Among well known game series, there are some which have legions of fans due to their quality over the years. For the Nintendo, their Metroid series has its fans and the games have been known to move hardware in some numbers for the company.
Thanks to the WiiU, I have now been able to play almost every single Metroid game made, excepting Zero Mission, Metroid Pinball and Prime Hunters games that were done on the DS. Here are some thoughts on the series from what I have played recently.
When I was a kid my family did not own an NES but everyone I knew, friends and friends of friends had one. Among my immediate friends, they did not give much thought to the original Metroid but I do remember spending a little time on it at the homes of acquaintances. Since I didn’t have much time to spend on the game back then, I don’t recall much about it but I do remember navigating platforms in those tall blue rooms and of course everyone being surprised by the unexpected gender of the protagonist. Otherwise my exposure at the time was via some Nintendo comics featuring Captain N where there was the occasional Metroid story. There was also the cartoon which had a very odd Mother Brain who wore a bit too much make-up.
I downloaded this recently to the WiiU Virtual Console (which is still lacking in content overall, when you compare to the Wii) and was finally able to sit down and explore the game properly. I never had reached or heard of the bosses as a kid and I also didn’t realize that the Screw Attack was present in this one either. It is a fun game although not perfect. I am surprised that Nintendo keeps the games running with slowdown and flicker in them. It is very obvious in Metroid. The game did come along before they used special chips in the carts to overcome some of the stock NES limitations. It really does show as it doesn’t take much to appear on the screen at once to bring the system to a sweat. Despite those problems, one can see how this launched a franchise as it is a satisfying game to complete.
Metroid II: The Return of Samus (Gameboy)
I found this recently on the 3DS and I was quite happy to find it. My family got a Gameboy back when my Dad had to ship out for Desert Storm. When he got back, it pretty much became my system as he isn’t really a gamer. While I would have preferred a color Atari Lynx at the time, I discovered why the Gameboy was so popular, because it had some very good games on it. Getting Metroid II as a gift, I finally got into the series, spending hours playing the game. I even got stuck and wrote to Gamepro’s Tips line and months later they responded about where I could find the Varia suit (I actually found it a short time after writing the letter but it was still cool to be “published”).
Playing it on the 3DS as an adult I was able to clear it in just a couple of hours, helped in part by my fragmented memories. Technically, the Gameboy works much better than the NES in handling what the game throws at you. As a game, this is my top Gameboy game and it is still one of my favorites for a handheld. Most Metroid games don’t feature the actual creatures for quite a while and as a “bounty hunter” you don’t really get the feeling that Samus is doing such a thing. Often she just feels like a rogue super soldier. In Metroid II though, your mission is to hunt down nothing but Metroids. No you don’t win any monetary reward in the game for it but where it is the objective of the game to hunt down the last 40 Metroids known to the universe. That is a satisfying objective to complete and the way the game builds tension near the end without any “narrative progression”, but rather the visuals (ruined structures) and the audio (the pounding BGM combined with the cries of the Mother Metroid) was handled masterfully.
(The OST in this game was really good overall, here is the song played when you found yourself in the main area of SR388)
This game introduced different types of Metroid mutations such as Alpha, Gamma, Zeta and Omega Metroids. It was also the first game I recall giving me a little fright when I was 9. Again it came down to they way they managed the tension as you could see a Metroid on the screen just waiting for you to get close enough for it to mutate and attack. The Spider Ball was a really cool item and the Screw Attack worked much better in this game than in any of the others in the series I have played (IMHO). Overall Metroid II is an excellent example of master game design and it should be studied by anyone looking to learn the craft.
Super Metroid (Super Nintendo)
I only had one friend who had an SNES and he wasn’t into Metroid so I did not play or even see this one back in the day. Given my like for Metroid II, I am sure I would have enjoyed it more back-in-the-day. I recently got this on the WiiU VC and have not completed it yet, my son has been spending more time on it than I have so far.
What I have seen so far is how it continued to establish a number of principal ideas for Metroid games to come – larger bosses, larger areas to explore, item improvements like the Super Missile and Super Bombs, angled aiming, etc. The Super Missile function isn’t perfect, in that more than once I switch to it on accident thinking I am using my beam weapon and it turns out it is a Super Missile. Just a different sound when you switch to it might have helped since you are usually focusing on the action on the screen. As I haven’t completed this one yet I can’t comment a whole lot more on how it compares to the many other Metroid games but I can see where it is well loved.
Metroid Prime (Gamecube)
I didn’t own an N64 or a Gamecube either but my brother got a Gamecube primarily for this game. The jump to first-person was a bold move on Nintendo’s part and I think it paid off well. As a prequel this gave us more background on Samus and her connection to the Chozo as well as the Space Pirates. With great sound and art direction this was an excellent start to the prequel series and it is one of the few games I picked up to play on the backwards-compatible Wii. It did take some getting used to the Gamecube controller though. Fortunately Nintendo did the Metroid Prime Trilogy for Wii which let’s you use a superior WiiMote setup to control the action.
Here’s a commercial for the first of the series:
Metroid Prime 2: Echoes (Gamecube)
It has been a little while since I played this one so my main memories involve exploring the Dark Realms on the game. It would be the only one in the series that I haven’t played recently. I’ve never been big on the whole “two worlds” exploration idea so it was ok but not something that stood up as creating a desire for replay. I also never tried out the multiplayer, which at the time felt like it was their response to Halo, which of course was Microsoft’s answer to the popularity of Goldeneye’s split screen stuff.
