5 out of 5. Thanks to numerous enhancements for both old and new Metroid series players, this remake of the original Metroid may be the best entry point into the Metroidvania genre.
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How Metroidvania is it? Perfect Fit. It's Metroid 1, but many improvements and systems taken from Super Metroid.
Primary Challenge: Exploration Focus
Time to beat: ~5 hours
Review Info: Metroid Zero Mission was played using the GBA Virtual Console version on the Wii U

More Info

Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Sub-genre: Metroid-Like
Features: Map System, Guide/Hint System, 2D Platformer, Ranged Combat, Environmental Storytelling, Narrative/Cutscenes Story Telling, Sequence Breaking
Difficulty: Medium
Linearity/Openness: High Gating - Guided
Platforms: GBA, Wii U
Release Date: 2004/02/09
Available Languages: English, Japanese

Store Links
Note: It is worth noting that the GBA and Virtual Console versions of this game also includes the full NES Metroid as part of the package.

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Buy Metroid Zero Mission if you like…

  • Super Metroid
  • Metroid Lore
  • Twists and Surprises
  • Deep Exploration and Sequence Breaking
  • Guided Pacing

▼ Review continues below ▼

Metroid Zero Mission is a remake of the original Metroid on the NES, and it is a drastic improvement over its source material in most ways. The dev team took everything that was learned from Super Metroid, added some of the powers from that sequel, and included some of their own twists. The inaccessibility of the original has been completely reversed, creating perhaps the most accessible of all the 2D Metroid games. Metroid Zero Mission isn’t just a remake of the original though, there are entirely new zones and scenarios added. The story is presented in cutscenes and with narration. Furthermore, the advanced techniques from Super Metroid, such as Wall Jumping and Bomb Jumping, are also present, creating a deep experience even for veterans of the series. It’s an amazing recipe, resulting in what is for many the best Metroid game made to date.

The most difficult thing about starting the original Metroid is just how obtuse and open it is. Zero Mission does the exact opposite and holds your hand pretty hard for a few objectives. You’re forced to land your ball-self into the hands of a Chozo statue so it can mark your map with exactly where you need to go next. This extreme change does arguably lose something that was valuable about the original, but in re-imagining this interpretation as a starting point for the series, it’s a change that makes sense. Zero Mission carefully teaches you the rules of Metroid (and in turn, the rules of many other Metroidvania games) as the game progresses. This makes it a perfect game for beginners, and that direction is a natural fit for the first game of a continuing story.

While accessible, Metroid Zero Mission still isn’t “baby’s first Metroid” in terms of difficulty by any means. The level geometry requires you to be babysat by the Chozo statues in the beginning, but gradually and subtly, the game lets go of its coddling grasp. The statues are later moved to positions where they can be skipped if you don’t want their help, and even when you do access their guidance, their objective is placed behind ability gates, forcing you to explore away from the map marker for a solution. It’s a nuance that veteran players might not even notice, since they’re probably exploring off the beaten path the first time anyway, but for those that haven’t ever experienced the tropes of the genre, the concepts this game teaches might be mind blowing.

While much of the original’s level design has been altered by new areas and objectives, most of the major locations are still in-tact. This means if you knew where a specific upgrade was in the original, then it’s probably still where you’d expect it to be. Also preserved are some of the more obtuse progression points. In those parts you need to bomb through hidden passageways to move forward, but subtle clues have been added to make them more than a matter of trial and error. While playing without a guide (or knowledge of the original game) might have you wandering aimlessly as you try to figure out what to do, the solution will invariably reward you with a delightful “aha” when you do find it. As brilliantly designed as this game is, one thing always leads to the next, and players can apply what they might learn from these obscured progression points to finding the much harder secrets available in the game.

Discovery in Metroid Zero Mission is also mixed with some great environmental storytelling. Planet Zebes actually feels like a place now, and you can deduce what has been happening on the planet’s surface just by looking at its misused corridors. These clues are often used to subvert your expectations and create moments of tension. It’s the kind of atmosphere that has defined the series since Metroid II, and it makes facing the game’s bosses an exciting experience.

The actual mechanics of boss fights by themselves aren’t particularly amazing. Samus is still fairly stiff with her movements, meaning boss patterns can’t be too complex. Most fights are stand-and-deliver affairs as a result, where your stockpile of E-tanks and missile expansions speak louder than your skill ever will. I’m not saying that the patterns of the bosses aren’t interesting, just that combat isn’t a main draw for this game. The actual buildup to the boss and the payoff from a story perspective is more rewarding than the actual fight itself – and that’s perfectly fine.

General platforming challenges are also pretty basic – which is actually fairly normal for any Metroidvania game not focused on it. Getting from point A to point B might have lava pits and enemies to dodge, but the bigger picture of exploration is the main course. Comparing to the original again, this is a great change in direction, since falling into the lava in the NES title was devastating and frustrating, and maybe a little comical as you floundered around trying to get out. With Zero Mission’s easier platforming controls you can focus entirely on what makes Metroid great; its unrivaled Metroidvania exploration.

