NES Metroid Review (Viewpoint #2) – Oldschool 8bit Platforming Action At Its Best

12 Feb

Metroid Yellow NES Alternate 1992 Box Cover Artwork

The awesome alternate box art for the re-release of NES Metroid in 1992.

NES Metroid is the debut entry that founded Nintendo’s long-running Metroid series starring protagonist Samus Aran. It created a splash when it first made its debut on the Nintendo Entertainment System way back in 1985 and is one of Nintendo’s three-premier franchises that are still going strong today (alongside Mario and Zelda). This review was originally posted at Epinions during February 2012. This is my second review of this game, check out my first Metroid 1 review (Viewpoint #1) written way back in 2006 and compare it to this more recent opinion of the game written six years later.

NES Metroid set many precedents and blew the door wide open for the action adventure genre. Among them it helped popularize the way you power-up your character by collecting new items that increase your ability to explore deeper into the world of Zebes. NES Metroid was also one of the first games to feature a “password-save” feature.

Thankfully, new incarnations of the game such as the Wii Virtual Console version, the 3DS version, the Game Boy Advance version and the unlockable version in Metroid Prime; make things easier for you by automatically saving your game (auto-entering the last password when you boot it up).

NES Metroid is almost entirely open-ended, meaning that there are multiple paths you can take through the game and you can collect the power-ups and items in almost any order you like. This was a revelation way back in the mid-1980s!

Of course, there are also certain paths that are better or more efficient than others; How’s that? NES Metroid is one of the first console games if not THE first to feature multiple endings. These endings reveal more of main character Samus Aran, one of the first heroine’s of gaming, depending on how quickly you beat the game.

“Speed-running”, the act of finishing the game as quick as possible (with the highest, or lowest, rate of items) became a popular activity among players, and still is today, due to the nature of trying to finish the game in the quickest amount of time. Speed-running was further encouraged due to the open-ended nature that NES Metroid brought to the table.

In NES Metroid, you start the game out with only the ability to shoot enemies who are right in front of you or above. You can turn around shoot and jump, as well. You cannot duck however, although you will immediately find the game’s most iconic item, and the one for which the series became most known, the Morph Ball, which essentially allows you to perform a “duck”-style move.

The Morph Ball gives Samus the ability to curl up and roll into a perfect sphere. After a bit of exploring, you’ll pick up the ability to lay Morph Ball Bombs, these allow you to blow up a hole in certain parts of walls, floors or ceilings, allowing you to find hidden paths (almost entirely unmarked) or secret items.

Picking up a Missile Pack, of which many are hidden, gives you the ability to fire Missiles. As you explore the game’s many areas and environments, you’ll come across red (and later pink) doors that block your path. These take a number of Missiles to open and claim the new Power-Ups inside.

NES Metroid is primarily a platformer, so you’ll be hopping from platform to platform, dodging hazardous lava and hazards, taking out ground and air-based enemies, looking for secret passageways, collecting items (Missiles, which give you five additional Missiles and Energy Tanks, which give you 99 units of additional energy) and Power-Ups (completely new abilities like Hi-Jump Boots or the Ice Beam), reaching Elevator Rooms that take you down into new areas, and ultimately searching out two hidden bosses; found within lairs tucked far beneath the game’s major areas; whom you must defeat in order to reach the end boss, located at the very top of the first “blue” area of the game.

In order to reach said boss you must search out the game’s many hidden Power-Ups, which will give you the ability to reach the bosses and defeat them. You also must have enough Energy Tanks to survive the fight, and enough Missiles to be able to blast them away. However not all Power-Ups are required in order to beat the game, and two in particular, which make the game much easier, can be ignored if you’re a master at the game. However if you don’t find them you’ll need to be an expert player to reach the end; as with them Samus gets even more and more powerful and tougher to defeat, even being able to defeat the game’s strongest enemies in a single hit! Finding the two said Power-Ups won’t be easy for first-timers however, as they are very deviously hidden.

In fact, lots of the items and Power-Ups in the game are deviously hidden, and by today’s standards NES Metroid is an extremely tough game. It’s as old-school as they come, and there is absolutely NO handholding. There is no map available (although there is a basic one in the game’s instruction book, which makes the game’s world much easier to navigate if you know the basic layout) and absolutely zero hints as to where to go or where items and Power-Ups are located. You’re completely on your own for this one (… unless you hop on the Internet and hit up youtube or gamefaqs, naturally. :P)

As opposed to say, Metroid: Zero Mission, the Game Boy Advance remake of this game, which tells you exactly where each of the major power-ups are found and exactly how to get them!

What really makes NES Metroid special though and sets it apart is the aesthetics and the extraordinary mood of the game. The entirety of NES Metroid is set to a pitch-black background, which, along with the eerie music, gives the game an otherworldy feel that is almost oppressing. Claustrophobia, and a deep sense of loneliness, pervades and oozes out of every pixelated pore throughout this 8bit Metroid. Additionally, the music, and even the visuals themselves, only get creepier and creepier as you battle your way deeper and deeper into the world of the planet Zebes.

All of this combines to create an incredibly eerie mood that almost gives NES Metroid the feeling of a horror game. This unsettling nature is made worse later on when you encounter crazy looking demon statues and insanely weird levels with walls made of faces, new unknown creatures with which to battle, and the creepiest 8-bit music you’ve ever heard.

