This is the game that began Nintendo's long-running sci-fi series that many consider one of the company's "Big 3" franchises along with Mario and Zelda. Released in 1987, it was one of the first non-linear platform titles that emphasized exploration and puzzle-solving as well as shooting action. The game became an instant classic and a series of sequels followed, despite several periods of inactivity. But two decades later does the original game still stand out as a top-notch classic, or has it been too outclassed by its sequels?
The story is that in the year 20X5, the Galactic Federation is facing a massive crisis. A new type of life form was discovered on the desolate world of SR388, where an entire civilization was destroyed. This creature, which they call the Metroid, was believed to have wiped out all life on the planet. The Metriod was begin transported to a research start in suspended animation when Space Pirates appear and steal the Metroid. The pirates took it to their headquaters on the fortress planet Zebes with the intent to multiply it and use it as a weapon against the Federation. To prevent this, legendary space hunter Samus Aran has been called into action on a special mission. Her objective: infiltrate Zebes, terminiate the Metroid and destroy the space pirates and their leader, the malevolent Mother Brain. (NOTE: The manual refers to Samus as "he", but everyone knows by now Samus is a woman.)
In this non-linear adventure, Samus must make her way through the five regions of Zebes and destroy Mother Brain and the Metroids which are holed up in the central base of Tourian. However Zebes is teeming with dozens of weird creatures which are laying in wait at every nook and cranny to swoop at you. Samus stars out with 30 energy points and a weak gun to defend herself, but scattered throughout the game are special items essential to her survival and you need to search many different places to find them. There are energy tanks to increase her maximum energy, missiles to open special doors and slay the more powerful creatures, bombs to open secret passages, and more powerful weapons such as the Ice Beam and Wave Beam. Other special items can be found, such as High Jump Boots, Varia(cuts damage by half), and others. Eventually you must find the two hide-outs which house the two mini-bosses, Kraid and Ridley. Once you've defeated them you can form a bridge to enter Tourian for the final showdown with Mother Brian, and that means you need get past the Metroids, if you can.
The graphics aren't the best but still look decent for a game this old. The areas all have their own distinct looks to them which are nice to see, though some parts look just the same as others which can get confusing. However the background is just plain black throughout the game, so don't expect any details. At least the sprites are well drawn and have some nice animation. The music, on the other hand, is stellar. Each area has its own theme music which is well done and fun to listen too, from the heroic theme in Brinstar to the melnacholy theme in Norfair to the creepy tunes in the hideouts. The sound effects are also pretty good, such as Samus' feet running along the ground and the explosions of the bombs.
The gameplay in Metriod is still pretty fun and addicting after all this time. There's plenty of shooting action and lots of places to explore, plus its nonlinear layout enables you to take a different path when you play, and you may just discover something you missed. The controls work well enough despite some issues and floaty jumping and you can even discover some secret moves, like the mid-air jump. However the game does have a few faults and tends to be a little on the difficult side. First off, you better find a good map for this game. With many of the corridors looking the same, it's very easy to get lost. Also Samus can only fire her weapons in three directions and can't squat, making it easy for enemies to elude your shots. The worst part is every time you die, you keep your items but you start your next life with just 30 energy points. This doesn't change no matter how far you get into the game, even if you get the six energy tanks. Unless you kill enough enemies to refill your energy, your next life will probably be short. It's also hard to ignore the fact that its sequels added major improvements such as auto maps and battery saves instead of passwords, which kind of make this cart seemed dated. Despite this, those that stick with this version will find a rewarding experience. This was also one of the first games in history to offer multipe endings. The ending sequence you get depends on the amount of time it takes to complete the game from start to finish, giving you a little incentive to try and go a little faster next time.
So even though the first Metroid may have lost some of its luster over the past 20+ years it still proves to be a good solid title in the NES library. The atmosphere is good with decent graphics and great music, and it has that engaing gameplay many expect from Nintendo titles. It may not stand up well against its later sequels and remakes, but Metroid is still another Nintendo classic worth a playthrough or two.
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