Dopefish Reviews Metroid

Metroid is a game (and a series) that I’ve always had a rocky relationship with. I respect it in the same way I’d respect a well-written book in a genre I didn’t enjoy reading, or a great TV show that I didn’t personally like enough to watch. Maybe I just haven’t gotten into Metroid games enough, but the ones I’ve played haven’t engaged me enough to take the franchise seriously.

Let’s go over the ones I have played, shall we? Well there’s Metroid on the NES, the topic of this blog, a game that I played during my ‘I want to beat a bunch of classic games for the sake of beating them’ phase (Also why I played Zelda 2.) There’s Super Metroid, a greatly-improved sequel, but a game I’ve always been wary of due solely to its influence on this very website, on which it seems to be the greatest game ever made. Metroid II on the Gameboy was enjoyable enough to play through but nothing special. Then there’s Metroid Prime, which I start every once in a while with an open mind, but just after I beat the first boss I try to go and save only to be greeted by a couple of space pirates who are somehow more challenging than the aforementioned boss and promptly kill me.

Overall, the entire series is one that borders on greatness but has never really struck gold. It’s no Mario, but it doesn’t have the addictive and widespread fun-factor of Pokemon, nor does it have the consistently high quality necessary for a Zelda game – it’s definitely an essential Nintendo franchise, but of all the essential Nintendo franchises, it probably falls behind Donkey Kong and Kirby in most areas.

But back to the first Metroid game. I already said that I only played it the first time round because I’d gotten a hold of a bunch of NES games and I was just getting into gaming, so I felt like I had an obligation to catch up on some classics. Some of those, like Castlevania, lived up to my dreams of classic games from a vintage era, while others, like Ninja Gaiden, were enjoyable but flawed.

But Metroid was just something I played so I could claim to have played Metroid. I’d heard all about it and seen footage here and there, but I wasn’t exactly excited going into it. It wasn’t a game – it was an item on a to-do list. Maybe that’s why, a few years down the line, I decided to play it again.

See, I didn’t hate it the first time I played it, but I wasn’t overwhelmed either. No save points, annoying passwords, and a long time spent regaining health if you ever died; all of these irritations held it back. At the same time, long corridors filled with enemies, unlocking abilities to reach new areas, and a genuine feeling of adventure meant it wasn’t a bland experience either. I love Metroidvania games, and I love Castlevania games, so it’s only natural I find things to appreciate in Metroid, right? Right?

So this is going to be a look at my second time playing Metroid. Rather than just doing a normal review, I’m going to be covering how I felt as I was playing the game from beginning to end, complete with all the obstacles I ran into on my quest to destroy Kraid, Ridley and Mother Brain. The highs and lows of the NES classic that began one of the great gaming franchises of the world. Am I a bad enough dude to kill the Metroids?

So let’s start on the title screen. There’s not really much to mention here except the music, which is initially a letdown with just a few clunky notes, played a few times over. But then, unexpectedly, it changes into a completely different tune, one perfect to open a Metroid game with. It’s not what I’d call happy, but it’s happier than the dull notes that precede it; maybe ‘hopeful’ or ‘optimistic’ are better words to describe it. It’s a good tune to play at the beginning of an adventure – relaxed and upbeat, but not entirely without tension, namely due to the way it lapses back into the repetition of a single, darker note at the end.

After over-analyzing the music, I pressed Start, and like everyone who ever played Metroid on the NES, I was greeted with the OTHER best music in the game. The soundtrack to Metroid is a bit ‘hit and miss’ to me, so every tune in the game is either an example of some of the best on the console, or annoying and repetitive. The title screen, ending theme, and Brinstar soundtrack are all in the former category though, so the game was off to a good start.

