How Metroidvania is it? High Fit. It's practically a Mini-Metroidvania by today's standards, and it lacks the established pattern created by its third game, but of course it fits the definition of ''Metroidvania''
Primary Challenge: Ranged Combat
Time to beat: ~3 hours
Review Info: Metroid was played using the bonus mode available in Metroid Zero Mission, which was played using the GBA Virtual Console version on the Wii U.
Buy Metroid if you like…
- Video Game History
- Old School NES Difficulty
- Awesome 8-bit music
- Seeing the origins of a great game series
- Open and replayable games
▼ Review continues below ▼
While there is a lot of debate on whether Metroid is the first Metroidvania, or the first console-based Metroidvania, one thing is for sure; it’s certainly one of the most influential games that exists within the genre. Even though I grew up with an NES and Metroid was available to me, it wasn’t ever a game I could play more than ten minutes. The playthrough done for this review is actually the first time I went through it from start to finish. There are a lot of things to love about Metroid for sure, but even compared to its contemporaries, it’s a very frustrating and inaccessible game. I love its ambition, I love what it established, but especially today with so many other options – including literal Metroid series options – its flaws are very pronounced.
Immediately when you load up the game you’re greeted with one of its best features. That initial Brinstar soundtrack is still iconic today, and it gets you pumped to dive right into its world. When you do, you’re probably going to get lost right away. Metroid uses some of the same design shortcuts that a lot of early games had, including level design that is copied and pasted wholesale. While this practice isn’t completely absent from future games, later in the series it was better disguised by forced progression or a mapping system to help you keep track of your location. If you’re going into Metroid without a guide or at least an online map, then it’s highly recommended that you keep out a sheet of graphing paper and make your own. Some players might even see this as a feature (you can do this with any modern Metroidvania though – just don’t push the select button).
The bigger issue with the level design, however, is that there is basically no pacing or progression to it. You can easily find yourself in the depths of Norfair struggling against stronger enemies and completely miss important upgrades with no idea how to move forward or backward. Some of the critical path is even hidden behind destructible walls that give no indication that this is a possibility – nor is this function properly tutorialized at any point in the game. Really helpful upgrades are also tucked away in secret areas, notably the ubiquitous Varia Suit which is easily the most important item for newer players.
Exacerbating the issues surrounding exploration, when you die, you always respawn with 30 energy, and there are no energy refill stations in this game like in every future title. This means simply wandering and learning the lay of the land is generally punished unless you take the time to grind out individual health drops from enemies. There are enemies that respawn almost immediately after they are killed, and for the entire game you have to struggle with non-intuitive jumping controls that love to get you stuck wading in life-sucking lava or acid. Thankfully playing this game on basically any modern platform gives you the option to use save states whenever you want. It is worth noting though that Metroid was still less punishing than some other Metroidvania games released in its same era. At the very least the passcode system started you in the sector you left off in rather than right from the beginning.
Metroid has become a series known for its atmosphere and tension, and while some of that potential is present in the original Metroid, it’s the most “gamey” feeling of the bunch. The entire plot is contained within the game’s manual; Some Pirates have captured a powerful life form called the “Metroid,” and the Space Police have hired a bounty hunter to go destroy this Metroid threat. Even having read the story synopsis though, the only indication of the supposed Pirate menaces are the game’s bosses. Your general foes are basic enemies that seem like native life forms minding their own business or defending their habitat from your xenocidal tendencies. So, I guess the original pirate threat in this game was just three pirates.
To be fair, all three bosses do have some excellent build up to them. Ridley and Kraid have the bones of some giant beast adorning the entrances to their lairs, and both have a special music track. Mother Brain has a long stretch of hallways littered with the eponymous Metroids. These Metroids are the scariest they will ever be in the series – capable of killing you pretty rapidly, which is extra frightening since you’re trying to save your health for an even harder final boss.
The actual boss fights, however, aren’t really that fun. Each of them spams their projectiles relentlessly, with Kraid being especially challenging to deal with, even if you’re using savestates, since his frontal assault also blocks your missiles from hitting him. Mother Brain herself has a pit of lava right in front of her weakpoint, and being hit by any of her mystical Cheerios will likely knock you in there for additional damage and frustration as you scramble out. It doesn’t help that with all the projectile spam, any emulation that mimics the original hardware (such as the version I was playing) will create enough lag to make your button presses feel inaccurate.
With some practice though, the bosses are possible, and the game is perfectly functional overall. Once you get past the initial pacing woes and know exactly what to do, the game is actually very replayable. Ridley and Kraid can be defeated in either order, and so many of the game’s power-ups – especially the missiles – are completely optional. The game also includes something of a “New Game+” mode where you can play as Samus wearing a bikini and already equipped with a lot of the game’s upgrades right from the start – assuming you beat the game in under 2 hours to unlock this mode. I think there are some players out there who will find a lot of joy from completely breaking down this inaccessible game and making it bend to their will, whether that be through speedruns, challenge runs, or just conquering its world with practice.
While I personally am very grateful that Metroid exists, and for what it has done for the gaming community, I don’t really have enough nostalgia for it to laud it for more than that. By today’s standards it’s something of a mess, and as the series moved forward with new writers and directors, better game design practices have been established since this first modest 1986 release. I don’t personally believe in the phrase “hasn’t aged well” – especially since the Mega Mans and the Marios of the era are still just as fun to play today – but if there were any game the phrase applies to, it’s this one. It’s still fun to go back and see how silly Ridley and Kraid look today, and to experience the history of the game’s roots. But as far as those just looking for a good game to play are concerned, Nintendo’s Metroid Zero Mission remake fills in the story gap from before Metroid II just fine, and it was never complex enough that a simple, “Some pirates did a bad thing” couldn’t fill it in anyway. Metroid, we love you for what you started, but you’re really hard to play today.
The physics seem to lag, due to the limitations of the hardware, plus enemies really aren't that interesting.
It takes some getting used to, but it's functional enough - unless your emulation is accurate, then lag may throw off your timing.
Missile Upgrades legitimately make the game easier, but the pacing and obscurity of secrets is archaic by today's standards.
The only thing that can be described as a ''Puzzle'' are the hidden walls, and the solution is basically brute force without a guide.
The story is contained primarily in the manual, and it's pretty basic stuff anyway. It has worked well in the long run with the sequels, and of course Metroid Zero Mission fleshes it out even further.
Comparing Metroid to Super Mario Bros or the original Mega Man, it's even a little behind its contemporaries. Ridley and Kraid are laughable now.
Timeless. The tunes of Metroid really make the game, and its no wonder its songs are remixed for basically every subsequent entry.
While the first time through the game may be a frustrating ordeal, mastering the game can still be rewarding. You can beat the bosses in any order, speed challenge yourself, or even use one of the earliest examples of a ''New Game+'' mode with Zero Suit Samus.