Metroid
  • Genre:
    • Platformer
  • Developer:
    • Nintendo
  • Publisher:
    • Nintendo
  • Released:
    FDS
    • JP 08/06/1986
    NES
    • US August 1987
    • UK 01/15/1988
Score: 75%

This review was published on 03/25/2013.

Metroid is a 2-D, side-scrolling platform game that revolves around exploring your environment as opposed to blasting your way to the goal. The game first came out in Japan on the Famicom Disk System, and it was later released in North America and Europe on the Nintendo Entertainment System. Despite taking place in a sci-fi setting of space aliens and bounty hunters that was typical for the time, Metroid was far from one of those typical games. It was a technical marvel, sporting a fully contiguous world with an enormous, interconnected map to explore. Players were faced with many paths to choose from with whatever perils may lie in wait for them. Metroid hasn't aged too well, but it's a historically significant video game that legitimized nonlinear game design.

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Metroid stars a space bounty hunter who isn't named Metroid. Like Zelda, the title to this game is not the protagonist's name. The star of the show is Samus Aran. Samus was called in by the Galactic Federation to deal with the Space Pirates, a gang of intergalactic fiends that terrorize the galaxy. For some reason, most of the Space Pirates are alien life forms, many of which don't seem too sentient. These Space Pirates got their hands on something called a Metroid, which is a dangerous organism that can grab onto creatures to drain their life energy. The Space Pirates plan to use Metroids as biological weapons to crush any who oppose them. I don't see why a lone bounty hunter can prevail where the entirety of the Galactic Federation failed, but I'll play along with it. Samus ventures into the Space Pirates' home base, planet Zebes, to settle things with the diplomacy of total destruction. Samus' goal is to reach the heart of Zebes and destroy the brains behind its command center, which is literally a brain that goes by the name of Mother Brain. Oddly enough, Samus' gender is a major plot twist in the game. Samus' sex is kept secret until the very end of the game, where it's revealed in the ending sequence. You can bet this influenced many heated discussions at school play yards all over the place. Anyway, the sci-fi theme of Metroid's world is pretty neat and allows for a lot of imagination in the game design department.

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Even though the perspective is of a side-scrolling platform game, Metroid is all about the exploration. Zebes is a labyrinth of countless intersecting pathways, requiring players to carefully survey each area. The whole game takes place in a seamless world with no real transitions between one area and the next, unlike almost every other game of the time. It was unprecedented for such a large world to be featured in a game back then, especially in such a fluid manner. The only things that served to divide different areas were the doors and elevator shafts. As a result of this, there isn't much that can interrupt a player's exploration. The level design changed to reflect the large emphasis on exploration. Instead of focusing on overcoming many obstacles and defeating tough enemies, the focus is on discovering new places to scout. The one drawback to Metroids exploratory nature is the lack of an in-game map. There's a generalized map in the manual, but it doesn't show any specifics. It's possible that the developers originally intended for players to create their own maps, as was the case with the first Zelda game, but who does that? In any case, Metroid's focus on exploration was a refreshing change of pace for the era, and it influenced many other video games that came after it.

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Whereas most games of this type feature power-ups that temporarily improve your character, Metroid features the concept of permanent upgrades. Samus is equipped with a sophisticated space suit that can be enhanced via items that are hidden throughout the environment. Who hid these items? Who knows, but they're extremely useful. In the beginning of the game, Samus starts off rather weak, harboring an arm cannon that can only shoot beams for a short distance. One of the first upgrades acquired, the Long Beam, remedies this problem by allowing Samus' beams to travel across the entire length of the screen. There are many other helpful upgrades, such as the Varia Suit which reduces damage taken, Energy Tanks that increase the maximum available health, and so on. There are plenty of upgrades with unique uses, like the Morph Ball, which enables Samus to transform into a small ball that can roll around into tight spaces. Suit upgrades also expand the areas Samus can explore, such as the High Jump Boots allowing Samus to jump higher or the Ice Beam that can freeze enemies to use as stepping stools. Many items are multipurpose, being that they can be used to access new areas or as offensive weapons. For example, the missiles act as the most powerful weapon in the game, but they're also used to open certain doors. The feeling of incremental empowerment adds a lot of depth to the game experience. By the end of the game, Samus becomes an absolute power house. Upgrades are a wonderful incentive to explore, and this is the core of what makes Metroid games fantastic.

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Metroid's world is colossal in size and it can be traversed in a completely nonlinear fashion. The goal is to reach Mother Brain, but in order to do that, Samus must locate and defeat two menacing foes; Kraid and Ridley. In case you were wondering, yes, Ridley is named after the director of Alien, Ridley Scott. The order in which Samus defeats these bosses is entirely up to the player. On top of that, most of the suit upgrades are totally optional, which further adds to the game's already nonlinear nature. There are plenty of secret paths that can be discovered when bombing walls, too, some acting as shortcuts between areas and some hiding valuable upgrades. Freedom of choice is at the crux of the Metroid experience. Choices were always present in video games, even in the late 1980s, but Metroid takes that concept much further. The only problem with this approach to game design is that it may confuse players as to where they need to go. That's a problem that any nonlinear game will inevitably face, and it indeed is evident in Metroid. It's a necessary price to pay if one is to play a game of this sort. Being that Metroid is one of the first nonlinear platform games ever made, it does lack a bit of direction; there are plenty of dead ends and awkwardly designed rooms. Some corridors seem to stretch on forever with what looks to be the same room copy and pasted endlessly, as well. Nintendo likely wasn't able to fit such a large, nonlinear world into one cartridge, so they had to cut some corners. Metroid still did a pretty good job despite these shortcomings, and the nonlinearity it provides went unrivaled by even future entries in the series.

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As mentioned earlier, Metroid was released in Japan on the Famicom Disk System, an attachment to the Famicom that allowed the capability to play games stored on floppy disks. That version of Metroid allowed players to save their progress, but the cartridge version released for the Nintendo Entertainment System in North America and Europe used a password system to store progress. Believe it or not, the password system was advertised on the box as a selling point. It was a different era. Passwords are all right if they're short, but the passwords in Metroid are far from short. They're some of the longest passwords in video game history, so be prepared to spend a lot of time writing down and inputting passwords. What's worse, there are a combination of lower case and upper case letters, numbers, and even symbols. It can be frustrating trying to discern the difference between a lower case "L" and upper case "I," among other things. Passwords are better than nothing, but Metroid is the type of game that could really benefit from having a save feature. However, there is one cool thing about the password system; there are cheat codes available. The infamous "Justin Bailey" makes it so players can play as Samus without the suit, and there are some cheats for things like invincibility and infinite missiles. It still sucks to have to input such long passwords, but at least there's that.

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Metroid was a momentous occasion in video game history. It proved that platform games can be about more than merely shooting anything that moves. Exploring a nonlinear world filled with tons of helpful upgrades to find is a fun concept, and Metroid was one of the first games to do it. Of course, this being the very first Metroid game, it did not execute all of these concepts to perfection. It lacked a much needed map system, there were many repetitive corridors, and two of the three bosses were somewhat lackluster. Metroid is a very influential classic that will be remembered for all time, even if it is a bit flawed.

Word Count: 1,536

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