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October 17, 2016

Super Metroid (Part 2)

Alright, so Samus found a bunch of stuff in the previous part. Like, a lot of stuff, and each one of these things allowed her to move forward. And so her exploration continued, and she headed deeper into Planet Zebes, finding more stuff and becoming able to access more zones.

To be fair, the Grapple Beam turns out to be leagues better
than the Hookshot.
That's a Metroidvania in a nutshell, and that’s how we like these games. Anyway, Samus backtracks all the way to the start, can save at her ship, and then heads east into the wrecked ship. To get there, she must cross an area covered in water. No! Her greatest weakness! Not that it hurts her to be underwater, apparently her suit is equipped with everything to let her run down there without a hitch, but she can’t swim, and no way to jump out of the water onto a high ledge. Well, despite these problems, Samus uses her Hookshot – I mean, grapple beam – to reach the other side, entering a creepy abandoned ship.

Now, we could explore around more if we wanted, but the ship is abandoned, and its power has run low. A lot of doors don’t work just yet. In a way, a Metroidvania is a giant world to explore, but you can only access the later areas and advance the plot by getting some particular abilities first. That’s the genius of the genre; it’s a gentle form of platformer railroading, but it doesn’t feel like it. Hell, I am following a walkthrough to play this game (don’t have time to search) and even here, I found some things before the walkthrough directed me to them, because I was searching my way around (it's so easy to get lost) and discovered stuff that could be accessed even without the ice beam or the Hookshot –I mean, grapple beam. Dammit, I gotta remember.

Have a friendly reminder that blue fire is very
dangerous. Also. this thing will actually have
different reactions depending on what you shoot it with.
So, we enter the abandoned ship. The power is out. We can’t rely on the save point – so if you die, you must run all the way back here from your previous save point – nor on the map data. As a result, the best way to find where to go is to use the new X-Ray vision to find secret passageways. We end up finding one… and it leads to a boss, Phantoon. Again, with the save point closest to here not working yet, dying to this boss means having to do the whole path once more. It’s also an extremely tough boss, which can only be hurt with missiles when its eye mouth is open. I could do the “How impractical it is to have your eye inside your mouth” joke, but every Metroid fan has done it already. It also has a bad tendency to get invisible and shoot a LOT of blue flame monsters. Once it’s defeated, power returns to the abandoned ship, allowing Samus to get the map data and save. Looking around, Samus finds a Chorizo statue holding nothing, and by turning into her ball form in its palm, she has the statue bring her to nothing else than the Gravity Suit! Yay! What does this suit do? Well… When Samus jumps out the water, this allows her to keep her momentum and make a proper jump instead of falling back into the water immediately. If it’s in the game, it’s because it’s useful! In fact, there are parts of the abandoned ship that couldn’t be reached without this!

Botwoon the sea dragon. Oddly enough NOT Draygon.
Exploring some more, Samus finds her way to Maridia. Of course, since we’ve been collecting suits, abilities and lasers, we can always go back to previous zones and look around to find all-new secrets. That should add a few hours to a playthrough, right? There are two ways into Maridia; one from the wrecked ship, one from a glass tube Samus had to travel through much earlier on, a tube that can be destroyed with a super bomb, with a passage into Maridia over it… but it wouldn’t be of much use earlier on since Maridia is a water world and the only way for Samus to get anywhere in it is with the Gravity Suit. Venturing across Maridia, we battle a dragon by the name of Botwoon, and soon encounter a Space Pirate commander by the name of Draygon. Methinks these two creatures accidentally had their names exchanged at birth. Draygon is extremely protective of its kids, and attacks Samus. It can only be hurt by shooting super missiles at its belly, and it has a nasty tendency to shoot mucus that slows down Samus, allowing her to catch our armored gal and inflict on her nearly 30 COMPLETE SECONDS of pain. No, seriously. You can’t survive this more than once, and even if you collected all Energy Tanks so far, good luck surviving it twice.

Pictured: Playing dirty.
But to be fair, this monster was the one who started it!
That asshole has got to be one of the toughest battles I ever fought. It’s possible to kill her only by shooting super missiles at her belly (hope you got enough), but it’s also possible to exploit a trick; if Samus destroys the cannons around the room, when she’s grabbed by Draygon it’s possible for her to use the Hookshot – Dammit! Grapple Beam! – on the sparks left by the destroyed cannons, sending the sparks through her suit and right into Draygon, electrocuting her. It’s a dangerous technique, but that’s how I managed to kill it. You wanna play dirty, Draygon? You wanna play dirty? We’re gonna play dirty. You asked for it.

