I'm going to say something that many readers might find downright offensive, but I implore you to stick with me on this one: Metroid is not a good game. Nor does it come close. Don't get me wrong; I wanted to like Metroid. I tried to like Metroid. Yet of all the old Nintendo classics that launched franchises, this is probably the worst. And its problems would be so easily corrected that it's inexcusable they were left in, particularly when they are so destructive to the gameplay experience.
The game opens with you, bounty hunter Samus Aran, arriving on Planet Zebes to complete your mission to destroy the secret base of the Space Pirates and their pet metroids. But that backstory is all you know, and booting up the game finds you standing on a screen with a couple enemies already walking around, pondering whether or not to kill you, while you have to figure out what in the world you should be doing and where you should be going.
So rather than show you screenshots of the game's action, which admittedly looks cool on its own, I decided I would show you the painful reality of this game as best I could. A major premise of the game is the collection of powerups - Samus' body armor was designed by a birdlike alien race known as the Chozo, who had once inhabited Planet Zebes, and left behind statues with suit modifications on them in case they ever returned. So Samus can steadily gain these throughout the game, becoming more powerful.
Which naturally makes the screen above completely ironic, because somehow - I don't even recall how I found myself there - I got stuck behind this statue whose sole purpose is to give me a powerup. You can't jump back over it because you can't fit between its head and the ceiling. The only way past is to have bombs, which you lay in "morph ball" mode. So if it was unclear, that orange ball is me in this position. The red thing under me is the bomb, which, if I'm lucky, will eventually propel me back over the statue. If I didn't have bombs? Reset the whole game. YEAH.
And then the bosses. Metroid only has three boss fights, and in a game this expansive, that means you'd better make them count. But they all suck. Below is Ridley, whose species is classified as "Space Dragon," as ridiculous as that sounds. He's also the chief of security for the Space Pirates, which is probably why you were able to infiltrate their top secret base in the first place. He fights you by jumping up and down and tossing little purple balls that slow the framerate of the game so severely it's nigh impossible to do anything.
In fact, when you enter through that door on the right, you will likely drop to the platform directly under it to try to shoot him. It's the most reasonable place to go, right? But then you realize you can't shoot through those purple ball things he's firing, so you have to get up on his platform. But you can't jump up there. You know why? Because the door closes and juts out above your head. Seriously! You will drop into that acid stuff because the freaking door was designed to screw you over. If you DO manage to get on the platform, the purple crap usually launches you back deeper into the acid, which constantly drains your life. I honestly have no clue how I got to the place I'm standing in the picture. What I do know, however, is that if you are on that point with the most powerful gun in the game, Ridley can't hit you at all, and you can shoot him freely.
Which sounds like a great deal, except he just...won't...die. The best option at that point is to weigh down the shoot button on your controller somehow, leave the room, and do something productive for a while. Come back half an hour later or so. He might be dead by then, maybe. It's a fight that doesn't test your coordination and gaming skill...only your patience.
And what about this crap? You get knocked back when an enemy hits you, which is fairly standard. But why make this spot that you can get knocked into with absolutely no hope of escape? I tried everything. Jumping out, shooting out, bombing out, even trying to submerge myself in the lava and go under the pillars, but none of them worked. Instead you just get to sit there and watch all your health slowly evaporate until the game over screen. How is that in any way fun?
And speaking of health, that's easily my biggest issue with this game. You start the game with 30 health, or "energy." I thought that was an odd number, but hey, maybe that's where you max out. But no, you quickly realize after killing some enemies and collecting health that you max out at 99. Why would Samus start a mission at less than full strength? It makes no sense. And whenever you die, you continue from the entry point of the region you died in, which is fine in itself; I can accept a penalty for dying. But you start at 30 energy again! Throughout the game you collect energy tanks, each of which increases your capacity by 100 energy points. Eventually you can have 700 energy. But if you die, say on a boss, you are sent back to that starting area at 30 life. Just 30. And of course at that point enemies are doing about 20 damage to you per hit, so you end up in this mind-numbing cycle of dying and restarting. The only way to avoid it is to sit there for an hour killing respawning enemies to refill your health. And the more you can have, the longer time you spend. It's penalizing you for getting upgrades! So you can understand how depressed was on the screen above, with all that health gone forever.
