Retro Video Game Reviews: Metroid (NES)
Overall Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
Released in 1986 by Nintendo after its production by the now-legendary Research amp; Development 1 team, who was also responsible for such classic early NES titles as Kid Icarus and Dr. Mario, Metroid was a science-fiction platformer with ambitious scope and a darker theme than most 8-bit games. Ultimately, its legacy would persist in its successful franchise of numerous sequels across future consoles, including stand-out entries such as Super Metroid on the SNES and the Metroid Prime series.
The player controlled Samus Aran, a space-faring bounty hunter with a laser cannon for an arm and who was constantly encased in futuristic armor. Able to scroll in any direction, Samus had to explore the dark, subterranean, even maze-like confines of a mysterious alien planet, blasting Metroids and other enemies along the way.
Although it can crudely be described as another “two-dimensional platformer,” Metroid was much more, as it implemented several mechanics that truly fleshed this cartridge out as a robust quest for any gamer to pursue. These aspects included multiple power-ups that the player had to gain throughout the adventure in order to advance, a password system for returning to an explored area with power-ups intact, and a very open-world feel without blatant directions as to how to proceed, much like another early classic, Legend of Zelda.
Samus moved in a unique manner, with some power-ups granting her newfound maneuvering capabilities and even incorporating attacks into her motions. As the player progressed through the stages, a couple boss fights would be encountered in differing areas on the way to the final confrontation with the evil Mother Brain.
The twitchy early-release mannerisms of the enemy beings pleasantly contrasted with the smoothness of Aran, who glided and rolled and spun her way through the passageways. Often, the background is a simple black palette, and although some rooms seem to repeat, the entirety of the presentation succeeds in creating a cramped, claustrophobic feel, offering an environment that fosters tension and mounting courage. Composed on a darker palette than most NES titles, Metroid has not aged well in its appearances, but even compared to later 8-bit cartridges was a solid-looking game.
The sound effects properly honed bloops and blasts of sci-fi combat mayhem, but the background music is where Metroid truly shines in the audio department. Between overtures of isolation and anxiety lie a profoundly inspired soundtrack of sublimely complementary tracks that perfectly attend to the on-screen action and exploration to add twinges of nervousness, dread, and pulse-pounding adrenaline rushes at points.
Metroid either introduced or shone a spotlight on multiple significant advances in gameplay for its time, including the capacity to scroll in more than one direction, a functional password system, a remarkably well-conceived power-up feature, the general success of a darker theme compared to the usual console fare, and the use of multiple endings dependent on completion, including a stunning twist that will not even be revealed in this review.
The legacy of Metroid’s character has stood the test of time, including appearances in the Super Smash Bros. series of fighting games and the Captain N cartoon television show. This classic video game is not without its flaws, however, including not-quite-fully-polished graphics in spots, an almost too-open sensation, and the most notable: The fact that, despite being able to increase the health (or energy) of Samus, passwords never kept the health energy at a previously attained level, always returning it to 30, which the player would then have to bolster by defeating several enemies until strong enough to confidently continue. Even with these imperfections, Metroid still remains quite a place in gaming, and would still prove to be an intimidating challenge to any true gamer who dares try it without information now easily found on the Internet. Metroid on the NES earns an outstanding four and a half stars out of five.