Metroid is a side scrolling platforming, exploration based shooter that has you in the armored suit of Samus Aran with an arm cannon. Along the way you’ll find upgrades that let you get to new areas so you can explore and traverse deeper into a hostile world. This game is massive to the point that you’ll get lost unless you draw a map yourself. Its one of the first NES games that required a real time investment to play it all the way through.Its Nintendo’s take on the Aliens film franchise right down to having to fight a creature similar to a xenomorph named Ridley and facing mother brain at the end as the game’s version of the mother computer from the original film. Its a captivating idea and Metroid has its own spin on things.
If Super Mario Brothers set a tone for a happy, speedy pace then Metroid that puts you alone in the game, you are the only humanoid here. There’s no one to talk to or give you cryptic clues. The background is black because you’re on an alien world inhabited by dangerous creatures. Rather than hop on them like Nintendo’s other side scrolling mascott Mario, you need to shoot them into oblivion. Touching any creature will lose your health and this energy is tough to come by with only a few random health drops from destroying enemies. Its a mature game due to its difficulty, time investment and vast land.
Samus is a bit on the sluggish side, but you’re meant to jump high and shoot things. You can even fire your cannon straight up, even when running. There are plenty of enemies on one ceiling or another to warrant such aim and the developers were wise to include this ability since there are several vertical maps that have you jumping up or falling down. As you fall, you can point your blaster down to hopefully mow through some enemies as you plummet.
When you pick up the game, you’re immediately at a disadvantage and you need to find upgrades. There is no crouch so you learn to just leap over enemies that look like alien porcupines. Its a game about exploration and they’re only a hazard. Its a testament to the game’s design to make it feel different. You are taller than everything else, so you need to cope with it.
The first upgrade lets you tuck yourself into a ball, to roll through tight tunnels when most games would only let you duck or crouch. Its a game about exploration after all and everything lets you explore further. You’ll come across bombs that let you blow up walls. Unlike Zelda these are unlimited. Most weapons are unlimited. From there you get a high jump and a long beam, because you start out with short versions. You will also find a suit upgrade that takes less damage in general and even lava.
The ice beam lets you freeze enemies to use them as platforms, but it can be a hassle if you want to kill them. Just freeze them and leave to save time. More important are the missiles, these let you destroy red seals on doors when the normal seals are blue and only require a shot from your arm cannon. The missiles are so powerful its the only weapon with ammunition. There’s also a wave beam that is best for people with no aim and clearing out a lot of destructible blocks. You can only have one beam at a time, so getting the wave beam leaves the ice behind and vice versca.
You’ll use everything to explore all four major quadrants of the world with an elevator to each one. The area you first land at is color coated. Blue areas, gold areas and green areas so you at least get some sense of progression before everything blends together. To the game’s credit, some enemies feel much different than others. Upgrade rooms are marked with a slick and clean look, usually punctuated with moths or fairies to fight. Its a good symbol to say this way to the upgrade without having an icon to indicate so.
In an upgrade room, you’re presented with an orb from a statue. Shoot the orb to reveal the prize within, but that’s only what’s on the surface. These rooms usually have secret rooms behind them with other secret rooms beyond those. You’re encouraged to explore everything. Sometimes you might see an enemy walking through a tube, other times you’ll just know that’s a tube, I should see if I can blow up a wall to go through there.
There are so many secrets that it was a good choice to keep wall blasting done with your cannon or bombs. Having to switch between weapons like Zelda would have been a bit too much. Keep it simple.
As for the other areas, Kraid’s lair is a futuristic, metallic with more challenging areas to get to. Including having to bomb up a wall, into the air and over a pillar. Ridley’s lair is full of lava, red and purple. The platforms are bubbles and organic slime resin. Its perhaps the most foreboding of all four areas. Mother Brain’s area is sleek, silver, white and full of the game’s namesake Metroids. The area is dead and desolate. I assume because Metroids instantly kill anything that would dare wander in. To get into this area you’ll need to defeat both Ridley and Kraid.
These Metroids are three eyed floating gelatinous foes that attach themselves to you and drain your health. The best way to deal with them is to freeze them and then missile them to death. Later in the game, the foes keep getting bigger and take more time or missiles to destroy. In order to keep you charging forward and progressing, you’ll find the screw attack that lets you jump at specific angles to damage enemies.
There are plenty of missile containers to find which will increase your maximum missile capacity. If you search enough you can even find energy tanks that increase your maximum health by one hundred. The game has brilliant design including blocks for these one-hundred points of health rather than just having a number. At a glance you can look up and see that you have this much health without getting lost in numbers.
With so much health comes great responsibility. If you turn off the game there’s a password that lets you start at the last elevator, but the catch is you start off with a meager thirty-five health every time. Its incentive to keep playing and keep pushing through. With so much health to refill it turns into a daunting and unforgiving task. Annoying bees that pop out of pitchers are good to farm for health and missiles, but they’re so aggressive that they can become dangerous.
The music is like none other from the system and adds a lot to evoke the feeling of isolation. At times the music is energizing. Other times its hypnotizing and offers mysterious provocation to keep going. There is a drawback though and that’s the incessant beeping of low health. Its persistent until you’re out of death’s doorway.
Like all games, it gets easier as you complete it over and over again. You get accustom to what is necessary and what you can forget about. Its because of this that there are alternate endings. including one of the biggest bombshells at the time. A game based on the Aliens movie franchise managed to surprise everyone when Samus took off the suit of armor at the end. For those that complete the game in under an hour, you’re rewarded by playing as Samus without the armor. Sure it might be difficult to breathe with no suit, but its no matter. There are no differences, its just a nice frill and sprite change.
Metroid has a rich, deep and rewarding challenge in an alien world for anyone who wants it. At the time it was amazing to find and discover things. Its still amazing to this day beyond its two sticking points of having to grind for health and no map of any kind. These both were remedied in the much improved Metroid: Zero Mission for the GameBoy Advance. In a way, this version is obsolete to anyone but a kid from the 1980s.