I didn’t know much about Metroid but I knew the basics, which means I knew to head left and pick up the first important item of the game, the morph ball. Then came my first trek through Brinstar, and honestly, one of the best parts of the game – not only because it’s challenging and fun, but also because it’s nice that only 30 seconds into the game, you’re already running through corridors and shooting weird alien thingies (I choose to believe that’s their official name,) and exploring this dangerous planet.

Let me take off my critical hat for a second and sincerely praise what I like about this game, and the genre it spawned. Even though I’m a bigger fan of ‘Metroidvania’ than either Metroid or Castlevania, they each had their strong points, and Metroid is a truly incredible game when it comes to exploration. I was excited to find crossroads upon crossroads, some leading to missile packs, some leading to dead ends, some leading to locked off areas, and some looping around entirely. I never liked the idea of actually sitting down with a pen and paper and making a map, but it was a pretty awesome moment when I’d finished exploring Brinstar completely for the first time, and felt in control of my location.

It’s also nice that the game is consistently challenging from the very beginning. You can be patient and kill every enemy before leaving the room, grinding to get your health back the second you take damage, or you can charge forwards, a muffled battle cry behind your space helmet, and start shooting in every possible direction. The choices in gameplay technique make this game open and accessible to a wide crowd of gamers.

Finally, since it’s a game that moves forward depending on the items you pick up, it’s a nice touch that you start collecting this as soon as possible. From the moment you head left to get the morph ball, the game starts crafting itself to be an enjoyable experience to play. I can’t shoot far enough? That’s fine, I just got an extended beam! Low on health? Hey, there’s an energy tank stuck in this roof! Can’t attack while rolling? Bombs!

Anyway, after finding bombs, some missiles, and the spirit of adventure I had last known when I was 11, I came across two lifts. One would take me to Norfair, and one to Brinstar Depths. I chose Brinstar Depths due to the unconscious desire to do things in the proper order thanks to Super Metroid teaching me that Kraid comes before Ridley. Looking back, I don’t know if this was a mistake or not.

I say that because I think Metroid is a three-part game, and the first part consists of the initial excitement of exploration. The second part is ‘the lull’. When I entered Brinstar Depths, I entered ‘The lull’.

This is where the game’s flaws began to appear – and I’m not talking about little flaws – big, overarching problems with the whole concept of Metroid that hadn’t appeared until now because as fun as that space exploration was, it probably didn’t take you more than an hour. Let’s go over some of the more prevalent flaws.

The first big problem I came across was when I died. I’d had a pretty good run, but the enemies were doing a lot more damage and the period of mercy-invincibility wasn’t very long so I ended up shattering Samus into pixels before I could get past one or two corridors. Then came the password. If ever a password symbolized everything that was wrong with the ridiculously long passwords of the NES, it was Metroid’s.

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Almost as many characters as ‘Game of Thrones’? Check. Letters that look the same, or at the very least, startlingly similar? Check. The kind of password that makes children weep bitter, salty tears of unhappiness that grimly slide down their innocent young faces, forever tainting their innocence and enthusiasm for adventure with a dark, murky slime that brings to mind liquidized frogs topped with expired caviar? Double-check!

But I knuckled down and remembered that password anyway, because between hell and high water, nothing except for mild knee cramps or the arrival of my new copy of Loco Roco for the PSP was going to stop me from finishing Metroid. The next day, fresh-faced and ready to continue, I loaded the game, entered the password, and was welcomed back to the adventure, with one little problem.

Before I had died and gotten the password, I had 3 energy tanks. After continuing, I had no energy tanks and 30 energy, which given the area of the game I was in, was worth roughly two hits. As I was not the most-skilled Metroid player to have ever lived, this resulted in my continuous and ongoing death as I repeatedly failed to get past the next few corridors, and even when I took things slowly I just wasn’t getting enough energy from the defeated enemies to replenish my health.

This is an area of gaming that Craig – yes, Stuttering Craig – has actually addressed himself. A few years back on the site, another g1 was criticizing Metroid for the same reason and Craig put forwards the rebuttal that the game isn’t meant to hold your hand. If you die, you screwed up and your punishment is grinding for the next dozen or so minutes until you can keep playing. A valid point, particularly given that the NES is home to a library of much more unfairly difficult games.

