Wednesday, May 5, 2010


Platform:  Nintendo Entertainment System
Developer:  Nintendo R&D1
Released:  1986
Genre:  Action Adventure

The Game
Samus Aran, an agent for the Galactic Federation (and who just happens to be a fine lady underneath her futuristic space armor), has been given the task of retrieving life forms known as Metroids, which have been stolen by a bunch of no good, low down, just plain rotten space pirates who plan to use the creatures as biological weapons.

It is, of course, well known at this point that Samus is a woman, but back when this game was first released, it was a well guarded secret.  The original Japanese instruction manual used gender-neutral pronouns, which was sneaky, and the English translations used male pronouns, which is kinda cheating but understandably necessary.  Either way, it rocked a lot of gamers' worlds when they found out that the whoop-ass space pirate-killin' fightin' machine that they had been controlling the whole time wasn't a man, baby.  Whether because or in spite of this, Samus has become not only one of the top ranking heroines in video games, but one of the most popular video game heroes regardless of gender of all time.

The Characters
Not much can be said about this crew, since both protagonist and antagonists are pretty silent.  We've got our resident ass-kicker Samus Aran, who has started receiving a little more personality and backstory as of late.  We've got Ridley and Kraid, the sub-bosses of the game, who basically just sit in their little rooms and wait for their fights with Samus to start.  And we've got Mother Brain who . . . well, signs point to her being a corrupted organic computer or something like that.

The Writing
Um, well, what I wrote up above is pretty much it.  Not big on the writing, most of these early NES games.

The Gameplay
To these old hands and this old brain, the controls for Metroid feel hopelessly outdated.  You can't shoot down, you can't switch from shooting up to sideways while you're jumping or vice versa, you can't shoot any lower than your waistline, and so on and so on.  But compared to games at the time of Metroid's original release, the controls were basically all good.  And even without that modern flexibility, Samus still controls like a dream.  She's very gymnastic, fast, and smooth in her movements, especially once she gets the High Jump power-up.

And speaking of power-ups, Metroid has a great system for upgrading Samus' various abilities.  There's a nice amount of depth to her powers, with the only unfortunate part being you can't have the Ice Beam and the Wave Beam at the same time, which sucks because it would help so damn much.

The Challenge
And now it's time for me to break down into serious rant mode.

I used to think that the original Metroid was kind of neat and a halfway decent game.  I no longer think this.  It is an unforgiving bastard of a game that almost seems to dare you to play it.  I hate it forever, and the reason is quite simple . . . it's too damn hard.

Now, I should make a couple of things clear before I continue.  The thing is, I'm not afraid of a challenge.  I'm one of those gamer types who likes to beat a game without any outside help.  No cheat codes, no strategy guides, no walkthroughs, no maps, no other person standing over my shoulder and telling me how to beat this section, so on and so forth.  Once I've actually beaten the final boss and am going back to find all the secret stuff, or if I'm play through for a second time or more, then fine.  I'll grab every single one of those things I can get my hands on and soak up every bit of cheating knowledge I can.  I also hate it when games are too easy, and I'll complain heartily about that as well.  I like that nice little spot right in the middle where things are just challenging enough to keep things interesting while not so difficult that I start throwing things in a fit of rage and start truly believing that there is absolutely no way any human being could possibly be expected to win under the circumstances.

That said, I eventually had to break down and seek out a Metroid map.  It's bad enough that the place is huge and completely wide open compared to most NES games, but it also has to have tons of corridors that are exact copies of each other, a million and one secret areas - many of which are actually vital to proceeding through the game - which take hours to find through trial and error, and not even a vague indication of a general direction in which you might should maybe be heading.  While the map I found was helpful in that it also showed where missile tanks, energy tanks, and the various power-ups are, I wouldn't have particularly cared if it hadn't because all I really needed it for was so that I wouldn't get lost for days on end!  Seriously, before I looked it up, I often found myself going in circles over and over again without even realizing it for about half an hour or more.  This does not seem like good level design to me.

Further, Metroid was obviously one of the earliest games that helped create the term Nintendo Hard.  This normally wouldn't be a problem for me because I grew up playing nothing but Nintendo Hard games for many years.  But Metroid is just unforgivingly difficult to the point of ridiculousness.  It's great that they don't give you a certain number of lives or continues so you can just keep going with all the stuff you've already collected and without having to start all over from the very beginning of the game, but transporting you all the way back to the entrance of the section you died in with only 30 Energy, meaning that your only real choices are to either hope you find an energy tank before you face something particularly dangerous or spend the next half-hour to full hour grinding for health bit by tiny bit?  Who's bright idea was that?!  The game's difficulty level is bad enough without having to resort to such cheap tricks to make it even harder!  It only becomes tolerably challenging once you get the Screw Attack, which finally keeps you from getting killed while trying to walk across a room.  A tiny, crawlspace-sized room with a monster flying around in it that only moves to where you can reliably shoot it for a split-second before it's suddenly all up in your grill and your suit explodes and AW DAMMIT BACK AT THE LIFT AGAIN.

And to hell with Mother Brain.  That's all I'm gonna say about that.

Also far too frustrating . . . the password system.  Thank goodness future installments of the Metroid series finally added the save feature, because part of the horrendous difficulty of the game is simply putting in these 200 character monstrosities that the world's leading cryptographers are still trying to figure out decades later.

The Graphics
As stated above, many of the corridors are clones of each other.  They're different from corridors in different sections of the map, but within each individual section, you might end up running back and forth down the same monster-studded hall for ages before you even notice you're not actually getting anywhere.  The visuals look great, don't get me wrong, it's just that they're the same visuals over and over again.

The baddies of the game are all visually interesting, even after seeing their updated designs in other Metroid games, and Samus' suit is, of course, a classic.

The Music
Nice and equal parts science-fictiony, actiony, and 8-bitty.

The Bottom Line
Like I said, I used to like Metroid, but now that I've actually played it all the way through, it has earned my neverending hatred.  I'm glad that it spawned so many other wonderful games, especially since if I ever get a hankerin' for some Metroid action, I can just go play them instead of this infuriating blood pressure cooker.  All of the good points it has got buried underneath the cavalcade of deaths and setbacks I had to endure.

Fuck you, Metroid.

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