|Genre||Action, Platformer, Metroidvania OG|
|Platforms||Switch NSO (reviewed), SNES, Wii Play store|
|Release Date||March 19, 1994|
A good question to ask sometimes is, “How did it come to this?” It especially begs knowing the ideas behind remarkable creations, and finding out a detail that may have slipped by before. “How did Super Metroid come to be?” is on the forefront of my mind, as I look at a completed Super Metroid game screen and think of all the games born from this moment, games that are in my personal collection because the Metroidvania craze has absorbed me like a metroid. Hollow Knight, Owlboy, Symphony of the Night, Leedlit, Ori, Axiom Verge, and The Messenger have kept the genre going. Some try to delineate and nuance their approach, while others unabashedly clone the 1994 Nintendo SNES title.
Super Metroid comes coupled with words like perfection, masterpiece, timeless, or some other superlative in the same sentence. But nearly every Nintendo title for the SNES gets the same treatment (not sure if you’ve noticed). How did it come to this? I wasn’t around the Nintendo scene in ‘94 to experience it. Has Super Metroid always been celebrated? Are there critical words to say for it?
I would like to examine Super Metroid underneath the lens in this review and try to offer some objective perspective. Additionally, we will hear from some contributing writers here at GUG, to lend a voice to both sides of the discussion.
Violence: Samus will shoot various projectiles. Very mild scenes of disturbance, such as a boss disintegrating in lava, and a pixelated dead body swarming with bugs.
Sexual Themes: There is an outdated objective of finishing the game in a short amount of time to see Samus in a bathing suit. While not surprising, it is disappointing. An upside is that this can be easily avoided.
Let’s start with some quick context. Metroid 3 follows the story of Metroid 2: Return of Samus from the GameBoy back in ‘91. Being in March of 1994 is about how it feels to know the PS5 now. SNES is still the shiny new kid on the block. It’s been a couple of years now, and the games are rolling in for the console. People have already been blown away by Super Mario Kart, Final Fantasy V, Mega Man X, TMNT4, which are just a few examples of what the SNES has to offer. Another year, another steady continuation of the eyes being flooded with page-exploding magazine ads, tv commercial grandeurs, console gaming fun in the home, and technology showing off improved capabilities.
Super Metroid enters, and it is met with gamers already waiting, and the anticipation is well met. Reviews for it are 9’s and 10’s with the only criticism that the map makes things easier. But as we can see from the reviews, like that of EGM, journalism and coverage seem executed shotgun style, quickly released and covering a wide range without powerful impact, while worrying about ads, subscribers, and legitimacy. Remember, this was a fast-paced scene growing too quickly—understandably so, since I can even remember at a young age that understanding everything going on in the ’90s was like being on a roller coaster with the bar shifting when you go upside down. Video game journalism had just as much to prove as the medium itself.
Super Metroid begins with Samus returning to planet Zebes due to Ridley making a vicious attack in stealing the last Metroid. Ridley’s had time to recover, but Samus hasn’t. Gamers hadn’t been on Zebes for eight years, even though eight in-universe years hadn’t passed. Three things are accomplished right away: graphical fidelity of an old location players are aware of, a suspenseful atmosphere, and progressing left. Nintendo was once again intentional in their design. How did it come to this? Well, I imagine that they could see around the flow of games come and gone, and could see everyone doing the same thing. Licensed movie games and rival console mascots all were trying to do their own thing to be unique with the same formula, but it was still everything going to the right, and upbeat or gnarly rhythms. Even Mario was subject to this classic progression.
It was subtle, like the first Metroid instance of going left, but it was an improvement. And just like the continuing halls, the turn from the norm keeps going until it is no longer subtle. Super Metroid brings back many classic power-ups and a few new upgrades. The Ice Beam returns, the Varia suit, charge beam, morph ball, bombs, missiles, and the screw attack return. But now, a grappling hook beam arrives, along with a gravity suit, an x-ray scope, a speed booster, and a plasma beam.
