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October 14, 2016

Super Metroid (Part 1)

Hype is an odd thing. When it gets out of hand, people get disappointed. Some creators, some studios cultivate hype in the hopes that their work becomes widely discussed and sells a lot. In fact, hype seems to lead the entire industry of entertainment nowadays. Unfortunately, it happens frequently that a piece of entertainment dosn't measure up to the hype, leading to deception for many hopeful fans. *cough*NoMansSky*cough* There’s hype for a single solitary piece of work, but there’s also the powerful fandoms around a franchise or another, which makes it a tad intimidating for someone to get into a new franchise. The fans love it so much, will I enjoy it too? What if I don’t? That’s always the question.

Impressive physical prowess, arm cannon, screw attack...
Yep: Don't fuck with Samus Aran.
Among the Nintendo franchises, there are quite a few series I never got into: Mother, Animal Crossing, Xenoblade… and the most famous one of the bunch, Metroid. Half the trope namer for Metroidvania, a type of game where the player has one giant world to explore, with save points scattered around, and must find and collect abilities and upgrades to be able to progress. The later zones are out of reach until a certain upgrade has been found, and on the way there are bosses and other opponents to battle.

So, if I wanted to get into a new franchise, of course I had to choose one of its best titles. Super Metroid has become famous for its opening lines, spoken to the player. “The last Metroid is in captivity. The galaxy is at peace.” Of course, since it’s not the first Metroid game, there’s a bit of backstory to this one, making it a bit difficult for me to discuss this, but it’s not the first time I review the Nth title in a series without seeing the previous ones!

Samus Aran, galactic savior and exposition expositor.

Of course, you might think Ridley is stealing the Metroid
to clone it and re-create the species, to use for its
Space Pirates? Well... we're never quite told.
The story starts right after Metroid II: Return of Samus, after bounty hunter Samus Aran annihilated the entire Metroid species, saving only a hatchling. She brings it back to the Ceres space colony, and soon leaves again to hunt another bounty. During that time, the scientists of Ceres discover that the power of the Metroids could be harnessed and used to benefit mankind in multiple ways. However, soon Samus receives a distress call from Ceres and hurries there, only to find it being attacked by the space pirates led by Ridley. She finds Ridley in the room where the Metroid was kept, and the giant pterosaur-like alien leaves with it, before causing Ceres to self-destruct. Samus escapes barely in time, and thus she seeks out the baby Metroid. She lands on Planet Zebes, close to the space colony, and starts exploring the area.

Gotta say, that's some impressive sprite work.

It's a rainy day on Zebes. In the sky, and deep down. For,
Samus will soon be raining blows on the enemies below.
I’ve already talked a bit about Metroidvania, so here’s Samus’ status at first: Only able to crouch, not to turn into a ball or use bombs; only able to shoot her regular bullets; a single life bar with 99 HP; only one type of armor; great sprinting and jumping abilities. In any other series, this would already be really good; but in a Metroidvania, it’s barely enough for the first 15 minutes of gameplay. Link would kill for the ability to make actual, non-hookshot-powered jumps. Mario the jumping champion would dream of owning a Screw Attack move. Kirby just hopes he would have constant access to his entire arsenal rather than relying on inhaling enemies and taking their powers temporarily. Samus is badass already without all of these additional abilities, and she just keeps becoming a better and better killing machine as the game progresses.

You were a statue! You were supposed to stay immobile!
Fine then, I'mma destroy a work of art!
However, over the first minutes of her exploration, Samus discovers (or rediscovers) how to turn into a ball; she also finds missiles, which she can then use to open pink pod doors. Yeah, there’s a color code around here, every door indicates by its color which type of weapon must be used on it. Blue doors: Normal shots. Pink doors: Five missiles. Green doors: One super missile. Yellow doors? I’m not there yet. it's a bit of a surprise to new players that the doors Using her ball form, Samus finds a statue, and obtains from it the ability to create bombs while in ball form. The statue turns out to be a living decoy, and Samus has to battle it. This battle emphasizes the importance of being able to morph quickly into a ball to avoid dangers, as this statue is harmless under the waist and Samus can go back and forth in ball form in the room without getting hurt by it.

After the statue is defeated, Samus can use the bombs to get out of that place and finds her way around. Soon, she finds her way down through Crateria and into Brinstar.

You know, it seems kinda difficult for me to review this game; there’s not much plot yet, only Samus going around, collecting powers, going deeper, visiting further down into Planet Zebes. Nothing else to speak of so far. Nothing to crack jokes at, no reference to make, no interpretations to give… Please game, give me something to make fun of!

Spore Spawn potentially voiced by Levi Stubbs.

Yeah, I know, it's a bit flimsy to make Little Shop of
Horrors jokes at this thing, after all, it's not like
Audrey II was an alien or- ...wait a minute...
Actually, Audrey II WAS an alien in the 1986 film.
…Thank you! Hey, I’m gonna latch on to anything I can crack jokes about. While visiting Brinstar, Samus encounters Spore Spawn, a mean green mother from outer space, a plant creature impervious to most attacks. The shell around its weak point is usually closed, and it swoops down to strike our armored gal. It can only be hurt when it stops moving and opens itself, and even then, only missiles can hurt it. I suppose electrocuting it is out of the question? Oh, right, it has no tentacles. Geez, I’m just glad this fight isn’t taking place in a flower shop. A thing to note about Super Metroid is that, if your HP are below maximum or you don’t have the maximum amount of any type of limited-ammo you own, all enemies will drop something for you to collect, either bonus HP or missile refills. You might think it makes the game too easy, but trust me, in some cases it barely helps. Soon enough the giant plant thing is defeated (let’s just imagine it went “Oh shit!” when receiving the last missile), and becomes a solid platform for Samus to continue on her way. Thanks, Audr- I mean, Spore Spawn!

