Monday, February 11, 2013

Wii Virtual Console review: Super Metroid

While I am a big fan of Nintendo’s Metroid franchise, I have more experience with the 3D Prime titles than most of the traditional side-scrolling adventure releases. I played through both the original Metroid and its remake, Metroid: Zero Mission – two games which I quite enjoyed. However, I know many gamers who swear by Super Metroid as not only one of the best games in the series, but one of the best games of the SNES-era. Eager to check it out, I downloaded Super Metroid from my Wii’s Virtual Console library.

Fans of the original Metroid or Zero Mission should feel right at home – Super Metroid sees Samus return to planet Zebes in search of the baby Metroid that followed her home at the end of Metroid II. Ridley and the Space Pirates have captured the baby Metroid, and all-too-familiar with their track record for nefarious behavior, Samus pursues, intent on retrieving the specimen. Samus will retrace her steps through Crateria, Brinstar, Norfair, and so on, while also visiting new and expanded areas. The game does a great job of balancing a fresh and familiar feel, as each major area looks incredibly colorful and detailed. Lighting effects and objects such as pillars and stalactites go a long way in creating an illusion of depth and openness to the regions Samus visits. Meanwhile, the soundtrack walks a fine line between adventurous and eerie, perfectly fitting to one of Samus’ most dangerous missions.

The controls are far more fluid and responsive than in the two titles that preceded Super Metroid. Items and upgrades are placed at more intelligent junctures, and it certainly feels like the game does its best to direct you toward each objective, so there will be little time spent wandering aimlessly. Multiple elevators per region makes finding an entrance or exit to another region much easier, though the fact that you are only able to view the map one region at a time (depending on your current location) is mildly annoying. That said, Super Metroid holds a decent challenge factor, and seeking out at least a few non-essential energy tanks and weapon upgrades is recommended due to the gradually-increasing difficulty factor.

If there is one thing that drags Super Metroid down, it is the inability to exit certain areas. This really only becomes a problem late in the game, but always occurs immediately prior to a boss fight, and should you have fewer energy tanks or missiles at your disposal than you would like, the degree of frustration it causes can range anywhere from a mild annoyance to thoroughly aggravating. While this sort of thing only occurs a few times during the course of the game, the points where Samus is temporarily stuck are unfortunate, and the problem seems as though it lies largely with a simple oversight on the part of the development team.

There are quite a few boss fights in Super Metroid, each with its own unique strategy. Some encourage use of specific weapons, while most follow the traditional pattern of dodging swipes and firing missiles. Regardless of the required approach, the majority of the boss encounters are quite memorable – some not only because of the intensity of the fight but also because of scripted events prior to or during the encounter. As for the lesser enemies, they fit the typical Metroid designs – you can expect to run into Geemers and Shriekbats not long after Samus exits her ship, though later enemies are faster and practically require use of new/upgraded weapons if you hope to gain more health/ammo than you plan to lose.

While I thoroughly enjoyed Samus’ first outing, its remake, and even her trip to SR388 in Metroid II (the latter of which I am currently playing through), it is easy to see why Super Metroid is so beloved by fans of the series. It takes everything established by its two predecessors and cleans them up. The experience is far more smooth and streamlined, without sacrificing the challenge factor. Regardless if you are a longtime fan of the series or Super Metroid is your first outing with Samus Aran, it will certainly prove a memorable experience.

My rating: 9.25 (out of 10)

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