I’ve already named Super Metroid one of the five most important games in gaming. I’ve already gushed over a remake of one of the best Gameboy games ever produced. And, yes, I took time out of my busy day to explain how Samus Aran’s butt is the worst thing to ever happen. Oh, and I played pinball. Look, I know it, you know it, Ridley knows it: I like Metroid games. I love Metroid games. I even love anything that looks remotely like a Metroid game. This is absolutely no secret.
My secret shame, though? I hate Metroid: Zero Mission for the absolute pettiest of reasons.
Why do I love Metroid games? The most obvious answer has something to do with the way a Metroid game is traditionally structured around exploration. I’m not someone that gets hung up on whether or not you can sequence break, or if some renegade AI is telling Samus where to go, or whatever; all I really care about is playing around in giant, planet-esque environments that occasionally contain zoomers. And by “playing around”, I certainly mean shooting everything for absolutely no reason. Seriously, has anyone figured out exactly how many creatures Samus doesn’t have to obliterate to complete her average mission? At this point, I’m committing dessgeega genocide entirely out of spite. And the minute you get that screw attack? Oh man, Samus’s feet never touch the ground again, she’s just a whirling dervish of unending destruction.
Come to think of it, it almost seems like the exploration is secondary. I just… like being Samus Aran.
Most videogames are about the destination. As an easy example, I’m looking forward to Kingdom Hearts 3 (I’ll probably be looking forward to it for a long time), and it’s almost entirely to see “how it ends”. And it’s not even that I care that much about the plot of Kingdom Hearts (this is a lie), I could conceivably live the rest of my life never knowing whether or not Donald Duck gets a happy ending, but… I’m interested. And, while I do actually enjoy the gameplay, magical venues, and general “feel” of your average Kingdom Hearts game, I am absolutely playing that game to get to the all-important ending. See also: Xenosaga, every JRPG ever, and even a healthy percentage of Zelda games. There’s joy in discovery in searching across Hyrule, but I can safely say a few recent adventures of Link were finished only for the sake of finishing. Or, put another way, there’s a reason I’ve (re)completed Wind Waker HD but not Twilight Princess HD.
But I don’t ever feel that way with a good Metroid game. It really is about the journey, and I get more joy out of dodging rising lava or plowing through space pirates than I ever do when I see that Mission Complete screen. I killed all the metroids, I saved one metroid, I got saved by one Metroid being killed, whatever, it’s all immaterial to the sheer joy of poking around Zebes, and gradually getting better at doing it. My first run through Super Metroid, I was stumped by the glass tube/super bomb “puzzle”, and wasn’t able to progress much past acquiring the gravity suit. My clear time on that file was somewhere around ten hours. That means that, basically, I spent an extra seven or so hours exploring Zebes with nowhere new to go, and I never got tired of it. There’s just so much fun in being Samus Aran that I could explore Zebes with nowhere to go for hours in the same way I could spend a few hours at the beach with no real goal. And I’m a guy that has quit random games halfway through their tutorial because I got bored. Being Samus Aran is fun, end of story.
Except… Metroid Zero Mission divorced me of that notion.
Much of Metroid Zero Mission is fun. As ever, I love exploring Zebes, and the construction of “this” Zebes is a great balance of Metroid (1) and Super Metroid. Things are familiar, but not the same. It’s actually very close to the Igavania template: you know about where the clock tower is supposed to be, there’s sure to be a basement full of monsters, but everything else between is up in the air. You know you’re heading toward an inevitable confrontation with Dracula/Mother Brain, but there are Speed Booster puzzles now? Neat. There is enough “new” here to not get repetitive, but it’s still familiar enough to be indisputably Metroid/Zebes.
And then there’s the new material. Say hello to Zero Suit Samus.
For anyone that loves Metroid but mysteriously skipped Metroid Zero Mission, MZM, plot-wise, plays out almost exactly like the original Metroid. Beat Kraid, beat Ridley, beat metroids, beat Mother Brain, escape an explosion, call it a day. However, MZM adds a “new” story to the finale: while escaping Zebes, Samus Aran loses her powersuit, and must infiltrate Space Pirate HQ to acquire a new one. Samus is naked for this adventure, and is equipped only with a stun gun and her apparently natural ability to somersault twenty feet in the air. This transforms Metroid into a stealth affair, as Samus is vulnerable in her zero suit state, and your average space pirate mook can do about three e-tanks worth of damage with a single shot. And… get ready for a lot crawling. Like a baby. Woo.
