Metroid (MB Hall of Fame Inductee)

Metroid
Hall of Fame Inductee
Metroid
Original Release: 1987 (NES)
Designed by: Hiroji Kiyotake and Yoshio Sakamoto
Produced by: Gunpei Yokoi
Developed by: Nintendo
Published by: Nintendo

If Super Mario Bros. was the first platform game that felt like an adventure, Metroid was the first platform game that felt like an epic event. Never before had a game’s environment felt so real as well it was also one of the first games to give the player a choice in how they wanted to explore the game. While The Legend of Zelda predates Metroid in Japan, for American gamers, this was their first window into seeing the future of gaming.

The player controls bounty hunter Samus Aran. The instruction telling the player to press start is the only in-game help the player will receive during the entire playing experience. It’s up to the player to decide whether to explore the planet Zebes by going left, right, up, or down in the side-scrolling quest. It feels like most places are accessible from the beginning. Sometimes there are barriers that prevent players from moving into a particular area unless they’ve found the right weapon to blast the barrier. Sometimes players stumble into open areas that are extremely difficult without the right type of weapon to combat the enemies. But most interesting of all is that some areas are accessible by exploring the terrain with all the available tools. A well-placed bomb in a inconspicuous place might get Samus access to an area that will help her progress on her journey.

Many people consider Metroid to be the child of the best characteristics of the first Super Mario Bros. and the original The Legend of Zelda. However, while the platforming elements of Metroid were directly inspired by Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda was not something the game developers turned to often while developing the game. Many of the innovations made famous by Zelda were actually in development for Metroid before Zelda’s release like open-world exploration and a weapons system. While there was communication between the two teams working on the individual projects internally at Nintendo, the two games were developed separately. As well, there was no way for the developers of Metroid to anticipate or predict The Legend of Zelda’s eventual success.

Metroid was a sign that more people would be required to develop console games due to their complexity. Most arcade games at the time were still being developed and designed by a few people. Metroid had fourteen people working on it. Super Mario Bros. only had seven and Zelda had ten. But even then, many of the people working on the game did not stay confined within their roles in the development process. It was common for people working on one subject of the game to suggest ideas to the people working on other parts of the game. An example of this is that Hirozaku “Hip” Tanaka helped out with graphics and writing the game even though his only credit for the game is for sound composition.

The sound and graphics of Metroid were great. Even though the soundtrack for Metroid was limited, the main theme of the game made the player feel like they were embarking on a great saga. However, it was the game’s opening music that set the tone for everything. The few tones heard prior to the game’s start were eerie in that it made one feel like they were isolated in a  lonely place. This was complemented well by the graphics as the visual presentation made it feel like that Samus was a long way from home and stuck on a planet filled with unfriendly creatures. The black background kept the dark and desolate mood going as the detailed sprites made the game come to life. Even though it was still an 8-bit game, the attention paid to detail for the monster design was incredibly well done. The evil creaturs looked genuinely frightening due to intelligent design rather than being a pixelated mess and looking disgustingly gruesome for no proper reason.

Another title that’s tied to Metroid is Kid Icarus. They’re often referred to as sister titles because many gameplay elements and most of the team from Metroid were employed with the Kid Icarus game. Kid Icarus was released four months after Metroid in Japan and was actually released a month earlier than Metroid in North America. The reason why the Metroid, Kid Icarus, and The Legend of Zelda time releases are so backwards is because all three games were developed for the Nintendo Disk System in Japan. The Disk System was a add-on for the Famicom (the Japanese NES) that would allow players to save their game progress. However, the attachment was never released stateside and adjustments needed to be made that would allow for users to keep track of their progress without having to start the game over from the beginning every time the game was powered on. The Legend of Zelda, despite it releasing only a week later in North America after Metroid, was the first game to feature a battery backup to save the game progress. A password system was implemented with Kid Icarus and then Metroid. In fact, the Justin Baliey code for Metroid is one of the most popular codes on the NES and ranks right up there with the Konami code. That code exposed Samus for what she truly was.