It is thanks to the new upgrades that we can begin discussing quite possibly how Super Metroid became so revered. 24 megs both increased and limited what Nintendo could do. The freedom to simulate a clearly-defined missile-chucking bounty hunter in a creepy crawl through hallways was in their grasp. And it was the limitations that helped, rather than hindered, them. That’s right, limits are not always a bad thing. In fact, I’ll presumptuously say that limitless megs can stifle creativity.
I’ll wager that the idea of connecting hidden tunnels back to other areas of the map came from limitations, instead of using a fast travel location like we see in Symphony of the Night. Nonetheless, speculation aside, what I can concretely say is that upgrades and powers are sometimes two-and-three-fold in execution. The ice beam can freeze enemies, making makeshift platforms that prove helpful in getting back to Crateria without having to backtrack all through Brinstar. The grapple beam not only swings you across the cross-shaped tiles, but also grabs items for you. The speed boost can be learned to execute Shinespark. Morph ball bombs blow up difficult land tiles, but also propel Samus while in Morph ball state. At least one puzzle exists in Metroid that involves using each power and combination of powers. And with 46 missile upgrades, you’d better believe you’ll know how to play Super Metroid after it’s all said and done.
It also cannot go without saying that making the main character a woman set itself up for a lucky success. I sincerely doubt this was the social justice motive that it’s honored for now, but it’s clear that Nintendo celebrates it along with the fans, turning away from missing clothes as an incentive for playing their game.
The music finds a way to make you feel uneasy in each track. Samus doesn’t get a grass land, a fire land, an ice land, or any variety in her surroundings. She only gets tight corridors, with dangers around each corner trying to kill her. The music adopts each scene into its rhythm and melody, but always maintaining that tritone of uncertainty. This reflects the player’s own feelings as they search every crevice for the next upgrade, or secret tunnel that will help them progress forward to the end.
Speaking of success, the nuance of boss fights in Super Metroid deviated as well. Metroidvanias have my favorite boss fights, because they’re unscripted. It’s all about learning attacks, finding openings, or making them. Croconaw and Draygon are such good examples of how to subvert expectations and mix things up. Croconaw doesn’t get a fancy boss lair entrance; he’s waiting for you in some random hallway, with a spiked wall on one side to trap you. He’s invulnerable, and the only chance of winning is knocking him back into a disintegrating end. But even then, he surprises you by knocking down the spiked wall, but collapsing shortly after.
This wasn’t like Kraid or the Chozo statue before it where the player keeps firing until the color swaps and explosions indicated victory. Here was a complete nuance to the boss encounter. Draygon, too, has no special entrance, and he ambushes you as well. But Draygon has one weak spot, and it is the same spot that likes to pick you up every five seconds and carry you around. The entire fight can take forever.
Or it can be the shortest.
Electrocuting him by grappling one of the electrical outlets on the side wouldn’t be the first thought on anyone’s mind. In fact, I’ll bet only those who bought the guide could spread that little news around. I would legitimately love to meet someone who found that out by mistake.
Kraid and Ridley are just good knock-down drag-out fights putting your platforming expertise to the test.
And all of this experience boils to the top as you enter the finale, and experience a literal explosive, super-charged ending.
If you manage to get there, of course. This masterpiece has a couple of stains on it. At the time of ‘94-’95, I would have given it a perfect 10. No shame. But we’re not in that anymore. I don’t have Nintendo Power or EGM, and I don’t have a SNES controller. I have a Switch, and the internet. These matter, and I’ll explain why.
The controls leave a lot to be desired. For an ambitious title, it gets full marks for almost pulling off exceptional gameplay. But relegating the switch missile option to the select button has aged badly. I found out that pressing Y reset Samus back to her regular weapon, but I still had to push over to the Super Missile, and I was fumbling over the control stick to get to it. Also, I heard a great idea that the auxiliary weapons could have just been given to the Y button. Why didn’t that happen?