Meh... I've killed bigger.
Samus now ventures further into Brinstar, and finds the Super Missile, allowing her to open green pod doors. We must now make our way into Norfair, but it’s closer to the center of the planet, so it’s hot as Hell and it would hurt Samus badly. We do find the High-Jump Boots close by, though, so now we can access regions that were previously out of reach. Yup, Samus already had impressive jumping abilities, now she’s gotten even better. We follow that path and discover Kraid, a gaint lizard who also happens to be a very tough boss, since once again its weak point is in its mouth. As if that wasn’t enough, the fight takes place on platforms above a spiked floor, Kraid spawns little creatures, and it can sprout claw-like appendages from the holes on its belly that will ram into Samus. Eh, it’s alien biology, it could be worse. Anyway, once Kraid goes down, Samus can access the room behind him, which contains the Varia Suit!

Yeah, apparently Samus left with her weakest suit that morning. So now, she needs to find other suits and equip them if she wants to continue. The Varia suit, which can endure environments of intense heat, is required to go into Norfair; how else would Samus go in there anyway? In her Zero Suit? In the bikini she wore at the end of the first game? Yeah, no, I think not. You know, I admire the Metroid series for, at first, making it unclear that Samus was a woman; she was just a featureless protagonist in a robotic armor, and there was no need whatsoever to discuss the character’s gender. That’s also why Samus appears minus her suit only at the end – in part to be a plot twist but also because, let’s be honest here, in the middle of an adventure the last logical thing to do is to think about boobies. "You want me to strip? How about I save my Metroid hatchling first, you perverted moron?" It's the same reason why Samus is in full-body armor, in contrast to those barely-covering, borderline-slutty bikinis they pompously call “armor” in some fantasy games out there.

Now, if only the team behind the Metroid series stopped giving her high heels and stuff… do you have any idea how much it must hurt to wear those in an adventure? Come on!

This also applies to fighting games. No, just because
many other battlin' ladies of Smash wear high heels.
that doesn't mean Samus has to wear them.

Norfair is already hard, but sometimes the magma level will rise, making it even harder to go across some rooms. So Samus finds her path around a weird bubble room, fights lava creatures, and finds a speed booster that allows her to go into a super-sprint and destroy some blocks in her way. Somewhere later down the line, she also finds an upgrade to her weapon that turns it into an ice blaster, allowing her to freeze flying creatures in place and use them as platforms, allowing her to climb higher and higher. Hurray for the laws of gravity apparently not applying to those monsters!

The sad part in all this? A case could be made that
Crocomire is just defending himself from an invading Samus.
But of course, that’s not all we must fight in this place. Lower down the path, we find a hallway with Crocomire. Anybody who knows the Metroid series knows about this guy. He is technically indestructible with any weapon Samus has in her arsenal. He could take a hundred missiles in his mouth and still not die. He even resists uncharged beams! The only way to kill him is to make him step back – getting a missile blasted in that gaping jaw will make Crocomire go backwards for a few steps. And thus, you have to bring it to a weaker part of the ground, which will crumble, sending Crocomire into the magma below, where it will die a painful, horrifying death. I would almost feel sorry if this thing wasn’t some kind of alien abomination. I would also feel sorry were it not for all these failed attempts at killing him, which resulted in Samus running out of missiles and getting pushed by him into the spiked wall far behind!

Following this, Samus gets another energy tank, and while going around the next areas, she finds the Grapple Beam, a new move that allows her to latch on to a metal ceiling to cross wide gaps. It’s pretty hard to master it, but once you do, you have even more freedom than before. Although, it’s just some kind of high-tech version of Link’s Hookshot. I’m pretty sure the green-clad hero would protest and call her a faker, if he were able to align two words that weren’t grunts. And if his unhelpful fairy decided to shut up, too.

Little known fact: Two of Samus's senseis were Tarzan and George.
From the former, she learned how to swing with her grapple beam.
With the latter, she learned exactly what NOT to do.

See? That’s the tough part with this Metroid game. It is really cool, but it’s hard to make fun of it. Little to no plot, little to no characters aside from Samus, the bosses, and the enemies. I have to go back to making fun of the other Nintendo characters! I can say that much; Samus is probably even more awesome in base physical prowess than every other Nintendo platformer hero (and she still improves thanks to various power-ups), but none of the emphasis is put on her personality until later games in the franchise. That’s a general issue with early Nintendo titles that focused more on gameplay than telling a story. And, to be fair, Super Metroid has excellent gameplay. Well, that is, as long as you learn the tricks. You’re never really taught to wall jump. Using the grapple beam becomes a lot easier if you hold down R, which means Samus will always be pointing at the ceiling, after which you can easily let go of the previous grapple beam and make another one to cross large gaps. All stuff that the player must learn to do, often by themselves. Even if they do learn to do these things, they still need to become skilled enough to use these abilities to the best.

Nope, can't use it to see through her armor.

Soon, we find the X-Ray scope, and we can use it to detect hidden passages. Once again, the room you find it in turns out to have been built specifically so that you must use that new tool to get out. I mean, there have been plenty of secret passageways before, many breakable blocks; but getting out of the X-Ray Scope’s room requires that you find out that the exit is above the Chorizo statue. As a bonus, you can use the Scope to find which item is required to break certain particular blocks - yay!

I think I’m gonna stop here for now. See you in Part 2.