That’s right, Samus Aran was a woman. However, most people who played the game when it was just released didn’t know it. Only once the game was completed did people find out the truth. In fact, the faster one beat the game, the more people would see of Samus…literally. While it wasn’t the first time that the main character of a popular video game was a female (Ms. Pac-Man was a more popular game than the original Pac-Man), it was the first time where a female character in a starring role was running around with guns a-blazing. While the strip down to the bikini for fast completion times didn’t do anything for the feminist movement within video games, the game itself proved that people had no issue accepting a female as the main character in an action-adventure game. One could argue that many people didn’t know that Samus was a woman when the game first came out. However, Metroid remained popular during the lifespan of the NES and is one of Nintendo’s biggest franchises. The first batch of people didn’t know but the millions that would later get interested in the franchise definitely knew and really didn’t take any issue with her gender.

The legacy of the game is a bit weird in that even though Nintendo acknowledged it as one of their major franchises during the mid-90s, it was largely ignored for a while. Metroid II: The Return of Samus was released for the Game Boy in 1991. It featured the same style of gameplay as the original and was portable. Super Metroid came out in 1994 for the Super Nintendo and is widely regarded as one of the best video games of all time. However, despite the critical acclaim for Super Metroid, there wasn’t a Metroid game for Nintendo’s next home console, the Nintendo 64. One of the frequently offered explanations for this by Nintendo executives is because they wanted to make sure Metroid’s transition to 3D would be worthwhile rather than offering a poor experience. Many companies rushed the transition of their franchises from 2D gameplay towards 3D too quickly and disappeared from the gaming landscape as a result. Even though fans of the series were routinely disappointed by the lack of Metroid appearing during major gaming events like E3, they would be rewarded greatly after both Nintendo learned the ins-and-outs of 3D gaming and the technology for 3D gaming improved greatly.

It was  the Gamecube in 2002 that saw the next instalment of the franchise. However, the game was played as a 3D first person shooter. Metroid Prime sparked a trilogy on both the Gamecube and the Wii. The Gamecube received Metroid Prime 2: Echoes in 2004 while the Wii received Metroid Prime 3: Corruption in 2007 (as well as a collector’s edition package containing all three games in the series optimized for the Wii’s motion controls). Metroid: Other M is a return to the series 2D platforming roots. To be released in 2010 for the Wii, it will be a convergence of the old style of Metroid games from the NES and SNES as well as some action from the 3D perspective similar to the Gamecube and Wii games.

There were also several Metroid games released for Nintendo handhelds. Metroid II was the only one released for the Game Boy but several Metroid games came out for the Game Boy Advance. Metroid Fusion was released in 2002 and featured gameplay very similar to that of Super Metroid. Using the Game Boy Advance-Gamecube link cable, players who completed the game and connected their system to the Gamecube (with a Metroid Prime game inside of the console) were able to unlock the original Metroid game. Metroid: Zero Mission was released in 2004 and is a quasi-remake of the original game. While the game borrows many of the same areas, characters, and scenarios from the original, Zero Mission also includes new areas and enemies to fight on top of enhanced graphics and music. The Nintendo DS also received a Metroid game with the release of Metroid Prime: Hunters in 2006. The game is played exactly like the other Prime games on the Gamecube and Wii although players use the system’s touchscreen to aim Samus’s weapons by tapping the area where they want to shoot.

Aside from the unlockable feature in Metroid: Zero Mission for the Game Boy Advance, the original game has been made available for purchase on a few other occasions. The game was released as part of the NES collection for the Game Boy Advance in 2004. It was also released on Nintendo’s Virtual Console service for the Wii in 2007.

The only thing that’s unfortunate about Metroid is that it does seem to be a title that hasn’t been able to age well. It’s open-world gameplay is rudimentary compared to the games today and passwords, which were annoying to deal with back in the 80s, are very beyond annoying to deal with considering that all modern systems are now equipped with internal memory for game saves. Still, Metroid set gaming standards when it was released and, with a bit of imagination and forgiveness, is still a great game to play today. If Metroid hadn’t come along, gaming wouldn’t have progressed as quickly as it did entering the 90s.

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