Tag Archives: ridley

FGC #403 Contra 3: The Alien Wars

CONTRA!Why are so many phenomenal games on the Super Nintendo?

If you’ve spent longer than five minutes on any gaming forum/group/site/underground fight club, you’ve probably heard the age old gaming question, “If you were stranded on a desert island, but somehow had a television and electricity and maybe access to Amazon.com, which gaming console would you want to have with you?” And, if you’re anything like the pedantic nerds that generally ask such a question, your response is only more questions. Does this “one system” allow for all games ever on the system? Are we talking about a fully backwards compatible Playstation 3? Are we including DLC titles that appeared on older systems? Is there online functionality? Is sand going to get in that cartridge slot, instantly ruining any hope of having fun at all? It sounds completely insane, but if we’re allowed one system equipped with every available game for that system, I might actually choose the Vita. That sucker technically has so many great games… even if its system exclusives are sorely lacking.

But, if you’re talking about exclusives (and not modern systems that are clearly cheating by absorbing entire classic libraries), it seems like the “best” systems are the second ones. Playstation 1 was fun, but Playstation 2 had an amazing library that practically defined modern game storytelling. Xbox was a drop in the online bucket, but Xbox 360 created the console online community of today. And the WiiU was a fine prototype for the concept of a “portable console”, but nothing beats the amazing portability and ergonomics of the Switch. And, when you get right down to it, this all makes sense. Videogames are, at their core, pieces of technology, and it’s rare that any technology gets it right the first time. Nobody is still driving a Model T, and the Wright Flyer isn’t our standard for aviation. To be clear, this isn’t to say that any “early technology” is inherently bad, simply that we usually first get a passable proof of concept, and then, a generation later, we’ve got the good stuff. It’s the way of the world.

WeeeeeBut the Super Nintendo was something special. Back before voice acting and online play and the very concept that you could have color on your portable system (or at least pull that off without 3,616 AA batteries), there was the Super Nintendo. And it’s easy to discount that previous sentence as an old man griping while he waits for the latest Kirby game to download 3 gigs of updates, but it’s worth noting that there was a time when all a videogame console was expected to do was play videogames. No DVDs, no Netflix app, not even the possibility of “updating the firmware”. If you wanted to do something unique and interesting with a later game, you needed to design a special chip, and plump that cartridge cost up to unreasonable levels (hi, Mega Man X3). You want to save? Go hit the battery store! And God help you if you want to require a damned contemptible misguided peripheral. But, through it all, it meant that, by and large, games were games, and all you kids better not be enjoying your walking simulators on my lawn.

Sorry, I had to take a quick break to go yell at a cloud. Where were we? Oh, right, Super Nintendo.

So the Super Nintendo didn’t have any gimmicks. This… might be the only time that ever happened with a Nintendo console. The original Nintendo Entertainment System shipped with its own robot, and a gun with which to shoot said robot (in case it ever demanded you play Beyond the Beyond). The N64 touted its lack of load times, four controller ports, and analog sticks in direct response to Sony’s betrayal. The Wii, WiiU, and Switch were all completely defined by their stunts. And the Gamecube? Its biggest failing was that it had a pile of gimmicks (weird controller layout, GBA compatibility, the fact that it is clearly a near-sentient lunchbox), and none of them ever stuck, because all anyone wanted to do was play Smash Bros. But the Super Nintendo only ever wanted to play videogames. Here’s a controller with some more buttons. Here are a few chips that allow for more colors, graphics, and sounds. Now go nuts! We’ll check back in in five years or so.

BOOMAnd it certainly seems like a lot of developers did go nuts. Nintendo itself (well, let’s include some “second parties” that were synonymous with Nintendo) was responsible for Super Mario World, Yoshi’s Island, Kirby Super Star, Donkey Kong Country, and Earthbound. There was also Super Metroid, which some claim has not been surpassed within its genre even to this day. Square gave us Secret of Mana, Final Fantasy 2 & 3, and Chrono Trigger, another luminary that is still unrivaled. Capcom presented Mega Man X and the last of the great Disney licensed platformers. And Konami was no slouch, either, as we saw the future of Castlevania and Contra, which neatly brings us to today’s featured title.