Then there are the metroids themselves, which you honestly by this point begin to believe don't actually exist at all. They're freaky jellyfish things that latch onto your head and suck life away almost as quickly as this game sucks your soul. You have to lay bombs inside them to get them off for a second, but one isn't enough! Imagine someone put a bomb inside your throat. Would you stop whatever you were doing? Of course you would, because you're not ridiculous. This game is. And what's worse, if you've been putting in the effort and time, by this point of the game you have the most powerful weapon upgrade. But guess what? Metroids are immune to it. Fooled you, huh! You have to go all the way back to a totally different area of the game and downgrade your weapon to even have a chance of surviving the encounter.
Not that finding the weapons is easy in the first place. The emphasis in Metroid is on exploration, which is great. I love exploring, and I don't even mind being plopped down with no explanation of where to go, as long as the game is compelling enough to warrant it. Metroid obviously does not fit that bill. So instead, you wander around aimlessly, getting killed repeatedly thanks to your 30 health, around screens that look practically identical to one another. In fact, the game does reuse exact screens - enemies and all - from time to time, which can be incredibly confusing. If you survive to find any powerups, you'll have to keep wandering to see if you can get anywhere new. All it would take to make this acceptable would be a map. Let me see a map when I hit pause. Why isn't there one in here? Oh, because you put that map in Nintendo Power magazine. I honestly believe that this game was created specifically to sell subscriptions to Nintendo's pet magazine, because who was going to figure this out on their own? I bet Nintendo Power even called it one of the best games of all time. Oh wait, they did.
Now we've all probably seen shots of the final showdown with "Mother Brain," the leader of the Space Pirate forces (none of whom are even present at any point during the game). It looks simple, and possibly fun, standing on that pillar shooting missiles into the brain until the whole place explodes and you win. What I am showing you instead is the horrible truth behind that fight. The fact that there is so much crap shooting you that you will inevitably fall into the lava here. You'd like to jump back up to where you were, but that's not possible. It's too high. Instead, you have to jump up to the platform where Mother Brain is. But if you touch the glass, you get shot back down into the lava. If you don't touch the glass, something will likely hit you, so you fall back into the lava. The entire fight revolves around trying to shoot a stationary target while escaping a lava pit right next to it, and it's hard as hell. Who green-lighted this thing? And naturally, missiles are the only thing that hurts it. If you run out of missiles during the fight (or even before it, because you have to destroy 5 walls with them on the way...that constantly regenerate), guess what? You're boned. Can't win. Go die. Come back with 30 health. See how you do then.
Then, when you finally do manage to beat the thing, the whole base is set to explode and a countdown timer appears for you to escape. The escape route consists of tiny little platforms that you have to jump to. But jumping is far from precise in Metroid, so here you are trying to methodically jump from tiny platform to tiny platform, often falling, while a timer counts down to your death. If you die, guess where you start? Yeah, with 30 health before the boss. Fight it again. I don't think it's a coincidence that the happiest-sounding music of the entire game plays during this escape sequence. The game is genuinely elated that you're going to die and have to redo everything. And if you DO get out of there, you get a screen saying, in broken English, that you succeeded and there's peace. Sike! Just kidding, there's not really peace, but you can pray for it if it'll make you feel better. What a load of horse manure.
The only reason Metroid has a score this high is that when you get fully powered up, which is like Chinese water torture to accomplish, the game is admittedly a little enjoyable. Because then you're not dying when random freaks of nature so much as look in your general direction, and things don't take 90 shots to kill. If you're one of the people crying blasphemy and thinking this game was the cat's meow or the bee's knees or somesuch, go back and check it out now. It might not be as hideous the second time, because you at least already know where to go. But rereleases of the game were generally called mediocre at best. Because they didn't change anything from the original. Because the original game, my friends, sucks the big one.
Bottom Line: 5/20