Except for one thing.

Given that the game has a password, it’s likely that some people would consider the game too big to complete in one sitting. I’m on the fence regarding that point of view myself because even though the game took me a few days to beat, the overall time spent playing can’t have been more than maybe 3 hours, and I was pretty bad at it. But nevertheless, I can say from experience, having grown up in a family with two siblings and one TV, there is almost zero chance I would ever have been able to use the TV for 3 hours in a row. Which means I would’ve had to use the password at some point.

Which means I’d have to intentionally kill myself to get the password.

Which means I wasn’t actually dying due to low skill, but because I had to get the password and stop playing before my sisters turned the console off and started watching America’s Next Top Twaddle or something.

Twaddle is a practically ancient lesser-used British slang word for rubbish.

Rubbish is a good description of the idea that I would have to spend half an hour farming for energy from fallen enemies to be able to continue playing a game that had made me kill myself to get the password in the first place. Even Hydlide has a freaking password system that lets you, you know, see the password without chucking yourself under a virtual bridge (although if you’re playing Hydlide, you may wish to do that anyway.)

Would I have preferred a game with no password? Well of course not, but passwords in video games only have to succeed in three things. First, it has to be easy to get them. Second, it has to be easy to enter them. Finally, it has to succeed in placing you back where you were when you got the password. That is literally the definition of a good password. Metroid fails on all three accounts. Yippee.

Maybe I’m just saddened by the password because it coincided with my journey through Brinstar Depths, which was not very fun. One of Metroid’s greatest strengths was that each player could take a different route, fight Kraid or Ridley in any order, charge in or wander around in hopes that you’d find an extra energy tank or some missiles somewhere, and general have a completely unique experience, unlike the experience any other player had in the world. Unfortunately, I think I made the wrong call – Brinstar Depths was HARD.

Not only were the enemies tough, but even once I’d gotten the hang of the layout, Kraid is easily the most difficult boss in the game, if only because his pattern is so darn… random. There was no strategy to my fight with him – occasionally I would manage to freeze some of the projectiles he threw my way, and since they were frozen they wouldn’t respawn, so I could jump past them and let a few super missiles off in his face – but overall it was mostly run, shoot, jump, and when I ran out of missiles, bomb the ground and hope he walked over it.

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Also there’s an energy tank in his room but it’s hidden somewhere so bizarre that the only way I could get to it was by falling into lava, shooting a false block, jumping out of lava (this normally took a few tries, during which time the false block would respawn,) placing a bomb on the floor above the energy tank, and bouncing into the small crevice where the tank was. It was probably the most inconvenient upgrade of the entire game, which is a shame because energy tanks are really useful to get.

I guess that was one way of making sure people hadn’t gotten this far without enough energy/missile upgrades, but as an unfortunate side effect, the fun factor had dropped through the floor at this point. I was spending ages trying to regain energy, only to have it lost in seconds by quick collisions, or being hit during screen transitions because enemies that fly at you will damage you while you move through doors, unavoidably because you lose control of Samus during these transitions. Another sarcastic yippee is in order.

Nevertheless, the game hadn’t turned me off enough to stop playing, and so I continued onwards to Norfair, hoping to find something a little more bearable. Unfortunately, my expectations were not met. Fortunately, that’s because the game didn’t become ‘bearable’, but as quickly as it had gone from good to bad, it went from bad to awesome.

As always, I find it harder to praise than criticise, but I think this is where the game became the playground of Samus, and by extension, me. Another few energy tanks had come my way, and the enemies seemed to be dropping more health, and more regularly. A few more helpful abilities were unlocked along the way, like the high-jump boots, and a massive boost in super missiles after beating Kraid. Something else I’d also noticed by now was that despite the large, open corridors calling me to explore them, it wasn’t as complicated finding my way around as I’d feared. I’m the kind of gamer who likes to explore every room, so Metroid was a worrying challenge to me given how many paths branch out into more paths, but the more I explored, the more I found corridors that doubled back to old rooms, or stopped at a missile upgrade.

