Metroid: Zero Mission – Fear and Power

Today I played through Metroid: Zero Mission, and was struck by the rawness of emotion that the game evoked in me. Emotions of fear and, at times, of power, often playing off of one-another.

The very start of the game is kinda boring, since Samus can’t do much yet. It consists mostly of simple platforming bits and shooting a few baddies. Each power-up Samus gets makes the game a layer more exciting, as it opens up a slew of new ways to interact with the world. But more importantly than the interaction itself is the feelings that came from interacting with the world in different ways.

Early in the game, one of the Chozo statues told me to go to Norfair for my next objective. Upon reaching Norfair, it quickly became apparent that the location on the map where my objective was marked was a place that I couldn’t reach yet. Instead, I went wandering around, and ended up stumbling upon a secret passage and an elevator leaving up to an are called Crateria.

I hadn’t seen any save rooms in a while, and I was relatively low on health. I had no idea whether I was going the right way, or if I’d accidentally gone somewhere that I wasn’t supposed to be yet. As I went further into this mysterious area, I became scared that I was going to die and get sent all the way to my last save.

While in Crateria, I stumbled upon the Chozo Ruins—a mysterious area with a haunting, foreboding soundtrack that served to heighten my growing fears. I found the item that I needed there and continued through the area to find something wholly familiar—Samus’ ship. Finally I could heal, save, and breathe a huge sigh of relief.

Zero Mission was full of haunting, unsettling moments like this. For instance, at one point, I saw what appeared to be a giant caterpillar emerging from its chrysalis in a part of a screen that I didn’t yet have access to. I went through a tunnel, collected something, and came back. Suddenly, the chrysalis was empty, the giant insect gone.

There’s this sci-fi/horror biopunk thing going on in Zero Mission, clearly taking inspiration from movies like Alien, that creates an atmosphere so thick, it’s hard to imagine the game without it. (See: Metroid, which is impossible to play after Zero Mission.)

The gratification of getting new items wasn’t just that I could interact with the world in new ways, but that I could conquer it. Every ability made the areas I’d been through before easier to traverse, opening up new avenues of exploration and allowing me to conquer former obstacles. One of the craziest power-ups is getting the Screw Attack, which, true to its name, lets you fuck up pretty much everything in a single hit. It’s actually so powerful that there are puzzles which become harder after getting it, because you have to try and freeze enemies and then jump on them without breaking them.

Yet the game continually found ways to make me fear it again. Towards the end, it introduced the Metroids. Funny thing about Metroids is that they weren’t any kind of challenge for me—I had a ridiculous stock of missiles and laid waste to all of them in seconds. That said, I did so in a frenzied panic, because every time one of the huge mutant headcrabs spawned horribly from the darkness, I would go into a panic and fire a hailstorm of rockets at them.

But better than anything adapted from the old game, what best exemplified the feelings of fear and power was the final stage, which is unique to Zero Mission. In it, Samus crashes back down on planet Zebes without her power suit and has to crawl her way through the space pirate ship practically defenseless. Suddenly, not only was it outright impossible to kill enemies, but they could destroy me in a matter of seconds. Instead of jumping around, guns blazing, I had to be stealthy and try not to set off the alarms.

After twenty or thirty minutes of crawling around and being very afraid, I finally found it—the Power Suit—better than ever, with a slew of new powers. The music changed, from mysterious to empowering. Now I could jump endlessly; could use my morph ball, my bombs, my missiles, and destroy Space Pirates in just two hits of my regular blaster, or with my Screw Attack. I even gained the Power Bombs, which allowed me to nuke the entire screen, wrecking everyone’s shit.

The whole final level was incredibly empowering, as I traversed all the areas which had been difficult minutes before, now cutting through them like butter. It was magical.

The ending I got

On a side note, I couldn’t figure out how to get from the space ship back to the old areas so that I could gather all the power-ups that I couldn’t before. I didn’t want to use a guide, so I finished the game instead, with a time of four and a half hours, expecting to have something like 90%. I only had 74%. Only after reading guides did I find out about some of the special techniques for collecting that I hadn’t even been aware of. Oh well.

Having really enjoyed the game, I decided to try and play it on Hard Mode, but Hard Mode in Zero Mission is a whole different ballgame. I got my ass handed to me and trapped myself in a save zone within twenty minutes. In a game which sends you back to the last save point every time you die, there’s no way I can handle that!

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17 thoughts on “Metroid: Zero Mission – Fear and Power

  1. This made me remember how I used to be terrified of the bosses and Metroids in Super Metroid when I was little. I’d be completely fine watching someone else play, but as soon as I picked up the controller myself, I’d be all, “I’M GOING TO DIE AAAHHHHHHHH!” The Wrecked Ship area and Phantoon especially got me.

    • Hehe I’ll look forward to that.

      My earliest Metroid experience was Prime when I was like 11, and a lot of stuff in that game was quite frightening, especially with the help of the game’s gorgeous graphics/design. I remember being most terrified of the huge things in Phendrana Drifts that would charge at you and were really difficult to kill. My brother and I would be watching our older cousin play, and we’d all freak out when those things were there, and try our best to go around them.

      • Prime completely nailed the atmosphere of a Metroid game. I was 14 when it was released and I was amazed even then at how well Retro Studios managed to capture the feel of Super Metroid in a 3D game.

        For me, Phazon Mines was the most nerve wracking area. I never knew when a group of space pirates might jump out and start shooting me, and the area got creepier and creepier the deeper I went. All the while, the pirate log scans were talking about these super powerful elite pirates and the Omega Pirate and I knew they were down here somewhere and I’d have to fight them.

  2. I found Zero Mission sort of underwhelming after Super Metroid, as its environments didn’t feel quite as alive to me — Super Metroid had all sorts of little useless details in its rooms that made them feel more like real places, and was much larger and more confusing to move around in. I never really got lost in ZM, but I often had a really tough time figuring out what to do in SM, which made my eventual conquest of its environment a lot more rewarding. Zero Mission’s still a pretty nice little game, though.

    Oh, and if you want to see the scariest Metroid game, go for Metroid 2. It creeped me out so fucking hard, and it still does. It’s not as well-designed overall as most of the other 2D titles, but the monotony of its environments actually sort of works in its favor fear-wise to me.

      • Hahaha, I wasn’t crazy about Fusion either, though I liked it well enough (if only because I never get bored of the way movement feels in the 2D Metroids). But I suppose a lot of my underwhelming experience with Zero comes from the fact that Super Metroid was my first Metroid. Your description of slowly getting empowered in Zero matches my feelings on Super exactly, and you just can’t experience that for the first time again.

        I do look forward to your thoughts on Super Metroid, though. It’s a beauty.

        That said, one little Zero Mission moment that I loved: I think I was in morph ball form at the time (though it’s been a while and my memory’s not the best), and I came across a plant or something blocking my path. Couldn’t figure out how to get past it, until I saw a few little circular things on it, and after a few moments, it withered and died. Pure Metroid storytelling, that: An environment that eats itself, and all you can do is watch.

        • Yeah that was a cool moment, especially because you can actually fuck it up by killing the bugs, and then have to leave and come back so they can eat the plant.

  3. You are a true gamer and for that you have my respect. . .I never told that to anyone because I never found anyone like that in my life who would play so many games and still love the feel for battle. . .This is an HONOR of sending this post. . .Seeya :)

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  6. I once had zero mission and after getting the high jump boots i somehow got nightmares in my sleep. Most of it probably because the music was so torturous. I’m turning 17 soon and I’m still not over these games. Most of my nightmares was specifically from this game, and it’s torturous music.

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