Today, Super Metroid is not only considered one of the best games for the Super Nintendo but one of the best games ever made. However, when I bought my copy back in 1994, I really didn’t know what to expect. I was no longer a subscriber to Nintendo Power so I didn’t have the luxury of Pak-Watch (I know that probably didn’t exist anymore in 1994) to tell me it was coming. All I can recall is that I was browsing the SNES game section of my local Best Buy when I noticed there was a new Metroid game available. I loved Metroid on the NES as it held such a special place in the nostalgic part of my brain due to its open world concept and dark, eerie music and graphics. It would still be several years before I would play the proper Metroid sequel on the Gameboy so this new SNES Metroid game was the first time I had suited up as galactic bounty hunter Samus Aran, in probably 5-6 years. I had no idea if this new adventure would simply be a re-hash of past glories or if Nintendo would put the necessary time and care into keeping the franchise relevant on 16 bit hardware.
After bringing the game home and devouring it from start to finish, to me there was no question Super Metroid did so many things right and so very few things wrong. First and foremost, the story behind Super Metroid really draws a player in. The events of Super Metroid take place immediately after the conclusion of Metroid 2 on the Gameboy. Thankfully, the game catches players up by providing a synopsis of the previous entry’s ending just in case they hadn’t played it (i.e. me). Samus heads home but as she is leaving, a distress signal has been sent out from the space colony Ceres, where she had left the last Metroid larva with the scientists. She turns back only to find the Metroid larva gone and all the scientists dead. After some investigating, Samus finds that space pirate Ridley has stolen the larva and now she must escape before the station self-destructs, harkening back to the original Metroid’s ending, and follow Ridley to Zebes.
The planet Zebes is bigger and more intimidating than ever. Samus must now battle 4 space pirate bosses, including Kraid and Ridley, and make her way towards the heart of the pirate base, Tourian. It’s here that Samus will meet up with the “all grown up” Metroid larva as well as a rematch with Mother Brain. But I’ve just skipped past so much amazing and addictive gameplay going from the opening sequence on Ceres until the final sequence in Tourian. Super Metroid is a huge game in both size and scope but I never felt overwhelmed. The basic Metroid moves and weapons are still there for anyone familiar with the first two games in the series. As you’d expect from a game this epic, there are enhanced moves, weapons and items such as the super bomb, grapple beam, x-ray, wall jump and speed booster available to Samus with exploration. Utilizing these new techniques is critical to success as areas of Zebes only become available to Samus once they’ve been acquired and mastered. These additions are all very cool and make Super Metroid that much more “super” but from a practical standpoint, nothing improves on the original NES title more than the inclusion of the map system. The maps allow you to see where you’ve been and where you have yet to explore. Super Metroid’s map system (as well as save points) served as the template for other action adventure style games created after it (see Castlevania Symphony of the Night) due to the perfect way it shows you what you need to know without handing everything to you on a platter.
Super Metroid is riddled with awe inspiring boss battles but my favorite of the bunch would have to be Kraid. While battling Ridley one more time is satisfying and all and the finale against Mother Brain is something to behold, I have to go with Kraid as my favorite boss battle. Kraid is another holdover from the original Metroid and it’s fought in the first half of the game instead of the second half like Ridley and Mother Brain. The manner in which it exposes its enormous size to Samus, and in turn the player, is something I certainly wasn’t expecting the first time I reached Kraid. I remember Kraid being a relatively small, if stout, beast in the original game but in Super Metroid, it takes up two screens! It’s one of those boss battles that really showed off what the Super Nintendo could do, plus Kraid is no pushover so there’s a good chance you’ll have to fight it more than once if you reach it before you’ve gained sufficient energy tank reserves.
Super Metroid is all about the special items that turn Samus from the shell of her former glory at the beginning of the game to the bad-ass bounty hunter that we know and love by the game’s end. Metroid games are all about gradually building up her strengths and abilities and Super Metroid accomplishes this masterfully. The most unique item in the game from my perspective is the Speed Booster found in Norfair. The Speed Booster allows Samus to plow through weakened walls not only horizontally, but vertically as well. She can also use the Speed Booster to send herself into the stratosphere by simply pressing down while she’s in speed run mode then pressing A to jump while she flashes. She’ll soar high in the air and can either break weakened ceilings above her or simply explore the exterior terrain of Zebes. This is a great trick that is more than just a gimmick. The Speed Booster special moves need a little practice to master but they absolutely have their useful moments and pay off for practicing.
Super Metroid is one of those games that is challenging enough to make it feel like everything you accomplish is earned but you don’t have nearly as many frustrated feelings of unfairness that the original Metroid provides. Not to be overlooked when talking about the game’s plot and flawless mechanics is the fact that Super Metroid looks and sounds amazing. So much attention to detail was paid to the game by Nintendo’s developers that it there are ultimately too many brilliant examples to name. It’s the little things like the scurrying rodents during the opening scenes in the abandoned sections to the rain falling on Zebes’ surface when Samus lands her ship to the air bubbles under the floor as Crocomire’s melted corpse tries to chase after Samus one last time from beneath before it crumbles to the floor in a pile of bones. There are just so many “holy shit!” cool moments in this game that even though it’s been decades since I last played this game through, I remember them all clearly. To top it off, the ending sequence starting with Samus’ battle with the Super Metroid all the way through the final Mother Brain encounter is probably one of the most epic and cinematic events I’ve ever participated in. I won’t spoil the ending just in case someone reading this hasn’t played Super Metroid all the way through because it would be a damn shame to miss out on the surprises as they are meant to be experienced. Is Super Metroid perfect? I have a hard time saying any video game is perfect, but this is as close as I’ve ever seen.