Super Metroid is the 3rd installment in the Metroid series. It was developed by R&D1 and released in March of 1994 on the Super Nintendo. Super Metroid is also available on the Wii, Wii U, and New 3DS Virtual Consoles, and is one of the 21 games included in the Super Nintendo Classic. Judging by what series director Yoshio Sakamoto has said, development of Super Metroid must have started shortly after the release of Metroid II on the Game Boy in November of 1991. Sakamoto said they spent half a year trying to get their concept approved and 2 years actually developing the game. I wish the turnaround for new Metroid games was so short these days.
The story of Super Metroid begins shortly after Samus finds the Metroid larva (AKA the Baby) at the end of Metroid II. Samus does like a Pokemon trainer and captures the Baby in what looks like an empty Energy Tank, and takes it to the scientists on the Galactic Research Station at Ceres. After studying the Baby, the scientists find new ways they could harness the energy producing qualities of the Metroids for the good of civilization. Satisfied with the results, Samus leaves the station and sets off to find a new bounty. But shortly thereafter, she receives a distress signal from the Ceres station. Ridley and the space pirates invaded the station, killed all the scientists, and kidnapped the Baby. So, I’m thinking the last Metroid was in captivity and the galaxy was at peace for a week tops.
When people talk about what makes Super Metroid so great, they usually mention the way the game opens up for exploration as you get new suit upgrades. I agree that the core gameplay of Super Metroid is great, that’s why there’s a whole genre of games imitating it. I think the real star of the game is the environment of Zebes itself, though. It’s how the environment tells the story of the game that think is so great. Walls are cracked, glass is broken, parts of Brinstar are overgrown. It looks like nothing has happened here since the end of Metroid. I wonder what’s going through Samus’ mind when she steps foot on planet Zebes once again. This is where Zero Mission took place. This is where she was raised and trained by the Chozo. This was her home once.
When Samus arrives on Zebes, it’s dark, there’s acid rain falling. The sky is much different from how it was in Zero Mission. Maybe this is the effect the explosion at the end of the first game had on the environment. There are hardly any signs of life. The only creatures around are small Trilobite-like bugs that scatter away when Samus moves in their direction. This place is literally falling apart. Tourian is in ruins. As it should be after the explosion at the end of Metroid (and Zero Mission). When Samus goes down into Brinstar, it’s also desolate, but to the left, on a pedestal, almost like some kind of of Samus bait, there’s the Morph(ing) Ball. When Samus grabs the Morph Ball, a spotlight is shined upon her and the surveillance systems activate. Now when she goes back through Tourian, there’s Space Pirates everywhere and there’s enemies all over the rest of the zones. And not a single word of text explaining the story is shown during that whole sequence.
Another zone I love is the Wrecked Ship. When Samus first gets there, it’s dark and all the machinery is offline. Not even the Save Stations work! The boss of this area, Phantoon, has been feeding on the ship’s energy. Once you kill Phantoon, the zone lights up, and everything comes back online. Now we can see that there is a lab in the top area of the ship. It looks like there are Metroids on the monitors and the research that was done here had something to do with energy. We know that Metroids are energy vampires created by the Chozo to contain the X Parasyte on SR388, but this is a space ship, so it could have been there at some point. Is this the ship in which the Chozo first came to Zebes in and where the Metroids were created? It fits in with the story in the Metroid manga, which came out 10 years later.
There are no tutorials in Super Metroid. Sure, sometimes you get instructions on how to use an item, and the manual has some instructions, but the game never stops to teach you something. Everything you do in the game, you learn by playing. Sometimes you’ll discover new icons in the environment, telling you what items you need to progress. Sometimes you learn how to get past an obstacle by watching the creatures around you. Of course, everyone remembers the Etecoons that teach you how to wall jump and the Dachora that teaches you how to shinespark, but sometimes you can also find the path forward by watching where the enemies can go. One instance that sticks out in my mind is when you first get to Maridia and it looks like you’re trapped. It looks like there is no way to progress and no way out, but if you watch where the Scisers are coming from in one room, you’ll find the way out.
A few new items not found in Metroid and Metroid II make their debut in Super Metroid, like the Grappling Beam and the Speed Booster, but I think it’s the base abilities introduced in this game that made the biggest impact. For the first time in the series, Samus could shoot diagonally. I was reminded of Contra when I first saw this. It made the game feel more like an action game, because it allowed for more ways to attack enemies. The wall jump was also introduced in this game and later became a staple of the series. Even Metroid Prime Pinball has some wall jumping.
Super Metroid has an amazing soundtrack, but I think the sound design is also great, and not mentioned quite as often. There’s just so many little sound effects that make the world come alive. Listen closely and you’ll hear the rain fall in the surface of Crateria when you land on Zebes. You’ll hear the thunder from the thunderstorm in Crateria all the way through the ruins of Tourian. You’ll even hear the lava bubbling in Norfair. You can also hear the cries of many of the creatures you’ll encounter on Zebes. And who can forget the cries of the captured Baby on the title screen, as a haunting remix of the familiar theme song plays.
If you asked me what my top 10 SNES games are, Super Metroid would be in the top 3, right along Super Mario World and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. I love Zero Mission, because it’s the most refined Metroid game, but I still think Super Metroid is the best in the series. It’s hard to find something wrong with it. It’s one of the best games ever made period.