I also heard that Samus comes off as floaty, and it’s hard to land on the little platforms. But that’s just platforming. Also, speculatively they could have been simulating the gravity on Planet Zebes. What is difficult is the Space Jump controls. Even on a classic controller, touching up or down cancels the ascent up. And the A button was consistently inconsistent. I thought I had figured it out to release the button fully in order to keep jumping, but I did not set out to master the controls to tell for sure.
If these sound like nitpicks, well, they are. I was able to overcome them, and feel that much better beating the game. Some might even argue that clunkiness should stay part of the involvement. It does make for a nice rite of passage to say the game was beaten with even more setbacks.
Including setbacks also means not knowing the gist of the story, or how Metroid games work without playing the first two. The whole point is to go blast every wall, uncover every secret missile, and have a subscription to Nintendo Power monthly. “Super” definitely doesn’t imply trilogy.
Alas, smudges can be wiped away. And a small percentage of the fandom will easily power bomb them, or excuse them into the “adds character” compartment.
There are those that carry an unknowing grudge against Nintendo. Because of this, the nuance of Super Metroid is off-putting. Sadly, they cannot grasp the experience that is meant to be had, and will fault the game for not fitting in with their idea of a game. I should know, I used to be that way.
It’s been a long time, but I try to view everything as objectively as I can. And kudos to Nintendo for having a successful run of multiple genre-developing titles and consoles in the ’90s that really connected with people. But without the players too, this might have been the end of the story. It was the fans and investors that bought the games and made it possible to carry on.
I’ve reached out to the other reviewers to see what their impressions were. Sadly, I didn’t get anyone who got their hands on it the day, the month, or even the year it came out. But I had plenty who traveled back in time just to experience it themselves.
“…despite having an SNES back in the day, I played in like 2004. And when my idiot roommate deleted my save where I was 75% through, I immediately played it through and beat it still anyway because the game was so good XD…” –Derek Thompson
“…Well, I had played through Castlevania Symphony of the Night like eight times, but I didn’t own a Super Nintendo. The term “metroidvania” started circulating and I investigated to see what it meant. I started with Super Metroid which got nines and tens in my old video game magazines. I wasn’t disappointed…” –Maurice Pogue
“…At the time I’d never played anything like it. I was fascinated with the formula. I still enjoy it. They’ve improved on the formula over the years but I think it was atmospheric and clever. Super Metroid established the framework for Metroidvanias that are still observed today…” –Joe Morgan
One reviewer cut his teeth on Super Metroid, however, and our own horror video game king was gracious enough to say a few words.
“…I’ve been playing Super Metroid since I could hold a controller. Granted, it took me a while to be able to defeat the Chozo statue without help, but I still loved the game even back then. The atmosphere and soundtrack made a lasting impact on me, and I’ve always gravitated toward art with similar qualities. There are so many secrets I still haven’t found them all. The game is nearly perfect in my eyes, and it still holds up nearly twenty-eight years later. One flaw is the wrecked ship portion, with its boss Phantoon. It’s the only section of the game that gives me any real trouble, and I find that particular challenge more annoying than fun. Even Ridley, though more difficult, isn’t frustrating like Phantoon…” –David Koury
These accounts of revisiting history or beginning a passion are all spread out. All of this to say for one game. Is Super Metroid a masterpiece? It might as well be. Timeless? Perhaps not, with certain control decisions. Is it worth trying, or watching the gameplay? Absolutely. It is a foundation for games and people alike. It is transcendent, as GUG has described in our description of bestowing a 10/10 for video game review. Games ought to improve from their predecessor, not just in graphics, but in all aspects. It’s how we get beloved spin-offs, new genres of gaming. It’s how metroidvanias come to exist. It’s how gamers come to be made. It’s how Super Metroid came to be.
The Bottom Line
Despite nitpicks, it gets a perfect score for what it did, and for being one of the greatest games of all time.