But what made the game really awesome at this point was actually complete luck on my part. Maybe I’d made a mistake of going to Brinstar Depths before checking out Norfair and getting some upgrades, but here, I just so happened to collect the high-jump boots and just so happened to find a secret passage to a secret door that I just so happened to need the high-jump boots to reach, and then I went through a corridor packed with enemies, not enough to make me think I’d found a shortcut to a mandatory part of the game, but more than enough to convince me that I was about to find something good.

And then I saw it. Lying in the hand of a Chozo Statue. The lightning bolt that made it all better.

And for the first time in my life, I realised why the Screw Attack was worth naming a website after.

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It’s not like the Screw Attack elevated the game from meager beginnings to glorious high points, but I have to admit that this is where the game went from good to awesome. Running through enemy-filled corridors, firing wildly, and avoiding anything that looked the slightest bit suspicious was fun, but spin-jumping through those enemies while picking up the health from their remains was incredible. I felt like I’d levelled up my character and now I was reaping my reward.

For the first time in the game, grinding was actually really fun. I was happy when I only had one energy tank out of 5 left, because I got to go back to one massive corridor in particular and jump and fire through all the enemies, recharging myself to full health in about 3 minutes – a massive improvement from the half an hour grinding nearer the beginning of the game.

There was one more negative in Norfair – I could go into more detail about my journey towards Ridley, but it could all be summed up with ‘WOOHOO SPAZER AND SCREW ATTACK OH YEAH SUCK IT YOU STUPID PLANET LIFE THINGS!’ Anyway, upon reaching Ridley, I was a little disappointed to find out that he was by far one of the easiest boss fights on the NES. Compared to Kraid, who shot what I estimate to be roughly a gazillion projectiles at you while moving back and forth, Ridley just stood still, jumping up and down, shooting some easy-to-dodge low-damaging fireballs at me while I blasted several super missiles into his torso. I don’t want to complain one second that a boss is too hard and the next second say that a boss is too easy, but Ridley was kind of a joke, especially considering he goes on to become Samus’ arch-nemesis, compared to Kraid who got an upgrade in Super Metroid and hasn’t gone on to do much aside from small cameos in Super Smash Bros Melee and Nintendo Land.

But with Ridley defeated, it was time to take the fight to Mother Brain. Would the game retain its newfound fun, or would it end with a whimper?

Spoiler alert: The game retained its newfound fun. Traversing through Tourian was challenging but fittingly so, and the fact that I was finally killing Metroids made me feel like I was approaching the epic climax. I died once in Tourian, and when I restarted near the beginning with only 30 health, I was a little let down, especially since one hit while I was walking through a door kept killing me before I could grind my way back up to full health, but I honestly found it strangely amusing this time around, the same way someone might die in a game and swear, but then die the exact same way and laugh.

I wish I could say fighting off the Metroids was more eventful, but I was surprisingly cautious and it paid off – not one of them ever managed to drain any life from me due to some very slow movement and overzealous ice-beam firing at anything on screen. After killing them all, I finally came to Mother Brain’s chamber, and prepared for a hellishly difficult fight. Turns out I was right to prepare, but I actually liked the hellish difficulty this time around.

For a boss like Kraid that a player could fight half an hour after starting the game, I thought the difficulty was a bit much, but for an NES adventure game, I thought it was pretty good for the final boss to be a stationary blob at the end of a weird laboratory that was filling with lava and shooting weird spaghettio-shaped attacks at me as if someone had mixed Dexter’s Lab with a volcano and added in a sprinkling of bullet hell. I really enjoyed it, even though I died a couple of times.

