Too Long; Didn't Play: Metroid (NES Classic)

Sponsored By: My company’s wellness program

Time Explored: An hour, give or take

Author’s Note

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.

Metroid Review

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?

Huh.

Vania Review

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.

Comments

Love it! I look forward to next week. That was great.

Although you'll get no argument from me that Metroid (NES) doesn't hold up well at all today, I think some of those limited character movement options -- i.e. the 3-way shooting + no crouching -- are part of what make the gameplay mechanically interesting, and thereby (at least potentially) fun.

Zoomers (those iconic foes in the article's screenshots that crawl along the walls and floors) would be a lot less meaningful as an enemy if Samus could just aim diagonally and easily shoot them, instead of having to maneuver into a position where they can get caught in Samus's beam, or else avoid them.

I guess my point here boils down to our old adage: "Anytime reality gets in the way of fun, fun wins."

I'd also never played Metroid before until about two months ago. I knew the series was super popular, and figured this might be a good place to start. Why bother doing internet research? I'll just assume I'm right.

Yeah, that was a frustrating and annoying game. Fortunately, on an emulator you've got save states so you don't have to keep going back to the beginning over and over. But even that time saving wasn't worth it. The game was frustrating and I kept ramming my head into it trying to find the "good" part. The lack of a map or even a hint of where to go is frustrating too, so you can spend a bunch of time going off on one path only to find it is a dead end, or requires some skill that you don't have (yet?). I bounced off it and I'm not planning on going back.

Also, missiles? I could never figure out how to shoot them until I went online and looked it up.

I might try one of the later versions of Metroid to check the series out. It seems like Super Metroid / Metroid Prime would have been a better entry point to the series and skip NES Metroid entirely.

I think Metroid can be seen as a warm-up / trial version for Super Metroid which is much better and fixes most of the problems with the first game. While technically not a remake, it pretty much is.

If you have access to it and never played Metroid 1, I recommend Zero Mission.

markcov wrote:

The lack of a map or even a hint of where to go is frustrating too, so you can spend a bunch of time going off on one path only to find it is a dead end

the era of manually mapping your journey on paper as you play (or getting your friend or younger sibling to do it) and writing down save codes.

and when boss weaknesses and secret passages were passed on by word-of-mouth at recess.

it's kinda crazy to think back on it, I'm not sure how I ever managed to finish this game.

Log_In_Lain wrote:

If you have access to it and never played Metroid 1, I recommend Zero Mission.

This. It's basically the first game with all the control updates of the sequels, and a map. Map being the most glaring omission from the original game.

Still though, an hour is enough time to beat the original game.

Stele wrote:

Still though, an hour is enough time to beat the original game. ;)

One Hour! I'm clearly quite bad at Metroid.

markcov wrote:

Yeah, that was a frustrating and annoying game. Fortunately, on an emulator you've got save states so you don't have to keep going back to the beginning over and over. But even that time saving wasn't worth it. The game was frustrating and I kept ramming my head into it trying to find the "good" part. The lack of a map or even a hint of where to go is frustrating too, so you can spend a bunch of time going off on one path only to find it is a dead end, or requires some skill that you don't have (yet?). I bounced off it and I'm not planning on going back.

Also, missiles? I could never figure out how to shoot them until I went online and looked it up.

I might try one of the later versions of Metroid to check the series out. It seems like Super Metroid / Metroid Prime would have been a better entry point to the series and skip NES Metroid entirely.

Well, the game is really a product of it’s time. You’re hard pressed to find any game in this time period that explains anything. The original Mario and Zelda just plop you in a world and tell you to go. (Plus the missile thing would be in the manual which I suspect isn’t included with an emulator)

I only played the remake of 1, Zero Mission.
But I'll still say Metroid 2 is superior than 1.
Entirely because I don't think the controls are bad, but that's only because I can't remember.
For all the other the 2d Metroids that I do remember, yes, they have controls that f*ck you up.

The remake of Metroid 2 from September is amazing