When I first started playing video games, my repertoire of Nintendo adventures were bare. My first few months consisted of Mario's adventures on the Nintendo 64 pre-1998, Yoshi's Story, Star Fox 64, and the few Mario and Donkey Kong games we owned on Super Nintendo. I had just started on my journey. Super Mario 64, Super Mario World, Mario Kart 64 and Donkey Kong Country were big names, but not nearly enough to encompass the world I was about to dive into.
Over time, the expanses of that world made themselves known me. Nintendo Power magazine gradually introduced me to characters and series I was unfamiliar with, most notably The Legend of Zelda and Kirby. Pokemon arrived in the states later that fall and took me captive in its collect-a-thon for life. Super Smash Bros. hit the scene the year after and brought Nintendo's biggest heroes together. The internet hype for the Gamecube sequel scattered the name of Kid Icarus and other unknowns. The days of the Nintendo of old vibrated with reverence throughout online message boards, echoing of legendary titles such as Zelda: A Link to the Past, Super Metroid, Donkey Kong Country 2, Super Mario Bros. 3, and Yoshi's Island.
Those first three years served as an introduction, and slowly segued into me finally dipping into their oceans. My first experience with Kirby was on his sole Nintendo 64 title, but it was the truly the advent of Kirby's Adventure and Kirby Super Star that enveloped me into his world. It was around the same time that I was finished with my curiosity of Earthbound and finally sought the title out, ensuring in its eternal status of a childhood staple. The Wind Waker's release in 2003 proved just how much I was missing out on Zelda, and I quickly consumed the rest of the series. Following the community's mixed opinions of Star Fox: Assault, its influence allured me to revisit the 64 classic and I fell in love with it all over again. And of course, when the new releases of Pikmin, Animal Crossing, and WarioWare were introduced, I followed.
As the above anecdote describes, I didn't quite play everything Nintendo had to offer during the beginning. Rather, I slowly accumluated these adventures over the years and developed into a form of family tree. The branches kept growing every year as I continued to discover new corners of my favorite game company.
Even now, I'm still on that odyssey. My experience last year with the original Super Mario Bros. was particularly poignant in this regard, as it was a title I had dismissed as simply kick-starting Mario's career. When I was revisiting it last year to give my new blog a proper introduction, it was only then I realized the flexibility and limitless replayability of a title that's still relevant today. This blog has given me the opportunity to have a legitimate excuse to reconnect with Nintendo's entire gaming history, but even still, I've always felt as if I've been well-acquainted with all its major family members.
Except for one.
As much of a professed Nintendo fanatic I claim to be, there's one major Nintendo franchise I've never dived into. I've played through most of the series' first revival on the Gamecube, but always felt short of completion. I beat the trilogy's conclusion on Wii, but it was accomplished during a time of disenchantment with the company of my childhood. I've dabbled into other fabled entries of the series, but never felt compelled to play them all the way through. To ignore this fan-favorite series was something I just took for granted.
Until now. I finally dived right into the original NES title. I burrowed further and further into it, out of some crazy nonobligatory obsession. Divine providence? I dunno. But I beat it.
That game is Metroid.
Metroid was introduced to the Japanese gaming world in 1986, and made its away across the rest of the world, along with its cousin Kid Icarus, throughout the next two years. The brainchild fusion of famed game producer Gunpei Yokoi and writer Makato Kano, Metroid presented what was the most in-depth recreation of a sci-fi setting in a video game of that time. Introducing the lone bounty hunter Samus Aran, you are tasked with the role of eliminating the Space Pirates and their goal of breeding the deadly Metroid specimens.
There were two major factors as to why Metroid had an enormous impact on the 8-bit gaming world. The setting of Planet Zebes acquainted the player with a haunting alien world, all the while crafting an abnormal marriage between the non-linearity of Zelda and the gameplay of a shooter. There were no set directions for the player, as one had to endure through endless mazes and corridors, constantly scrutinizing (read: blow up) the walls and floors of every lethal passage. You received no aid or companionship from any other character. You were alone. The player became one with the planet's depths.
