grew up playing. As soon as I booted it up to take some screenshots, from the opening screen and music I was greeted with such a wave of  90s nostalgia, I nearly shat out a tamagotchi.

 

The object of this game was for Samus to go the Metroid home planet to eliminate all of the remaining ones, for fear they could be used as weapons again. I find this strange. What if in this modern-day and age, terrorists decided they were going to cause devastationby catapulting elephants at majorly populated areas, would all governments of the world go on an elephant hunting campaign? I can’t say I thoroughly support Samus and her campaign to ensure a species extinction.

 

 

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This game improved upon the foundations its predecessor had  laid down. It wasn’t ridiculously hard from the start, making me feel more like a kick-ass space bounty hunter. You can also aim diagonally, which makes shooting aliens far easier. The music was just fantastic in this game. It was fun and upbeat at times and chillingly absent or dramatic at others. The aliens looked better, it was a little easier to navigate but still challenging. This game was and still is fucking awesome.

 

 

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I was scared to death of the Metroids as a kid though. Unlike the previous game where they were just larval forms, in this one they could evolve and each evolution would be more deadly and harder to kill. You could only progress to certain parts of the world once all Metroids in a certain area had been eradicated. At first I used to pass the Gameboy to my Dad when I encountered a Metroid as it just terrified me. They were big and ominous and the music changed. Luckily I got past this but never actually finished the game until recently.

 

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First Metroid you encounter.

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Metroids first evolution and Samus performing operation: Let’s get the fuck out of here.
As I already mentioned, the game is still fantastic. However one Metroid II fan online has done a remake of the game, giving it a bit of an overhaul and using SNES/GBA style graphics. Look up AM2R and I am sure you will agree it looks simply stunning. I have yet to play it but it is definitely on my to do list.

Anyway back to this version! Although it is easier than the first game, it still isn’t a walk in the park. The Metroids get tougher and tougher and the final boss, the queen Metroid is a nightmare. I spent so damn long trying to beat her before discovering there was a relatively easy sneaky way to do it, by climbing down her throat and laying some bombs in her gut.

I felt such a sense of accomplishment, finishing a game I had started twenty years before. After killing the Metroid Queen, Samus discovers an egg which hatches a baby Metroid that thinks she is its mother. She decides to keep it, which seems odd considering she was happy wiping out all of the other Metroids on the planet. And of course if she had killed them all, then there wouldn’t be the need for the third and final game I will be looking at next!

 

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First off, I shall confess. I am still in the midst of finishing this game, so can’t give an overall summary like the first two games.My initial impressions upon booting it up was how amazing the music sounds, and how pretty the graphics. Playing it a little more though, and I think I prefer the simplistic graphics of Metroid and Metroid II. I think brightly coloured backgrounds is a bit of a step back from the dark ambience of the first two games. That is just me though, as the graphics really do look nice.

 

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The story behind this one is fairly simple, Samus drops off the baby Metroid at a research lab on a space station, and her ship flies away. She doesn’t get far before she receives a distress call from the station. She goes back and finds all the scientists dead, and Ridley, a boss from the first game escapes with the baby Metroid, prompting Samus to go back to Zebes to retrieve it.

Everything has been improved in this game. There is a map! No more having to draw out routes where you have been. Once acquired, you can also select which weapon you want, instead of having to seek out the same weapon more than once. Samus can also sprint, and the aiming feature has been improved yet again. Control-wise, this is a perfect game. Everything feels extremely fluid and responsive. It feels light years away from the slightly clunky controls of the first game.

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Samus stands where she once killed Mother Brain.

 

Returning to Zebes is good as well. Everything feels familiar but different at the same time. A lot of the layout is different (as it would have been following the self destruct!) but you find a few places that look familiar, like the place where you get the morph ball ability, or where you once killed Mother Brain. There are quite a few surprises as well. In the first two games the items you need to power up are usually found in the hands of ancient bird statues (that look like Horus, an Egyptian God). This has always been uneventful. usually just shooting the orb in their hand which becomes an item which you then pick up. This game however has other ideas. I did the routine process, shot the orb, picked up the item when all of a sudden the statue came to life. Which I thought was brilliant.Way to make things not seem stale!

 

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This was awesome. And unexpected.

So really I should have probably finished the game before I talked about it , but at the same time I would probably forget about some things like the statue coming to life. It is often the little things I find impressive in games, and this is no exception.

 

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There seem to be quite a few bosses or mini-bosses in this game, which are located in unexpected places, giving you no real time to prepare. I like that. Many people would disagree with me, but I think Metroid could be seen as a survival horror game. The first two games very much so, having limited resources which must be used sparingly. I’ve yet to see if this game will be as unforgiving, part of me hopes so and the other part wants an  easy ride after the first two games.

In all, these are a fantastic trio of games. I wish I had played the first one a lot sooner than I did, (perhaps when I wasn’t so used to having my hand held when playing games) and would recommend them to anyone who has an appreciation for sci-fi  and  with a lot of patience and time on their hands. Have they stood the test of time? I don’t know really. Those games certainly made Metroid an established franchise that is still going today, and a lot of things that we take for granted in games today were really perfected back then if not pioneered.Graphically they might not seem very impressive anymore, but when did graphics alone ever make  a good game? I think historically the first game is important. There was an enhanced remake of it for the GBA called Metroid: Zero Mission which looks graphically a lot nicer and looks plays a lot more like Super Metroid. So if you fancy a bit of a challenge and a lot of backtracking in some retro video games, go on, don your space suit, load up your rockets and become the galaxy’s best bounty hunter.

 

 

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