i seem to be playing a fair amount of NES games this year. one game i’ve been putting off but finally dusted off was the original NES metroid which i have vague memories of playing bits of when i was a kid. i had played through some of it again a few years back but hadn’t gotten much into it, but this time i sat down determined to finish it.
the first thing that struck me was that this game is pretty hard, and people are either going to love the old-school challenge or hate it. the platforming challenges are much more difficult overall than the rest of the 2-D entries in the series, and many people see the absence of abilities that became standard later, such as diagonal shooting, and crouching, as being just plain awkward. but the limitations actually fit the game well and make upgrades like the plasma beam and the screw attack that much more useful (although the plasma beam is sadly underutilized in this game). in the games that followed exploration became even more emphasized than here at the expense of the combat side of the game, which is too bad, although this game has exploration in spades as well, along with what has become the series’ essential ambience provided by a mysterious score, graphics, and sound effects.
one of my main points of comparison between entries in the series has been the pacing, and my impression has been that later games make it too easy to zip through areas, making the whole experience feel rather rushed. this game, just by virtue of its technical limitations, unfolds fairly slowly. not having an in-game map, another modern-day expectation, actually proves to be a refreshing change of pace, and samus’s slow movement ensures that you’ll have enough time to fully enjoy the alien surroundings. there’s a significant amount of slowdown due to too many enemies on-screen at one time, and another common complain is that areas oftentimes look too similar, but given the technical limitations of the era (the game came out only a year after super mario bros. and 6 months after the legend of zelda) it’s astounding how much the game developers were able to pack in through judicious use of palette swapping and mixing up sections of rooms to make up a unique area. and let’s not forget that the game introduced the world to one of the first female protagonists of video games ever, ms. samus aran herself, in all her green-hair-and-purple-one-piece glory.
as for my experience, being a metroid vet helped a bit, although i did get stuck for a while trying to find the ice beam. once i did, though, the rest of the game was pretty straightforward. the game is a bit more nonlinear than some of its sequels, and as a side effect the item gets are a little less evenly spaced out, but this is the first metroid game that i’ve beaten with pretty much 100% of the items and also the first time i’ve played a metroid game back to back, speed-running my way through the second time. all in all it was great to revisit the series’ roots, appreciate all the groundwork it laid for what has become a top-tier franchise, and enjoy the game for the not-quite-timeless-but-still-monumental classic that it is.
samus’s 8-bit links:
– entry at wikipedia
– reviews at videogamecritic.net and nintendolife.com
– screenshots of all the endings at vgmuseum.com
– entry at metroid.wikia.com which includes info on the the hidden world glitch. and i must not be the only person who didn’t know that the name “varia suit” was due to a mislocalization of the original japanese for “barrier suit”.
– PDF of the instruction manual at replacementdocs.com