Topic: Reflections on beating Metroid for the first time

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I have something of a confession to make: I never liked Metroid.

I don’t mean the series (I've outright adored many of the sequels). I mean the game itself. And I don't mean that I disliked it...just that I never actively liked it.

It was too confusing...or, rather, too vague. Confusion implies that I was processing information too tangled to understand. Instead, there was no information to process. I was alone. I had a gun, and there were enemies, but killing them didn't get me any further ahead and the screen scrolled without restriction in all directions. What, exactly, was I supposed to DO?

Metroid was more fun for me to watch than it was to play. I remember being young and watching a friend play the game in the late hours of the night. In a dark room with the sound turned up, it was very atmospheric. The similarity of the corridors and shafts didn't seem as frustrating when it wasn't you trying to navigate them...instead, it gave the game a sense of chilling hopelessness.

The music was brilliant, of course. The soundscapes and fanfares all embedded themselves in my young mind, and I've kept them with me, for whatever reason, ever since.

But I never actually LIKED it. It was good, obviously, and it spawned myriad great sequels (and immitators). But I never remembered the game as being much fun.

And so when I got Metroid Prime for the Gamecube, I didn't bother to unlock the original game.

And when I heard about Zero Mission, I passed on it.

And when I got a Wii, I didn't bother to download it from the Virtual Console.

But thanks to the Ambassador program, Nintendo gave it to me for free. After all this time...after so many rejected opportunities to replay, rediscover and re-evaluate a classic, I finally sat down with it to do so. Nintendo seems to have been asking me for years to play it again...but until they literally put it in my hands themselves, I hadn't done it.

And all I can say is that I was wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong on every count. Wrong. Metroid isn't just's a ****ing masterpiece.

I don't know why I had such trouble navigating its world as a child. Or, rather, I do know why. It's the same reason I had trouble navigating Zelda: I wasn't used to it, and the screens weren't always different enough from each other to help me along. The difference is that as I grew up I became more patient (and more competent) and I took the time to rediscover Zelda. I skipped Metroid, remembering it as dull, muddled and poorly designed...and being perfectly content to stick with that appraisal as an adult without questioning it.

This time I didn't just play it; I explored it. I had fun with it. The backtracking was almost never frustrating; it gave me a chance to fill up my energy tanks (which I was always happy to do) and to find additional passages along the way that I either missed or couldn't access the first time around. There might not have been a map or any guidance in the game, but did I really need either of those things? Sure, they would have made the game easier, but I doubt that they would have made it much more fun. The fun was the search. The thrill was the hunt. The goal was the adventure.

When I started playing it on the 3DS VC, I figured I would play it until I became frustrated, and then maybe--maybe--turn to the internet to get some guidance. I thought that would be about an hour or two into the game, when I was sick of walking in circles.

Instead, I never walked on circles. Or, rather, I walked in expanding, outward circles. I found more of the world every time I backtracked, and the same rooms gave up their previous secrets one by one. It wasn't was layered. Its outward simplicity masked a strange, disarming depth. The lack of guidance in itself was a kind of very specific guidance. When you're not told to do anything, you need to try EVERYTHING. (The old man in Legend of Zelda shouldn't have given clearer hints...he should have kept his mouth shut in the first place.)

I collected everything up to the Screw Attack (and however many missile tanks) before realizing that I was extremely further along in the game than I had ever gotten as a child, even with help from friends or Nintendo Power. I was finding things just fine. I may never have known where I was going, but I always got there, and that is the singular mark of great game design.

I eventually did resort to a map online...but only once, and that was because I had discovered Ripley before I was ready to fight him. (ie: I died before I realized how insanely easy he is.) So I went out, found some missiles and energy tanks, and couldn't find his lair again. It turns out I bombed a floor on my first pass and made it through that way...and the second time around I wasn't bombing floors. My own fault. Beyond that, I never needed a map once...and even then I could have solved it eventually. I just needed to give myself let my mind reset to the "try everything" mentality. (The fact that the accessibility of nearly always prevents our minds from doing this anymore is a lament for another day, though I do feel that games and gaming have suffered immensely as a result.)

