Please Rate this Review: Metroid (NES)
High: I recognize that music!
Low: Grinding for health drops.
WTF: Zero-Suit Samus has green hair?
I bought an NES at PAX East with a copy of the original Metroid. That purchase delayed me buying Bioshock Infinite, so Metroid is the only game I have been playing recently. It has been nice to go back to such a classic game that kick started a series praised as much as Metroid, Other-M notwithstanding. These days with the new console generation approaching I feel it is important to remember the roots of gaming and analyze a game changer from 1986 before I tackle something incredibly new like Bioshock Infinite. Letís remember where one of our favorite series began.
Before I dive head first into the labyrinth of planet Zebes I should mention I never grew up on 2-D games. I was raised with the Nintendo 64 and the Gamecube so I missed the critical learning period of the NES and the SNES, now when I play classic Nintendo games I kind of suck at them.
Metroid is a game that does not mess around. The story is entirely located on the back of the game box, when you start the game you are beamed down on Zebes with nothing but your power suit and some really catchy music. This is classic open world gameplay at itís finest, you are free to explore wherever you want, the only boundaries being a lack of the proper item or enemies far beyond your ability to handle. There is no hand holding here (Metroid literally has no tutorial), and finding the power ups is entirely up to you. Itís nice to see a game respect my intelligence but it can get particularly frustrating to finish a long stretch only to realize the only thing between me and the Varia Suit is the High Jump Boots, which I donít have. Then I died and had to start over again. Or when I got stuck because I accidentally went down to Norfair much earlier than I was supposed to and didnít realize it.
The controls are super tight. You have a jump button and a shoot button and thatís it. Your hit range is really clear and enemies make a satisfying pop when they are defeated. It feels particular rewarding when you master the controls and learn enemy movement patterns so you can move through corridors of tough bad guys without a single hit. And the controls seem to improve as you collect more of the power ups. Does the short range of your attack frustrate you at first? No problem, go grab the long beam and youíll be fine. Seeing the gameplay compliment the story is really refreshing.
It is a very fine tuned experience, but what really sours the game for me is the lack of a consistent flow. The game is very challenging to begin with and, as I mentioned before, it is particularly challenging for me. When you die in the game you always respawn with 30 hit points, so every time I died I had to go back and grind health drops out of enemies. By the end of the game I had six energy tanks with 100 hit points each, so getting full health again took me around 20 minutes of doing nothing but mashing the B-button. Besides being annoying, it was a long stretch of time I could have spent exploring the world and, you know, actually playing the game. I understand implementing that system makes the player fear death and forces you to be careful while exploring the world, however it seems like the same could have been accomplished without such a crippling break in the flow of the game.
As I played the game more I did find I was dying less and even when I was having trouble getting though the middle sections of the game, I never feared moving into unknown areas. Nintendo really succeeded in that regard, players have complete freedom to go and do whatever they want.
I admire Metroid for its simplicity. The music, the controls and the power-ups are all pushing toward the theme of exploration, because when you take everything else away, there is not much left. You want to get the new items because they will let you see more areas of the game. So the game is really challenging in two areas: fighting the enemies and figuring out where to go. There is a lot of instruction you need that the game never tells you, the most glaring of which is the main goal, beat Kraid and Ridley to unlock the last area. Fortunately if you have played any of the other games in the series you will have some idea of how to progress and where to look for items. For example, I only know how to kill Metroids because I played Metroid Prime. You hit them with the ice beam and shoot them with missiles.
This game deserves to be played, warts and all. It is probably the best open world game on the NES and it is not looking like we are going to see a new Metroid game for quite a while. If nothing else, it is worth playing to see how much the Metroid series has grown over the years and give you an appreciation for the classics. It was revolutionary when it first came out and has not aged too poorly. While it might not be a game changer now, it has earned its place in gaming history. The game is available for download on the Wii Shop channel for $5.00, since this experience will last you over ten hours, I think it is well worth the price of admission. Chances are you have heard of this game but might not have tried it. Rating: 7.0 out of 10.
Disclosures: This game was played on the Nintendo Entertainment System. Approximately 18 hours of play were devoted to this single player game.
Parents: According to the ESRB this game contains mild fantasy violence, it can be enjoyed by all ages.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: This game contains no spoken dialogue.