Welcome to a new type of video game. One that doesn’t have a time limit or a score, instead placing the focus on an immersive world that gives the player the freedom to explore with surprises sprinkled about an alien world filled with hazards and enemies alike. Nintendo introduced us to their new Adventure Series of games this past summer with The Legend of Zelda, a fantasy world filled with swords and sorcery. Now they’re taking us to a different galaxy filled with strange creatures and a seemingly endless labyrinth of corridors to navigate in their latest and greatest Game Pak, Metroid.
The game begins in the distant year 20X5 and it stars Samus Aran, a space bounty hunter that normally is on the lookout for the evil Space Pirates. A new threat has emerged on Planet SR388 when a new life form is discovered. These Metroid creatures can multiply very quickly and have the power to suck the life force out of any living thing. The Space Pirates have stolen the sample acquired by the Federation, so it’s up to you (Samus) to infiltrate the Space Pirates’ HQ on the planet Zebes. According to the instruction booklet, Samus “…is the greatest of all space hunters and has successfully completed numerous missions that everybody thought were absolutely impossible. He is a cyborg: his entire body has been surgically strengthened with robotics, giving him superpowers. Even the Space Pirates fear his space suit, which can absorb any enemy’s power. But his true form is shrouded in mystery”.
After you slide the Metroid Game Pak into your NES and hit the power button, you’ll be greeted to one of the most eerie title screens I’ve ever seen. The music really sets the mood and the game tells a brief story if you don’t press the Start button right away. You begin your adventure in a rocky zone called Brinstar. If you move to the left (that’s right you can explore anywhere you like), you’ll immediately find your first power-up. It’s called the Maru Mari, and allows Samus to transform into a small ball, which is necessary to traverse tight spots. From the beginning you can jump, run, and fire your short-range beam at enemies. As you explore the vast world you’ll come across various upgrades, like a long beam, and ice beam, which increases the efficiency of your weaponry. Powerful items like bombs and missiles will augment your abilities, allowing you to enter areas that were once blocked off.
After only a few minutes with the game you may realize that it’s fairly easy to get lost in the world. The game scrolls in all directions, with certain doors that can be opened and others that are locked. Secret paths and items are scattered about in traditional Nintendo fashion, so you’ll want to take your time to explore every nook and cranny. If you have the time and skill, it might be worth making a map on graph paper to keep track of where you’ve been and areas of interest you want to come back and check later in the game. The game developers have done a really neat job of doling out new powers in later sections of the game that require you to backtrack to discover new areas. One of the most useful upgrades is the high jump, which increases your jump height by 1.5 times, letting you access spots that were previously out of reach.
As you traverse each room and corridor, be sure to transform into your ball and lay bombs to see if any secret passages open up. You might get lucky and find a hidden Energy Tank, which will increase the maximum health of Samus. As you shoot enemies they’ll often leave behind small orbs of energy that can be absorbed by your spacesuit. If your energy depletes to zero, it’s game over! Luckily this is one of the first Password Paks from Nintendo, so you can jot down the password and enter it later to continue from the same area of the game with all of your enhancements you’ve already found.
The action in Metroid is pretty intense and it’s really the first time on the NES that I’ve played a side-scrolling game where the primary weapon is a gun. In fact, the entire setting is really awesome, with a sci-fi emphasis. You’ll be doing a lot of running, jumping, and shooting to successfully clear the rooms. The enemy variety is pretty high throughout the game as well, with some requiring some quick thinking to blow them up. Some creatures are impervious to certain weapons, and some can even be used as platforms to jump up to higher ground after you stop them cold in their tracks with your ice beam! The focus on exploring new territory is something I absolutely love in this game and it’s a refreshing change of pace from the linearity of so many other titles.
Graphically the game impresses. The enemies are detailed and varied enough that I never got bored. Each new zone has some new creatures to discover and the areas look different from one another. I’m not a big fan of black backgrounds in games, but it works well here, giving the player a distinct feeling of exploring deep dark caverns under the planet’s surface. Once you make it to some of the mini-bosses, you’ll see how the art really complements the game. I also really like how each weapon upgrade changes the look of your attack and the overall color scheme throughout the game is very menacing, giving the game more visual impact than you might expect. You won’t find the traditional bright cartoony graphics of Super Mario Bros. here. However, you will still find some flickering and slowdown issues, which seem to plague the NES more than any other console. It’s a minor gripe, but it can become annoying at times.
The music in Metroid is spectacular. Each new area of the fortress that you explore on Zebes has a unique track and sets the mood perfectly. The soundtrack goes from an upbeat “it’s time for an adventure!” background music in the beginning area of Brinstar to increasingly more sinister and creepy selections as you delve deeper into the maze of rooms. The composer has done a wonderful job of driving home the feeling of isolation that Samus must surely feel being the only human on a planet filled with aliens. Little fanfare jingles, like when you obtain a new item or a power-up will instantly stick in your head for days. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a soundtrack so masterfully match the on-screen visuals ever before.
Not all is perfect with the game, however. Because of the vastness of the areas, it’s super easy to get lost and turned around. Now, this might not be a problem for some people, but I know a couple of friends who became frustrated with the game. It would have been nice to be able to track where you’ve been in the world. It can sometimes be confusing as to where to go next and what’s needed to progress further in the game. This might be perceived as a negative among some players, but others might equally like that feeling of being lost and not knowing what to do next. Finally, the password system can be finicky. You need to be very careful that you write it down exactly as shown on the screen. If you input just one character wrong when you go to continue your quest you’ll get an error. I had this happen and I had to begin my game completely over from scratch, so be warned!
Your end goal in Metroid is to reach the Mother Brain, a sort of super computer organism that is determined to create a new super weapon to conquer the galaxy. Standing between you and it are countless creatures, mazes upon mazes of corridors and elevators and dead ends, hazards galore, and wonderful secrets waiting to be discovered. From Super Mario Bros., to The Legend of Zelda, and now to Metroid, Nintendo are simply the masters of surprise. They have a certain design philosophy that empowers the players to grow stronger as the game progresses and encourages them to go off the beaten path and experiment, often with delightful results. This puts their software on a higher level than the competition, and is one of the reasons every serious gamer should own a NES. If they can continue to churn out hits like this one, they’ll own the market. This is an innovative game that shouldn’t be missed.
Metroid Instruction Booklet