Please forgive the lack of images in this update. I’m at a resort with a terrible Internet connection and no computer. Use your imagination for now and I’ll follow up with visuals once I get home, OK?
Once you collect your first Missile expansion in the lower right area of Brinstar, Metroid leaves you again to your own devices — and, again, it gives you some freedom to explore, yet doesn’t allow you to go too far or get in over your head.
Your first instinct after grabbing the Missiles is very likely to push forward on the same path you’ve been traveling, because after all you’ve had such success running in this direction already — and your first time through, the proper value of Missiles (which function as a key as well as a weapon) may not be immediately evident. And your adventurousness is well rewarded as you find an elevator to the fiery depths of Norfair a few rooms ahead.
Once in Norfair, though, you can’t go terribly far. The new visual style — with pools of what appear to be magma and rock formations that look to have been formed from solidified lava bubbles or something — pairs with the change in musical style from triumphant to melancholy to communicate the sense that you’ve reached a deeper, deadlier area of the planet’s interior. And the enemies you meet bear this out, behaving in much the same ways as the Zoomers and Rios of Brinstar but inflicting far more damage upon contact.
To the left of the elevator, you can only travel a couple of rooms before you literally hit a wall. It’s impassable at this point.
To the elevator’s right, you can range further afield. A room of cloud-like platforms above a lake of lava connects to another vertical shaft. This one, despite being much shorter than that monstrosity you encountered in Brinstar, offers three other doors to choose from. The topmost door leads to no less than three (!) Missile expansions in a row, rapidly quadrupling Samus’ arsenal at this early point in the game (and suggesting that players are definitely meant to venture into this area right away). The other two doors, however, lead to more dead ends.
While the three pointless dead-ends seem to denote Norfair is a brief affair of a region, the walls contain secrets — but at the moment, Samus is ill-equipped to tap into their mysteries. Literally, she lacks the equipment. Norfair leaves you with a sense of incompleteness and mild frustration, but no matter what you do here you can’t advance in this direction — though depending on how vigorously you flail about, you may notice certain portions of the wall that you can shoot away (or you can once you grab the Long Beam). But, again, you can’t actually do anything about that now. It’s merely a curiosity.
At some point, you gotta buckle down a face facts: Norfair offers nothing more for now, just some Missiles and a bunch of hard-hitting indigenous life forms. There’s nothing to be done for it but to backtrack up the elevator. Again, the entire concept of backtracking was quite alien to action games in 1986, so I applaud the way Metroid introduces it here. The game lets you cast about along your usual left-to-right linear path, then reels you back in once you hit your head again the inexplicable obstructions along the way.
Back in Brinstar, you can double back on the path you took to reach Norfair and the Missile. This time, however, you’re equipped with Missiles, which means those infuriating Red Doors can now be blasted away to reveal the secrets inside. While you’re able to access a huge percentage of Brinstar at this point, there are only a handful of Red Doors available — meaning these are the only new areas you can currently access. If you don’t remember the location of these two spots (understandable, given the visual similarities of the area and the sprawl of the map), you’ll still stumble into them eventually through simple re-exploration.
The lower left door in the immense first shaft takes you to one door, behind which you can find the Long Beam. This upgrade actually isn’t essential — you can theoretically finish the game without it — but since it allows Samus’ blaster to span the width of the entire screen instead of inexplicably petering out halfway there, it’s definitely worth grabbing.
The real prize, however, you’ll find almost directly above the Missiles in a room in the eastern half of Brinstar. While the topmost chamber of this side of the region remains impassible even with Missiles, the one below it off the shaft to the far right of the map contains an essential tool: The Bombs.
Again, Bombs work like the Missiles in that they empower Samus (allowing her to drop time-delayed explosives while ducked into Maru-Mari form) but they also give her additional exploratory skills. In this case, the force of the Bombs’ explosions lift Samus about one block high, which you can use to propel her forward across long gaps that you couldn’t normally traverse while morphed… or, more importantly, to help her rise high enough to enter meter-tall waist-high passages in walls, which she can’t jump into on her own. Furthermore, Bomb blasts crack open damaged rock formations, like those in the room adjacent to the start of the game. And , it should be said, like those you had to shoot through in order to reach the room in Norfair with three Missile expansions.
Equipped with the game’s three most essential upgrades — the Maru-Mari, the Missiles, and the Bomb — Samus can dig into the quest in earnest.