Before I knew it, I was in the final area. The metroids were there. They were terrifying. I was a child again. Everything was dark. The music gave me chills. It was legitimately scary, and actually quite thrilling. What if I died? I'd have to refill all those energy tanks again...I'd have to go all the way back through this...I'd have to start this trek again...(I'm resisting the urge to rant against save states or restore points right now, so bear with me).

When I beat Mother Brain--whom I had never even seen personally in this game--I had 3 energy left. 3. I had to make the climb out of her chamber with an incessant beeping in my ear reminding me just how close I was to death.

...and I wouldn't have changed it. Nothing makes a heart beat so savagely as one of those early near-death sounds from classic video games. Metroid, Zelda, even Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. You hear it in your sleep. You hear it in your nightmares.

I had done it. I had finished the game. I had never even done much in the original game. How far did I get? A few missiles? The high-jump boots? I gave up on a game simply because it didn't welcome me with open arms.

It was my loss. The game offered me no guidance and no mercy, but who was I to demand them?

Metroid needs to be enjoyed on its own terms. It sets its rules, it sets its limitations, and you can take them or you can leave them.

I left them. For a long, long time, I left them.

And I missed out on one of the most rewarding experiences as a gamer that I've ever had: climbing out of Hell with 3 energy to my name and a lifetime's worth of adventure behind me.

I. Loved. This game.




This post made me cry manly tears. Metroid doesn't get enough love, I tell ya. Bravo, and congratz on beating it and your change of heart. I'm tempted to pick apart my favorite sections but I don't want it to be taken the wrong way.

Edited on by CanisWolfred

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I feel the same, except I can't beat it at all. not with the crappy HP I receive. I had to use one of the infinite health codes, and even then I had trouble fighting Mother Brain and Metroids. This was last week on Wii VC. I know where everything is more or less now... I could give it a go now but... but I am in no hurry.

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Wow, you've really turned around. I really should give this game another chance...

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I pretty much had the exact same experience down to the friend I liked to watch play, using an online map once or maybe twice just to find a place I had already been to, and barely beating Mother Brain. Only difference is that my catalyst for finally giving it a shot wasn't the Ambassador program, I just stubbornly enjoy finding fun in games everyone seems to hate, particularly original NES games.

One thing I did to make it easier was to draw my own map as I went along. I actually think I liked it more for having to do that. Because of the long scrolling screens, even with graph paper I was hopeless for any kind of precision, but it was enough to stop me from ever being hopelessly lost.

Everyone loves Super Metroid, and I do, too, but once you've played it a couple times, you have to use self-imposed challenges (time trials or low percentage runs) to make it challenging. Metroid is not only super hard but you'll also forget where almost everything is if you don't look up a map. The big difference between NES and SNES iterations is no different from Zelda, Mario, Mother, or many other series, but I find it's most pronounced with Metroid.

The only thing I'd change with the original, aside from fixing numerous glitches, would be to make it slightly less punishing when you die, either refilling to something like 1/4 of your maximum health/missiles or putting a recharge station hidden somewhere in Zebes that you'd have to backtrack to.

Anyway, welcome to the club. Even if it's not the best game ever, few games are half as satisfying to complete.

(And man, get to work already, Zez. You're way behind.)

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This is pretty much what happened to me, the only difference being that I am in the general age group where most kids think that Call of Duty is the greatest thing in the universe. Great article.

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I my self just finished last sunday. It was my second attempt, having given up on my wii vc version and because I have more experince and skills with hand held systems I cleared it, though eventually I needed to use a map a few times because I could not figure out where to go next. But having cleared it it has become my favorite nes game myself because of it's challenge and great musical track. The only thing I wish was that mulitple metroids couldn't get you and drain your health in seconds because it is so hard to get them off. It is a classic that needs to be played to be understood.

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Awesome little write-up, Phil. Glad you allowed yourself to give the game another chance; obviously you're glad too.

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Well, what you wrote inspired me to give Metroid another chance. I got much further than I ever did before. I got an E-tank, which makes everything much easier, and two rocket upgrades. I'm having a lot of fun with this. Thanks.

