As I trekked back across Brinstar and Norfair to make my way from Ridley’s hideout to Kraid’s, it dawned on me how much backtracking I was doing. I had spent so much time getting the energy tank placed in front of a fake floor and the missile tank in a room after an impossible jump, and now I was walking all the way to the other side of the map, just to get to the next area. Yet at the same time, I enjoyed jumping over all the same pits, and shooting all the same enemies. Why? Because I wanted to see what the area I was headed to would have and traversing the area before it would prep me with energy and missile tanks. It’s that feeling of exploration and preparation that keeps the feeling of tedium away, something the series has done very well even in its inaugural entry. Despite feeling a bit passé in retrospect, the original Metroid is still a classic that holds up well to this day.
Developer: Nintendo R&D1, Intelligent Systems
Platforms: Nintendo Entertainment System (played), Game Boy Advance, Wii Virtual Console, 3DS Virtual Console, Wii U Virtual Console
Release Dates: 1987-08 (NES), 2004-08-10 (GBA), 2007-08-13 (Wii VC), 2012-03-01 (3DS VC), 2013-07-11 (Wii U VC)
From the moment you are dropped into the world of Metroid, you are given freedom unlike any other game at the time. The fact that you actually need to walk to the left first to get your first new ability shows that this game is different from the others. Even platformers today and most other games in the Metroidvania genre don’t do this. From there, you are introduced to the structure of the game, which consists of vertical hallways that introduce you to horizontal rooms as well as hidden pathways found by blowing up destructible blocks in the ceilings, floors and walls. All of this is connected and aside from some pathways that are blocked until you find the corresponding upgrade, it is all available to you to explore. None of it discourages you to go there with a difficulty spike or an arbitrary reason. It’s a true open world that rewards you for looking around and seeing what’s there.
Once you realize this, you’ll become engrossed with exploring the world. You’ll start bombing any floor that looks suspicious, check every path you come across, and jump and shoot across rooms just to see what the next area will have. And what’s great about all of this is there’s always something for you to find. A new platforming challenge or new enemies to defeat or perhaps a new upgrade. It’s a big game, especially for the NES, and that’s probably why some areas are aesthetically similar. Some are even straight copies of other rooms, down to the enemy placement. Unfortunately, that means that sometimes, some areas are less interesting than others. This also means that you will get lost more often than you should. This would have been fixed if the game had a map but this is one of the few games in the series with no navigation whatsoever. I recommend playing the game with a map, preferably without all the upgrades marked down, unless you want to cheat / some help.
Go to the left first!
Speaking of upgrades, the world is littered with three types of upgrades: power items, energy tanks, and missile tanks. These all give you items that will help you live longer and destroy enemies, such as the Varia Suit, which cuts damage dealt to you in half, the Ice Beam, which allows you to freeze enemies , or the various missile tanks, which gives you missiles and increases your maximum ammo capacity. All of these upgrades are helpful and some are required to traverse on. Some are actually pretty cool like the Screw Attack, which helps make the game a lot easier. However, the inability to use both the Wave Beam and Ice Beam is disappointing. I don’t even bother with the Wave Beam as a result.
Frustratingly, some of the upgrades are extremely hard to pick up. The aforementioned upgrades in the intro are some of the hardest ones to get and it’s for arbitrary reasons. Failing to get these on the first try results in you falling down a pit, requiring you to go back up to where they are for another try. There are other upgrades with similar frustrating requirements and it just feels difficult for the sake of it.
Jumping in Metroid does not feel like more traditional platformers. You don’t have the kind of tight control you do with Mario. You have a floaty jump that isn’t bad but sometimes feels a bit awkward to control. The physics take some getting used to and I found myself rocking the d-pad left and right trying to aim myself to land on the platform. Luckily, holding and letting go of the jump button will direct how high you jump, and, although it takes some getting used to, you have two types of jumps, each with their own benefits and drawbacks.
See this situation here? You’re basically screwed.
The game definitely looks sparse nowadays. There’s a lot of blank space and black backgrounds, giving the game an empty look. Some designs are a bit hard to make out and the color palette leaves much to be desired. However, this helps give the game a foreign feel and the game looks fine for an NES title. The soundtrack is equality minimalistic, with few tracks and a couple of them being a few carefully placed bloops and bleeps. Nonetheless, there are definitely some notable melodies here, such as the main world theme and the jingle that plays when you find an upgrade. Story-wise, there’s not much said here. You are Samus Aran, a space bounty hunter tasked to defeat Mother Brain, the leader of the space pirates based on Planet Zebeth (later changed to Zebes), and destroy the Metroids, an alien life form the space pirates plan to multiply and weaponize. The story is serviceable but there isn’t the expansive lore that later games would have. Luckily, Samus is memorable thanks to a great design and the basic idea of “go kill aliens” is motivation enough to play the game.
There are definitely some aspects of Metroid that feel antiquated, especially if you’ve played other Metroid games or games in the genre. However, it’s also amazing how much of the formula is intact here and done in an enjoyable way even today. Metroid is an absolute milestone in gaming that has lost little of its luster almost 30 years later. I thoroughly enjoyed the five hours it took to complete it (got all the upgrades too!). Pick it up, jump into Samus’ boots and play her first adventure. Oh yeah, Samus is a woman. SPOILERS!