When I find a game that I truly love, I will do whatever I can to dig further into it. I have certain titles in my collection that I understand on an academic level. I can tell you all about the people who worked on it, why certain gameplay mechanics are the way they are, and usually, I can tell you how to break it. I don’t have very many games that I have this intimate knowledge of, but the ones that I do have, I know way too much about them. I’m currently working my way towards this sort of understanding with Bayonetta, but the first game that I threw myself this far into was Super Metroid.
Released in 1994 on the SNES, this game is easily one of my top five titles of all time. On certain days, I’d go as far as saying it is my favorite video game ever. Everything it does it does well. It doesn’t bog you down in story, and unlike the majority of Nintendo titles developed nowadays, it doesn’t treat you like you’re stupid. When you start playing, that’s it. You’re thrown into this world, and it’s your job to find you way out of it. The controls are responsive and precise, and the world is designed in such a way that there can be multiple ways to traverse the terrain.
As I said before, this is the first game I learned how to “break.” By that, I mean over the years I’ve learned the little tricks that people have discovered to bypass entire sections of the game altogether. I’ve used these maneuvers to get items far earlier than I would previous be able to. Because of this, it makes the game an incredibly great title to speed run through. With various glitches, the game can be completed in less than half an hour. Even with 100% completion, the game can be finished in less than an hour if you know what you’re doing. For a while, a couple friends and I dedicated a lot of our free time to knocking seconds off our time in hopes of establishing a respectable speed run. While we never set any record times, this sort of gameplay led to us understanding the game on this higher level.
At a certain point, merely playing through the game isn’t enough. We started eliminating certain items to raise the challenge level. The obvious candidates at first were the grappling beam and the space jump. It was completely feasible, and I did it. After a while, even this wasn’t quite enough. For a laugh, I attempted to beat the game without the varia suit, an armor that reduces damage and provides protection in heat sensitive areas. As it turns out, this is completely possible, and I managed to do it. Between the limited health and the lack of heat protection, I had to be very careful. Not a single second could be wasted in the heated caverns of Norfair. Of course, getting the gravity suit in the wrecked ship negates the need for the varia suit at all, but up until that point, it helped bring new life to a game I thought I knew everything about.
Fairly early in the game, you fight an enemy referred to as the Spore Spawn. It is this dangling, plant monster that swings around the room while it attempts to kill you with small projectiles. When it opens up, you attack the core and eventually it is defeated. The reward for the fight is the super missile upgrade, and upon receiving it, many new doors are open to you. By using some of the gameplay exploits, this entire sequence can be bypassed. This shaves a good few minutes off of your time, and it changes this early stage of the game quite a bit. You’re far more powerful than you’re supposed to be, and for a little while, you’re just tearing through everything that comes your way. The same can be said for an early room in the Norfair zone where you’re supposed to have the speed booster to run through a corridor with rapidly closing gates. If you can make it through, you have access to a new beam, and it helps you continue your path through the game in a very linear fashion, reducing the amount of backtracking, and giving you more of an edge for the rooms that will follow.
While you can choose to play the game this way, it does a great job in convincing you that maybe you should pick up everything. There’s even an x-ray scope item you can get that will beam through walls and help show you where hidden treasures lie. After spending so much time bombing every square of every screen on the Legend of Zelda, this comes as an amazing surprise. While many items are hidden in fairly obvious places, some of them in plain sight, a good lot of them are hidden in random ceiling or floor tiles. The x-ray scope makes all of this much more bearable, and gives you incentive to really explore every inch of this lonely world you’ve been tossed into.
There is also an attention to detail present that I don’t think modern Nintendo games really have. Along with the non-linear ways to approach terrain traversal, one of the bosses has a subtle, hidden way to defeat it. In the water zone of Maridia lies a giant shrimp-esque creature that you must defeat. On the walls of the room, there are a lot of little cannons that you should destroy to help make the battle a little easier. After destroying this, there is still an amount of power surging through them, making them dangerous to run into. If you get grabbed by the boss, it will swim around the room and while in its clutches, you can use the grapple beam to latch onto the electrical field, sending the electricity through you and into the boss, gradually frying it until it finally dies. Of course, you lose health while this is going on too, but that’s to be expected. Nowhere in the game does it tell you you can do this. It’s just something that can happen. I really do miss these sort of ideas, especially in the Metroid series.
Because of all of these things, Super Metroid is a game that can forever remain relevant. Due to its design, it really can be a non-linear experience. This may require some slight bending of the rules, but the reward is always worth it. I’m just barely scratching the surface of why I love this game so much, but really digging into this is going to be a story for another day. I still play through it on a regular basis, due to it being a game that can be finished in about an hour. Or not. It’s up to you. You can take your sweet time and just explore the world of Zebes at your leisure.