Week three of the March of Metroid means that, you guessed it, we’re taking a look at the third game in the series. Released on the Super Nintendo in 1994, it is considered by many to be the crowning achievement of the series, and as you’ll see, it’s hard not to blame them. Featuring just about every mechanic the series has ever had, polished to a mirror sheen, it’s time to take a look at the masterpiece that is Super Metroid.
Taking place directly after Metroid II, Samus has taken the infant Metroid that followed her off of SR388 to the Ceres Space Colony to have it researched. Shortly after leaving, however, she intercepts a distress call from them and rushes to the scene, only to find the scientists dead and the Metroid in the clutches of her old nemesis, Ridley. The Space Pirates have returned to Zebes to continue their mad schemes, and it’s up to Samus to rescue the Metroid and stop the Space Pirates once and for all.
The game once again employs minimal storytelling – Samus has a monologue at the beginning of the game detailing most of the above, and then you’re stuck without prose for the rest of the game. That hasn’t stopped the storytelling from being considered pretty good – the moment during the final boss that everyone who has played this game knows about stands out as exemplary video game storytelling, using both gameplay and cutscene together to achieve a whole that’s sorely lacking in a lot of modern games.
The playable intro on Ceres is a good example of the game using gameplay to tell a story (you discover the dead bodies yourself, you fight Ridley for a while before he escapes, and then you escape the exploding station yourself) and has set the standard for future titles, in particular the Metroid Prime subseries. One could say it’s even influenced a number of modern games – it feels very similar in tone to the beginning of Batman: Arkham Asylum. Even though you are a passive observer, you’re still in control of the character, adding to the feeling that you’re participating actively in the story.
Once you land on the surface of Zebes, it’s back to the gameplay that’s made the series famous. Run around, shoot things, explore, find a powerup that gives you access to new areas to run, shoot, and explore in. It’s tried and true and it works here as well.
What’s new in this game though? First of all, you finally have a map system. At just about any time you can bring up a map of Zebes, automatically filled in through your exploration, and you can even find Map Stations scattered about to fill in the blanks you don’t have (though some areas will still remain hidden – it’s not that easy). Returning from Metroid II are the Energy and Missile Stations, and of course, there are Save Stations aplenty (and your ship acts as one too).
Samus starts out the journey with naught but a Power Suit and a Power Beam – you’ve gotta find everything all over again, from your Morph Ball to your Screw Attack. Other favourites like the Space Jump return, new items like the Speed Booster make an appearance, and some old powerups get a few new tweaks like the Varia Suit now acting as protection against superheated areas found in Norfair. There’s a ridiculous amount of things to find in this game, and with them come the ability to toggle them on and off in an armoury interface – just in case you want to run around Lower Norfair without a Varia Suit, for example.
Beam weapons are now able to have their effects combined, along with the new Charge Beam mechanic that lets you fire more powerful shots after, well, charging them for a bit. Other, more advanced mechanics also appear, from the simple-yet-invaluable wall jump to the slightly more difficult Shinespark. There’s a lot of stuff Samus is capable of in this game, and you’ll need to use it all if you want to find everything this game has hidden.
Exploration is made much easier thanks to the X-Ray Scope, which can scan the environment for destructible terrain – meaning no more blindly bombing every single square in order to find everything… for the most part. The new Power Bomb, while limited in ammo, covers the entire screen, making it another effective scanner for blocks to be destroyed. Some blocks in this game can only be destroyed by a particular weapon, however – some might be bombable, while others might need you to use the Speed Booster to break through them. Fortunately, the X-Ray Scope makes it clear what you’ll need to use.
Also making an appearance is the Gravity Suit, which lets Samus explore underwater areas as if they were anywhere else. While water has made limited appearances in Metroid, this is still a pretty neat addition and helps add to the “ooh, I should go back and check this place” feeling of this game. In general, powerups are rationed out quite well – you’ll get some for defeating bosses, and others are found in the open, but you’ll rarely go very long without finding something new.
There’s also more areas to explore on Zebes. While the first place you explore is a neato recreation of the Tourian and Brinstar areas from the first game, everything after that is pretty much brand-new territory, even if it bears the same name. Most of Brinstar is now jungle-like and overgrown, for example, and new areas like the underwater Maridia add some more diversity to the experience. In stark contrast to the first and second games, it’s always easy to tell where you are even without a map. You might still get lost, but it’s much easier to get your bearings and figure out where to go next.
Much like the first game, the initial goal is to find the main bosses, and kill them in order to gain entry to Tourian. Kraid and Ridley are joined by Phantoon and Draygon, but don’t think Kraid and Ridley haven’t learned new tricks. Their fights are now completely different (though there’s a cute reference to the Fake Kraid from the first game) and are generally more difficult. The new bosses are also quite fun to fight. There’s a few others besides these four, each requiring a different strategy.
It’s not all completely perfect though. There’s so much stuff that sometimes keeping track of it all is a tall order – you cycle through between using Missiles, Super Missiles, Power Bombs, the X-Ray Scope, and Grapple Beam all in one go, and there’s a lot of other moves that aren’t readily apparent like the Crystal Flash or the Power Bomb Charge Beam combos. While the game does sort of teach you the wall jump and Shinespark, it doesn’t give you exact directions, you’ve gotta do some interpreting. And the controls can be a bit dodgy at times, particularly for the wall jump and, for some reason, the Space Jump.
Aesthetically, this game is amazing. Each area is distinct, brimming with detail and life. Samus’ animations are excellent and the game puts the power of the Super Nintendo to good use with some well-used Mode 7 effects. The shimmering heat of Lower Norfair to the simple effect of Ceres tilting as it self-destructs, it’s fantastic. The music – it’s simply classic. There’s really no other way to put it. Samus’ personal theme makes its first appearance here, and another personal favourite is the “Red Brinstar” theme, which got an excellent remix in Metroid Prime 2: Echoes. The soundtrack is a good mix of ambient sounds and well-made orchestral themes that knows when to be subdued, and when to kick it up a notch.
Super Metroid is, without a doubt, the best of the 2D Metroid series. Is it the best out of them all? Well, that’s a matter of opinion, methinks, and personally, I like the Metroid Prime games a bit more and would say that they’re overall better. That’s more a testament to how good they are, however, than any shortcomings this game may have.
From beginning to end, Super Metroid is a sublime experience. It’s a game I could get lost in a hundred times and still keep coming back.