Composer: Hirokazu "Hip" Tanaka
Plays In: Lower Brinstar
Status: Original Composition
My trip into the dismal, ruthless world of Metroid some three years ago still clutches at the back of my memory. To this day I'm still not sure if it was the excitement of finally "getting" a game concept that had long eluded me or if because it was the first game in some time to make me feel like a kid again. I mean, I dived into it amidst a turbulent period of moving into university for the first time, huddling with other students in a cramped hallway during a tornado watch on my very first night, and made steps within an uncomfortable environment to make friends all the while spending three days obsessively clutching my 3DS and playing a downloaded copy of a twenty-five year old video game. I sat through it for three days, barely peeking at guides and maps as I let this dark 8-bit world gradually take over my brain. It was such a short period, and yet just like childhood, it felt like forever.
Much like what the most fanatic proponents of the original The Legend of Zelda will tell you, the best way to play Metroid is just let the game's world gradually assimilate within your brain. For all the complaints regarding repetition in various room structures, there awaits much satisfaction piecing together an intricate map consisting of rooms you will visit many times over; in fact, it works wonderfully from a retroactive perspective, as it conjures the feeling of translating an ancient map. The result: an organic alien world that becomes overtly familiar to the player; in my case, the dangerous insides of Planet Zebes became me. Of course, Hirokazu "Hip" Tanaka's fantastic score does wonders with this process, with this song in particular standing out. But what to call it? Youtube tracklists alternate between "Kraid's Lair" and "Lower Brinstar", but my nostalgic affection for Super Smash Bros. Melee (which is host to an arrangement of this very song) compels me to call it Brinstar Depths.
Indeed, I was very familiar with the Melee arrangement as well as the Smashing...Live! orchestral rendition (creepy bells and all!), yet I was thoroughly unprepared for the awesomeness of the original piece. To my knowledge, I can't think of any other song like it on the NES and so I treasure its booming, foreboding nature. I seriously got chills when the game transitioned from the upbeat, heroic theme of Brinstar into the eerie and unknown. Looking back, I think that was the moment I got hooked. The initial area in Metroid isn't so tough, but the game cranks up the difficulty in Lower Brinstar, what with ceiling-bound enemies homing in on Samus's blindspots and rapidly-spawning beetles emerging from pipes. The song is a perfect accompaniment: it is actively apprehensive throughout, reminding the player to never let up your guard in this deadly alien world, for it takes no prisoners. Expect the unexpected. Reserve your ammo. Persevere.
My personal favorite bit is the one that starts at 0:32, where it shifts from a looming danger into an enigmatic mystery. It's a brief but chilling slice of mystifying enticement as the player embarks further into uncharted alien territory, and that's what I ultimately associate with the song: the unknown. During my three-day expedition on this alien planet, I didn't know what I'd run into. Yes, rooms would repeat, but what rooms would do just that, exactly? Would it be the dreadful ones with the diveboming Skrees? More often than not, it would be, and the music perfectly complemented my fear. But as I became one with Zebes, I cherished it. I awaited the challenge, the triumph that awaited from crushing the ruthless alien denizens and Space Pirate forces no matter how much fear coursed through me, no matter how little health I had left. I just kept going.
Is it the area where I died the most often at? Yes, and I certainly have the boss Kraid to thank for that, but I don't really mind. Both it and Brinstar Depths represent my relishing of old school challenge in an era where are largely obsolete. No longer do we have purposely vague maps with deliberately repeating eras, yet I can't help but adore Metroid's approach to it. It is brutal, unfair, and relentlessly difficult throughout, but is so satisfying to conquer. One day, I'll be back.
Final Thoughts: Dammit, I want to dive back into this game tooooooooo.
Hmm, still a bit shorter than I want it to be, but it's longer than my last one!
So, I'm a bit late with my next Kirby piece. It looks like the game of my choice will have to be delayed to next month as I attempt to squeeze the next couple of Kirby titles into April. See you soon.