Contra 3: The Alien Wars is one of the few run ‘n gun games that presents a different playstyle every stage, but still manages to be absolutely perfect. Everything starts in a “basic” Contra stage, with invading aliens, marching soldiers, and the occasional giant turtle monster. Then it’s time for an overhead stage that is less wanton destruction and more hide ‘n seek. The third stage is predominantly climbing based, and the fifth level is a hunt ‘n kill in the desert. It’s only in the sixth and final stage that we return to the “original” gameplay of the first level, and then it’s time for a boss gauntlet that includes destroying a strangely high number of colossal organs. And sandwiched somewhere in the middle is the unbelievable Level 4, wherein Jimbo and Sully (real names withheld to protect the innocent) first ride hovercycles across a deserted highway (though it gets more crowded pretty quickly), proceed to fight a robo ninja beneath a helicopter, and then ride a series of missiles straight into an offending flying fortress. It is the most spectacular thing to ever happen in a Contra game!

GACKAnd that’s the thing: Contra 3 might be the best game in the franchise… And it was released on the Super Nintendo over 25 years ago. There have been other Contra experiences since, but so many of them have been… lacking. And even the best of these new Contra titles (Contra 4 comes to mind) revisit earlier titles rather liberally, up to and including whole bosses or set pieces from Contra 3, yet adding very little to the nostalgia. Then again, Contra 3 did repeat some of the greatest hits of Contra and Super Contra, so… has that always been happening? Is Contra just as iterative as Super Street Fighter 2: Turbo Edition?

Wait a tick… maybe the Super Nintendo is home to so many great games because it was a system exclusively built for iterative games.

The Super Nintendo was a “Nintendo, but super”. The system allowed games to be “the same thing as last time, but super”. Castlevania 4 was, ultimately, a reskin of Castlevania 1. Super Metroid was Samus repeating her zero mission all over again, but now she gets faster boots. Link vs. Ganon. Little Mac vs. Some Tall Guy. There was no need to make Mario a JRPG or fighting game (yet), and the public (or the market) was perfectly content to see the early “arcade” style games evolve into their more console-based final forms. Basically, all the games that defined gaming in the first place on the NES all went Super Saiyan at once, and the nefarious Frieza of Boredom was left floating in space.

BOOMSo why is the Super Nintendo so well regarded? Because it was a videogame system that had the technology and luck to allow itself to “only” be a place for properly evolved videogames. As we grew up, so too did our games, and the Super Nintendo was the host for many of them.

And then we got to murder a buttload of aliens, so that wasn’t bad, either.

FGC #403 Contra 3: The Alien Wars

  • System: Super Nintendo/SNES Classic, and then there was a remake of sorts on the Gameboy Advance. It included a few stages from Contra: Hard Corps in an effort to ditch the overhead stages, which makes for a very different experience. There was also an OG Gameboy port of Contra 3, too, and it was phenomenally awful.
  • Number of players: And the Super Nintendo was a great time for two players (and exclusively two players)!
  • Port-o-Call: Gameboy Contra 3 was terrible, but it had Super Gameboy enhanced features. Which… is vaguely confusing, because if you’ve got a Super Nintendo, and want to play Contra 3 on the television, I want to say there are other options…
  • Favorite Weapon: Flamethrower 4 life. There is no problem that cannot be solved by an unending stream of hot death.
  • I'm not the only one that sees it, right?Favorite… Uh… Thing: A swarm of alien bugs attempt to carry off your hero toward the start of Level 3, and I’ve always appreciated how they’re the approximately one monster in the game that can be touched without incurring instant death. It doesn’t make that section any less hectic (as they will drag you to an immediate death if you let them), but it’s nice to be slightly less destructible for all of thirty seconds.
  • Did you know? In Europe, our Contra heroes are (not) secretly androids fighting an army of alien robots. It’s basically the prequel to Nier Automata.
  • Would I play again: Contra 3 just reminded me that the Super Nintendo was a system of wonders. What do you think?

