This is where the fun began. Imagine a Metroid game with no map, no directions, no explanations, no hand-holding, and no idea where to go next. This is how the series began back in the 1980s, and it was brilliant. First and foremost - you'll either love Metroid or hate it. The challenge and raw simplicity of it all is extremely obvious and shouldn't be taken for granted.
Nintendo have crafted Samus Aran's first adventure with every bit of care they could muster on the 8-bit NES. This action-adventure platformer is one gigantic alien world of mazes and secret passageways. Treasure-hunting is the name of the game, and items are a delight to find - most players will find the glowing Morphing Ball in their first ten seconds playing the game! Figuring out where to go, what to find and how it all fits together is incredibly satisfying (if you have the patience for it).
A true adventure is one where the adventurer crafts the story, and with Metroid's simple premise and setting there's plenty of it here. Samus' mission is clear-cut - infiltrate the fortress world of Zebes, defeat the Space Pirates and their Metroid breeding operations, then finish the day and send Mother Brain to oblivion. But the journey there is the centerpiece. Getting lost in the bowels of Zebes trying to find your way forward is an experience in itself and can be incredibly taxing at times, and with genuine dead-ends (and even a mini-boss imposter!), players are going to need a lot of patience and determination to see Samus through her mission. But slugging it through and discovering the secrets of Zebes is well worth the effort.
The production values of NES games will always have a special place in the world, from the adorable pixel art to the beeps and blips of the soundtracks bringing them to life. Metroid introduced a range of characters and local wildlife seen twenty years later in future titles, from little spiky Zoomers to bouncing Sidehoppers and those annoying lava-dwelling fire-breathing seahorses. It's quite amazing that throughout the adventure there's not a single background piece shown in the black backdrop of the screen, and yet each region of Zebes is colourful, vibrant and evokes a sense of eerie atmosphere - something I'm sure would have been ten times more effective for six-year-olds back in the eighties.
Hirokazu "Hip" Tanaka composed what began as Metroid's staple audio identity. Simple, brooding tunes took us to an alien world with a massive emphasis on quiet atmosphere. While the game may have worked fine without any music, it would have been an incredible loss to lose this magnificent score. Each region of Zebes has is own unique audio, adding to the already striking individual personality of the environment. What begins as an upbeat tune for Brinstar instantly switches to a somber theme for fiery Norfair, and then again to a magnificently haunting rendition for Kraid's Lair. Exploring Zebes just wouldn't be the same without these imaginative tunes bringing it to life.
The magic of 2D gaming and especially the NES era was the masterful ability so many games had to inspire the imagination. You never knew what to expect next, and the simpler the visuals were, the more the game inspired the imagination to think beyond what the TV displayed. Creating games is all about imagination, and when you have a result like this someone has definitely done their job right.
For a treasure-hunt like Metroid, how do Nintendo top it off and reward players for sticking through to the end of the game? Within a certain time limit too? Why not by revealing who the space bounty hunter they've been directing around for hours really is? Making Samus a human character - and firmly establishing Metroid as a series where damsels in distress need not apply - has helped give it a fantastic legacy for treasure-hunting and getting utterly lost in alien worlds (and enjoying it... well, usually).
Over the years there's been a few re-releases of the original game (and even as a bonus addition packed with Metroid Prime and Metroid: Zero Mission), but of the all versions the Wii's Virtual Console service benefits from the fantastic suspend save-state feature, giving this otherwise password-only game a much more convenient save feature. Either way, don't be afraid to take Metroid for a spin if you want to see where Samus, Zebes and those floating fanged jellyfish came from.
Written by Falcon Zero on 23 May 2010.