Sponsored By: My company’s wellness program
Time Explored: An hour, give or take
Welcome, TL;DP Fans! As longtime readers may well recall, I like to do a theme for the month of December. Usually it’s alliterative, or some kind of gregorian pun. This December will be no exception. I’ve decided to go back to gaming’s roots and play some important games that I missed when they first came out. Over the next four Thursdays, I hope you enjoy De-Seminal-Ber!
This week I curl up into a little ball because of Metroid.
So let me see if I get this right: People liked this game when it was new? And they built a genre with a silly name around it?
Among the many big games I never played, Metroid is certainly one of them. I knew virtually nothing about it at the time, except that the main character was secretly a woman (Nintendo Power was less sensitive to spoilers in those days) and that it had some very extensive maps. I missed it largely because I got an NES late in its life cycle, and because even then I had a hankering for more obscure titles. I may not have played Metroid or Legend of Zelda or Super Mario Brothers 3, but I could speedrun Hudson Hawk in eleven minutes flat!
Now that I’ve played it, I can see why I didn’t play it. More accurately, I can see myriad reasons why I didn’t play it. Metroid makes a lousy first impression.
Samus can’t do much of anything at the start, which I will concede is pretty much the point of the game, but the inability to shoot down, or to crouch, is one of those design decisions that leaves me scratching my head. Half of the enemies are too short to hit, and I can’t crouch to shoot them or jump over them and shoot down? Some bounty hunter Samus is. Contra gives you eight directions of fire. Metroid gives you three. Perhaps you find the ability to shoot in a new direction later on, perhaps not, but in the first hour of the game it’s not fun.
Movement is another problem. Jumping is, if I may dip into some technical jargon, floaty as fornication. (Why, what's yours like?) Sure, they can make you think it’s all dynamic and nimble by making Samus do somersaults at random, but it’s still like watching air bubbles slowly rise in an upturned jar of honey. Maybe I could learn to love the slow-arsed jumping if there weren’t so darn much of it, but Jiminy Crickets there’s too much of it! One of the first things you encounter is a shaft full of platforms and alien creatures to climb. It seems to go on forever, and it’s one of the most repetitive things I’ve ever encountered in a video game. I climbed at least ten screens, each populated with the same three platforms and the same three enemies (one of which is indestructible at this stage) before I found a door to another enormous, platform-infested shaft. I appreciate that they made this one a different color, but maybe they should have made it more interesting.
Eventually I found my way to some horizontally scrolling platform levels that were less repetitive but no less annoying. The fact that my blaster is somewhat less useful than a sharp stick makes killing all of the things that fly at you at just the wrong angle more of a chore than a challenge. Honestly, it’s not fun to be unable to shoot something that’s flying straight at you because it’s slightly too high to get hit by your bullets, only to have said thing zip up and punch you in the face if you jump up and attempt to shoot it. I’d forgive that sort of mechanic if the thing was easy to kill, but it takes five or ten shots to dispatch. After spending time grinding health by killing creatures that have the decency to fly at me at shoulder-height, that health and time are now gone, and the game starts beeping at me like a broken Casio watch.
Sure, I could shoot them with a missile, but they’re hard to hit and I can only carry five missiles at a time. What am I supposed to use on bosses if I spend all of my missiles on low-level mobs? And how hard are the bosses going to be if I need to spend my most powerful weapon on low-level mobs like that? For that matter, if you need missiles to fight low-level enemies, why am I even carrying this useless blaster? I’ve heard the advice about bringing a knife to a gunfight, but Samus seems to have brought a potato gun to a nuclear war.
Will I Keep Playing?
To be fair, all of my complaints might go away if I spend enough time searching for powerups, and if I were a kid who just used up several weeks of lawn-mowing money on this game I might be compelled to keep going. In 1986, I can see it being decent value for money, if you have patience and nothing else to play. Looking at it over the distance of thirty years, it’s hard to see why anyone bothered. Especially when Rolling Thunder, which holds up much better, was released the same year.
Is it the Dark Souls of things that are the integral of Metroidvania games?
Sure, yes, why not. Metroid is tough in a way that only games from the late 1980s are tough, and it explains literally nothing to you. Enemies are difficult to hit, let alone kill, but have no difficulty at all hitting and killing you. The difference between the two games is that Dark Souls gives you everything you need to beat the game at the outset and expects you to get good at it, while Metroid gives you nothing you need and expects you to get good enough to find the tools that make the game less punishing.
I’m not sure which game is more Souls-like at this point. It could be that Dark Souls is the Metroid of modern gaming. Or maybe I was right the first time, and Metroid just isn’t fun. Dark Souls at least is enjoyable while you’re struggling through it at first, with frustration building later on when you get impatient. Metroid kind of starts out frustrating and gets worse.