Planet Zebes… I called this place home once, in peaceful times, long before evil haunted the caverns below. Now, I shall finally tell the tale of my first battle here… My so-called Zero Mission.
“The following is a contributor post by the ABXY Mage.”
In this, the 8th generation of video games history, we have all become accustomed to classic games being remade and released for modern consoles. But, Metroid was doing it in 2004.
As we know, remaking “great” or “classic” games doesn’t always lead to positive results–Turtles In Time Reshelled, we’re looking at you–but when it meets or exceeds expectations… it’s just so sweet.
We all have a mental list of games we think were almost great, but not quite. Games we wish would be remade “right.” Remakes that would fix the flaws of the games you remember playing all the time as a kid because you only had so many to choose from back then.
However you might remember the original Metroid, whether you consider it a classic that hasn’t aged that you revisit often or you look back on it with less nostalgia and recognize its flaws and limitations while still respecting its strengths and influence, everyone can agree that Super Metroid was brilliant and the best game of (at least) the 2D entries in the series.
Metroid: Zero Mission takes the original Metroid and injects it with Super Metroid’s graphics, gameplay, and additional areas. The biggest problem with the original Metroid game was that after playing Super Metroid, it just seemed too small, too hard, too slow, and too old. Metroid: Zero Mission fixes all of that and adds much more.
In case you haven’t read the instruction booklet, or read my review of the original Metroid, I will briefly recap the tale. Metroid: Zero Mission follows the exact same story as the original, while also adding various elements to it.
At the turn of the millennium, the many planets of the galaxy formed a Galactic Federation. It was prosperous to the point that eventually space pirates were born and grew to become a major problem.
In 20X5, pirates captured a research ship carrying a newly discovered, and extremely dangerous, organism: Metroid.
Widely accepted as the cause for the extinction of life on SR388, the Metroid were believed to latch onto their prey and feed on the life energy of their victims. Scientists had also discovered that when exposed to beta rays, the Metroid would quickly multiply.
Fearing that the pirates were using this knowledge to create an army of Metroid, the Galactic Federation sent in their police force. However, in the vastness of space, they were unable to find and capture all of them.
Eventually, the pirate base was discovered on the planet Zebes, and the Federation Police attacked, but the maze-like planet and vigorous fight put on by the pirates kept their forces at bay. Desperate to stop the pirates from multiplying and releasing the deadly Metroid, the Federation voted to send in a lone bounty hunter to take destroy the pirates, their base, and the Metroid.
That bounty hunter is you, Samus Aran.
In addition to this, it is revealed in Metroid: Zero Mission that Samus was raised on Zebes by the bird-like alien race known as the Chozo. How or why, though, are left unanswered.
After the release of Super Metroid and Metroid Fusion, it was hard for many to look at the original Metroid in the same high regard they may have at one time. Metroid: Zero Mission turns it into the game that, in retrospect, we need it to be.
The 8-Bit Review
If you played the original Metroid after playing any other game in the series, you would likely agree that the graphics needed updating more than anything else. Samus in particular barely resembles what we now recognize as her signature look.
Metroid II: Return of Samus updated Samus’ appearance and movement animations, but having been released for the GameBoy, it lacked any color. Super Metroid set the bar for what Metroid games needed to look like. A wide array of colors, defined sprites, varied landscapes, and imposing bosses.
Metroid: Zero Mission took this newly defined standard and applied it to the original Metroid, and executed it with near-perfection. It even includes cutscenes that help fill in some of the story’s blanks. There are, however, some places in the game where colors do bleed into each other a little too much, namely in the extreme-heat areas of Norfair.
Kraid and Ridley, thankfully, resemble their designs from Super Metroid, as well. Gone are the disappointingly tiny and nearly unmoving sprites from the NES, replaced with their giant, dinosaur-inspired looks, with the additional bosses following suit.
The audio has its highs, and it has its lows. Unfortunately, it has slightly more, and more obvious, lows. Metroid: Zero Mission’s audio has moments of influence, ambition, a combination of the two, and also adds its own themes and ideas, but not always to the best effect.
Zero Mission adds a backstory to Samus that briefly covers pieces of her childhood; raised by a seemingly now-extinct civilization known as the Chozo. The game shows their ruins and hieroglyphs which seem inspired by a mixture of Egyptian and Southwestern Native American cultures. Many of the game’s tracks reflect this through the addition of chants and drums.
Norfair’s theme highlights both the good and bad that comes with this idea. While the original, NES version of the theme was no top ten hit, it added to the atmosphere of isolation on a planet infested with dangerous creatures. The version from Zero Mission fills in the silence between the melody with choral voices and pounding drums. This makes the song feel more like a comforting hymn than the anxiety-inducing original, completely changing the tone of the area. On the other hand, as a song you have to listen to quite a bit during the game, it is more listenable than the original.
