Anatomy of Metroid: X. Mother do you think she’s dangerous

Tourian is as close as Metroid comes to having “levels” in the traditional video game sense. You make it through the gauntlet of Rinkas and Metroids a screen at a time and arrive at last at the boss. Even the doors in Tourian say “serious business” — they’re orange instead of red, soaking up ten missiles instead of five. The only other door in the game like that was the one behind Ridley. The message is clear: Every time you reach a door in this area, you should experience the same sense of elation you feel when you’ve just beaten a boss.

Behind the final door, the boss room awaits. And, you know, the idea of a “boss room” has become a real cliché in games. Even here in Metroid in 1986 we saw both Kraid and Ridley situated in strange, stark chambers where they did nothing but sit in wait for the hero to come blow them up. It’s kind a goofy concept if you stop to think about it; how miserable must that existence be, lurking in the dark with nothing to do until some do-gooder comes along to blow you up? You never see proactive villains in action games like this — though this very franchise made a brilliant and terrifying exception to that rule in its fourth installment — just slobs who sit and wait until the good guy finally gets through the deadly-but-not-too-deadly gauntlet leading up to them.

In Mother Brain’s case, however, this actually makes perfect sense. She’s a biological computer, and as such this is basically her server room. She’s totally immobile, powering Zebes’ systems or whatever from the safety of Tourian’s deepest sanctum, just like you’d expect a computer to do. And what she lacks in direct firepower — the Mother Brain is completely harmless unless you bump into her — she makes up for with supporting defenses.


Mother Brain’s lair is a single lengthy room divided internally into six different chambers by five Zebetites, which appear to be conduits or defensive barriers or something. Like Mother Brain, they’re biomechanical, meaning they possess regenerative capabilities. Each one takes several missile blasts to destroy, but if you don’t pour on the steady fire they quickly grow back — you can gauge your progress, not to mention the ground you’ve lost, by the condition of a Zebetite. They start thick and slowly dwindle in diameter to vanishing as they take damage, growing back to full width if you don’t destroy them quickly.

Like Mother Brain, a Zebetite also can’t attack you directly. However, taking them out is anything but a cakewalk, because each one is elevated high off the ground with only a narrow platform adjacent to give Samus a clear shot. The problem is that while you’re doing this a trio of guns is rotating and firing energy beams at you in a not-quite-random fashion. And, on top of that, Rinkas are spawning rapidly from every direction.

Despite the final boss’ lack of a direct threat, this is an extremely challenging sequence. Taking down the Zebetites burns through your stock of missiles quickly, and because Rinkas don’t drop energy pickups and Metroids only respawn when you die and continue, you’re stuck fighting with what you have on-hand. [Edit: Or maybe I’m wrong about this, but still — tough sequence regardless.] It’s a battle of attrition, a test of how effectively you can dodge the threats surrounding you and pour missile fire into your targets. The developers do demonstrate a surprising touch of mercy here, though: Once you destroy a Zebetite, it’s gone forever. Like the minibosses, Mother Brain’s energy conduits don’t regenerate if you see a game over. In a worst-case scenario, you can fight your way through this chamber one Zebetite at a time, constantly restarting and fighting your way back, delving a little further into the room each time.


The further you get into the room, the more difficult it becomes. Around the time you hit the lava, it just gets ridiculous. Don’t computers need cold to work more efficiently? Shouldn’t Mother Brain’s server room be, like, super refrigerated? Pfft.

Really, this room can be as difficult or as easy as you like. The gun turrets follow fairly predictable patterns — some shoot at 90-degree angles, while others fire 45-degree-angle shots — and while the Rinkas materialize from all over the place and home in on Samus’ location as of the second they spawn, they obey the same strictures as they did during the Metroid gauntlet. Specifically, there will always be a fixed number of them on-screen at any given moment, so if you freeze one it’ll take that particular spawn out of play.

It’s actually not too difficult to deal with the Rinkas while destroying the Zebetites, because each column has solid footing directly below it that allows you to skip the blue platforms and jump up and down right in front of the Zebetite, firing several point-blank missiles per leap and wearing down the Zebetite in short order.


Mother Brain herself, however, is considerably more difficult. Once you shoot out the glass case surrounding the computer, you need to pump more than 30 missiles right into her face (and they have to hit dead-on or they won’t cause any damage). Unlike the Zebetites, her health doesn’t regenerate if you lay off your assault for a moment. That’s about the only saving grace, however.

