Monday, February 4, 2013

Review - Super Metroid (SNES, 1994)

Super Metroid is the third game in Nintendo's Metroid series and the first game in the series on which Gunpei Yokoi did not serve as producer. Yoshio Sakamoto would serve as designer and director here and as well as for the next three Japanese Metroid titles (Fusion, Zero Mission, and Other M.) This game serves as a direct continuation of the previous two games' stories and includes a slow opening cutscene explaining the last two stories, hindered by a hilariously awful bit of voice acting on the opening lines. In spite of that, Super Metroid mostly feels like a remake of the original game. It's a very good remake, fixing every problem that the original game has, and is ultimately one of the best games on the SNES, but Super Metroid lacks the originality of Metroid II in spite of being an overall better game.

When Super Metroid begins, the pterodactyl monster Ridley (who died in the first game) attacks a space station and captures a baby Metroid that bounty hunter Samus Aran rescued at the end of Metroid II. Players rush through the collapsing station only moments too late to stop Ridley's attack and then rush back out again as a self-destruct timer counts down and the station begins to lurch from side to side. This whole opening sequence is fantastic and serves as a great introduction to the game, even outshining a second self-destruct sequence at the end of the game in spite of its smaller scale. It's a great callback to the original game's ending, but probably doesn't need to be done twice in one game. Samus tracks Ridley to Zebes, the planet that the original game was set on. He's set up base in his old fiery lair, and Kraid and Mother Brain are back again too. Two entirely new areas and bosses are added to supplement the remade material, as well as numerous sub-bosses.

Samus's controls were refined nicely from Metroid to Metroid II and feel even better in Super Metroid. She can now shoot in eight directions, using the shoulder buttons to aim at angles. Jumping feels smoother than ever and there's a new wall jump ability that can be used to access some areas sooner than you're meant to for players interested in sequence breaking. Every area of the game now looks and feels totally distinct and even the areas you revisit from the first game are almost entirely new in design. There's also an automapping feature now that draws area maps for you as you play, massively cutting down on the likelihood of getting lost. I absolutely prefer having this map, even if it does dampen the sense of being lost in the dark that make the first two games frightening. There's never a shortage of ammo or health restoratives, so this game definitely isn't nearly as hard as the previous two. I'm fine with that too, and think that Super Metroid is such a smartly designed game that it's still a lot of fun even when it's not particularly difficult.

Players are finally free to switch between beam types for combat, or to combine several types. No more getting to the end of the game and then backtracking to find the Ice Beam that you had earlier but gave up to use a Wave Beam. You can turn any of Samus's power-ups on and off at will once you collect them. It does feel stupid to have to find the Morph Ball and bombs once again after starting with them in Metroid II, but you find them quickly enough. This game also introduces Super Missiles and Power Bombs, hugely powerful versions of existing weapons, an x-ray scope and a grappling hook. Metroid II's Spider Ball is not included, and while the Spring Ball appears towards the end it feels like an afterthought.

Planet Zebes is divided into five main open areas, with a sixth linear area serving as the game's final stage. Norfair, Brinstar, and Crateria are well designed locations with great sprite work. The Wrecked Ship is also quite good and one of the most atmospheric parts of an already rich game, but is unfortunately small compared to the rest of the world. I don't like the underwater Maridia location at all, even after equipping the Gravity Suit that allows you to move in water as if it were air. I think it's ugly, has uninspired monsters, and the worst stage design of the game's major areas. It does have a good boss fight, at least. Most of the game's boss fights are good. The final zone, Tourian, is mostly a straight remake of the original game's final zone, down to enemy placements. The problem with this is that since you're so much stronger and more mobile than in the first game, the Metroids that plague the corridors of Tourian are barely a nuisance here, while they were horrifying and deadly in the first game. There are some great cinematic scenes in the final part of the game, but any semblance of difficulty is gone by this point.

Also pertaining to the game's difficulty, probably the best change from the original two games to Super Metroid is the fact that you need to spend far, far less time dropping bombs everywhere you go to try to find passage to the next room. There are still tons of secrets to uncover, but simply progressing through the main game is much less tedious, and I'm happy about this. Getting from one area to the next never feels like a chore, both from the inclusion of the automap and from the more straightforward, while still open, stage design. If you want to explore ever crack, you can, and you'll still be rewarded, but it's no longer as necessary to do so.

This game's sprite work is top notch and still stands up well today, from enemies to environments to Samus herself. Some color choices are a bit garish, but everything looks so good that it's not an issue. Sound, on the other hand, is pretty weak. When placed, bombs no longer make the pleasant beep that they made in the first game, and in fact make no sound at all. Weapons blasts are fairly dull, especially the missiles. The sound effects aren't terrible, but they feel kind of hollow, which is something that affects parts of the music as well. I know this will probably be a fairly contentious point, but while the actual compositions are fantastic and moody, they really don't sound spectacular coming out of the SNES. Orchestral arrangements of this game's music would be phenomenal, but the actual in game tracks feel kind of cheap, for lack of a better word. I don't think it's entirely the hardware's fault, since the SNES Final Fantasy games and Nintendo's own Link to the Past produce such rich music, but it's probably in part due to the fact that these are largely songs with a lot of low bass and horn sections that don't translate well to the SNES. Samus's main theme and the song that plays over the end credits are particularly guilty of this. It's still good music, just not as good as it could be.

Overall, in spite of my nitpicks, Super Metroid remains one of the best games of the 16-bit era. It's always been my favorite game in the Metroid series, and for a long time was my favorite SNES title overall. I'd personally rank Final Fantasy 4 and 6 and Soul Blazer above it now, with Mario World, EVO, and Link to the Past closely tied. I'm not sure why Nintendo would later remake the original game as Metroid: Zero Mission when Super Metroid is already essentially a remake, but I hope to replay that one and Metroid Fusion soon to refresh my memory and see how well they've aged.

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