Don’t fuck with Samus Aran.

After defeating Draygon, we find the Space Jump, allowing Samus to jump endlessly while in midair. As if she wasn’t already agile enough! That’s not all, further we find the Spring Ball, which allows Samus to jump while in ball form! T’was about time! And then, later, we also find the Plasma Beam, the best weapon in the game! Holy crap Samus, stop getting more and more powerful! I’m gonna start feeling sorry for your enemies!

Oooh, it's golden! Now I want a gold Power Suit!
It’s time to go deep down into Norfair, in Ridley’s hideout. In there, we find a Golden Torizo statue that attacks Samus. Time for another boss battle, it seems! Hey, it’s alright; nothing can be as terrible as Draygon… right? Indeed, it isn’t. And for killing it, we get the Screw Attack! Yes! So, I suppose there isn’t much else left to look for. If you want that 100% completion, be sure to check everywhere… but we got more important stuff to deal with. Like, say, Ridley. More adventuring, more exploring (including a room with two mid-bosses that are pretty difficult to beat), and we finally find Ridley’s room. This should be the last boss! Hopefully it is.

The place is so shaky! Either it's the place, or the game.
Or maybe I am just picking images from a low-quality LP.
Ridley is a suitably hard boss, using techniques of the previous bosses as his own, and his head being his sole weak point. Charging Ice Beams seems to be the best strategy against him, and even then, his attacks are so hard to avoid that even if you take him down, he’ll deal plenty of damage to Samus. When Ridley is, at last, defeated (and killed, destroyed, ripped to bits, exploded, electrocuted, quartered, but we know he’ll be back in the next game), Samus moves forward. Let’s hope there isn’t another powerful enemy down there… Actually, no, all we find is an empty room with the Metroid’s container broken. Uh oh. That doesn’t sound good. There’s nothing else to see, so we backtrack to the bubble room (remember that?). We go back to Brinstar, where we find a statue of the main four bosses. Since we defeated Kraid, Phantoon, Draygon and Ridley, the statue sinks, bringing Samus to a whole new place to explore: Tourian. In there, we get attacked by a whole bunch of Metroids! Wait, I thought they were all dead? Ah, Mochtroids, failed Metroid clones! That explains it. Good luck learning about this without the Internet, though.

Of course, everybody knows that aliens only recognize
their mommies after beating them within an inch of
their lives...
Oh, we also get attacked by a giant Metroid that leaves Samus with 1 HP. It stops before killing her – because it’s her little Metroid, grown giant! In the immortal words of Shyamalan, what a twist! Ah, baby Metroids these days… They grow up so fast! Guess THAT is the Super Metroid of the title! The alien ceases its attack, floats around happily, and leave. Thankfully, further down into Tourian we find an energy recharge and a missile recharge. We’ll need both. The main room of Tourian has barriers that we destroy, followed by Mother Brain.

You know, for a game as complex as a Metroidvania – and, thus, most of the Metroid 2D platformers – it always struck me as odd that the major villain Mother Brain was a stationary creature, that represented little danger in a fight, and which used only the weapons surrounding it to fight. Since it never moves, it can’t be so hard to kill, just keep shooting at it!

Pictured: ....Final boss fodder? ....I doubt it.

No! It's not supposed to go that way! The captured
one must not die of a heroic sacrifice! That's BS!
...Granted, it's fairly new, but... daaaamn...
But of course, because I am an idiot who speaks too fast, as soon as Mother Brain is killed here she somehow gains a dinosaur-like body to move around and attack with. She turns out to be very powerful, and Samus is overwhelmed. There’s even an attack that takes away all of Samus' special weapons and most of her HP… which is when Samus’s Metroid comes in and attacks Mother Brain, sucking off its life force, then coming onto Samus to heal her completely and give her a new powerful weapon to fight. Unfortunately, Mother Brain is still alive, so it concentrates its attacks on the Metroid, which stays in place to protect Samus and it ends up… dying protecting its “mother”. No! Metroid! You two had so many good times together! Samus was reading to you little stories, you two were strolling in the park, she even sang you a lullaby!