The most sensible place to attack Mother Brain from is the Zebetite junction directly in front of her — the blue platform further away works as well, but it’s constantly targeted by both Rinkas and gun emplacements — yet this leaves you incredibly vulnerable. Rinkas spawn constantly above and below you, and if you’re hit there’s an awfully good chance the recoil will send you flying into the lava directly in front of the glass chamber. The wall to the right is slightly too high to reach while jumping out of liquid, and if you try to use Mother Brain’s platform as a foothold you’ll take damage from proximity to the boss and be sent flying right back into the lava. The only reliable way out is to freeze a Rinka and use it as a foothold, but that’s pretty difficult while you’re being harassed by several others at the same time. The moral of the story: Don’t let yourself be knocked into the lava.

Because there’s no time crunch here, the smartest thing to do is to take your time. Drop back and freeze the Rinkas, giving yourself a short window of breathing room. But this tactic is slightly counter-intuitive to the design of the entire room; because the five Zebetites leading to Mother Brain required a rapid volley of missiles, your brain is still in “frantic” mode when you finally reach the boss herself. You actually need to stop and recalibrate your approach here.

With smart play and the good sense not to fall in the lava, you can eventually best Mother Brain… even if you have to keep dying and retrying to do it. But once that happens, the absolute trickiest part of the game begins.

12 thoughts on “Anatomy of Metroid: X. Mother do you think she’s dangerous

  1. I could have SWORN you could backtrack from the final chamber and farm Metroids to refill your life and missiles. Might that be only on FDS? That’s the last version I played through.

    • Huh, really? I remember doing it once and not having any luck. But I don’t have a means to test it easily right now….

  2. Man, beating Mother Brain is a unique kind of hell. I seem to remember reading a tip somewhere that involved basically pressing up against Mother Brain’s glass case while pumping missiles in, but that’s just suicide, at least unless you manage to pump several in beforehand.

    Also, I think the Zebetite are some sort of ore or something that powers Mother Brain.

  3. Are you still planning on doing any more Gamespite Quarterly releases in the future (however far off that may be)? I think bosses would make for a pretty great theme.

    Either way, great write-up.

  4. I never thought about boss rooms that way before, but you’re right. The vast majority of the time a boss room is just the place the designated arena to fight them. There’s rarely any context for why the boss is there and are often interchangeable with other rooms in the level.

    Since Mother Brain is at the center of the pirate’s base it makes sense that she at the very end of the most heavily defended area in the game, and it is definitely not interchangeable with any other room in the game.

    Anyway, I always end up trying to rush through this section as fast as I can and I think part of the reason is due to the knockback in the game. I’ll take the time lure and freeze the Rinkas so they won’t get in my way, set myself up on a platform, then get knocked into the lava by an errant cannon shot, and then add insult to injury the Rinkas unfreeze and hit me as I’m trying to get out of the lava. That gets really frustrating pretty quickly.

    Also, when I played through Metroid on my 3DS a few days ago the Metroids did respawn whenever you reenter the room. I’m pretty sure they changed that in Zero Mission though.

  5. As I read this I recalled the worst enemy in the room: the slowdown. I’m guessing they just programmed too much on screen for addressable memory to handle but wow… avoiding those rinkas, getting out of the lava and trying to get those zebetites gone before they regenerate all while trying to relearn jump timing due to the slowdown is the most difficult challenge I experienced.

    Such a great series of articles, Jeremy. Many thanks.

  6. The trick I always heard about/did as a kid was to basically hump Mother Brain’s jar. You jump to that little ledge and hold left so the recoil doesn’t knock you off. Then it’s basically a race to kill her before you take too much damage from the jar. A little tricky (you can still be knocked into the lava if you aren’t careful) and requires you to have a lot of life, but it works ;p

  7. I always found it kind of curious that the Zebetites were saved as part of your progress. And by “always” I mean “rather recently when I was reading a guide to password construction.”

    I love me that Tourian music, too. If you break it down, it’s actually three separate loops out of phase; one square wave playing a somber melody in a slow 4/4, the other arpeggiating a fully-diminished seventh chord in 3/16, and… well, I haven’t tried to transcribe that upward triangle wave sweep by ear. The point being that the three lines aren’t “in phase” with each other until the entire track hits its loop point. I honestly can’t think of anything on the NES that’s quite like it (although maybe someone else can). Go, Hip Tanaka.

  8. Jeremy, the way you describe boss behavior and boss rooms, it’s as if Samus is the invading villain and the bosses are just trying to defend their homes!

  9. I have to commend you on this great series of articles. I love the Metroid series and reading you break down the components of the game was very interesting to read.

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