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask! I guess you’ll see that update in… three days. Please look forward to it!

FGC #328 Metroid: Samus Returns

Samus is baaaaaackIt seems hard to believe, but, after years of Metroid 2 being the black sheep of the Metroid family (or at least its most ignored entry), we now have three different perfectly valid Metroid 2 experiences readily available. The original Metroid 2 is right there on the 3DS Gameboy Virtual Console, AM2R is an amazing fan remake available in the secret corners of the internet, and now we have the official Nintendo reimagining, complete with amiibos and an honest-to-God advertising campaign (admit it: it’s hard to remember if Federation Force actually happened). Metroid 2 is king of the Metroid Hill, and it’s great to see there’s a Metroid Hill in the Nintendo Kingdom at all.

Of course, it’s not so great that Metroid: Samus Returns is the Metroid 2 I’m least likely to ever play again.

That sounds a might pessimistic, so let’s first cover the good stuff. First and foremost, somebody at Nintendo learned from the Metroid: Other M debacle, and Samus Aran is now delightfully mute. Granted, there’s something unnerving about the fact that the only way Nintendo seems to be able to maintain their bad ass bounty hunter’s bad ass status is through keeping her from opening her mouth for an entire adventure… but still! Samus is cool, calm, and collected, and, at no point does she worry about “the baby” or space dragons that may or may not have eaten her parents. That’s what we like to see! And, while she doesn’t talk, she does take a few moments to have “cool” moments in cutscenes (like casually blasting a defeated foe post battle), so what little personality that seeps through is Adam-free and Aran-appropriate. Oh, and this game has the Screw Attack! That’s a great little item. Love that thing.

….

And now for the bad parts.

I think it all boils down to one thing: this video game is too video game-y.

OMEGA!Yes, this is an odd complaint, but it’s valid for this interpretation of SR388. Metroid 2 was a game about a made-up heroine fighting random space monsters until there were no space monsters left. It’s a videogame, and it’s not like someone put serious thought into the ecology of the planet that houses frightening space bugs living among infinitely spawning flying worms. But… that seems reductive. Despite the small screen, despite the complete lack of color, and despite the music that was clearly composed by randomly spitting on a Casio from a distance of at least eleven feet, there is a lot of care and consideration in the original Metroid 2. The “Metroid life cycle” is ridiculous (jellyfish -> bug -> bug with tusks -> fat dragon -> tyrannosaurus), but it seems… possible. Metroids are a weird and wondrous species, and, sure, some of them can breathe fire, but it does make a certain amount of sense that they wouldn’t be amoeba-looking “larvas” for their entire life cycle. Butterflies don’t look that much like caterpillars, after all. Similarly, the other creatures of SR388 seem like actual fauna that might have to live side by side with space vampires. Metroids are given a wide berth, and, aside from the occasional errant robot, if it moves on SR388, it’s staying clear of those apex predators. In fact, this is epitomized during the final area of Metroid 2. The Queen Metroid’s lair is completely devoid of non-metroid life, and this leads to entire screens of Samus exploring empty corridors.

Unfortunately, the staff of Metroid: Samus Returns likely found those vacant hallways boring, because that kind of environmental storytelling is absent from this iteration of the Queen’s Lair. Now that area is choked with rampaging robots, angry bats, kamikaze bugs, and murderous hedgehogs. This is just like the area before, which is crowded with rampaging robots, angry bats, kamikaze bugs, and murderous hedgehogs. And the caverns before that also include rampaging robots, angry…. You get the idea. Yes, as you progress in the game, you gain new and exciting ways to battle these monsters, and the different areas generally have different layouts and configurations so it doesn’t all become rote after Area 3, but… It gets exhausting. Samus’s armor has been reduced to Fusion levels of softness, and, at all times, you have to be on guard, else you’ll lose an entire energy tank to an errant angry bat. So you’re always defending yourself, always in rooms filled with rapidly respawning opponents, and always… drained. There is no rest for Samus, because this is a videogame, and if you’re not doing videogame things at all times, what’s the point?

