So I began playing Super Metroid this week. As in, for the first time ever. I know, I know, I’ve been missing out, best game ever, blahblahblah. It’s my secret shame and I’m finally doing something about it, so that’s good enough, right?
[[image: ar_0042209_metroid_01.jpg:Thanks for the space jellyfish specimen, and I – wha? Y-you’re a WOMAN?:center:0]]
Luckily (and unsurprisingly), I’m enjoying it a good deal so far. In some ways, I feel really lucky to have missed out on it up until this point, since the Super Nintendo is still my favorite system of all time and it’s like I’ve unearthed a completely awesome AAA title for it. I’m basically living out the premise of Retro Game Challenge, but without my disembodied head from the future constantly watching me (that I know of). Equally fun is seeing conventions of other Metroid games I’ve played pop up here (I missed out on Metroid II and never really “got” the original as a young lad). Perhaps the best thing about Super Metroid so far, though, is that even after setting all that aside, it’s still impressing me on its own merits.
The level design in the game deserves a special nod. It’s hard to follow videogames – or, at least, the slightly retro niche this site tends to attract – and not be familiar with the Metroidvania setup, or the general belief that Super Metroid perfected the formula. While I really enjoyed Symphony of the Night, for example, there’s something about the structure of this game that really hammers home the feeling of exploration. Samus’ wider arsenal of moves — blasting, jumping (in several ways), bombs, morphing into a ball, etc. — seem to encourage seeing where you can go far more than Alucard’s running and jumping ever did. At least twice now, I’ve been stuck in a room and assumed I had to go elsewhere…only to find I couldn’t make my way back, forcing me to think a little more and find a way through the current obstacle. No tutorials popped up — heck, most of the weapons and moves you get don’t even have a description of how to activate them! — and there were only the most subtle of hints (in one specific case, enemies nearby that dropped an awful lot of missiles when I shot them) to guide me. Finding the solution to move forward was completely organic.
And, perhaps, that’s my favorite thing about the game so far: the fact that it trusts me enough to never hold my hand or do it for me, and in return, the fact that I can trust it to never stick me in an impossible situation or require some obtuse solution from out of left field. It’s no secret that my absolute favorite feeling in the world is cracking a difficult puzzle in Zelda games, and it’s largely for the same reason that I’m enjoying just plain exploring here. There’s an argument to be made for increasing a player’s desire to explore by telling them as little as possible and just cutting them loose, I guess.
Unfortunately, finally playing this is also a tad depressing, since playing it now I know that the same company responsible for such a considerate game has become so paranoid about leaving a single player behind that they put out games like Twilight Princess, which — while still very good — suck out all sense of discovery with an increasingly large pile of tutorials and “helpful” text windows in their games. Even the Prime games — again, still totally fantastic! — encourage scanning enemies first, rather than finding out on your own organically. I think everyone at Nintendo — heck, in the games industry at large — needs to go back and play Super Metroid. Couldn’t hurt, could it?