Metroid (NES) Third Opinion Review

By Athanasios 08.08.2021 3

Review for Metroid on NES

The 1979 sci-fi horror/slasher Alien, is one of the most influential pieces of popular culture, as it has greatly affected the world of cinema, as well as other mediums, including - naturally - video games. Two of the most prominent titles inspired by Ridley Scott's timeless masterpiece, was a high-octane, side-scrolling shooter, as well as a devilishly good FPS. It was another one entirely that perfectly captured the essence of the film, though, one which even added its own unique flavour to it all, differentiating itself from it. This pioneering classic also did away with the arcade roots of the industry, and was one of the first examples of something that was meant to be an experience; an adventure rather than a game were one could amass points and complete stages. 35 years after Metroid was released, this critic decides to write a love letter to one of his favourite diamonds in the rough.

Metroid begins like all great 8-bit adventures do: without saying much. A handful of seconds after the game boots up, and you are given you order, which tasks you with landing on the planet formerly known as Zebeth, to defeat the so-called 'Metroid,' and then destroy Mother Brain, the leader of the space pirates. A very… NES kind of an intro, right? Well, as minimalistic as this was, the vibes that the title screen gave, were enough to get one excited for what's up ahead. That is, if you can muster the courage to press the start button. The intro theme is too magnificent to simply stop.

A slow, mechanical buzz, coupled by a mysterious, echoing, crystalline sound, the tune that bops along while you gaze upon this 64-colour palette, star filled vista is like nothing else in the NES library, and it perfectly sets the mood, by sounding ominous as if a Xenomorph is lurking in the shadows, but also very heroic, making you feel confident that you will reign supreme against the beast. It's basically as if Alien met The Legend of Zelda - and the similarities don't stop there. This is, for a lack of a better world, a very old-school affair, that never holds your hand.

Screenshot for Metroid on NES

This planet is a small underworld realm, but don't get fooled by its small size, as it is a hostile maze full of things that want to hurt you, with the level design being the biggest enemy. Believe the criticism that this has received. It's true that navigating the corridors on offer can be annoying and repetitive. Expect long vertical climbs than can take you a whole minute to reach the top, with many a dead end, and while foes pester you, eating away your health, with you are not even able to hit them very easy, as you can't shoot diagonally or in crouch position.

This is all by design. This isn't meant to be a walk in the park. It's a descent down an inhospitable labyrinth that doesn't want you there. Moreover, it's not a shooter. Yes, you can indeed shoot, but this more about avoiding combat, and killing only when there's a point in doing so - especially due to the fact that you start your adventure in a very weak state. It's understandable how that can be aggravating, especially to gamers who grew up in the 16/32-bit era, but those who'll persevere will understand its magic, especially if they like their games to be as non-handhold-y as they can possibly be.

Take the lack of a map. Playing Metroid requires drawing one, either on paper, or in your head. Again, that can definitely be irritating, but it's also what makes your journey more riveting, forcing players to act as survivors, trapped inside the caverns of a world that looks the same everywhere you look - in other words, an actual cavern. Also note that this is one of the first, truly open-ended experiences. Part of the fun here is going wherever you want - as long as you have the necessary tools to do so. There's a reason why the term metroidvania includes the word 'Metroid.'

Screenshot for Metroid on NES

More than anything, this is a game of exploration; one where you are in search of items that will aid you in going deeper - literally. There are ice beams that let you freeze enemies mid-air and use them as platforms; bombs that you can leave on the ground and destroy blocks to reach secret areas; and even special suits that enable swimming in lava and/or acid, making it easier to endure the toughest of environments. The tricky part, however, is that reaching them frequently requires thinking a bit outside the box, as they are usually hidden in "secret" areas themselves.

Take the most useful of weapons, for example: the ice beam - aka, your one chance of surviving the last stretch. The place where this can be obtained is in no way an area that can be reached just by walking around. It's a pure, typical, NES-era video game secret. Needlessly cryptic, to the point that it gets annoying? Actually… no! The spot where you can enter this part of the map provides a subtle clue, which will help the observant player to stay there and experiment with Samus' arsenal before moving on to the next area. Needless to say, of course, that this won't be everyone's cup of tea.

Screenshot for Metroid on NES

Now, despite his strong nostalgia for this, yours truly isn't blinded by it. This does have its fair share of problems. The repetitive, copy-pasted levels can get a chore to traverse; the tiny, fast moving enemies are hard to hit with your bullets; re-fuelling your character with health and missiles needs finding a good spot to slowly "farm" it; the backtracking after defeating one of the two sub-bosses can put you to tears; and, last but not least, the controls can be kind of floaty when it comes to jumping around - especially irritating when platforms are few pixels wide.

What will save the day, at least for those who can stomach these issues, is Metroid's atmosphere and art direction. This is where the Alien influence is at its strongest, with the whole thing being a nice blend between rock, metal, and weird organic matter, with a handful of old-looking statues sprinkled around the place, giving this simple 8-bit world a feeling of history - as if an older civilization once lived here. Plus, and unlike in Kid Icarus, in here the pitch black backgrounds actually accentuate the cavernous beauty of this dark underworld.

Last but not least, the music follows suit, with the three boss area themes being masterpieces of video game music that manage to engross you into this otherworldly place even more. There's even an ambient tune at hand, something extremely rare in the NES era - specifically, in the final stretch that is that is the lair of the main antagonist, Mother Brain, which sums everything that is Metroid in less than two-minutes: frustrating and gripping; challenging to the point of annoyance, yet mostly fair; and, finally, obviously very old, yet undoubtedly a masterpiece.

Oh, and if you consider yourself a speedrunner, do try this out - you'll be pleasantly surprised *wink*

Screenshot for Metroid on NES

Cubed3 Rating

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

The atmosphere of Alien, meets The Legend of Zelda, in an exploration-heavy shooter that has no equal in the library of NES… or any other. Metroid is very rough-around-the-edges, and in many ways archaic mechanically, something that is enough to discourage even those who grew up with such titles, but those who'll look past its issues, will discover one of the industries definite classics. Immersive as it is challenging, beautiful as it is unique, this is a must-have for gamers of all kind; retro or otherwise, as long as said gamers don't mind some good 'ol NES-era ruthlessness.

Developer

Nintendo

Publisher

Nintendo

Genre

2D Platformer

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

Comments

It's so difficult to go back to, but with the VC versions and NES classic is was a lot more tolerable. It's a great game and the fact that the gameplay and progression hold up today is a testament to how great it is. The music is banging too!

For me this was the most immersive NES game, and that was enough for my not-so-skilled young self to keep on playing,

I still remember my rising heart rate during my first attempt at the Mother Brain lair.

Can't a fella drink in peace?
                                -Farnham

When the internet first got popular (late 90s early 2000s) there was a decent community online decidated to exploring the 'glitch' world of the game (where youd go up the door and 'fall' through the floor), it was heavily mapped out.  I had to do with how it was programmed, where the blank squares of the world map still had 'something' in it. Fun times!

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