It’s undeniable that 1994 was an extremely memorable year of videogame releases. Sonic 3, Earthworm Jim, Doom II, and the original Donkey Kong Country were just a few of the critically acclaimed games that had us chatting profusely on the playground. However, there was one game in particular that terrified and mesmerized us so wholesomely, while many of its first-time moments still remain ingrained in our memories to this day. It took a total of eight years to see a home console sequel to the original Metroid, but in the Spring/Summer of 1994 Nintendo fans learned that truly spectacular things come to those who wait, when the genre-bending Super Metroid was finally unleashed upon the world.
Redefining what a sequel could be — with developer Nintendo R&D1 working closely with Intelligent Systems — this took everything that was great about Metroid and tuned it to the point of near perfection. Exploration and discovery were expanded upon exponentially, while correcting any niggling issues present the first time around. Director Yoshio Sakamoto admitted that many aspects of Metroid were initially inspired by Ridley Scott’s iconic horror film Alien, but with the release of Super Metroid it became abundantly clear that the series had blossomed into its own beast.
The story picks up not too long after Metroid II: Return of Samus for the Game Boy. After our favourite Bounty Hunter has left the infant Metroid to be studied by the scientists on the Ceres Space Colony, she receives a distress signal which has her doubling back to investigate. Upon return, she discovers the crew has been killed by her arch-nemesis Ridley. Following a brief battle, Ridley overpowers her and escapes to a nearby planet with the Metroid in tow. Fleeing from the exploding Colony with little time to spare; Samus goes barreling after Ridley.
It’s the moment Samus’ gunship is welcomed to the planet Zebes by acid rain and lightning – an image that’s been engraved in the minds of many gamers for nearly 20 years – that it’s pretty clear Super Metroid is going to be something special. From the intense heats of Norfair to the critter-ridden subterranean jungles of Brinstar, Zebes is bursting with personality and atmosphere that absorbs you into its pixel-perfect world. If a 16-bit game can be as immersive as if it were alive, it’s obvious that there is genius at work here.
When the game first begins, Samus will have access to very few areas, so she must collect upgrades for her Power Suit that will allow entry through previously inaccessible doors or even allow her to penetrate different types of terrain to reveal hidden areas. Once standard missiles and the signature Morph Ball upgrade have been acquired, the area of exploration grows substantially; this is when the game really begins to open itself up and feel like a living, breathing world, ready to be explored at your own volition.
These areas are designed to be sprawling and completely non-linear, and one major addition from the original is that you’ll have access to a map which makes travelling more comprehensive this time around. Rooms that have been visited will be highlighted in pink, but unless you’ve collected each individual area map, you won’t be able to view rooms that are undiscovered. Obtaining these maps will even mark rooms of interest – upgrades, save stations, weapons. While you’ll clearly have an overview of where to go, it’ll still take memorization to remember which room is which, and where you need to return to upon unlocking a new ability. This is a game about exploration and discovery in its purest forms.
Another beneficial inclusion is that the aforementioned save stations have been scattered throughout Zebes to ensure you’ll never have to write down another code on the nearest napkin or random scrap of paper. What’s even cooler is that if you return to Samus’ gunship you’ll not only be able to save your progress but recover your energy, as well. Sure, you’ll frequently have to backtrack, but for some hard-to-explain reason, this is one of those games where it doesn’t really ever feel like a chore. We’d like to think that’s possibly due in part to the finely-tuned controls.
Initially Samus’ abilities are restricted to a basic jump – which launches her about three times her height into the air – and the option to run. She can also gun down basic enemies and open blue doors with her standard Power Beam. Some of the tight platforming parts can take a little getting used to but these aren’t complaints about the controls, more so commentary on the unique physics of Samus’ Power Suit. Even the combat feels distinct thanks to the ability to shoot in eight directions, and it’s fun to experiment with the effectiveness of each acquired weapon against the variety of enemies present throughout the game.
There does come a point when the Power Beam no longer affects some of the more powerful creatures (or it only does a very small amount of damage) and this is where you may need to begin utilizing those missiles and other items in spur-of-the-moment situations. To switch between these weapons you’ll need to press the Select Button. On the SNES this worked rather well because extending the thumb of your left hand from the D-pad to the Select Button felt natural and was easy, but on the Wii U GamePad, the Select Button is on the right side of the device. Removing your thumb from the action buttons and then stretching to press Select feels clunky and makes shifting between weapons a clumsy affair.
Thankfully, with these Virtual Console games, the player can change the button mapping until their heart is content. We recommend that anyone having the same issue as us should remap the Select function to the ZL or ZR buttons instead. Make sure these control quibbles are addressed and overcome before putting yourself in those life or death boss battles and end up fumbling among the buttons. And man, are those boss battles a sight to behold.
