Version tested: GameBoy Advance
Having struggled to come to terms with the concept of paying more than your average budget price for Dr. Mario and Castlevania, we thought we'd be slightly more tempted by Metroid. After all, this is the consistently brilliant series that has in recent years brought us two excellent Cube and GBA titles, not to mention the seminal SNES classic back in those prime days of 2D. This reviewer was genuinely taken with the idea of rewinding to where the series began, to see what he'd missed in his gaming youth. Now now, there's no need to toss missiles at your humble correspondent; it's just this one was too busy messing around with tape loading errors, colour clash, rubber keyboards and the like to have ever afforded that glamorous NES thing. No sir. In the 80s, more or less the only thing Nintendo succeeded with in Europe was the Game & Watch and a Donkey Kong arcade cabinet in every local chippie up and down the land. The prospect of playing the very first Metroid was as much of a history lesson to the likes of yours truly as it probably is to most people reading this. Given how much love we have for a lot of Nintendo's 8-bit output we were almost excited. This was to be a voyage of discovery.
Imagine our surprise when we discovered how little we enjoyed the whole thing. In a modern context it simply can't hold its own, and in many respect is barely even playable, which at least many of the other NES 'classics' could lay claim to, however simple their gameplay actually was. Not only that, there's a very shambolic look and feel to it that we can't really imagine being all that impressed with even back then. Damn; it was all looking so promising. You'll wonder a) what on earth was the fuss about back in the 80s, and b) why did Nintendo see fit to re-issue something as creaky as this as a standalone purchase? Presumably the brand is deemed strong enough on its own, but that's not the point.
Sounds promising, but don't trust ears
In many respects, when you break down Metroid to it component parts it evidently shares many of the game mechanics which made the Cube incarnations of the series an absolute joy. On paper it sounds promising. Back in those heady days of 1986, Samus Aran's mission was to infiltrate the space pirates' home planet of Zebes and destroy the Metroid life form threatening to destroy the galaxy. You guide her around alien chambers, jumping and rolling around screen after screen, dodging and destroying enemies, gathering power-ups and blasting until you eventually meet all-powerful bosses.
It sounds a straightforward enough premise that could and should work, but after a few minutes it feels so hollow and basic now that it's a bit like those piss take Degenetron radio adverts from GTA San Andreas. They really were ripping it out of games like this and for good reason; it'd take a suspension of disbelief so powerful to really glean any real enjoyment out of the game these days that you'd probably be out cold for a week.
Before we note the uninspiring-for-the-time visuals (because that's a bit like observing that a one-legged man can't run very fast), it's the gameplay that's really to blame for our rueful exasperation more than anything. If it was fun to play or somehow entertaining on its own merits in 2005 then we could all look beyond its technical disabilities, but in truth, divorce yourself from the game's now-legendary status and all you see is an unforgiving, nightmarishly repetitive platform shooter that is about as appropriate in the hands of a modern gamer as a Camberwell Carrot in the hands of Queen Elizabeth II. Don't bogart that joint, Liz. The Beefeaters are getting agitated.
When retro is just so... retro
Okay, maybe that's stretching it. We're sure your desire to wade through all these alleged barriers to entry will be high to begin with. It must be tough for gamers brought up on slick 3D worlds to grasp how the ancient supposed 'classics' were somehow exciting and cutting edge. To be fair to the young 'uns, we're not entirely sure how Metroid fits into this category either, and that's with the benefit of looking at it through the eyes of an 80's gamer.
At first glance it does initially just seem like a much stripped down version of the modern day classic. It even kicks off with the familiar jingle with Samus appearing in the teleporter. It all feels right. You're jumping around, firing furiously at enemies, picking up power-ups, working your way through room after room, and bit-by-bit you'll lose health and nooooo! Ten, 15 minutes or more of gaming goes down the toilet and you're back to the beginning because of some arbitrary death - largely as a result of a sluggish jump mechanic that would be unacceptable after the first screen were it a new game. You'll maybe get a bit further, but you'll have to endure the same frustration again and again just to make even minor headway. It's simply not a lot of fun in the first place, never mind repeating the whole process until you start losing the will to live. It's the sort of game that thinks it's okay to bin your hard won progression, but starting over minus the upgrades twenty odd rooms back is just more hassle than most people can possibly stand. If you can stand it, we salute you, but we'd offer a cast iron guarantee that most of you won't be able to. You'll just want it to stop and to go onto a decent handheld version of Metroid. Like Zero Mission, which is basically an expanded take on this anyway, and includes an unlockable copy of, well, this alleged £14.99-worth of 8-bit retrogaming, if you're that determined to see what it's like.
As we've already hinted the visuals, on a fundamental level, are pretty awful - even for their era. Many of us will attest to having been brought up on more accomplished stuff that's long been forgotten down the years, and it's fair to say this would have elicited a fairly unimpressed response 18 years ago, and now it's just so fugly it just reinforces how far Nintendo has come. But, hey, presumably no-one's here for the artistic spectacle, and if you are, more fool you. Even so, this is truly dire stuff with dreadfully uninspired character art, a succession of almost incredibly uninspired and practically identical rooms and environments often consisting of little more than basic platforms in sickeningly lurid colour schemes that boggle the mind. Seriously, even Dragon 32 owners will have a hard time keeping their lunch down. As for audio, don't even ask the question. Just don't.
Death to Eurogamer!
After all this we're convinced that quite a few real aficionados will claim this is all heresy and get all upset as they always do, but it'd take a special kind of person to really enjoy Metroid in this form these days. Sorry, but no. Things have moved on. Long since moved on, mainly because people got better at making games, and while it's quite cute to go back in time sometimes, to be expected to part with a sizeable sum for something as dire as this is just not acceptable on any level. To think this costs only a fraction less than the original Metroid Prime, or either of the GBA-specific versions. Add to that the fact that it comes as a free unlockable extra in Metroid: Zero Mission anyway and you've got a solid gold reason to stare at this with a saucer-eyed expression.