The most recognizable song, in my opinion, is the one that sounds the eeriest and the most alive. Singular notes separated by large spaces of silence. In the NES Metroid, the song is most often used in areas that are supposed to feel tense and new. After minutes of rushing through areas, hearing it can stop you in your tracks as you wonder what’s ahead. In Zero Mission, this track is used for the Save Rooms and some of the Item Rooms… the least suspenseful settings in the entire game.
As a whole, the audio works well enough for the game and doesn’t get overly annoying for more than a moment or two. The sound effects, as should be, are far superior to the original Metroid, except for the worst version of the Screw Attack sound so far. Unfortunately, some of the sound effects will never be heard because of the music. And while the music has more variety and dynamics, some tracks and some sounds come out muddled. It must be the limitations of the GBA, but it often sounds akin to being too close to the mic.
For nearly every Metroid gameplay fault that Metroid: Zero Mission fixes, it creates another–less annoying–one. Let me explain.
While Metroid: Zero Mission adds several elements from all of the previous Metroid games, it does so (in certain instances) to minimal effect. For example, while the game includes the Speed Booster, it provides very few corridors long enough for you to use it. There is also one place where you have to use it in a way that the game doesn’t even tell you is possible. And, while it includes the Power Bomb, you get it with only a short time remaining to actually get any use out of it, unless you are trying to 100% the game.
Metroid: Zero Mission also adds an entire section of gameplay to the end of the game.
Like in the original Metroid, after defeating Mother Brain, a self-destruct sequence is initiated in the pirate base. A timer begins as you race to escape the impending explosion. Outside the planet’s atmosphere, aboard her ship, Samus removes her power suit before being ambushed and shot down by pirates.
Back on the surface of Zebes and armed only with a stun pistol, Samus has no option for escape but to board the pirate mothership. Now, the game adopts stealth elements. Samus must infiltrate the mothership as undetected as possible, as she is unable to kill any of the guards. Hiding in shadows, dodging spotlights, and dropping when enemies have their backs turned all become essential. It’s more interesting in theory than it is in execution, but it’s still fun and a nice addition that would be great to see again and done even better.
The game is much more accessible in its Zero Mission form that it was for the NES. The inclusion of the Save Rooms and Map Rooms, familiar from Super Metroid, is enough to make the game accessible to masses of people who may have found the original too difficult or too oblique.
Where it suffers the most is in its lack of explaining more complex aspects of the game. There’s not really anything to tell you that you are able to do certain maneuvers with the Speed Booster to get through areas or find upgrades. There are some required routes that are better hidden away than some of the secrets.
Finally, there are a couple of power-ups that you get which you can’t use until much later in the game. When you acquire them, they are identified as “unknown item.” These are required in order to be able to pass certain blocks in nearby areas, but again, there is nothing to tell you that you need to find these hidden items, whether or not you should be able to ID or use them, or how to get them to be identifiable and useable. It just eventually happens.
The original Metroid was very difficult. It was difficult to the point of turning a lot of people off. When it came time to remake the game, Zero Mission knew this and attempted to decrease the difficulty and increase the accessibility. However, it actually goes a little too far to the other side of the spectrum.
Throughout Zebes there are special Chozo statues that will give you a waypoint–your next destination. While the idea makes sense, to give you an idea of which area to revisit and to help you find passageways you previously might not have known existed, it’s too specific. Once you have your waypoint, you just follow the beacon, checking your map every so often.
These Chozo statues, as well as the ones that hold power-ups, also provide Samus with a complete armor and armory refill. This is nice because it eliminates potentially-large chunks of time where you would have to farm enemies to recharge and gather ammo. The problem, though, is that these Chozos can be used an endless amount of times. This causes you to be much less careful with your various missiles and bombs as you are no longer forced to conserve when you can.
In addition to built in features designed to add to it, as with nearly any game, Metroid: Zero Mission’s replayability depends partly on the player. If you didn’t get every item the first time through, that’s a reason to play it again right there, if that’s something you like. If you did get everything the first time, then the replayability would likely be in the fact that you enjoyed the game that much.
Another excellent replay-value adding feature is the inclusion of the original NES Metroid, unlocked only after you complete the regular game. Unfortunately, the short length of the game takes away from its replayability overall.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, there aren’t enough metroidvania games. Seeing as Metroid invented the genre, it’s hard not to think of any Metroid game as being unique. Having said that, this is a remake of an original game, that takes heavy influence from other games in the series, and uses ancient civilizations as the blueprint for the alien civilization in the game so it’s pretty hard to argue in favor of Zero Mission’s uniqueness.
My Personal Grade: 7/10
A couple of frustrating sections and secrets and an overall short playtime are the biggest flaws of the game. Otherwise, it’s the perfect amalgamation of both the original NES Metroid and Super Metroid.
Metroid: Zero Mission is the remake everyone wanted. It expertly brings the original game into the modern era, and in the process–regardless of its faults–it becomes better than the original game.
Aggregated Score: 6.6
The ABXY Mage leads a double life of unfathomable hipness, if his expertise in jazz is any indication. Music maker, fandangoist, writer, you can find this hip cat as ABXY Reviews on Twitter and on YouTube.
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