Then came the destruction of the male video game protagonist stereotype. With the exception of Ms. Pac-Man, the video game scene was exclusive to men entitling the role of playable characters. Samus, as depicted above, seemingly fits the criteria: A galactic warrior (and a bounty hunter, at that!) outfitted in futuristic armor attached with a multi-purposed arm cannon, and who's sole intent is to blast the shit out of every alien within the vicinity. The character was the product of every boy's daydream.
Until they cleared the game.
You can imagine the shock.
These groundbreaking elements paved the way for Metroid's immense success, and went down in history as one of the most famous NES titles. Sequels followed years later beginning with Metroid II: Return of Samus for the Game Boy, and initially culminated with the Super Nintendo release of Super Metroid in 1994. The latter is revered by many Nintendo fans as being quite possibly the best game on the system, owing to its enriched gameplay and wonderful production values (the game's intro never ceases to give me chills). Despite the critical successes and cult followings of these titles, however, Metroid continued to play second fiddle to Super Mario and Zelda, and was cast into the depths of suspended animation for eight years. Nintendo was unable to procure a guaranteed concept for the Nintendo 64, and it wasn't until the advent of 2002's critically acclaimed Metroid Prime, developed by Retro Studios in Texas, did the series finally become a Nintendo staple.
Since then, I guess we've had plenty of Metroid titles. I haven't really been around for most of them, though.
I'm not really sure what is it that didn't initially attract me to Metroid. I mean, the buzz was there. I can't tell you how many times I've witnessed posters on message boards gushing endlessly regarding Super Metroid, or critics emulate this behavior with Metroid Prime in its birth year, and I need not describe the colossal fanbase for Samus. I knew it existed, yet I didn't fall for it. The same thing happened with Zelda, yet it took much longer with this particular series.
Was it the dark tone? It's no secret that Metroid is rather morbid compared to its Nintendo brethren. You have Mario and Kirby, of which largely sidestep the issue of death (enemies blow up or get squashed into oblivion, sure, but it's never directly addressed); Star Fox, which hits the middle ground of acknowledging this concept but is balanced with the B-movie esque dialogue; and Zelda and Fire Emblem, in which death is a common occurrence. Metroid is in a far different league, echoing its identity as far back as Super Metroid. The dead bodies of scientists are portrayed clear as day on its title screen, grotesque descriptions are abundant within the scan dialogues within Metroid Prime, and the melancholic past of Samus Aran hints at a stoic, yet emotionally scarred character.
Now that I think back, that may have been the issue. I received Metroid Prime not long after it released, and there were a lot of elements that rendered me rather squeamish. I was easily frightened as a kid and the inhabitants of Tallon IV, namely the Chozo Ghosts, Stone Toads and whatever the hell those things were in the waters of Phendrana Drifts, only served to heighten that fear. It also didn't help my memory card hated the game for whatever reason and would erase the data from the file select menu, yet the data remained inside the card. Hmph.
Whatever the case, Metroid just didn't seem as important to me as the other games. I bounced out around the house in anticipation for a new Zelda or Mario, yet shrugged whenever a new Metroid game was released. I skipped through its music representation on the Super Smash Bros. Brawl soundtrack I had created for my iPod, yet everything else received equal attention. Other than the Metroid Prime series and brief forays into Super Metroid, I never felt the need to experience Samus Aran's other adventures. There was never a push, no spark to push me off the edge into a new fandom.
Enter the 3DS Ambassador Program, which was avaliable for those who had bought a 3DS console before the system's August price drop would be compensated with twenty free NES and Game Boy Advance games. The NES titles included the likes of Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Balloon Fight, Wrecking Crew, and Yoshi, all a mixture of games I was either very familiar with or had never played.
One of them was Metroid.
I don't know what it was. The game's image hovered mindlessly in the 3DS menu, bearing the title screen. I just stared.