Where the platforming goes from basic to insane though is with the hidden secrets. Getting 100% in Metroid Zero Mission requires you to learn so many advanced techniques that are never required on the critical path. They are skill-based tricks that casual players might not even know was possible. It’s amazing the trouble the game will put you through for a single missile pack – and more amazing that I find the process so addicting. “More missiles” isn’t even that rewarding once you hit what you need to beat bosses with ease, but the challenge of getting every single one is rewarding unto itself. Of course this game wouldn’t be as perfect as it is if it didn’t have some reward for achievement. There are eight “endings” to be discovered, all based on your item completion rate and how fast you beat the game. Beat the game in under 2 hours with 100% completion and you get one “best” ending, but there are also rewards for the minimalist too. These “endings” are each just a single picture of Samus in different clothing, but they still make for a great screenshot to prove your ability.

The experience leading up to defeating Mother Brain is basically perfect, but Metroid Zero Mission goes above and beyond just that. Some of the extra content I can take or leave based on my own personal preferences, but at its worst it’s just a fun addition to what already feels like a complete adventure. While a few parts may be a frustrating change of pace for some players, I think for almost anyone playing this game it ends up in a very satisfying place before the credits roll.

For me, one of the most interesting things Zero Mission does is expand on the story and lore of the Metroid universe. Some of the weirder aspects of the original game are even explained with the new cutscenes. The pirates and even Ridley aren’t on the planet initially, and it’s as if they arrived for the sole purpose of stopping Samus, since the fortress might have otherwise remained hidden away from the eyes of the Federation.

The presentation has a pretty huge missed opportunity with the titular Metroids, however. The Metroid threat is the looming catalyst for the events of the entire series, yet in this game we never really see exactly how they’re being used by the Pirates or why they’re so dangerous – other than they like to suck people’s brains out. When they are intermixed with worms that spew lava or giant flying insects or Space Pirates with powerful laser technology, Metroids seem to sort of just fit in with the rest of the dangers of the galaxy. They’re certainly scary, but they could have taken just a little more time to explain why the line “The Last Metroid is in Captivity, the Galaxy is at Peace” is so significant at the beginning of Super Metroid. They could have emphasized the reason why, shortly after the events of this game, Samus is sent to eradicate the existence of Metroids from the universe. There is possibly a suggested result of the Metroid research shown in some of the last areas of the game, but the connection is never explicitly made.

The primary focus of the new story direction is instead on Samus herself. It explains her origins as a human child raised by the Chozo, and adds some interesting personal motive behind the mission and the planet Zebes. In spite of the story missing the key reason why this series is called “Metroid”, building Samus up as a hero we want to root for and sympathize with is still laudable. If Metroid Zero Mission was intended as a new launching point for a continuing 2D series, developing its central character was another genius move on the part of the designers.

Unfortunately, Metroid Zero Mission ironically marked the end of the 2D Metroid games for more than a decade. The subsequent Metroid Prime sequels were still good games, but there was still so much more that could be done with the story arc created by the series where Zero Mission could have been a new beginning. This potential even inspired fans to demand a remake of the aging Metroid II that started the true beginning of Samus’ story, and one fan in particular even took matters into his own hands. At the time of writing, there are some quiet rumors that Nintendo is finally hearing the pleas for more and are developing a new 2D Metroid related to Metroid Fusion, but at this time they are just whisperings. While it would be a tragedy for the 2D Metroid series to simply fade away, Metroid Zero Mission still stands alone as a phenomenal exemplar of the genre and is in many ways even worthy of the mighty Super Metroid. Regardless of what the future holds, it’s unlikely that this game will fall from its status of being among the best of the best.


Final Score

5/5

Scoring system overview


Metroidvania Breakdown

Combat
– 3

Bosses are fun to beat but not particularly complex.

Platforming
– 3.5

If you're going to 100% there are some amazing challenges using your powers, otherwise it's incidental.

Exploration
– 5

Casually you can beat the game after only finding 50% of what is available, but some of the most fun in this game is finding that 100%

Puzzle
– 3.5

Some power ups require some real thought to figure out how to get, but for the critical path there's a lot of guidance through anything that would otherwise be puzzling.

Story
– 3.5

Focused more on Samus as a character, which is good, but leaves out what really makes Metroids threatening

Graphics
– 4.5

Despite being over 15 years old, the pixel art holds up beautifully today

Music
– 4

Music was already one of the original Metroid's best features, and Zero Mission does a great job updating those tracks

Replayability
– 4

There's a hard mode, and several ending pictures to unlock if you optimize your time and collection ratio. There's also a lot of sequence breaking potential.


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