Version tested: Wii
Aaaah. That's the sound of contentment. That's the sound I make whenever one of Nintendo's truly classic games pops up on the Virtual Console. That's the sound I'm making right now. Admittedly, it's also the noise I make when I have terrible trapped wind, which confuses matters somewhat, but I'm 99% certain that I'm making the noise right now because Super Metroid has finally morph-balled its way to virtual European shores. Aaaaah.
That last one was trapped wind. Sorry.
- Platform: SNES
- Wii Points: 800
- In Real Money: GBP 6.00 / EUR 8.00
Retro gaming is too often a subjective meringue filled with either unpalatable sugary nostalgia, used to disguise the bitter tang of reality, or impossibly tough chewy bits that seemingly only exist so that "hardcore gamers" can brag about how they're able to digest them. Thankfully, there are also games - not many, but enough - that are as obviously great today as they were when they first appeared.
Super Metroid is that kind of game, joining Zelda and Mario as one of the reasons that Nintendo's first-party line-up remains the strongest around. Indeed, with such a beloved and fawned over game, it's hard to find things to say that won't be preaching to the converted.
Picking up where Metroid 2 left off on the NES, we rejoin Samus Aran as she delivers the last remaining Metroid larvae to a research station. No sooner has she left for adventures new than a distress call pulls her back in. Although this sounds like a typical "here we go again" sequel storyline, it's handled with a surprisingly amount of grace. Brave is the 1994 videogame that opens with lengthy sections in which you simply wander through eerily abandoned rooms with nothing to shoot or jump on. You descend into the research station, in a sequence which lovingly riffs on Aliens, and eventually do brief battle with the giant lizardy thing that has caused all the carnage. This triggers the self destruct sequence and you then have to leg it back out again as the level collapses around you.
And the game doesn't stop its narrative ambitions there. The fate of the last Metroid larvae is rather touching, and actually makes sense of the obligatory Super prefix in the title. You'll revisit locations from the very first Metroid game in a way that feels poignant rather than lazy. It's a game that has clearly been designed to be played, the late great Gunpei Yokoi and his team putting very obvious thought into how and when players will discover new elements of the free-roaming adventure, and ensuring that boredom or frustration never rear their fanged heads. Samus Aran's infamous arsenal is as varied and flexible as ever, adding fresh weaponry and skills at just the right pace, while there's always another nook or cranny to investigate in your search for the way forward, or just obsessive completion.
Produced in the dying days of the SNES era, and released only a few months before the Japanese launch of the PlayStation ushered in the next generation, this is a game that pushes its technology to the limit, creating a bold and memorable experience along the way. It may look like a 16-bit title, but there are audacious gameplay ideas in here that were years ahead of their time. It's no wonder that Konami's equally magnificent Castlevania: Symphony of the Night would take a lot of, ahem, inspiration from this ingenious adventure.
There are few games that I would class as truly essential, games that are indispensable as both entertainment and as milestones along the road of videogaming history. Games that everyone should play. Super Metroid is one of those few.