For what it’s worth, this section of Zero Mission is probably as good as it could be. The stealth seems fair (space pirates are not omniscient in their Samus-detecting), the layouts are conducive to careful sneaking, and, yes, the moment you finally reclaim the powersuit and transform the space pirates into a fine paste is superb. In fact, for years I actually defended the zero suit section of Zero Mission, because it’s one of the few instances of stealth (particularly in a 2-D game) that I can tolerate. I’m pretty sure I had wholly good memories of Zero Mission through the Gameboy Advance’s lifespan, and even somewhere into the DS’s era.
But then I got in the habit of playing Metroid games recreationally. Like, oh, it’s a boring Saturday, maybe I’ll take some time and play through Super Metroid. Oh, I played through Super Metroid last week? How about Zero Mission this time? And every time I played Metroid Zero Mission “casually”, I quit after Mother Brain, and ignored the zero suit segment. Every. Time. Why? Because Samus sans suit leads to “levels”: a strict, linear challenge that can only be successfully solved one way. And I’m not playing Metroid to play an adventure game, I’m playing Metroid to rip through rippers and explore a planet. Metroid Zero Mission’s zero suit segment isn’t Metroid to me, and, at that point, why am I even playing?
And what’s more, it makes Samus Aran worse. I said earlier that I enjoyed “being” Samus Aran, but that’s apparently not true. I like being Samus Aran… only while in a powersuit. The heroine isn’t the heroine, she’s just a delivery device for the real star of the show: an anonymous piece of tech. That’s not good! Sure, Iron Man or any of the many “mechanical knight” superheroes have a similar problem, but they’re not the only prominent heroine in Nintendo’s pantheon. Mario can stomp goombas without his hat, Link can slash Moblins while in a bathrobe, but Samus Aran needs her powersuit for a fun experience. It also probably didn’t help when Zero Suit Samus was basically a penalty for using a smash ball in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, or when “naked” Samus was a recurring threat of “oh no, she’s vulnerable now” during Metroid: Other M cutscenes. The message has been clear since Metroid: Zero Mission: Samus is a strong woman, but without her powersuit, she’s prey.
So, despite liking 90% of the game, I hate Metroid: Zero Mission. I hate that it made one of my favorite heroines appear weak. I hate that that stupid stealth section kills my playthrough every time. I hate that I have a save file from right after that section, so I can just copy that file and play through the post game infinitely. I hate that “Justin Bailey” Samus used to be a reward, not a punishment. I hate that one stupid blunder completely kills this whole experience for me.
I hate you, Metroid: Zero Mission, and the zero suit you rode in on.
FGC #235 Metroid: Zero Mission
- System: Gameboy Advance and WiiU Virtual Console. Unlike Metroid Fusion, this game was not part of the GBA/3DS Ambassador Program. More’s the pity.
- Number of players: The one and only Samus Aran.
- Favorite Boss: You ever notice how there are a lot of giant bugs in this game? Like, there are two different kinds of worms, and then there’s that cocoon/moth thing… or are they all supposed to be related? I have no idea. Anyway, aside from the old standbys, I like giant moth thingy, because there’s nothing like chasing down an enormous insect and pumping missiles into its ovipositor. Apparently it’s called “Imago”.
- Favorite Remake Addition: Every Metroid game should include the Speed Booster. Every. Single. One.
- He’s Too Big: The Ridley fight in Zero Mission feels like a nice balance of “hectic” and “you’re still going to win”. That’s good! The Mecha Ridley fight, meanwhile, always seems to be completely impossible or really, really easy, but never anything in between. That’s bad! So… zero sum Ridleys.
- Did you know? Crocomire of Super Metroid was apparently intended to be in this game, but he got scrapped somewhere along the way. What’s interesting is that his sprite is pretty smooth and tan, so it’s possible there would have been a story (likely involving beam weapons) explaining why he is red and lumpy in time for Super Metroid. Or maybe he was just cancelled because making him lumpy would be too expensive. Who knows.
- Would I play again: Gladly! Just, ya know, only about 90% of it.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Guilty Gear Isuka! I think there’s a puppy in that one! Please look forward to it!