Updated: Aug 23
It took me a while to actually put proverbial pen to paper for this chapter of Dreadline. There are a couple reasons why, despite the fact that I beat the game a few weeks ago. For starters, I beat the game just two days before we took a week-long trip to Maine, so I took a writing break. It was also hard for me to find my "angle" for writing this post, because what is there that I could possibly say about Super Metroid that hasn't already been said? The biggest reason, though, that I didn't start writing this post for a few weeks is that every time I sat down to write it...
...I just picked up Super Metroid and played through it again.
The first two chapters of Dreadline saw me play four different games. The third chapter has seen me play the same game four times.
I love this game.
Metroid 3: Super Metroid
Earlier in this series I remarked that the canon of Metroid I and II is surprisingly intact, defying its 30-year history and an industry with a strong proclivity to retcons. Now that I've revisited Super Metroid, it makes sense why that canon is so well-preserved: the opening cutscene of Super Metroid is a full summary of the events of the first two games. This is by far the most narrative exposition for the series up to this point, the only real prior example being the rescue of the Baby Metroid in Return of Samus. This time, I didn't even have to go to the instruction manual! Though, I still could have, because the manual is still great and is chock-full of awesome art. But with the superpowered SNES, full cutscenes and scripted text--even some rudimentary voice acting!--could be added to the game without taking up too much precious memory. The manual does give a similar summary of Metroid I and II as the game itself, but the in-game presentation has the special distinction of being the first time we ever get to hear Samus use her own voice.
I first battled the Metroids on planet Zebes. It was there that I foiled the plans of the Space Pirate leader Mother Brain to use the creatures to attack Galactic Civilization... I next fought the Metroids on their homeworld, SR388. I completely eradicated them except for a larva, which after hatching followed me like a confused child... I personally delivered it to the Galactic Research Station at Ceres so the scientists could study its energy producing qualities... The scientists' findings were astounding! They discovered that the powers of the Metroid might be harnessed for the good of civilization! Satisfied that all was well, I left the station to seek a new bounty to hunt. But, I had hardly gone beyond the asteroid belt when I picked up a distress signal! Ceres station was under attack!!
There are no survivors at Ceres. The tone of this series has always been mature, but Super uses its new graphical fidelity to ramp things up a notch, as you find the corpses of scientists and Federation soldiers littering the floor of the space station. In the innermost chamber lies the baby metroid...and the Space Pirate extraordinaire, Ridley. He escapes with The Baby. You escape with your life. As the station explodes behind you, it's time to track Ridley down and follow him all the way to the initial source of conflict, Samus's childhood planet of Zebes.
In many ways, Super Metroid was the original remake of Metroid, long before Zero Mission. If Super were made in 2021, it would possibly have been labeled a "reboot" or "reimagining." Obviously the story is continued, but it's clear that this chapter of the series was intended to be a more accessible refresh of the original. The map is completely different, though there are plenty of references to the original map throughout your exploration that, for all my love of this game and this series, I didn't fully recognize until this playthrough. Seeing Metroid and Super Metroid back-to-back within a month made me appreciate some of the homages to the original map and gameplay--as well as the subversions of expectations that would have delighted fans of the series in 1994.
The twists come early, as you enter Brinstar and find an area identical to the start of Metroid. The first power-up, the Morph Ball, is even in the same spot. But as you go to the right, as you would based on your experience, the central shaft is blocked off. Your main touchstone landmark and source of traversal is no longer accessible. That's when the game really begins. When you go back to Crateria, the music finally kicks in, and the rooms are infested with Space Pirates. Now it's time to get to work.
The surprises continue when you find a Chozo Statue holding the bomb upgrade. (And yes, it actually is a Chozo Statue now, having shaken the "Artifactor" moniker and bearing explicity mention in the manual as "the ancient bird people of Zebes.")
And the very first statue you find just straight up comes to life and attacks you! This would have been shocking for fans of the series, even though it probably came off as no big deal to me and the thousands of others whose first exposure to Metroid was Super. New fans or old, though, all of us were left asking the same question when we found our next item: "Are they all going to do that?"
The world design of this game is top-notch. There are no warp points or fast travel, but the areas are so tightly designed and flow so well that it never feels like you would need it. Getting from the deepest depths of Norfair to the planet's surface only takes a few minutes if you follow the map.
Oh, the map. The map! The map!! The single greatest innovation in this game! The revolution of the Metroid series! The key to making this game the cornerstone of an entire genre that now bears its name! Seriously, it is impossible to overstate how important the in-game map is to making this entire type of game viable.
Super Metroid is just stuffed to the brim with cool moments, both narrative and gameplay. You use the new power bombs to shatter the glass tube through Maridia, giving you a nice easy entrance to the zone. You can use the grapple beam on an electric turret to shock Draygon for an insta-kill, one of my favorite easter eggs in the series. You defeat Ridley, and after a hard battle you expect to be rewarded with an item in the next room, but instead, you find the Baby Metroid capsule...with no Baby Metroid. Uh oh.