Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Review: Super Metroid (SNES)

The first thing one notices when launching Super Metroid is that it is unusually option heavy for an Nintendo game. Not only can one configure the button layout, but also a few other things such as "moon walk" (walking backward when holding the shoot button) and icon cancel (automatically deselects icon on room change). The default control scheme is also pretty unusual in using X for shoot and A for jump, instead of the normal Y and B combination. That aside the control scheme also feels a little cumbersome, to select a weapon you have to toggle through a list of all those items by pressing select. In Metroid Fusion this was much more smoothly handled by having a modifier key that would turn your normal bomb into a super bomb or normal shot into a missile, thus making them easier available in combat without having to go through a list.

Another weird thing with the game is the way in which it handles translations, unlike other games, the normal text here is not translated, instead the game features subtitles below the normal English text. This doesn't really have much impact on the game, as you won't be seeing much text beside the intro, but it is a rather unusual thing to see in an non-FMV game.

Once past the option menu and into the actual game, it looks a bit disappointing at first. The graphics are rather basic and especially the backgrounds are often very blunt, giving it the look of a very early 16bit area title instead of one of the later ones. However that first impression doesn't last for long, as what the graphics lack in detail they make up in atmosphere. Especially later in the game there are some nice scenarios, such as when one walks through the ruins of an abandoned spaceship or when you are deep underground and have earthquakes shaking. The music, while basic, does a really good job supporting that atmosphere.

The games map lacks a few features one might have learned to love from Metroid Fusion, such as the ability to see doors. In Super Metroid you only see the rooms outline, but not if it has a door or which kind of door, thus it becomes much trickier to find unexplored areas. The map also doesn't keep track of items you have collected, it only keeps track of "points of interest", but that can be anything from an already collected energy tank to a missile refill station. The map also doesn't provide you a pointer as to where you have to go next, thus it becomes easy to walk off aimlessly into the wrong direction. What the map however shows are the boss locations, so you always have a final goal, but without information where to collect the next item that might not be all that helpful, especially given that many critical items are very well hidden behind seemingly normal walls.

In terms of items the game features missiles, super missiles, super bomb, grappling beam or x-ray. The last two have been missing from Metroid Zero Mission and Metroid Fusion and provide a nice addition that adds a bit more complexity to the game then you see in the 2D Metroids that followed. The spiderball from Metroid II however is missing. Super Metroid also allows you to customize your suit, you can switch on and off collected abilities at will, something that didn't make it into later games either.

Compared to the later games the gameplay of Super Metroid also feels a little stiff, you walk and jump rather slowly. Some of that is helped once you notice that you actually have a separate run button in this game, instead of the auto-running of the GBA, but a little sluggishness in the controls remains.

The save points in the game are for most part placed well enough, but sometimes rather well hidden behind a wall or another obstacle and thus not instantly obvious. There is also one savepoint in the wreaked ship that is activated only after you defeated the boss, not before. While justifiable from a story point of view, it is a rather mean trick, especially given that the boss is one of the harder ones in the game. Another extremely problematic save point is the last one, as that savepoint is a non-obvious point of no return, once you have saved there you can not go back and collect remaining items, you are stuck in the Mother Brain lair forever, essentially making your current savegame useless and not giving you a way to refresh your super missiles. Super Metroid is neither the first nor last game to pull such a misshape, but it is especially annoying here as collecting items after defeating the last boss is kind of half the fun.

In terms of story the game keeps it really basic, you get an intro and an ending, which not much inbetween, but the game does manage to keep things interesting with a few scripted in-game events (such as a bird creature teaching you the speedboost jump for example) and also the intro does do a good job recapping previous games events, which makes the ending a lot more meaningful. The short introductory space station mission is also extremely well done.

Overall it is a very good SNES game, probably my second favorite in the Metroid series behind Metroid Fusion. In terms of length it is a little longer then the GBA games, clocking in at around six hours on a normal play through. A few interface goofs spoil the fun a bit, but one gets used to most of that after a while and for the lack of proper map screen one has the Internet these days as replacement. The story is simple, but it does a great job in connecting all the 2D games in the Metroid series. The one thing that was a huge bummer was the point-of-no-return save point, a game in which collecting stuff is a large part of the experience should never have such a point, especially when completely unnecessary.

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