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Year released: 1986
Company: Nintendo
Genre: Action-Adventure

This game was among the my initial list of stinkers - games that seemed to be popular up the yin-yang, but I failed to see why. Of course, this game is praised almost everywhere as being the premiere action-adventure game, being the forerunner of later hits like Blaster Master, Mega Man, and even, to a point, the Super Mario Bros. sequels. I played it as much as I could stand, trying to figure out just what it is about this game that makes it such a classic. And while I did partially answer the question - eventually - to this day I can still find enough mistakes to exclude Metroid from my list of classics.

You start off as Samus Aran, bounty hunter to end all bounty hunters, sent from the Galactic Federation to the planet Zebes to eradicate the hideout of the Space Pirates and destroy what could be their most lethal weapon: the Metroids. These green, squishy things have been recently discovered on a nearby planet, and have a remarkable ability to latch on to things and literally suck out its life force. The Pirates snagged the specimens taken from the planet and plan to use them as the ultimate biological weapon. Of course, that's where you come in. Your job is to explore the labyrinthine stronghold of the Pirates and eradicate the Mother Brain - head of the Space Pirates - and her two henchmen, Kraid and Ridley, picking up power-ups along the way.

Of course, this is no easy task. For one thing, the game is far from linear. Zebes is divided into five areas - Brinstar, Norfair, Tourian, and the hideouts of both henchmen - and much of the game involves moving back and forth between the areas. During all this running around, don't forget to pick up both Missiles and Energy Tanks. The former will be absolutely crucial to beat the game. Without enough, you're screwed. The latter, obviously, keeps you alive. Once you've gotten enough of both - and defeated the henchmen, of course - you're now ready to head out to Tourian, where the Metroids reside and the game comes to a climax.

Considering that this game was made before the advent of real backgrounds, the game has some merits in the way of presentation. There really isn't much of a "planetary" feel to the game; since most of the rooms are limited to the length of the screen's axes, and because the only background you'll be playing against is a black one, the initial assumption is that Zebes is a toothpaste tube and not a planet. However, Samus herself is animated quite well, and the enemies look pretty good for a game this age. The music choices for this game aren't bad. Brinstar has a nice heroic feel to it, and Kraid's lair has one of the best NES-based tunes around, with its slight echo and definitely creepy aura. The sound effects themselves tend to detract from the game quite a bit, however. Samus' footsteps drown out much of the music, which isn't good for any game. The low-energy alarm can also grate on your mind if you don't find life soon enough. The issue of whether or not to leave the sound on the TV is a difficult choice to make - either you're depriving yourself of some nifty tunes or you're forcing yourself to listen to some rather irritating samples.

Sadly, the only true fault with this game is the one that makes it border on unplayable. Never have I played a game where the play control has been so sloppy. For one thing, Samus recoils like mad when she's hit. We're talking Simon Belmont-esque flybacks. Even worse, much of the game is acrobatic in terms of the amount of jumping from and to small platforms, and all that recoil really hurts your ability to move in mid-air effectively. Even controlling Samus' jumps without taking a hit can be a chore, because her jumps are extremely floaty. A case can be made about the gravity of Zebes, but that shouldn't be an issue in this game. Finally, a great majority of your enemies approach from the ground, but your gun can't hit anything that low. Not only that, but crouching to fire is impossible; you'll simply roll into a ball which prohibits you from shooting. Any one of these faults alone could harm a game's controlability, but all three of them combined deals a critical blow to how much this game can be played.

It's a shame, too: I'd probably have a blast playing this game. The exploration is truly fun, and the challenge is just about right. Sure, you'll take a lot of hits, but near the end you'll probably have ample Energy Tanks to keep this from really worrying you. The bonus ending for completing the game in under 2 hours gives players some added incentive for being quick and resourceful. It can also play a part in the strategy - do you want to risk being defeated by entering Tourian with a marginal amount of supplies, or will you sacrifice your time to beef up? A pressing question indeed.

I still can't really enjoy this game unless I have a Game Genie along for the ride. And that truly is too bad, because the dismal play control is really all that stands between this game and a truly classic status.

Overall Ratings:

Play Control:
Technical Score: 10
Challenge: (Hard)
Thrill: (Frustrating)
Aesthetic Score: 17
Overall Score: 64%

You are now listening to the Opening Music to Metroid.