Massive, towering, hulking, sinister, terrifying and wicked-cool – these are some our favourite words to use when referring to the unforgettable bosses of Super Metroid. These days it’s common practice to feature larger-than-life baddies that span beyond a single screen, but back in the days of the SNES – considering the system's limited cartridge-based technology – this was mostly unheard of. We don’t want to spoil too much about these encounters for those who’re playing the game for the first time, but we will say that they’re incredible and just about every individual boss is thoroughly detailed and unforgettable. We like to imagine many of these gnarly attackers left such an impression on gamers back in the day that they were sketched into the notepads of numerous daydreaming high-school students as they counted down the minutes for the school bell to ring.
That brings us to the visuals as a whole. Super Metroid could quite possibly be the most immersive Super Nintendo game of all time. It looks magnificent even by today’s standards, with the colours still impactful. It’s just too bad that these Virtual Console games don’t come with an option to adjust to widescreen, because it would be nice to have the option — flaws of stretching considered — to see those gorgeous sprites expanded to fill the surface area of our modern day televisions.
Before Super Metroid, Samus’ suit certainly looked neat, but it’s arguably this portrayal that solidified her as the bounty-hunting heroine we know today. That goes the same for recurring antagonists, Kraid and Ridley to name a couple, who look menacing for the first time ever. What amplifies the shock of their presence to an even grander scale are the bone-chilling noises bellowed from these beasts upon introduction. It’s awesome and just a small sample of the mood-validating audio present throughout each area of Zebes.
This is a score to remember. One that often takes center stage but also isn’t afraid to linger in the background with the hopes of stirring up tension, intimidating the gamer, and complimenting the already eerie sense of isolation even further. It’s these calm-before-the-storm moments – where you feel anything could happen – that keep you on the edge of your seat. With every ominous bleep and bloop, or the ceremonial-sounding space anthem that plays when resurfacing on Crateria, the score is rightfully effective and triumphant.
While Super Metroid is a masterfully superb experience all around, that doesn’t mean that it’s for everyone. There are no on-screen prompts or tutorials to instruct players on how to interact with the enemies and environments; you’ll have to figure out how to do this all on your own. And that’s the beauty of the gameplay, really, because it’s this sense of freedom and trial-and-error that truly makes you feel alone and responsible for your own success.
For example, not too long into your playtime you’ll come across a group of friendly gremlin-like critters that start bouncing between walls and scale out of view. This is the game’s way of teaching you how to perform a wall jump. Unlike most modern games, there’s a bit more tact to perform this move and first timers will no doubt need to take a while to understand how to execute this action, and then mastering it takes ever longer. It’s not necessary for progression but it’ll allow access to unreachable areas and even help bypass many sections that would’ve normally required a weapon upgrade. So if you’re one of the many people who are interested in fighting for a record-shattering speedrun, know that mastering the wall jump is integral if you want to contend.
In some review we enjoy giving a comprehensive explanation of the controls, and hint at a few helpful tactics to assist in those confusing situations; with Super Metroid we believe figuring these things out is such a satisfying and rewarding part of the experience that we wouldn’t want to ruin those moments for those who haven’t played the game yet. We suggest you give it your best and explore all possibilities, and if you still can’t get figure it out, you could always take to Miiverse to gain insight from veterans and newcomers alike. It's true that some of the current generation of gamers aren’t familiar with this figure-it-out-yourself kind of gameplay, so it’s great that Super Metroid has resurfaced on the Wii U to introduce them to a mostly bygone era of gaming.
Turn off the lights, crank up the sound, and embrace the goose-bump-inducing ambiance of Super Metroid. The immaculate marriage between visuals and audio are as effective today – even on the modest screen of the Wii U GamePad – as they were 20-years ago when the Super Nintendo was technologically relevant. Thanks to the speed-run popularity and multiple endings, this is a game that deserves repeat attention, so even if you’ve indulged in the past, we could confidently recommend you do so again. We’ve really only touched the surface of what makes this game so spectacular, but that was intentional, as we hope you’ll explore the planet of Zebes and discover its magic for yourself.
Super Metroid is a science-fiction masterpiece that not only redefined everything that was great about the Metroid series up until that point, but it also showcased a world striking enough to prove for the makings of a long-lasting franchise. Engrossing atmosphere, tight controls, pure exploration, and gnarly bosses are just a few of the things that make this an unforgettable experience from front-to-back, and we can’t think of a reason as to why you shouldn’t download this game immediately and at least give it shot. It honestly hasn’t aged a day, like many of its SNES brethren, which is a testament as to why the system is often regarded as one of the best home consoles of all time. Clear a space on your Wii U dashboard, Samus Aran needs somewhere to land her gunship.