Super Metroid (1994)
You’re not going to believe this one, but I am actually responsible for the modern gaming phenomenon that is speedrunning. No, I’m serious this time. I first brought this craze to the world at a young age, when I amazed my pals and my brother at my ability to get through levels of GoldenEye 007 for N64 at an almost inhuman speed. With a time of roughly 24 seconds on the Runway level in particular, I thought I was the king – and in fact I was, because my pals just couldn’t get near. And when they grew frustrated with my insistence on doing yet another run and instead suggested a jolly fun game of actual multiplayer, I scoffed at them until they took the hint and left.
With them finally gone, I was then free to work out where that next vital second was going to come from – like the precision racing driver, always looking to shave tenths off. How many more backboosts could I benefit from? How could I best angle Bond’s square face to maximise the single digit frame-rate?
When I first played through the vast world of Super Metroid, the largest that had ever been in a game at that time (unless some colossal tract of empty space and blibs and blobs on a long forgotten Atari 2600 game beats it), I was probably lucky to get to the end in less than a dozen hours. I had about as much chance at seeing Samus in her smalls as I had catching Ridley still lounging about in his morning gown, put it that way.
At the time that I played, the internet was only starting to gain traction – but already people were challenging each other to get through the game as quickly as possible. Less than 3 hours? Are you mad? Less than two?! This world is about the size of, I don’t know, 6 Super Mario Worlds, and you’re getting through it quicker than my bathtime? And if you actually manage it, you get to see Samus wearing naff all? Come off it lads – I knew it was just another vicious rumour, a more risqué version of the Mew truck.
Well, whatever about that, I was still the King of Speedrunning and these people were threatening my crown. But even with a guide backing me, it was clear that I wasn’t gonna challenge these boys at Super Metroid. How was I to know that you needed to hold the run button as you crossed the collapsing bridge in Brinstar? How was I to know you needed to Power Bomb the glass tube to get into the watery world of Maridia?
And imagine my disenchantment when I found out that the Super Metroid top boys had dubbed these two obstacles the Noob Bridge and the Noob Tube respectively. Well sorr-yyy, I was too busy trying to work out why I couldn’t twin the Plasma and Spazer Beams together – and when I finally did, I was left working out why my game had glitched and crashed spectacularly.
But perhaps I’m getting too technical, so let me speak to you, the mentally bereft layperson The Metroid series made its inauspicious debut on the NES/mysterious Famicom Disk System (less than 4 are in existence), at a time when Samus used to be a man, or pretended to be one anyway.
Metroid NES wasn’t the most fun time: you started off each time with 30 health after powering on or dying; there was no save system in the NES version, only lengthy passwords; there was no map to speak of; and most of the areas looked the exact same. So yeah, a good idea but just lacking that vital bit of flair. To borrow a line from classic UK TV gameshow Catchphrase, “it’s a good answer, but it’s not right!”
A portable title soon followed for Game Boy. Well, if any Nintendo game needed a remake it was Metroid 2, because that one was rough. It looked and played in an even more archaic manner than the original if you can believe that. The cavemen would have pointed at it and, in between cries of “Ugg!”, they’d have turned their nose up at it and lamented the lack of a map and the itty-bitty “atmospheric” music. Thankfully the game is now served with two pretty good remakes, one official and one not, and so the Game Boy title can now be locked away behind industrial strength padlocks, to be looked upon only occasionally and always with fear and trepidation.
Which brings us on to Metroid 3. Or SUPER Metroid. Japanese law mandated that every Super Nintendo sequel had to have ‘Super’ in the title, risking penalty of death after a 3-day Phoenix Wright style trial. You get given all the story you need at the beginning: Metroids are energy sucking Facehuggers and can be used for good or bad, there’s one left in the galaxy but the baddies have taken it. Go mess up the baddies. That’s all, and you won’t get or need a single bit of dialogue after that.
In addition to providing an action-packed adventure, where you’ll laser beam ugly aliens and explore all kinds of hidden rooms to pick up tons of permanent power-ups, deftness and skill can allow you to break the “sequence” of items you collect in the game and have a different playthrough each time. I wonder was this the game that gave rise to differing types of challenge speedruns in games? 100% runs, low % runs, boss skip runs, runs without specific items… masters of the game can even beat the game by beating each of the major bosses in the complete reverse order – and they’ll still do it much faster than I can do the game frontways.
Adding to all this is the much vaunted atmosphere of the game. Always difficult to define, but you’ll feel as lonely and as unwanted as a snake on St. Patrick’s Day down there in the depths of Planet Zebes, with its various different ecosystems. Put it this way: apart from the hordes of strange enemies larking about, the only human company you’ll have down there is a long dead Space Marine that bought it against the first boss. You’ll see his discarded corpse just outside the boss door, reducing the human population of Zebes to 1, which in turn sends Samus’s dating prospects up in smoke.
But no matter – no matter how big the bosses may be, no matter how difficult the terrain is to traverse, and no matter the fact that some of the doors and obstacles initially refuse you more times than I’ve been knocked back at the K Club golf course, you will find the huge world of Super Metroid accessible and understandable, the backtracking is implemented beautifully and you’ll soon begin to tap into that almost Zen-like connection between player and developer, instinctively knowing where they’ve putt he juice which leads you to discover yet more secrets and upgrades on subsequent runs through the game.
It could be argued that future 2D Metroid games refined the Metroid formula somewhat, making Super just a bit less accessible these days (why can’t Metroid crawl indeed?). Others still might argue that the 3D first-person adventure Metroid Prime series is the only way to play. I say play Super Metroid slowly, quickly, glitchily, backwards, even sideways with the right ROM hack. Play it your way, and you won’t be disappointed. Then play it again and again, only this time play it faster and faster.
18 June 2018