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Once you break through the pipes protecting Mother Brain, the rest of the fight is fairly straightforward – you can try and tank the damage while shooting every super missile you have left, or you can try and play it slow, switching back to the ice beam occasionally to freeze the projectiles to keep them off your back for an extra 10 seconds. Either way, the most important thing to remember is not to fall into the lava/acid right in front of Mother Brain, because you will not get out.

So the battle is over, which means so is the game, and WAIT A MINUTE ESCAPE SEQUENCE WOOHOO!

In case I haven’t made it clear enough yet that Metroid follows a pattern of gameplay that goes ‘Good – Bad – AWESOME,’ then let me gush for a little over why the final escape sequence is the cherry on the cake for the game’s finale. To put it shortly, everything’s done well. To elaborate, the music is catchy and energetic, with a hint of triumph, but still a lot of adrenaline; after all, you haven’t won yet, you still need to escape.

But the difficulty’s just right too. Nobody likes a post-final-boss experience that’s possible to lose, so you have a generous time limit to climb to the top of the escape chute and take the lift outside before everything inside blows up. It’s still possible to lose, but you’d have to screw up to the extent that you wouldn’t really be able to get mad at the game, just yourself for making such a trivial mistake.

Let’s just go over how novel and epic this is one last time. Under a seemingly strict but actually relatively easy time limit, Samus has to escape the same planet she just spent hours journeying through before it possibly explodes, taking her with it as the alien base she infiltrated and sabotaged explodes into fiery wreckage, forever burying the remnants of this difficult journey along with the bodies of her enemies. At least until the sequel on the SNES.

And that… is the end of Metroid.

I didn’t beat the game fast enough to see Samus in her space bikini, but I did see her take off her helmet. Even though I’m a bit too late to be shocked, I do like the twist that the badass space mercenary in a robot suit is a woman, but not as much as I like the ending music, probably my favourite ending theme on the Nintendo Entertainment System. If I had to describe it in one word, and I probably should because this blog just entered page 7 of the Microsoft Word document I’m typing it into, it would be ‘triumphant’.

That’s why it’s such a good tune to end the game, and this blog. Because against all annoyances related to passwords, bosses and grinding, Metroid is most definitely a triumph. It’s not perfect by any means, but I’m genuinely glad I played the game a second time. The first time was to tick it off of an immeasurably large mental checklist titles ‘Games it would be cool to tell people I’ve beaten’, but the second time was for fun, and I managed to have a lot.

Not that it’s my favourite game in the series – if anything it’s probably my least favourite after Metroid II, Super Metroid, Metroid Fusion and the 20 minutes I’ve played of Metroid Prime – but it’s still an entertaining game, and to stand the test of time despite being an NES title from two and a half decades ago is really impressive. I always liked the contribution ‘Castlevania’ made to ‘Metroidvania’ games more than the half of those games that came from Metroid, but the exploration and different routes make this game of the earliest titles that I can truly say is an adventure.

Besides, not to put down the NES, but how many titles from great series on that console still stand up today? Donkey Kong only had 3 screens of gameplay, Super Mario Bros was decent but a bit repetitive, and I spent hours in Zelda searching for the next dungeon. Not that those games are anything near ‘bad’, but the only series that started on the NES and still published titles on the console that stand up today are Kirby, Castlevania, and Contra. Hell, Kirby was on the Gameboy first, so that just leaves Simon Belmont and Bill Rizer.

But enough about the era of Metroid – the fact is, the game is still enjoyable to play even today, and that is one hell of an accomplishment. The passwords bug me, the grinding bugs me, and I was tempted to stop playing a few times, but I didn’t, and I’m glad I persevered. I don’t know if Metroid is groundbreaking, or one of the best games on the console, or in its series, or entire genre, but I can safely say one thing.

Metroid is a good game.

And with that closing statement…

Thanks for reading!

-The Dopefish

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