I don’t remember what prompted it, but I’ve spent the last week and a half playing all of the 2D Metroid games, except for the original. I did Zero Mission, then Fusion, then Metroid II, and finished with Super Metroid. Here’s my thoughts on each, in chronological canon.
Metroid: Zero Mission
The original Metroid has aged poorly, despite what many, “best games of all time,” lists will tell you. Having a bunch of small enemies to shoot at without the ability to duck is enough to make it feel awkward. Every other game in the series has improved on it greatly, leading up to its full redesign in the form of Zero Mission. ZM has the best controls and design of the entire series, so going back to the first game after playing it is, for me, impossible.
The best part of Zero Mission is its thick atmosphere, which I detailed at length in another post. It does a lot with its Alien-esque biopunk visual style, and even more with its classic soundtrack, which is ultra-nostalgic for me thanks to years of listening to Metroid Metal.
Zero Mission is solid all the way through, but it leaves something to be desired in that it’s so short. After playing Fusion and Super Metroid, I found myself wishing that instead of being a short remake, Zero Mission had been a fully realized sequel to Super Metroid. (More on that when I talk Fusion, though.)
Metroid II: Return of Samus
This was a pleasant surprise. With the complete lack of attention that Metroid II gets in comparison to every other game in the series, I didn’t know what to expect. What I got was an interesting exploration game that gave me feelings more akin to what I feel exploring caves in Minecraft than what I feel playing other Metroid games.
It’s interesting the way Metroid II takes focus away from combat and puts it on exploration. I love that the game basically tells you, “there’s forty Metroids on this planet, go kill them all,” and gives you a huge amount of agency in doing so.
I played Metroid II on an emulator, and found myself wishing that I really owned it on the Game Boy. (I’d buy it in a heartbeat if I found it cheap enough.) If I’d played it in short bursts over a long period of time, then I might’ve taken time to slowly and methodically memorize the whole planet, testing every wall to find the right path—instead of extensively utilizing GameFAQs. I nonetheless enjoyed myself.
The best part about this game is the amount of agency it gives the player in exploring it. You can use the spider ball and spend most of the game crawling on the ceilings, or you can platform and gun around carefully. The agency made the backtracking a lot more interesting and the world more engrossing.
There are still some major problems with the game. Tons of tedious and aggravating platforming segments made up the worst of it, and horribly repetitive environments were also bad. It didn’t bother me so much that there were so few textures being repeated indefinitely, but when the game would reuse entire rooms, it got obnoxious. Later Metroid forms were also a pain in the ass to fight.
Those major issues will keep this game far from any favorites list of mine, but there was nonetheless something so enchanting about it, that I not only enjoyed it, but could see playing it again sometime in the future.
Super Metroid is, hands down, the best 2D Metroid game. Fully deserving of its recognition as one of the greatest games of all time, and easily one of the best that the Super Nintendo has to offer.
Everything that makes 2D Metroid games great, Super Metroid does best. It’s every bit as long and engrossing as Metroid II, but a thousand times more beautiful and well-designed. It still has some tedious platform sections, but intercuts them with tons of thoughtful and challenging ones. Combat is more difficult and interesting than it is in Zero Mission (without being cruel like Zero Mission’s Hard Mode), and doesn’t come at the cost of weaker exploration as it does in Fusion. The game has more atmosphere than all the others combined, and a much larger, more intricate, more realized world, with a greater number of ways to interact with it. It’s fuckin’ brilliant!
I won’t let it go without pointing out some of its major faults, though. The item-switching mechanic is pretty borked, as it makes you pass through, by the end, five different items, two of which are not used in combat. This makes selecting the right item on the go a pain in the ass. It was fixed in Fusion and Zero Mission, which is why I maintain that those games have the better controls.
I probably wouldn’t have made it through Super Metroid without the help of GameFAQs—and even then, there were parts where I nearly gave up, because the guides always wanted me to collect side shit by shinesparking. I had a really difficult time gathering the charge for a shinespark for some reason, so I’d get stuck trying to use it, and the guides wouldn’t tell me an alternate route to continue. Most of the places I got stuck were because there was a mechanic I wasn’t aware of. (Imagine my reaction to the first place I got stuck being known as, “the noob bridge”).