Hey little duderAnd if you think this is an exaggeration, consider that the larval metroids appear in this adventure just as they did in Metroid 2, Super Metroid, and almost every other metroid game. The difference here, though, is that when you clear a room of metroids, and return to what should now be an empty room, there are now all new monsters skulking about for your endless fighting pleasure. Yes, this game can’t even let Samus rest for three hallways.

This need for a constant stream of encroaching encounters is obviously to showcase the new combat features of this Metroid adventure, but… they’re not that great, either. Don’t get me wrong, the new multi-directional aiming is a godsend, and the whole “melee counter” system is fun and exciting when you smack that X button right in time, but it’s more… videogame problems. The average metroid boss battle (which happens somewhere around forty times over the course of the game) involves a lot of hopeful chucking of missiles at a weak point that may or may not be guarded by random electrical discharges at the moment. But you can counter at just the right time, and blast off half a metroid’s health in one quick quasi-QTE. Obviously, the fastest way to clear SR388 of its indigenous life forms is to exploit these counter moves. But it quickly becomes clear that if you miss an early pass at your counter opportunity, it’s often faster to just suicide poor Samus (only takes like three hits anyway…), restart the battle, and save yourself ten minutes of clumsy missile aiming in favor of thirty seconds of mastering the counter timing. This is generally just convenient with the alpha metroids, but it’s practically essential by the time you get to the “invincible for 90% of the match” gamma metroids. And, given the vast time difference between countering vs. not countering, victory over I call him Hoagieany given boss feels less like “mastering” the encounter, and more like “Oh, I finally hit X when I needed to.” It’s not about skill, it’s about following the pattern like an obedient puppy. And the last thing Samus Aran should be is obedient.

And for further evidence, please find me someone that enjoyed that Digby the Drillanaut boss fight. That was the most “this is a pattern, follow it” boss I’ve seen since the NES days.

Now, I want to make something clear: none of this makes Metroid: Samus Returns a bad game. I enjoyed my time with the game, and my hand may have cramped into a Kid Icarus claw from playing the game nigh-continuously since its release. I did not rest until the last Metroid was in captivity, and the game was good enough to hold my interest through repeated demoralizing game overs. But am I going to rush back and play it again? No. Going to fish out every last item because they stuck friggen plasma beam doors randomly in the first area? Nope. Hard mode? Absolutely not. Even the old standard of “it’s a Metroid game, now do it faster” doesn’t seem at all appealing. Sure, I could do this quicker, but it would be because I’d be able to best the various bosses faster… assuming my counter timing skills stay consistent. If not, I’ll be spending another hour taking down four damn omega metroids, and I really don’t want to do that ever again. Heck, I’m not even sure I want to see another one of those stupid snail monsters again. How can the most elite bounty hunter in the universe be thwarted by a mollusk!?

Grab 'emSo here’s the state of 2017: we have Metroid 2, which is the deeply flawed story of a bounty hunter eliminating space monsters on their home planet. We have AM2R, which is a remix of that story with modern design conventions and a loving attention to detail. And we have Metroid: Samus Returns, which is a videogame.

… I’m pretty sure I have other videogames to play.

FGC #328 Metroid: Samus Returns

NOTE: Spoilers may appear in this area…

FGC #327 Metroid 2: Return of Samus

This is some terrible musicMetroids are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, use for entertainment, or exterminate in any way.

As a proud citizen of the Galactic Federation, you’ve likely heard the smear campaign launched against the humble metroid. The rhetoric is always the same: the hated space pirates scooped up a bunch of metroids from their home on SR388, telepathically controlled the creatures with a gigantic sentient AI, and then threatened the entire galaxy with their army of “monsters”. We were all saved by the benevolent Galactic Federation and their ability to properly outsource, and the galaxy is now at peace. But the Metroid “scourge” remains! As long as SR388 is still populated by metroids, then any Tom, Dick, or Ridley could return, rustle up another army, and lay siege to our poor universe. What’s a Federation to do?

Well, if you’ve been following the latest on GFBC, you know that the Federation is currently attempting to pass legislation to exterminate all metroids. That’s right! Just because a few bad apples decided to kidnap a peaceful species and use them for evil, the Galactic Federation is going to commit genocide. We cannot let this happen! The metroid is a naturally peaceful species, and anyone that says otherwise is woefully uninformed.

