More than 20 years have past since Metroid first blew away NES owners with its clever mixture of platforming, exploration and character upgrades. It went on to become spawn many sequels over the years, becoming a much-loved franchise for Nintendo fans – but nostalgia aside, is Metroid still high-quality by today’s standards?
Stepping into the formidable boots of the intergalactic bounty hunter Samus Aran, you are tasked with defeating the pesky Space Pirates, who've kidnapped the Metroid creatures with the fiendish plan of using them as biological weapons of mass destruction. So, off to planet Zebes you go to restore law and order to the galaxy.
Samus starts out armed with a weedy little peashooter, but before long you’ll stumble across suit upgrades needed to progress further. The first you’ll find will let Samus morph into a ball, allowing her to squeeze through tight spaces with the greatest of ease. Later, you’ll gain other weapons and abilities such as jump boots to help you leap to platforms once out of reach, missiles to open special doors and an ice beam to take out the endless supply of respawning baddies. There are boss fights too, so you'll have to make sure to pick up energy tanks along the way and withstand a few more hits.
Metroid is of course famed for it’s emphasis on exploration, and you’ll find yourself doing a lot of backtracking in order to make your way through, which, thanks to the lack of posted signs and visual cues, you might find frustrating. One of the most annoying things is Metroid's reliance on secret passageways; in this day and age, arbitrarily jumping around, bombing and shooting to find your way to the next section shows the game's age to much the negative effect. This lack of intuitiveness may have proven easy to overlook 20 years ago, but most are going to find it a big turn-off now.
For a game of its era, however, the graphics and sound have weathered reasonably well. The developers employed a complex palette in different sections , and the rocky, industrial and lava themes break up the repetitive nature of exploration. Samus is well-animated and everything plays out smoothly as well, and massive bosses are quite impressive. The sound effects are a bit basic, but the music is decent and you’ll probably find yourself humming along at times.
If you’ve played any of Samus’ more recent 2D adventures you’ll most likely get frustrated by her lack of diagonal shooting skills in this outing. There are countless times when this ability would be useful, and its omission here is to great negative effect.
If you know what you’re doing, then you can complete Metroid easily in a couple of hours, though you're likely to hit several stumbling blocks during your first run. The Virtual Console's save mechanism will take care of maintaining your progress, but the original password feature can also still prove useful.
It’s hard to whole-heartedly recommend Metroid as a Virtual Console download in this day and age thanks to the repetitive nature of exploration and reliance on illogical passageways to progress. While it was one of the best games of its time, the level design is now a barrier to entry whereas other classics don’t similarly suffer. Unless you are feeling partially nostalgic for lost childhood days or are keen to experience the whole Metroid canon, we recommend that you pass on this and wait for Super Metroid to hit the Virtual Console instead as it improves on this game in every conceivable way.