After finishing Hollow Knight, I rather fancied playing another metroidvania—one I actually, to my big shame, never really touched: the granddaddy of ‘vanias, Super Metroid. Released in 1994, twenty-seven full years ago, it still looks and plays remarkably well, and it has the enticing atmosphere to thank for it. I lamented on Hollow Knights’ mesmerizing world before, but this is one of the games that it owes its legacy to, so it would only be showing some decency to take a good look at Super Metroid.
After playing Super Metroid for about an hour, one thing becomes immediately apparent: it plays quick. I’m not sure if that is the right word for it, but the rate of upgrades that I stumble upon in my path towards the core of the planet Zebes is staggering. Compared to other castlevania-likes, the pace here is higher. Even though in Aria of Sorrow (AoS), I had the feeling I was progressing more slowly, according to Howlongtobeat, they’re both done in under seven hours. Of course, Soma does not need missile upgrades. In AoS, as you make your way through the castle, you regularly spot shiny looking swords you cannot access yet. A typical metroidvania puzzle: come back later when you have the sliding/double jump/whatever ability. The difference is that these items are usually visible. Yes, there are exceptions: Claim Solais, the best weapon in the game, is well-hidden behind a not-so-visible breakable wall.
Speaking of upgrades, most of them are well-hidden: after finishing it, the game told me I only found
66% of the items (and that was with the occasional peek at a guide). Super bomb upgrades are stashed away in breakable walls, except that no single pixel reveals that the wall can be broken in the first place. The “wall” is a tile here,
16x16pixels, not a whole wall, resulting in a lot of tedious bombing for a sinle “wall”. In the first part of the game, it feels a bit ridiculous, randombly bombing stuff up or having to shoot at each block in each room—just in case. Later on, you’re awarded an X-Ray (provided you can find it), but to my horror, even that trinket does not find everything. The quality of life upgrades more contemporary metroidvanias have (slight visible cues, thank you) are sorely missed here.
Samus' gun is effective, and enemies never pose a real threat, not even the bosses. Super Metroid is quite easy. The real difficulty lies in the getting-lost-where-to-go-ness part of the game that can sometimes be a bit overwhelming, considering there is no fast travel included. That was something introduced in Symphony of the Night. Backtracking is of course a big part of the game, as it should be. However, some parts did leave me confused and demotivated. I had no idea you could break the glass tube, for instance. Or, arguably the worst part of the game: wall/space jumping controls. Pressing the opposite direction on the D-pad, what the hell Nintendo?
The atmosphere is indeed fantastic. Every section of the planet, separated by lift shafts, is its own micro-cosmos, inhabited by different creatures, with different music and different present tiles and vibes. There’s an underwater section, a volcanic part, a lush green part, and so on. The sometimes rightfully so creepy music perfectly accommodates Samus' careful but thoughtful exploration mission to track Ridley and the stolen Metroid. Too bad that even Ridley does not pose a real threat. I had to stock up on energy and missiles, but after two attempts, The Cunning God Of Death died himself. Or herself? Who knows. I like the fact that some bosses get angry if you use super missiles, forcing the player to rethink the attacking strategy.
After more or less seven hours of blasting my way through Zebes, I killed Mother Brain (again) and the planet exploded (again). Good riddance! Super Metroid is still very much worth your time and has aged quite well, especially in contrast to Metroid on NES or Metroid II on Game Boy. It is a classic game full of memorable moments. Completionists might find the hidden missile collect-a-thon enticing. I was content enough to make it to the finish line. Super Metroid clearly is designed to be replayed. Also, speed runners love it: the record is 40m46s! Aria of Sorrow requires even less time once you know the hacks, clocking in about 13 minutes.
I’d rather take a stroll to soak up the atmosphere.
Let the countdown for Metroid Dread begin!
(Screenshots source: DuckDuckGo. I need to get a HDMI capture device…)