I nodded my head. A decision was made: It was time to end this. The reason why, I'm not sure. Was I shedding my childhood fears, discarding some sort of obligation to continue ignoring this series. I don't know. But it was time. I cast away any obligations I had for the day and dived in.
What I found was one of the most fulfilling game experiences I've had in a long time.
This is where the game starts.
Despite being a famed bounty hunter, Samus starts off pathetically weak. The health you start off with is abysmal, leaving you at the mercy of even the weakest of Zebes' monsters. You have no arsenal of weaponry, equipped only with the arm cannon attached to Samus' suit. As there are no given directions from the game, the player is left to deduce where to go. To the right leads further into Brinstar (the main hub of Zebes), but the left yields the game's first power-up: The Morph Ball, which grants Samus the unique ability to transform her whole being into a traveling ball.
When exploring Brinstar, the game's structure becomes more clear. Rooms are usually presented in two ways: Vertically and horizontally. The vertical rooms are tall and expansive, chaining together a variety of rooms that can only be accessed through a long series of jumping (or falling). Metroid's identity of non-linearity comes into play here, as this provides an abundance of pathways for the player to explore. Horizontal rooms, however, are likely to impede their progress. It is within these rooms that Metroid's greatest dangers dwell in, as they filled to the brim with lava pits and swarming aliens.
And that's really the entire concept of Metroid. The game teeters on a fragile balance between exploration and survival, deliberately clashing with the player's inclination towards the former. To explore deeper and deeper into Zebes' depths is how the player must succeed, but a sudden ambush or mistake dashes that goal to pieces. The enemies are purposely placed to home in on player's blindspots, dive bombing from ceilings or unearthing from the underground, all the while knocking you into deadly acid that saps away at your health. To suddenly switch from exploring to being on the brink of death within seconds is not uncommon, Because of this, the beginning of the game is particularly ruthless, leaving many gamers to abort the game out of frustration.
Those who persevere, though, discover a game with a living, breathing world.
It's funny I say that, because that's a statement usually referred to not just huge, sprawling RPGs, but to many contemporary video games of which feature deep character development and involved storylines. Being made over twenty years ago, NES games don't exactly exhibit this, and Metroid follows this example. The story is bare bones, and Samus' viewpoint is only shared via the player (ala Zelda's Link). No, the world is the key. Regardless of whatever your aim is, you will traverse through these rooms many, many times. Whether it's trying to locate the entrance to Brinstar Depths or preying upon your next upgrade, the rooms begin to vaguely link together. You've explored their domains so thoroughly, rending apart floors for hidden passageways, missile expansions, and new weapons, all without pause. They start to become you.
This fusion with the world of Metroid further submerges the player into its depths, and there are several persisting factors that transits them into this state, most notably the game's enticement of upgrades. The process begins with the opening of two "hatch doors" one must proceed through to access rooms: Blue Doors, which require only one shot, and Red Doors, which Samus must blast five missiles to open. Missiles are not avaliable at the beginning; rather, their expansion packs are littered all over the underground.
But a problem arises: The creatures of Zebes aren't pushovers. As the player will learn to conserve missiles so they can save them for the red doors, they'll discover as they delve into the realms of Brinstar Depths and Norfair that the regular, feeble shots of the arm cannon are no match for their inhabitants. Amassing a collection of missile expansions will aid in your endeavor, but it's not enough. Your jumps are too low, your armor is easily penetrated, and you lack proper firepower. Hope is not lost, however. Also scattered throughout Zebes' caverns are upgrades to Samus' arsenal, gifts from the Chozo race that had raised her as a little girl, which include the Ice Beam, the Varia Suit, and the Screw Attack.
And so, the hunt begins. While attempting to find the lairs of the Space Pirate bosses, the player is simultaneously analyzing (and exploding) every possible nook and cranny. What really hammers this down are Samus' weapons, which are incredibly versatile and pave the way for numerous possibilities. When you've obtained the Morph Ball Bombs, for example, the player can utilize the explosions to drop through the ground, or the walls, or even tubes, and roll her way into an opposite room. Then there's the Ice Beam, which is useful for not only freezing enemies upon contact, but allows the player to cleverly take advantage of their immobile bodies as stepping stones for either climbing out of a dark pit or to ascend higher in a room. And that's just the weapons! The game even uses visual tricks to fool the player...let's just say all the sand pits aren't exactly what they appear to be!