I don’t know how I’d fix this. I like that Super Metroid never holds the player’s hand, and informs through subtlety. The design of many rooms in the game are absolute genius in terms of showing a patient player what to do, and I don’t think that making anything easier to understand would’ve made it necessarily better. One of the game’s strengths is that the world isn’t massive in area, but is incredibly dense, so you can easily keep going back and forth, testing out everything, without it getting too aggravating. I guess I’m saying that I don’t blame the game for my need to use a guide as much as I blame myself.
Every time there was a mechanic that frustrated me, I eventually figured it out. It took me a while to learn how to grapple properly, realizing that the game wasn’t broken, I was just bad at it. Each time I realized something like this, I couldn’t help but be forgiving.
I could say a lot more about this game, like how the crossfading songs were epic and Maridia was terrifying, but it’s not my intention to review it here. I’ll just say that this is the only Metroid game I’d consider a favorite, and a +++ title.
First, a confession. I didn’t finish Metroid Fusion. I got stuck two hours in and ragequit the game. But for the record, I’ve finished it in the past (I suspect on Easy mode).
I expected to like Fusion a lot actually, because it was my first 2D Metroid game back in 2003, and I’d liked it well enough back then. The trouble is that this time I came to it with a critical eye, and fresh off the heels of Zero Mission, only to be disappointed.
First of all, speaking from the heart here, what the fuck is with all the fucking dialog in this game? The parts where Samus shares her backstory are alright, keeping with the minimalist nature of the series in their brevity, but then there’s all these long fucking mission objectives from the computer CO that are boring and kill the atmosphere.
What made the worlds of Zero Mission, Metroid II, and Super Metroid so interesting was that they were atmospheric, easy to get lost in, and terrifying. In Metroid II and Super Metroid, you figured out where to go because there was a limit to how far you could go with your current equipment, and so when you got new equipment, you tried to find a path with it. In Zero Mission, the Chozo statues would give you a big hint by showing you a point on the map to go to, but would give no indication of how to get there.
In Fusion, a computer tells you where to go, gives you most of the map, and even tells you hints on what to do. There are still a large number of unmarked passages and dead-ends, but each area is very small, and you always know that wherever the passage to proceed is, it must be within a certain designated section.
This sucks not because it’s easy, but because it feels lazy, especially compared to Super Metroid. As I mentioned before, in SM, there were constant subtle hints about how to proceed, from enemies showing you the way, to animals teaching you what to do, and even a scan visor to make it easier to find hidden passages. In Fusion, you just have a limited area that you know you have to do something in, so you bomb everything until you get it right. It’s not horribly different from Metroid II or Zero Mission, but it feels so much more restrictive and less immersive.
The game goes for more of a cyberpunk setting, instead of the biopunk of other games, and it isn’t bad—it just lacks the same sense of mystery. You know right from the start how big the world is and where all the areas are in relation to one-another. There also seems to be more emphasis on combat over exploration, and far more bosses, which I find doesn’t work, because combat and bosses were never the selling point of Metroid. Super Metroid has some awesome bosses, but they were more like checkpoints on the way through the game, or bonuses that came along with exploration, than the game’s focus, which is how they feel in Fusion.
As for where I got stuck, it was on the spider boss, named Yakuza. The worst part of this fight is that the nearest save point is a two-minute walk from the boss, and the boss itself can easily kill you in less than a minute if you fuck up just once. It has an attack that takes out two energy bars in one hit (I have seven total), and it’s easy to get caught in this attack twice in a row if you aren’t careful. The attack is supposedly avoidable by ducking into morph ball in the corner, but this doesn’t always work. Yakuza has a ton of attacks, takes forever to kill, and is utterly unfun. After ten tries, I got fed up with the boss and gave up on the game. If I decide to play it again, I’ll probably drop to easy mode.
It would be nice to get a true sequel to Super Metroid, with the controls of the Game Boy Advanced games. Super Metroid was so much bigger and more realized than the GBA games that they feel disappointing, even in retrospect.
Metroid is perhaps one of the few Nintendo franchises that isn’t interested in releasing a million retreads of the same core elements. It’s certainly true that these games are already extremely similar, and maybe they feel they can never really top Super Metroid. Maybe an update of Super Metroid with better controls and updated graphics (not that the games wasn’t gorgeous already) is the best that they can do at this point. Still, I think there’s room in the world for a 2D Metroid that does everything right, exceeding Super Metroid.