It's hard to imagine that's it's been over 25 years since video gamers have been introduced to Samus Aran, bounty-huntress from the distant future. At the time, Nintendo was dominating the market of video gaming and wanted to cement its status as the world's premier video entertainment company. One result of their efforts was 1986's “Metroid,” a sci-fi game which combined the platform-jumping of “Super Mario Bros.” and the exploration and item-collecting of “The Legend of Zelda.” As Samus, you must fight your way to Planet Zebes' core and stop the evil Mother Brain and her organization, the dread Space Pirates, from using the parasitic aliens known as “Metroids” to conquer the galaxy.
The control of the game is fairly standard among platforming games: use the D-Pad to move, the A button to jump, and the B button to shoot. However, the player learns very quickly that these three actions alone aren't going to cut it. As you explore the caverns of Zebes, you gain items that either give you new abilities or alter the ones you already have. Here's a few:
- Morph Ball: press down to turn into a ball, giving you access to tight spaces and tunnels.
- Bombs: lay a timed-explosive while in Morph Ball form. Very useful as an exploration tool.
- Ice Beam: gives your arm-cannon a freezing quality, stopping enemies and allowing you to use them as platforms.
- Screw Attack: Charges your suit with energy while you somersault, allowing you to destroy enemies that you jump through.
Exploration is one of the keys to conquering the game; the more you explore, the more items you collect, and the stronger you become. The game starts you off with quite the handicap, starting you with a limited-range beam and your life-gauge only one-third full. So, it's a good idea to play around a bit and get the feel for Samus and build up some life before exploring the deeper reaches of Zebes. In the Japanese version of the game utilizes a battery-powered save feature, but the American version utilizes a password system, usually putting you at the beginning of whatever section of the planet you ended your last session on.
Almost right off the bat, you'll notice that “Metroid” has a decidedly darker tone than the rest of Nintendo's games. There's a feeling of isolation that you get from the dark hallways and alien creatures that drives the point that it's just you against this horde of monsters. The music, composed by Hirokazu “Hip” Tanaka, adds to this feeling, as some pieces seem to be composed entirely of beeps and whirs one assumes to hear on an alien planet.
The game also throws a curve ball your way in its ending. Promotional artwork from the game's manual show's only Samus' robotic Power Suit, and even refers to the character as “he” a number of times. However, beating the game under certain time restrictions reveals even more about Samus' character, that “he's” not a “he” at all, but actually a “she.” Samus is largely considered to be the first video game heroine and is often brought up in debates on the portrayal of women in gaming.
“Metroid” turned out to be a fairly successful venture for Nintendo, spawning a line of sequels over the years. People have devotes years to exploring every nook and cranny of Zebes' interior, and some people have gotten fairly good at it. Speed-runs and sequence-breaking videos are not hard to find on YouTube.
It should also be noted that the first three “Metroid” titles are considered to be the crowning achievement of executive producer Gumpei Yokoi, who also father such innovations as the D-Pad for Nintendo controllers, and even the Gameboy itself. He also produced the Virtual Boy system for Nintendo, but after it proved to be a commercial failure, he left the company out of shame.
“Metroid” NES cartridges are fairly easy to find, but somewhat expensive. The game is available of Nintendo's E-Shop for 500 Nintendo points, and has also been included as an unlockable feature in later games in the series.