And it's all in an attempt to get stronger. The more upgrades you obtain, the stronger you become. As a result, the player familiarizes themselves with the world. You push forward, then backtrack to rooms you had visited just two minutes prior. You accidentally stumble upon a hidden tunnel. You then discover a new weapon, and immediately desire to test it out. The process repeats itself in an endless cycle. It becomes an obsession.
But how exactly did I percept all this?
A common stereotype regarding NES games is that they're tough as nails, and that was a warning especially associated with Metroid. The internet of old, once populated with nostalgic musings, revealed grave memories of their tortuous childhood memories regarding this game. Citations included the likes of the infamous "lava traps" spread out through Norfair, the life-sucking Metroids that were supposedly to shake off, and the infamous spamming barrage of Mother Brain. Looking back, that may have lead to my initial apprehension for the original title. Being pampered on 3D titles, the precise controls and difficulty on their older 2D cousins were much harder for me to handle, and often chased me off even before I made it halfway.
When you become older though, things change. As a young adult, difficulty becomes more of a frustration than an actual obstacle (with the exception of Donkey Kong Country Returns). Instead of throwing your controller through the door, you calmly persevere knowing you'll eventually get past a tough boss or goal with enough practice. It was the same deal playing through Metroid. Yes, Brinstar Depths and (especially) Tourian kicked my ass god knows how many times, and yes, starting with only 30 health every time you die was annoying, but it didn't really matter. Having adjusted to the game's mechanics, finding gathering the purple life orbs and missiles
But the difficulty wasn't what I focused on. It was the atmosphere! That previous description of the game's absorption of the player pretty much summed up my entire experience, and injected an obsession within me. I had just started college when my playthrough had begun, and suddenly, everything else didn't matter.
How can I prove my dedication? Simple, I beat the game within three days. And here's something even more incredible: I beat the game without resorting to a map. I'll confess: I cheated to find the Ice Beam and one of the energy tanks, but only through the use of a written guide and not an actual visual map. Everything else? All on my own. I conquered what many would consider an antiquated, incredibly confusing map by today's standards with only the help of the mental map I had forged in my mind. No one is going to give a crap over something so nerdy, but man, do I feel accomplished.
The fact I completed the game so quickly is particularly interesting to me, as it's only solidified my so-called Law of Length regarding NES games. Very few of them actually consist of adequate length in comparison to games of today, and depending on the game, most can be beaten within minutes or several hours. Back in the 1980's, it was the intense difficulty and the perception of young eyes that gave the immense illusion of their length; in other, they appeared much longer than they really were. Today, one can obviously distinguish between the length of, say, the original The Legend of Zelda and 2006's The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess.
Metroid is no exception to this rule, although I suppose it's no surprise considering how popular the game is for speedruns (In fact, it's encouraged, seeing as how completing the game quickly is how Samus is revealed to be a woman). Yet, it's strange! As short as three days may sound, my obsession turned reality into eternity. As if on instinct, I was probing the walls of Norfair and discovering secret passageways in various rooms, all without proper guidance and knowing what the hell I was doing. Before I knew it, an old habit had been awakened. I wasn't a college freshman living a life away from home, I was a kid again. The game's short, but who cares? The world is so open you're guaranteed not to obtain everything in your first playthrough.
And the music! I was familiar enough with the original version of the trademark Brinstar theme, but Hirokazu Tanaka's goal of wanting players to feel as if they were to encounter a "living organism" had paid off. This was clear the moment I had entered Kraid's lair of Brinstar Depths, and was treated with the song above. The song had been featured in Super Smash Bros. Melee along with its orchestra tribute, but this was by far its most raw presentation. Maybe it stemmed from discovering the source of a childhood element, yet I couldn't deny the disconcerting sense this song had instilled into me. The fact that a musical piece from an NES game could draw out a feeling other than nostalgia or happiness only proved the grip Metroid had over me.
