Metroid — Dreadful Anticipation
Nintendo was onto something when they released Fusion and Prime at the same time. Besides providing the frothing masses (and baby bounty hunters) two wildly different Metroid experiences, it was also the perfect opportunity to play around with the Gamecube-GBA Link Cable (for the youth: before there was wireless connection, there were wires linking our handhelds to our consoles). Most players, I’m sure, were excited for the art galleries that would expand, little by little, Samus’s story. But my brother and I were amped for a different reason: we now had access to the original Metroid from the 1980s, from the Nintendo Entertainment system, without having to track down an NES and Metroid cartridge of our own.
And from what little I can recall…man, I’m glad we basically got it for free. I don’t think I would’ve appreciated the end result after all that effort.
Reverence for the Forebear
Metroid, in terms of memories and gameplay recall, is truly the foggiest of all the Metroid games, Pinball included. I remember being forced into the smallest of tutorials (can’t go right, so go left), finding the Morph Ball powerup (though no text indicated it…or what to do to activate it), and then being loosed on an entire, labyrinthine world. Metroid was released long before the in-game map was introduced, and coming right off of Fusion and Prime’s map layout, it felt especially jarring. I was too stubborn or short-sighted to make a hand-drawn map, so getting lost was part of the journey. Or was that supposed to be part of the fun?
Everything felt floaty. When my comparison points were the crisp, smooth animations that Fusion and Prime gave, Metroid just felt light, like the gravity was running at half-capacity. The abilities were a mystery, the objective a mystery, everything a mystery. This was a long time before I even thought to look up screenshots of Metroid’s original instruction manual, but clearly, I’d been spoiled with tutorials and maps up to that point.
But on the flip-side, I (brace yourself for surprise) remember the music. The eerily calm and strange title melody, Samus’s introduction in the heart of Brinstar, Brinstar’s (the first area’s) upbeat and triumphant theme, the disquieting chimes in mysterious item rooms…the designers painted a world, dark, mysterious, and full of terror, with the limited capabilities the NES sound chip provided.
It was, at the end of the day (because that’s about how long we played it), fun to experience where Metroid started, but not as fun to play it. We were effectively spoiled by the newer installments, the modern elements of game design. I wonder what another nineteen years could do to that perspective?
Appreciation for its Progress
Some verbatim thoughts I had in the…let’s be generous and call it twenty minutes I played Metroid:
“30 Energy at the start? That’s some bull.”
“God, I hate not being able to crouch and shoot.”
“Jeez, five Game Overs in ten minutes? I should probably stop.”
Needless to say, I didn’t personally enjoy my revisiting Metroid. It falls into the trap of a great many NES games: it is the beginning of Nintendo’s larger design efforts, and the limitation of the hardware does it no service to the spoiled modern gamer.
To put myself in those old shoes, though, I can appreciate what Metroid strove for: a genuine adventure into a yet-uncharted stronghold. A challenging labyrinth to map out and chart, even if the instruction manual gave a general idea of major areas. A space adventure to complement (or stand apart from) other classics like The Legend of Zelda or Super Mario Bros.
Metroid set the stage for all that would come later: a soundtrack that segued from bombastic to anxious (sometimes juggling both) on a dime; a hunt for upgrades that would help you stand a chance against the worst the Space Pirates had to throw at you; a feeling of trekking into the unknown, of knowing, from the first steps, that you don’t belong here, and still pressing onward. I can appreciate what Metroid did for its time, and for its impact on the series and video games as a whole (after all, you can’t have perfected Metroidvania-style games without Metroid). Unfortunately, it may live on best as a Let’s Play or video walkthrough.
Metroid II: Return of Samus follows my experience with the first installment by mere months, if that. All the same, I’d love to see what Metroid would look like under more modern design elements oh wait. But more on that later…