Dammit game, did this have to be a shaggy dog story in the end? That the Metroid we were heading out to save, spending a couple of hours adventuring through all of Zebes, ends up with the prisoner dead? Granted, it dies saving Samus’s life, but still, that’s really sad. Nicely done player punch, though.

Equipped with a new Hyper Beam that shoots multicolor blasts (rainbow power!), Samus kills Mother Brain (which becomes pretty easy for a last boss, it’s as if the developers wanted this to not be a true boss fight, but a story event). When it’s killed, a countdown starts. You have three minutes to escape back to your ship and leave the planet!

And of course, that’s where the developers decided to put in a bunch of mazes, and a bunch of places with lots of platforms to jump on!

It's aright, it's alright. It was just Zebes... her homeworld...
Okay, if anybody asks, the Death Star did it.
Samus finds her way out of Tourian, out of Crateria, onto her ship, and leaves as Zebes implodes in a flash of light. She lost the Metroid hatchling, her planet is reduced to rubble floating in the depths of space (thankfully the benevolent inhabitants managed to escape), and fans of the Metroid series never get a sequel to this one until at least the Game Boy Advance. Oh, and another one for the Wii. Every other title happened before this one. Anachronistic order, it's both a blessing and a curse.

Anyway, I should mention that there’s an even better ending if you collect 100% of the items and save some inhabitants of the planet when you’re escaping it during the final countdown (do not cue the Europe song). I personally finished with 64% of the items collected, with over 6 hours at the counter. Passing grade for a first time, I guess. And of course, at 100% we get to see Samus without her armor. I doubt she’s in much of a mood to look happy about it, too, considering all of her tragic losses in this game.

Confirmed. She looks quite unhappy.

And this is the end of the review. There’s a reason this game is sacred for so many players. It is amazing. Hard as Hell, but amazing. Nearly every detail of the gameplay and story are thought up masterfully, artfully. Every single room of this gigantic maze is made so that Samus needs either of her abilities to proceed. And she has so many abilities, too. You’re encouraged to explore and look around, often using the X-Ray Scope in order to find the secret passageways you may have missed.  I may feel that the controls weren’t always perfect – even at the end I still often struggled to accomplish enough wall jumps to get to a later place, and the Space Jump and Screw Attack would often be unreliable, stopping to work halfway mid-jump, but both of these points of criticisms could be put on me not being that good at the game. Same could go for all this time I spent lost in the maze, desperately seeking my way around; it’s my first friggin’ time playing, do you expect an instant mastery? I won’t also blame those who fall to the now-legendary “Noob Bridge”, because I also had troubles with it until a quick look online revealed the dash button. Go ahead, laugh at me. I still finished the game. That’s probably one of the little issues with this game; very little is explained to you. You’re not told about the dash button outside of the game manual, you’re not told that you can do a superb upwards jump by charging after a dash… and of course, you never know how to harm a boss until you manage to hurt it through trial and error. But in the end, it’s still awesome.

The story itself is basic, and follows the premise of “show, don’t tell”: Little to no dialogue or text on the screen outside of the intro and power-ups as you find them. Whatever little beats of the story there may be are told through the actions on the screen. From Ridley stealing the Metroid at the beginning, to the story-driven fight against Mother Brain that has to go through all the phases planned. Yup, sorry, no saving that giant Metroid. Impossible. Still, making a game that is all about showing and not telling is an impressive feat. Similarly, the player is expected to figure out a lot of things as they go, which includes how to reach Tourian (by finding the statue made of four smaller statues of the main bosses in the game). The design of every section, and the plot-related events that are linked to it, are thus implemented without a word, and that’s truly fantastic.

It’s even wonderful on the side of the art; this game has some of the most detailed sprite art ever seen on the Super Nintendo. The large creatures, the complex environments, the great level of detail put in every single screen, enemy, character… it’s awesome. The music is also really, really great, always conveying the feeling that the current zone is supposed to give, whether it’s the feeling of the adventure that awaits when you land on Crateria, to the discovery of a bizarre world in Brinstar, to the darker tones of the later areas… It’s like everything is good here!

This game is a masterpiece, and if you’re a gamer, you should play it at least once. No debate. It’s all about exploring, discovering, fighting, becoming stronger, and turning into a near-perfect death machine. Seriously, Screw Attack Samus is incredible. Just don’t go in expecting a huge story.