Super Metroid Reader Review
Samus' unearthly decent into the darkest nooks and crannies of Planet Zebus was one of the defining gaming memories of my childhood because it was the first game to scare me. Oh sure around the same time I was jumping and wincing my way through ID Softwarefs Doom, on edge at the bits where the lights inexplicably flicker on and off. But Super Metroid, oh man, this was a game that crawled under my skin and made a nest.
Everything about the title threw me off balance, the quiet opener: responding to a distress beacon before the heart-in-mouth encounter with Ripley and subsequent dash to escape the exploding station. Linear blasty action, I assumed, would abound. But then we land on Zebus and the nightmare begins. The eerie quiet atmosphere, lack of enemies (only the occasional fleeing insect) before the discovery of the morph ball and a sudden influx of monstrosities set the tale in motion.
What really got deep inside me was the lonely atmosphere. The isolation, captured effortlessly in minutiae (Samus' mechanical breathing, fighting off malfunctioning robots on a ghost ship) Few environments in gaming have seemed so convincingly alien. It scared me because I was the only human being I saw for the entire game. I was scared because I had no idea where to go or what exactly I was doing in this nightmarish place. I was scared because of the music, a continuous, impossibly hummable death pulse that captured the unease and personality of every environment. At that age the lack of a super mushroom had me positively terrified.
I remember fondly now playing the game with my father, both of us equally unskilled in the language of gaming trying to wrap our head around the passageways and caverns of the planet. I remember silly things like when we finally learned pink doors could be opened with missiles, the elation of discovering somewhere new before the disappointment of hitting yet another dead end of bewilderment, an ensuing bitter argument about what to do next inciting my wildly melodramatic cries of "we're never going to play this game again!" before I stomped off in a sulk.
Despite months of play me and my dad never completed the game, it was too hard, too deep, too mammoth. It was epic and wonderful. It was the moment I learned gaming could be mature without being bloody and violent, the moment I got a taste of gaming the art form. I didn't realize this at the time of course, I was young and stupid and any SNES game that wasn't Super Mario related was clearly a waste of my time.
I repurchased Super Metroid a couple of years back. My brain sensitive to the ebb and flow of pacing, level design and designer cues I plowed through it in 5 hours. I adored it. Unable to believe I couldn't stand to play it all those years ago. I know now why its impact was so profound and distressing. It was the notion that Nintendo, my favourite maker of shiny, happy (and exceptional) games, could focus their efforts into something so mysterious, bleak and quietly terrifying.
Many Metroid games have followed and tried to expand upon Super Metroid's template with varying success. The series first foray into 3D, Metroid Prime, is the only one that can stand shoulder to shoulder with the legend. Since then recent games have diluted the original concept: Prime:Echoes' division of the game world into alternate realities resulted in some infuriating gameplay and the decision to spread Corruption across several smaller planets in an attempt to distil the core mechanics jettisoned the isolation aspect and robbed the series of its labyrinthine element, ultimately proving less memorable as a result.
The less said about other M the better.