In 1994 Nintendo released Super Metroid for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and, honestly, we could have just stopped right there. I mean, I’m glad we didn’t, but really if you got your hands on that game when it was released then you didn’t really NEED another one. Bold statements about the industry aside, Super Metroid really was a perfect game. There may be some games that are stronger in some areas, but Super Metroid is a very rare example of a video game that I believe deserves a 10/10 rating and here’s five reasons why.
Note: This article is based on my experience with the game rather than any extensive research. It’s an opinion piece and non-academic and if you disagree with me then too bad.
- Excellent Basic Gameplay
Super Metroid was an innovative and creative game that did a lot of really cool and unique things, but honestly this is where it all starts. Super Metroid had very good basic gameplay. The controls were tight and even though I’m not particularly good at platformers I almost never had trouble getting the Samus to do what I wanted her to. Only tangentially related: I really need to get good at platformers. Anyway…
I think a lot of people ignore or forget how important good basic gameplay is. Super Metroid has a balanced difficulty curve, a wide toolkit at the player’s disposal that only increases as the game goes on, and is just generally exciting and fun. I know that all of this seems like it should be obvious, but a lot of games get really high marks without even being able to work consistently. Looking at you, every game that was released for the Wii before they fixed those damn motion controls to be a little more workable.
- Exploration and Discovery
Super Metroid is a game where you explore. It’s an action game, sure, but the real experience your first time playing won’t be fighting the aliens it will be discovering all of the cool secrets that you need (and some that you don’t actually need) to get through the game. There’s a map, but it doesn’t draw you a path it only tells you how the rooms are connected. You have to find the door yourself.
Some of these doors don’t open without the right tool, but a few of them open into a situation that you will not be ready to face. Every step of the journey seems carefully designed to make you wonder “how do I get in there?” or “what’s past that?” More importantly, though, when you find the answer you are almost never disappointed.
- Making the Player Think
Alright, this is really the biggest thing that Super Metroid did that a lot of games both before and after have failed at. The only real guidance the player gets is “find the Metroid Larva” and from there you sort of have to just feel your way through the game. There’s usually just enough guidance that you will find the right place to be relatively quickly and it’s nearly impossible to get trapped in an area without the tools that you’ll need, but once your there the solution is rarely obvious.
This is wonderful, though, because it means that you will get a huge rush of satisfaction every time you solve a problem. Sometimes there is even more than one way to solve a problem, allowing a creative player to overcome an otherwise extremely difficult challenge. I had the joy during my last play through of discovering a way to insta-kill one of the bosses that had previously been kicking my ass around like a soccer ball (see above about me not being super good at platformers). When it happened I was first confused and then excited. It may have excited me more than any single gaming moment in the last several years. I felt like a genius even though I had, at least somewhat, stumbled onto it.
I don’t want to be like every other gamer on the internet talking about how games hold players’ hands too much nowadays and honestly not a lot of games before Super Metroid pulled this off with nearly the same level of effectiveness. It’s honestly a very difficult balance to achieve with a thin line between masterpiece and disaster… piece.
- Environmental Storytelling at It’s Finest
Super Metroid is not the first game to use environmental storytelling, which here means that the narrative occurs entirely through interaction with the environment rather than NPCs or with dialogue. The only dialogue that you’re given is an introduction by Samus, and after that there’s no one for you to talk to. Every bit of story development happens in the game.
Now let’s be clear on a few things. The lack of dialogue alone does not reflect environmental storytelling. A lot of old action games didn’t have dialogue but they also just didn’t have much in the way of storytelling. Look at the original Castlevania. Yes, there’s a story kind of, but it has a beginning and end with the middle being made up entirely of whip cracks and action. This category requires the progression of an actual narrative, where it is clear that the things you do are affecting the world around you. A feeling like you, the player, are interacting with the world around you through the elements of that world.
In Super Metroid you have to progress a narrative in order to move forward. Yes, this is usually framed by fighting enemies and killing bosses but with everything you do it feels like you’ve had an impact on the world and are moving closer to a tangible goal. The bosses, freakish monsters though they may be, all have personality and your progress through the game feels like a logical journey rather than just a series of events. There are not a lot of games I can think of that have done this nearly as well, especially using only the environment to tell the story. This ties into number one, which is…
- The Greatest Boss Fight of All Time
Alright, alright, this one is actually a little weird. In terms of the actual fight itself, the battle with Mother Brain is actually just a lot of jumping and shooting, but the final battle with Mother Brain is an emotional rollercoaster. I’m going to talk about it a bit, but if you haven’t played this game before and want all of the surprises and rushes that come with it then you will only get to live them vicariously through me if you read further. Alright, here we go.
So the battle with Mother Brain starts out exactly like in previous games. There are lasers shooting at you from all over the place and Mother Brain is in her little glass thing so veterans of the series will likely be thinking “Oh, ok, I know what I’m doing…” and then you kill her and then you fall into a pit. Mother Brain grows a body and the real boss fight starts. This isn’t a shock to people who are new to the series, but veterans of the franchise were probably in a bit of shock when it first happened. THEN, after you fight her down you get hit by this weird mega beam that can, and your first few times probably will kill you. You’ll try to dodge it, avoid it, but it’s impossible. You have to have enough health to survive it. And it hits you so hard that afterward Samus can’t move. It’s the most helpless you’ll feel outside to the first battle with Vile in Megaman X. Then you get rescued by your Metroid larva, now grown into a giant SUPER Metroid who drains down Mother Brain and gives you a whole giant power boost. You get a new superweapon and can make quick work of your enemy.
So, after all of that description, why do I call this the greatest boss fight of all time, exactly? Because it will hit every emotional chord you have. Surprise, frustration, fear, helplessness, sadness and finally triumph. You get to know that you’re facing a stronger, unbeatable enemy. Then, you get to watch that enemy freak out as it realizes that the tables are turned. Your new weapon feels like the hammer of God as you destroy your enemy. I’ve played a lot of games and beaten a lot of final bosses, and I never felt nearly as badass as I did at the end of this game.
So yeah… that’s why Super Metroid is a perfect game. It easily deserves a 10/10 rating and is a prime example of what a game should be in order to be ranked that high.