We at the Metroid Preservation Association recently sent an expedition down to SR388, and here are some of the metroid fun facts they sent back.

Larval Metroid

HUGS!This is the “creature” most featured in Federation propaganda, mainly because they were the first vanguard of the Space Pirate threat. And you want to know the kick of it? This is a metroid baby. That’s right! You’re looking at the equivalent of a human toddler, or perhaps a feline kitten. Can a metroid be destructive? Of course! But no one demanded that all dogs be euthanized just because one puppy tore up the couch. Larval metroids have no concept of right or wrong, and just because they could potentially absorb the life force of a nearby organism doesn’t mean they should be eradicated.

And, speaking of which, have you ever seen a metroid feed? They don’t use mouths or teeth like many animals; no, metroids subsist entirely on hugs. Since metroids are incapable of communicating, we don’t even know if a metroid’s most threatening trait is deliberate. So many sentient creatures live their lives with a need to embrace a loving “mother”, and it is entirely possible that the shy child metroid is no different. Sure, this inevitably leads to the death of the hug recipient, but these metroids don’t know their own strength! They’re babies!

Metroid Fact: In rare situations, a larval metroid is capable of copying abilities from his or her hug buddy. Does this mean a metroid might be able “steal” the ability to talk? We’d sure like to hear about that!

Alpha Metroid

Look away!Now this is why you always observe God’s creatures in their natural habitat. Kept in captivity, a larval metroid will forever stay larval, and, at best, may use its energy to grow to absurd sizes; but leave that same metroid on SR388, and something magical happens. Through a biological process that can only be described as wondrous, a larval metroid will shed its soft shell, and grow into an alpha metroid, a creature with tiny legs, adorable tusks, and a protective shell. But don’t worry, metroid lovers, the alpha metroid still maintains a “jelly belly”, and, while those miniature appendages might not be the best for the task, they’re still hugging machines. An alpha metroid will approach its mark relentlessly, begging for hugs all the while.

Free hugs aside, think of the implication of the alpha metroid. Without observing metroids on their home world, we would have never known such a delightful being ever existed. What else are metroids capable of? We don’t know, but we do know that we’ll never find out if the Galactic Federation has their way.

Metroid Fact: If a metroid were capable of returning its absorbed energy to others, it could use said stored energy to power an entire city! Think of the glorious future where metroids and people may live happily together, freely sharing their energy and experiences. Can you envision a more idyllic paradise?

Gamma Metroid

ZapA metroid doesn’t just stop at the alpha form. It turns out that a metroid can develop even further. A gamma metroid seems to be the natural evolution of the alpha, with longer legs, bigger tusks, and even a “head horn” that looks like a charming little dunce cap. Silly gamma metroid, you’re still just a kid, you’ll learn how to get out of the corner soon enough.

The gamma metroid even learned a new trick: it can generate and distribute electricity! This is amazing, as metroid physiology previously only allowed for the absorption of energy, and it seemed that all the excess power was spent on the metroid’s strange floating ability. But the gamma metroid has extra power, and he/she knows how to use it! Lightning bolts fly from the gamma’s fangs, igniting the dark caverns of SR388 with every burst. Could gamma metroids be deliberately illuminating these passages for the benefit of their fellow SR388 inhabitants? That seems like the most apparent answer.

Metroid Fact: Metroids do not compete. In the event that multiple metroids have targeted one person for hugs, the metroids will work together, and never damage each other in pursuit of the hugee. Metroids are so polite!

Zeta Metroid

Toasty!Like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon, the zeta metroid will emerge from the carapace of a gamma metroid. And this change means big things for our friend the metroid! The alpha/gamma’s “limbs” become “fingers”, and zeta now has full-fledged legs and arms. And a tail! How could any creature with a tail be worthy of extinction? And those lightning powers have evolved, too, because the zeta has the ability to spew fire and acid-like substances. These abilities are clearly there for the betterment of his or her friends, as who doesn’t like to warm up with some spicy fire breath? Why, with a zeta metroid in your kitchen, you might never need an oven ever again! And don’t forget about that acid spit for opening those hard-to-open jars!

