Monday, August 28

Super Metroid

Quintessence. It's super.

What could possibly be written that might sufficiently express the immense significance Super Metroid holds for me? The very question also serves as the answer, but may my best words suffice in the lines ahead. It's also with great amusement that I recall the year this game was released, when two copies (each from two different sources) simultaneously arrived in my care. Surely, this was an omen.

For the several weeks that followed, Zebes had me. The brilliance of the series' first opening sequence begins the very moment the game is powered on. Minimalistic music with dissonant intervals conveys tension over cuts of dark imagery of an apparent attack just past; all the while a baby metroid cries out, still in captivity from the end of Metroid II… so what is going on? This is just the title screen. The beginning of the game has Samus recount the first two chapters and interim events that lead up to this point before the player takes control. The title sequence and narrative are presented with a cinematic feel, and gameplay is utilized to include the player in the prologue: from the very outset, Super Metroid is ingenious and groundbreaking.

Such an opening is also the first time in a Metroid release when Samus' character begins to be explored. Indeed, there is a human being under that Chozo armor, and this is when her capacity for compassion is unveiled. Samus' humanity is explored further in Metroid: Other M; however, establishing her nature early in the series' release history makes her relatable and builds a bond with the player, helping drive the interest to complete every epic adventure in the best possible way. It's also part of what connects the story of Metroid to our own world; again, making everything believable and thus appealing.

Of course, these intricacies are levels of thought that were still unconsidered in my youth; adventure was the name of the game. My basic understanding had Samus as the heroine fighting to set things right, with the villains having taken the baby metroid for their own dreadful ends. As I sought deeper significances in following years, the metroids themselves took on a different role as my perspective changed. The early portion of the Metroid storyline (especially the Prime sub-series) shows what's known of the creatures as mysterious, but dangerous entities that pose dangers to all who encounter them; conversely, the latter installments (with Metroid II as the turning point) suggest that the organisms were created for a purpose that had nothing to do with warfare. The behavior of the hatchling distinctly suggests the capacity of the species to form emotional or psychological bonds, but there will be exploration of that in a future chapter.

One thing is for certain: I have the warmest of regards for the infant metroid, and it was instant love for Claudia as well. In fact, we began referring to the hatchling as "Sweet Baby!", and we still do.

Countless hours were logged during my time on Zebes since its reappearance in 1993, and my initial trek spanned over 40 hours. As my skills improved, my path was refined and my clear time fell quickly; eventually, I could see the credits roll in 1:48, after having collected 100% of items. This time, I happily helped Claudia have an experience with a pace more befitting the discovery that defines this series, so our clear time together was 5 hours, 16 minutes; and we acquired 98% of items.

Truly, this game is a masterpiece. There are innumerable nuances comprising this vicarious voyage, leaving very little that would improve upon the virtually perfect blueprint that was established. However, one must have their own experiences to fully appreciate what awaits them, so I encourage anyone interested in the Metroid series to ensure they participate in this quintessential title.


So here are my thoughts about the game:

Pros

- Super Metroid made its debut notable by being the first game released in the series implementing an opening sequence. This included features like animations that also updated the visuals for events from previous games, and the ability of the SNES to allow for recorded voice performance.

- Another first for the series is the map system, the influence of which can still be seen in the newest of games. The map system of Metroid has been perfect from its inception here, but although it's comparatively simplistic to every evolution since then, those core aesthetics and functions are what persist.

- The 16-bit generation was the beginning of beautiful, detailed pixel art, and Metroid 3 is home to some of the very best. Immense care was taken with every background, foreground, animated entity and visual effect. The scope with which this title was produced is still readily apparent: it's as grand as the day it was released.

- A further example of what was pioneered in this era of games took the form of layered graphics. Moving layers of environments relatively, but to different degrees gives a sense of depth, and thus helps immerse players in the experience. There are also places where the background does not move at all, giving the impression of extreme distance.

- The sound designers for this game are experts in their craft. Synthesizers were the primary device used to create sound in games, and the SNES illustrates the pinnacle of what was possible in that earlier time. The masterful manipulation of waveforms all comes together to create a soundscape that equals its visual counterpart in depth, atmosphere, and signature.

- Surviving Samus' ordeal requires a connection to the experience that is fluid, intuitive, and precise; Super Metroid is exemplary in this regard, as its controls represent the apex of exploratory freedom for this series and as a benchmark in gaming history. There even exist some secondary and hidden abilities that come into play under certain settings and circumstances.

- Also unique to the series is a status screen which avails the switching of beams and suit abilities. This is both a curiosity and a convenience: nowhere else in the series does this functionality exist, but it can be useful because the disabling of certain abilities may make navigating specific corridors of Zebes notably easier. For example: my preference is to have the Ice Beam disabled for almost the entire mission.

- Finding hidden items in Super Metroid is reminiscent of the original NES experience, and for good reason: this is the same planet. With certain locales reproduced, and some items placed nearly identically, the intent is clear that Samus has returned to a familiar place that has been rebuilt to thwart her objective. 

- As mentioned above, Samus has some capabilities that are not immediately apparent, but are revealed by various means throughout the game itself. One such method is the inclusion of helpful creatures. These beings demonstrate their own natural prowess, hinting that Samus can also traverse the current obstacle in the same way. While this type of instruction in gaming may have a steeper learning curve than the more contemporary "tutorial", I find that learning through direct discovery is immensely more rewarding and memorable.


Cons

- Ever the expert in colors, Claudia noticed that the palette of Super Metroid is somewhat sour at times. We did however agree that this was an unfortunate limitation of the SNES being a 16-bit machine. Again, this was occasional, but those few instances were fairly obvious.

- "Who built this place?" Space Pirates. But seriously, the puzzle aspect of the Metroid series (or any other games of similar genre) can sometimes have environmental designs that are quite ridiculous when compared to sound architectural principles and practicality. Of course, this point is mostly harmless amusement; the Metroid series has some of the best level design that can be found anywhere.

- With all the innovations that were introduced in Super Metroid, it's surprising that the map does not indicate when items have been collected, as is the case in later-developed installments. There may have been some limitation on the SNES that prevented the potential for this particular function, although the map does mark when main bosses are defeated.


Over the years, Super Metroid has told a story that has changed along with my own perspective of the world. Finally sharing this part of my life with my Truelove is a dream-come-true, and our next adventure expands even further upon where we've been together.

Happy gaming,
- Aaron -

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