In fact, that grip still remained strong even after I had beaten the game. Sure, everything except for your weapon arsenal is reset, but I found I could just ignore my main objective and just do whatever the hell I want. Go down to Norfair! Blow up some walls! Find new stuff! People praise The Legend of Zelda for its open-ended style of play, but that's just as evident here! All I have to do is just turn off my brain and mindlessly explore deeper into the unknown labrinyth of an alien world. Maybe I've memorized some of the locations, but the fun is far from over for me. Can you believe that in my first playthrough I actually hadn't found the Wave Beam? Sure, I could look it up online, but what's the fun in that? It could be anywhere, and that alone is worth another trip to Zebes.
Speaking of weapons, there's something I gotta gush about here: Despite being over two decades old, Metroid still succeeds in making you feel like a badass. You legitimately feel stronger after every upgrade, to the point where even directional jumping (thanks to the Screw Attack) shreds through your enemies. Look at that screenshot and tell me that doesn't look awesome! Maybe that's Metroid was so appealing back in the day; it was about a quest to make you a badass. And to think the Wave Beam will only make that deal sweeter!
And, hey! I got to experience all the classic moments! All the moments message board posters and Melee trophies had described with ecstasy were finally mine to embrace. I can't tell you how many times the Metroids refused to budge while they were siphoning my lifeforce, reducing all my hard work in gathering energy orbs and missiles to waste...and I freaking loved every moment of it! And Mother Brain...well, less said about her, the better, but I enjoyed the frantic escape scene.
....although, I have to say, Ridley was a total pushover. Seriously, what was up with that? All I had to do was freeze his projectiles and use missiles to fry his ass while he was frenziedly hopping up and down. What a disappointment! If you ask me, his SSB4 chances aren't looking so hot.
In case you're wondering, I didn't see Samus unmasked in the ending. However, she did have the courtesy to give an obligatory fist pump. In all honesty, I think that's my preferred ending.
And, yes, before you ask, I marched to the ending theme. My roommate watched the whole thing.
So, what's the next step for me?
Obviously, the other Metroid titles are beckoning me to finally embrace them. And embrace them I shall...next year. Unfortunately, the likes of Kirby's Return to Dreamland, Super Mario 3D Land, Skyrim, Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3, and Mario Kart 7 have more than saturated my fall schedule. But fear not! The advent of spring provides ample space to begin my new adventures with Samus.
It's...weird, though. In regards to Metroid, it's like I'm willing to give everything a second chance. I've mentioned numerous times how I was unsatisfied with Metroid Prime 3, but listening to the soundtrack is convincing me to let bygones be bygones. I've come to finally make peace with Yuzo Koshiro's Brawl remix of the Norfair theme, a song I had previously dismissed as clinking, jangling nonsense, and now understand why he took it in the direction he did. And then there's Super Metroid...I deemed the game as being too hard for me, but now that my eyes have been opened, no obstacles are in the way! I'll FINALLY be able to see what everyone was talking about!
...then there's the Pandora's Box that is Metroid: Other M. Not only have my online buddies warned me about the horrors I'll be witnessing, but what I played at a friend's house wasn't exactly pretty. Precisely why I'll be saving it for last.
That aside, what really gets to me the most though is that...it's all new. I've mainly dived into every major game of every major Nintendo series, but that's not the case here. All of this is old news to everybody else, but it's brand new to me. The fact that there's still a world for me to explore, thirteen years after I began my odyssey, and as an adult, is fascinating for me. I've learned recently how everything that's meant for you comes to you at the right time, and maybe it took forever for Metroid to finally approach me, but it only means that a new sense of vigor will be added to my gaming life.
And I've just gotten started.
How did that make up for a two month absence?
Expect a "checking in" post within the next few days to read up on where the blog will be going from here.