Driving the point home are the mysterious Chozo Statues. These ancient “birdmen” relics are located beyond the game’s many locked doors. From a crouching position, these eerie inanimate creatures hold a glowing orb in their cupped hands… shooting that orb open will reveal a new Power-Up. These Chozo are the ancient race which created Samus’ Power Suit and her weapons… and these awesome statues become a hallmark of the series carried on to later games.

Sadly, there is no real story in NES Metroid, outside of the awesome story given in the instruction booklet (and a short but cool one in the intro if you wait a bit), but story generally was not part of the gameplay in NES titles (the Ninja Gaiden games being an obvious exception) so that’s to be expected.

However you’ll enjoy the game more if you do know the story, so here it is for your enjoyment; straight from the NES instruction manual from 1985:

“In the year 2000 of the history of the cosmos, representatives from the many different planets in the galaxy established a congress called the Galactic Federation, and an age of prosperity began. A successful exchange of cultures and civilization resulted, and thousands of interstellar spaceships ferried back and forth between planets. But Space Pirates also appeared to attack the spaceships.

The Federation Bureau created the Galactic Federation Police, but the pirates’ attacks were powerful and it was not easy to catch them in the vastness of space. The Federation Bureau and the Federation Police called together warriors known for their great courage and sent them to do battle with the pirates. These great warriors were called “Space Hunters.” They received large rewards when they captured pirates, and made their living as space bounty hunters.

It is now the year 20X5 of the history of the cosmos, and something terrible has happened. Space Pirates have attacked a deep-space research spaceship and seized a capsule containing an unknown life-form that had just been discovered on Planet SR388. This life-form is in a state of suspended animation, but can be reactivated and will multiply when exposed to beta rays for 24 hours.

It is suspected that the entire civilization of Planet SR388 was destroyed by some unknown person or thing, and there is a strong possibility that the life-form just discovered was the cause of the planet’s destruction. To carelessly let it multiply would be extremely dangerous. The Federation researchers had named it “Metroid” and were bringing it back to Earth when it was stolen by the Space Pirates!

If Metroid is multiplied by the Space Pirates and then used as a weapon, the entire galactic civilization will be destroyed. After a desperate search, the Federation Police have at last found the pirates’ headquarters, the fortress planet Zebes, and launched a general attack. But the pirates’ resistance is strong, and the Police have been unable to take the planet. Meanwhile, in a room hidden deep within the center of the fortress, the preparation for multiplaying the Metroid are progressing steadily.

As a last resort, the Federation Police have decided on this strategy: to send a space hunter to penetrate the center of the fortress and destroy the Mother Brain. The space hunter chosen for this mission is Samus Aran. He is the greatest of all the space hunters and has successfully completed numerous missions that everybody thought were absolutely impossible.

He is a cyborg, his entire body has been surgically strengthened with robotics, giving him superpowers. Even the Space Pirates fear his space suit, which can absorb any enemy’s power. But his true form is shrouded in mystery.

The Planet Zebes is a natural fortress. Its sides are covered with a special kind of stone, and its interior is a complicated maze. On top of that, the pirates have planted devices and booby traps in the maze, the pirates’ eerie followers lie in wait around every corner. Samus has now succeeded in penetrating Zebes. But time is running out. Will he be able to destroy the Metroid and save the galaxy?”

Awesome story, ain’t it? Sadly it is not reprinted word-by-word in the game like it should be; either way however, NES Metroid is a game that hits all the right notes, literally, and features the action-packed and deviously fun gameplay to match.

Even to this day, NES Metroid is as fun as ever to play and still looks absolutely fantastic. It has a look that’s completely unique and all its own; and one that simply cannot be duplicated in the modern age. Part of the greatness of NES Metroid comes from its simple nature, where less is more. The complete lack of backgrounds wouldn’t play nowadays, yet it helps, along with the INCREDIBLE music, to create a mood in NES Metroid that is unparalleled.

Wow, I almost forgot to mention the music! The music in NES Metroid is second-to-none, and ranks up there with the greatest 8-bit soundtracks of all time. As previously mentioned, the tunes in this game are extremely eerie. And not only is the music great, but the sound effects are equally as great (such as the sound of the bubble doors when they open!). All of this combines to create a masterpiece experience; and the defining work of the late Gunpei Yokoi, Nintendo designer of the game (and inventor of the Game Boy, D-Pad, Game & Watch handhelds and Nintendo Virtual Boy) who tragically passed away via a car accident in 1997.

His legend lives on through this game, and its beloved tunes are still being remixed and orchestrated today by the dozen. If you haven’t checked out Metroid Metal (look them up online), do so and you’ll find some incredible renditions of NES Metroid’s amazing score. Which sounds even more awesome when played in a modern style.

All in all, NES Metroid is untouchable. Although the game is challenging, it is challenging in a good way. They just don’t make games like this anymore and you owe it to yourself to check the game out.

Why not challenge yourself to beat NES Metroid in under an hour? Do so and you’ll even see a little…. skin. :)

– Outstanding aesthetic
– Fun gameplay

– No handholding!
– Tough

The Bottom Line: Not just a game but an epic old-school experience.

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5. Turok: Dinosaur Hunter (N64) [Posted: January 31 2013]
4. Resident Evil: Code Veronica Review (Dreamcast) [Posted: October 5 2012]
3. Resident Evil 3: Nemesis (PS1, GameCube) [Posted: September 18th 2012]
2. Resident Evil 2 (GameCube) [Posted: September 3rd 2012]
1. Resident Evil Remake (GameCube) [Posted: August 14 2012]

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Posted by on February 12, 2013 in Artwork, Reviews, Videogames


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