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I have beaten the original Metroid at least seven times. Of course, I cheated. But I still beat it. But, you know, without the NARPASSWORD code, I have only gotten as far as the first really tall shaft in Brinstar. It's REALLY hard.

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Wow. Now I feel like I need to play the game since it's just sitting on my 3DS. Great job, Chicken Brutus, at doing whatever you set out to do. Also, it's nice to see you back here.

Edited on by V8_Ninja

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I really wasn't into the first one at all until I played the sequels.
The crushing difficulty and having no clue where to go just turned me off completely. After getting hooked on Metroid 2 for Gameboy and then being totally blown away by Super Metroid I went back and played the original.

I finally got to like it and understood the game much better. I still think some of it is a bit unfair though. Being stripped of all but 30 units of energy every time you die is not fun. The method for refilling your life is tedious also. It takes way too long standing by those pipes and killing respawning enemies over and over.

Overall though it's still a very good game and it deserves a look for anyone curious about the origins of this fantastic franchise. If not for Samus we may not have had many female videogame heroes.
That alone is what makes this series great.

Edited on by Link79

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I just wish they fixed the slowdown. I'm all for keeping the experience authentic, but... come on, carrying things too far much?

Anyway, this is exactly what I felt like when I went through Super Metroid. I played a little bit, hated it, eventually went back to it and couldn't stop playing until the end. I'm playing this right now too — I just grabbed the morph ball bombs.



I'm so glad you like Metroid, now, @Chicken_Brutus! It's such a classic to me. The music, the enemies, the power-ups, the layout.. love all of it.

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I can only get very far in the original metroid because of my near encyclopaedic knowledge of ZM. Even so it remains the only metroid game I am yet to beat, simply out of frustration ("please samus, crouch rather than go into morph ball so I can kill these enemies"). However, my interest in it has been revived by the ambassador scheme, and when I beat Zelda II, it's next on my list (followed by the original LoZ). Mother Brain, brace yourself!

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This is a thread worth digging up again. You pretty much mirrored my thoughts on beating it for the first time. I'm becoming more and more drawn to these types of games that just drop you into the action and expect you to figure out everything on your own (the original Zelda, Oblivion). It's so wildly different from current design philosophies, where games try and outline every single button and gameplay scenario before we even get to see the first level. Metroid is a game that we learn to play through necessity--our instinct is go right, in sidescrolling games, but when we go that way we get stuck. So we're forced to go left, and through this we discover that this isn't linear game. Then we see an item on the other side of a wall, so we push every button until we find a way to get over it.

It's things like this that fascinate me. It's just such a well-crafted game, crippling frame-rate be damned.

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I found this one to be solid back in the day as a young 'un, but not so much now. It's the sum of all the little stuff that bugs me: constant slowdown, starting with 30 health, slightly awkward jump mechanics, enemies being allowed to hit you through doors and on elevators, grinding to fill up the energy tanks, five missiles to open one red door, not being able to shoot in more directions, yawn-worthy boss fights, the lack of a map, and more than you probably care to read about. Yes, you can tactically plan out when you're going to grab the energy tanks so you're prepared for the bosses. Yes, you can memorize or simply explore the map for the fun of it.

In fact, you can get around most of the game's flaws and my personal grievances, but that doesn't make it engaging when you have to go out of your way to enjoy its basic concept. This is a very quick and easy game in theory, but it's always the subtleties that lead to my deaths - never "my platforming was too sloppy" or "I suck at dodging". It doesn't feel "rewarding" to play.

Specifically, Metroid Zero Mission just makes this feel more archaic than it actually is. It took everything I liked about the original, removed stuff that bothered me, and made it all look unique. More linear, yes, but part of the fun was going against the linearity and doing stuff like 15% runs. Of course, this game was released about 20 years after the original so...

Maybe I've just been spoiled by experiences that offer far more entertainment with less annoyance and a greater feeling of accomplishment. You tell me.



Gonna have to play this later, I've only messed around with it a bit. Thanks, Brutus!

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i had to draw my own map for this game, room by room, in the time before the internet. Great times.


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