Metroid Fact: Metroids hate the cold, which is probably why their entire planet is filled with lava. As a result, it’s not the easiest place to explore, but with a few decent barrier suits, you might find it’s a pretty nice planet with all sorts of exciting indigenous wildlife.

Omega Metroid

Look at the widdle tailAnd thus must the zeta inevitably become the omega, the final form of the humble metroid (usually). The omega metroid is basically a miniature tyrannosaurus. And that’s good! Who among us hasn’t ever desired a pet dinosaur? The omega metroid, not unlike a mastiff or a great dane, would be the perfect oversized companion for any schoolchild. Aw, look at that omega, it even looks like it’s wearing an pleasant little backpack. Wouldn’t you be happy to see Lil’ Timmy walking down the street with Lil’ ‘Meggy Metroid? Just be sure to clean up the sidewalk before that acidic drool seeps into the water supply.

Metroid Fact: If a metroid does happen to absorb all the life energy of an opponent (who was clearly asking for it), it will leave behind a stone or sand sculpture of the aggressor. Wicked people are transformed into pillars of salt in the first book of the Bible… Could metroids have visited Earth in our distant past?

Queen Metroid

QUEEN OF HUGSDid you know that metroids have a matriarchal society, and they all love their mama? It’s true! Queen Metroid is apparently the mother of all metroids on SR388, and lays eggs at an astronomical rate. While there appear to only be about forty living metroids on SR388 currently, there are a number of eggs lying around the queen’s chambers, so it looks like we’ll be seeing a population boom any minute now. And that’s great, because this galaxy could use more metroids!

The metroids are a humble, huggable race. To eliminate them and their planet would be an affront to the very precepts on which our Federation was founded. After all, if metroids were so terrible, then why didn’t our expedition team ever return? They clearly chose to stay and continue their lives on SR388, living in peace and harmony with our friends, the metroids. May the whole galaxy be as welcoming and serene as SR388.

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FGC #327 Metroid 2: Return of Samus

  • System: Nintendo Gameboy, and 3DS if you’re nasty. No, I’m not talking about the remake.
  • Number of players: There is only one metroid hunter in this galaxy.
  • Awesome new powerMaybe actually talk about the game for a second: This is such a weird game. It feels at once complete and whole, but also entirely unfinished. Samus spends what seems like forever gradually upgrading and fighting alphas and gammas, and then finally encounters her first Zeta. Then, one area full of three or so Zetas later, the mighty Omega rears its ugly head. Then you fight a couple more… and the game is basically over. You’re at the queen’s “final level”, and then all that’s left is to leave the planet in the calmest “escape sequence” ever. We were just getting going! I want more!
  • Favorite metroid form: That would be the zeta metroid. Omega is too powerful, alpha is too boring, and gamma’s stupid lightning artificially prolongs the fight with its missile blocking properties. Zeta is just right. Actually, my real favorite is the tried and true larval metroid, but they’re all over the place at this point (in, like, a whole five games).
  • So, did you beat it? Of course I did. I beat this puppy back in the day, and I did it again just now. See my AM2R review for more details on why wet paint always makes me think of SR388.
  • He’s too big: No Ridley in Metroid 2. How does something like this happen!?
  • Did you know? Shooting zeta and omega metroids in the back causes more damage… but since the Metroid series is averse to HP gauges, the average player has no hope of knowing this. Omega’s lil’ tail does twitch a little more on a back hit, I suppose.
  • Would I play again: Hopefully I won’t have to, because…

What’s next? Obviously, I’m going to spend this weekend playing the latest Metroid game, because of course I am. Will I also be ready to write about it? We’ll find out! Please look forward to it!

WINNER

FGC #235 Metroid: Zero Mission

Lose some weight, tubbyI’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.

Moving right alongMost 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.

They don't fall, thoughMuch 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.

BooooBut 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.

It’s… demoralizing.

JerkSo, 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!

There it is