Even if you haven’t played Nintendo’s 1994 masterpiece Super Metroid, chances are you’ve at least played something inspired by it. There’s a reason why the game inspired one-half of the term “Metroidvania” (the other being Castlevania, of course). If you enjoyed Dead Cells or the Axiom Verge and Guacamelee games, you can thank Super Metroid.
Technically, you can thank Metroid, the original 1987 sci-fi adventure produced by Gunpei Yokoi. That game’s a classic, to be sure, as there was nothing out like it at the time. It was pretty rough around the edges, however. Metroid didn’t exactly have the best controls, and progression through the game wasn’t what you’d call “intuitive.”
But it wasn’t just correcting the flaws of the first game (and, technically, the second: Game Boy’s Metroid II: Return of Samus) that makes Super Metroid a must-play, though that certainly helped. Tight controls, a battery save system, and an actual map were all additions to the threequel.
Super Metroid did something most games of the time didn’t — inspire emotion. In this case, that emotion was fear. Or, to quote the title of that latest 2D entry of the series, dread. The game was dripping with atmosphere. Everything from the sound design and music score to the color palette were all chosen to keep players on edge.
Take the very opening of the game. Samus has just left the last surviving Metroid with a science team on a space station. She’s not gone for five minutes before the station sends out a distress signal. It’s under attack, so the bounty hunter reverses course and heads back. What she finds is a nightmare.
As you walk through the lab, you can see the destruction from the attack. Equipment is smashed, glass is broken, and the bodies of dead scientists litter the floor, their lab coats turned from white to red, soaked in blood. As you enter the next room, you find the baby Metroid waiting on the floor.
Before you can get to it, the Space Pirate Ridley dives in. With a scream, he grabs the Metroid’s container and begins shooting bolts of fire in your direction. It’s an intense battle that concludes with Ridley flying off, Metroid in tow. But, you’re not out of the woods yet.
A klaxon sounds and a timer pops up on the screen. You only have minutes to escape the station before it self-destructs. You scramble your way back to the screen, dodging bursts of gas erupting from pipes. You eventually make it to your ship and retreat before the inevitable explosion.
And that’s just the first fifteen minutes.
This is why it still holds up today. Take a look at the store on Steam or the Nintendo eShop and the many indie games listed on there. You’re going to find dozens of pixel art Metroidvanias, all of varying quality. If Super Metroid were released today, it would still stand toe-to-toe with any of those.
It’s not just historical significance that makes it a must-play. There’s a ton of games you should play at least once, just to see how it inspired so many titles that came after it. The original Metroid is one of those games. Super Metroid is another. But Super Metroid has the extra added benefit of still being an amazing game.
If you want to play Super Metroid right now, the easiest way is through the collection of SNES games that are a part of Nintendo Switch Online. You can also find it on the SNES Classic if you managed to get a hold of one of those.
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