Metroid Prime 3: Corruption (Wii)
The Wii was the first time I had gone out with my own money and purchased a Nintendo system. I was drawn into it by the idea of the WiiMote, which at first did not work like we had hoped (fortunately I rented Red Steel as opposed to a purchase – what a frustrating experience that was. Red Steel 2 is a different story). I also knew that Metroid Prime 3 was coming, which was extra incentive to own a Wii.
I sat down and played through this last month as my kids had become very interested in the Metroid series. I was glad to go through it again as it is such an excellent game. I may not have cared too much for Echoes but Prime 3 erases most memories of that game to replace them with positive ones. There is a lot to like about this game, which feels more like an “open-world” sort of game given the wider scope of exploration you can enjoy. Once again the masterful art and sound direction make this a really enjoyable experience. Admittedly there are a few times were you start to feel like the game is just giving you busy work to pad things out although fortunately it is able to grab your attention away from some of that quickly. The extra voice acting the game has compared to other Metroid games also help involve the player into the universe differently than before and in a positive way. The controls also feel like they were made for Metroid. If Nintendo does a full Metroid for WiiU, I really hope they give it full Wiimote support. I like the gamepad but I can’t imagine it topping Prime 3’s method.
Metroid: Other M (Wii)
And here is the one that is considered the most controversial and the worst of the Metroid series. I heard nothing good about this game before playing it – my Metroid loving brother had it in his collection and he had barely played it. I borrowed it to see what all the fuss is about and here are some thoughts.
I can see why this upset many fans. Samus Aran was practically a blank slate character, excepting some background from those comics/cartoons and games like Metroid Fusion. The manuals told us she was a bounty hunter but ignoring those it always felt like she was more of a super soldier. The Prime series does flesh the character out a little bit but as she never speaks, the player gets the feeling that they are Samus and it is very easy to fill in the blanks yourself.
So Team Ninja was playing with fire here and judging the reactions of players at large, it back fired. Not for me so much – I didn’t mind the military background or the slight romance background either. I can see that they were trying to make Samus a relatable character as opposed to a stone cold robot. My brother hates the character they created though, saying she is just a whiny snot with daddy issues. I get the sense he and others don’t like Samus being one-upped by anyone or her having a role model. Like I said, she was kind of a blank slate so I’m not sure what they could have done to make everyone happy.
As for the game itself, which should be the most important part, once I got used to the camera angle choices and the initial cutscene heavy beginning was out of the way, I was fine. I do not care for the choice to lard up on the number of save stations in place to eliminating ammo/health pick-ups. I understand why they had to come up with something for the “start Samus from scratch” trend that appears in every Metroid game so that didn’t bother me so much. The first-person mode as used in this game is not something I care for in the way they decided to use it since it forces you to stop and change how you control the game, some times in the middle of an intense battle (such as using missiles). It took a while to get used to and I can see how that might have turned people off.
I was surprised that this has several winks at Metroid II. I know I shouldn’t let myself get caught up by that trap as references/winks/nods to not make a game good. No, apart from that I think what made me not hate this like some people do is that they did attempt to do Metroid differently. It didn’t work on all levels but it did work on some, enough for me at least. I would say that this is game is not as bad as some people make it out to be but like their opinions, that is mine. It is more action packed than other Metroid games and the 2.5D platforming is fun to play through. Yes it is a mixed bag but I am glad someone tried it at least. Yes with some tweaks it could have been better. No it is not the worst thing to ever happen to a Nintendo franchise (you have probably heard of the Philips CD-I Nintendo games. It will be very hard to top those).
Metroid Fusion (Game Boy Advance)
I never owned a GBA so I was happy to see Nintendo give the console some love on the WiiU. I wish that more consoles received that love on the U – currently games from the NES, SNES and GBA has it feeling lacking. Yes we will have N64 and DS games at some point but I would love to see other systems too – the Wii had Genesis, TG-16 and C64 titles which was awesome. I would love to see those come to U along with other systems like the Saturn, Dreamcast and in a more perfect world Atari and Amiga systems but chances of that happening are probably nil.
Anyways, Metroid Fusion. I picked this up for U when it became available, it was Nintendo’s insurance in case the idea of Metroid FPS crashed and burned with Prime. I did not play it previously so I discovered that it was the “last” of the Metroid series in terms of chronology (not counting the Prime series I believe it would be Metroid 5, although at the time of release would have been 4). It was also because of this game that Other M had many of the story elements that it did.
It is a fun game that gives you want you probably expect from a Metroid game while adding more story elements to it than you saw in Super Metroid. This game also worked at clearing up Samus’ blank slate as we get to “read her thoughts” about the unfolding situation. Oddly enough this never sent anyone into a fit of fanrage as far as I know but it is not cinematic like Other M either. I don’t know how much I want to spoil here but it does play on the tense atmosphere a little better than some of the other Metroid games, which I do enjoy. It feels a little bit like Project Firestart in one or two ways, which is worth checking out if you have never heard of it. Otherwise it does play much like Super Metroid so I imagine that anyone who enjoyed SM would also enjoy MF. I’ve went about it backwards so far but I did like my experience playing Fusion and I will have to give it another go to do better in regards to item collection 😉
Metroid Blast (Nintendoland, WiiU)
Just a brief mention on Metroid Blast, there isn’t a story that unfolds in this one, it is very much a action-shooter game that has some nods at classic Metroid bosses like Kraid. I have mostly played this one using the Gamepad, so I control the ship rather than the person on the ground. Fun multiplayer game that is a highlight for Nintendoland overall.