Is the original NES Metroid still worth playing ?
It's one of the most influential video games of the 1980s, but is it still fun to play today more than 30 years after its original release ?
Konami's seminal masterpiece Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
may have been responsible for popularizing the term 'Metroidvania', but that word would mean nothing without the game that started it all - Metroid.
First released on the Famicom Disk System in 1986 and then later in North America and Europe in 1987 and 1988, the original Metroid was a remarkable achievement on many levels. Instead of offering the linear level design of so many other games from the era, Metroid focused heavily on non-linear exploration with hidden paths, secret items and obstacles that could only be overcome when the correct items or weapon had been found.
The gameplay was challenging and the atmosphere was tense, giving players the feeling that they really were delving deep through the passageways of an alien planet, unsure of what they would be facing at any given moment. Hirokazu Tanaka's atmospheric music also added to the sense of tension and immersion - there was simply nothing else like it at the time.
Metroid would go on to spawn a plethora of sequels including the masterpiece that is Super Metroid
and the fantastic Metroid Prime
games which showed that the Metroid formula could work just as well in 3D as it did in 2D.
For those looking to go back and try out the original for themselves however, the question remains - does it still hold up and is it still worth playing today, more than three decades after it was first released ? While the answer is likely to differ depending on the expectations (and patience) of the individual, if you are planning to play the original Metroid, here are a few things to consider.
There is no map
While the manual does offer a rudimentary map of the overall game world, it does little to compensate for the fact that the original Metroid on NES has no in-game map whatsoever. What would later become a familiar mainstay of the series from Super Metroid
onwards is completely absent here, making navigation significantly more challenging than most of the later games.
The difficulty of having no map is exacorbated by the fact that, in some areas, many of the rooms look the same and you can easily get lost or forget which areas you haven't been to yet. Recalling the precise location of a locked door you came across earlier can be a huge problem, as can keeping track of which areas you've already explored.
Refilling your health is a major problem
This is probably the biggest issue with the original Metroid and one that anyone planning to play the game needs to be aware of. When you respawn after dying in the game ( and you will die ), your health bar is only replenished by a tiny amount. The only way to fill it back up (aside from picking up an energy tank) is by farming enemies which have a chance to drop health pickups. The best enemies to farm are the insect-like creatures that infinitely spawn one after the other from holes in the ground.
When you have several health tanks to fill up, the process of getting back to 100% health is a huge grind and can take anywhere up to half an hour each time you die. This problem is even worse when you die to a boss and have to sit through another major farming session before you are in a position to try again.
You can only carry one weapon at a time
Unlike later games in the series, when you pick up a new weapon in the original Metroid you lose the one you were carrying. This wouldn't be so much of an issue if each weapon was an inherent upgrade of the last, but you might sometimes need a previous weapon to deal with a certain obstacle or reach a certain location. When this happens, you have to remember where the other weapon was, then trek back across the map to pick it up.
The game is very hard
Combining all of the above with difficult enemies, environmental obstacles and the challenge of finding the items you need to progress, Metroid is by no means a walk in the park. It's a game that requires a great deal of patience and also one that you need to take your time with, especially with regard to memorizing where to go.
There is no doubt that, especially at the time it was released, Metroid is a masterpiece that has more than earned its place in the video game hall of fame. Revisiting it today however reveals, perhaps more than anything, how far games have come since 1986 and how Metroid pioneered many of the concepts that have been reused time and again in hundreds of titles since then.
If you are picking it up for the first time today however, be prepared for a challenge.