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SummaryMake your way through a giant maze collecting random items, beat the mother brain, escape through tedious small platforms and watch a strip-tease.
The GoodThis is my review for Metroid, a game released for the Famicom Disk System in Japan, and ported to a regular NES cartridge in USA and Europe. I haven't played this game when it came out, I just downloaded it recently for my NES/FDS emulator. I'm not a deserved Nintendo fan (and I have nothing against Nintendo either), so I did not except anything very good or very bad from this game, I basically played just for the curiosity of playing a game that some people told me was a good classic.
This review applies to both the Famicom Disk System version and the NES version of the game (unless specified), the only difference being the sound effects, and the save system, both being significantly better on the FDS version (because the FDS have extended sound hardware and can save your game on the disc).
Well, the only thing I have to like about this game is it's story. Nintendo cared to write a sci-fi based scenario with some imagination behind it (not just a dummy excuse for a game), giving name to planets and enemies, so the overall design of the game got above average quality here. Unfortunately, you won't really enjoy the story while playing the game, because there is absolutely no story scenes or whatever. The game is totally unlinear, and was among the first platformers to feature unlinearity. The game has it's innovation factor overall.
The BadUnfortunately, while Nintendo cared to design an attractive global set-up for Metroid, they totally failed to put any quality in the game itself. I personally count Metroid among the worst gameplay experiences I ever had. This game just lacks everything a game needs to be a good one. People showing so much credit to this game SHOULD be sarcastic or something, because I really don't see a single point in this whole game, aside the little that is mentioned above, which is even *decent*.
The game consist of wandering around freely between levels, and pass through doors that interconnect rooms. The only limit to where you can go is your actual abilities, which are actually the only reason why you cannot go straight to the final boss at the beginning of the game : You have to gain the power to do higher jumps, to freeze enemies and step on them, to dig under the door with bombs, and to roll on the floor to make your way through the game. I know, nothing is wrong yet. However, as simple as this sounds, this provides a long, long list of frustrations, which will begin here.
When I first played the game, I went right, and after a while I found myself unable to go any further. So I went left backwards, and right after passing where the game starts, I just found myself in a dead end with an item that allows to pass under walls and to continue further right. This whole game is like this : It's unlinear, but you don't have a single idea where to go, you're feeling lost constantly.
Why is Metroid considered as an all time classic ? Why, why, why ? In all objectivity, I have not a single idea. I don't even know how some people can enjoy playing this game. It is not enjoyable at all, just a flow of constant frustration. My goal is not to take a sarcastic pleasure to trash the game down, I just want to discuss why this game is recognized as a classic, being so low in overall quality (for my own standards, of course).
Let's begin by the graphics. I know this game originally came out in 1986 in Japan, that is quite early for a Famicom game, but still, they really could provide slightly better graphics. Castlevania, for instance, has been released about the same time for the same system (the Famicom Disk System), and features graphics that are a hundred times better than this. Backgrounds are black *everywhere*, and the whole ground/walls/ceilings is made of very few different colors (3 or 4 usually) and this set of colors only change between rooms. Where you start the game, every non animated graphics are just blue, and have only one or two shades of blue. This looks horrible, but fortunately, the later places in the game will look a bit better. However, in those places with more colors, you could be in a place, move up, then move down again and get the same graphics with different colors (glitch in the game). Nintendo programmers aren't even able to make programs to display their maps correctly on the screen of their own console.
The animation is horrible. Your playable character, Samus, is supposed to be a woman with a suit. When I first played the game (I haven't checked the story) I really trough you were controlling an alien. It is just a mess of brown and green that have a big head, and the arms and legs are just a mess of the same color that looks like nothing. Enemies looks bad too, and most of them have only one animation frame so they don't even animate (they just move), but they are not as poorly drawn as your playable character, which is not bad, but the main character is much more important than the enemies !
The music has been composed by Hip Tanaka, which is well recognized as a good composer, making noticeable soundtracks for Kid Icarus, Earthbound (both NES and SNES), Famicom Wars, Hello Kitty, etc... He provided ONE great song typical of himself in Metroid, that you'll hear where you begin your game. Unfortunately, Mr. Tanaka should have been sick or had a death in his family when working on Metroid, because all other songs in the game are terrible. The title screen is just slow random chords that sounds totally detuned, and the few other songs in the game are either a very short, simplistic and unemotional music that loops every 10 seconds, or a bunch of crap random notes played very quickly. Yes, there were some songs in the game that sounded just like a 3 year old child playing with a piano (not actually playing the piano), and I don't know why Nintendo didn't fire Tanaka after composing this crap (and fortunately they didn't because his other soundtracks are great). A bad thing is that those terrible songs will be stuck in your head driving you mad. I assume those wrong chords and random notes are supposed to give the game a suspense feel. The same Tanaka has composed a great suspense song in Kid Icarus you hear in labyrinths very few time later (or earlier).
The level design in Metroid is, for the most part, horrible. Various items are located in various locations, and they made you have the worst time finding them. Screens are arranged either horizontally (most of them are decent, but boring and similar), or vertically (which have a lot of tedious repetitive small platforms, which makes horizontal screens almost enjoyable). You must use your special abilities you gain in the game in order to reach some places (which typically contain other special abilities, etc...). That concept didn't work very well in Metroid, because you don't have a clue on how use your abilities and where. If you played Castlevania II - Simon's Quest, except pretty much the same, only worse because you have no resting place and you get bad controls.
For example, you get a bomb ability. I have no idea how to use bombs and where, until I randomly found you have to first use the morphing ball in order to press B and place bombs. Another problem is the red doors : They open with missiles. Who would guess it, without reading a manual or walkthrough ? Well, actually I guessed it, and I tried firing a missile to a red door. But it seemed to have no effect so I told myself "well, I'll have to found something else to open that door". Actually what I did not known, is that *five* missiles should be fired on a red door to open. The first 4 will just have no effect (except allowing the fifth to open the door), and you don't even hear a sound or anything ! And guess how many missiles you initially get ? 5 ! And who would waste all 5 straight down to a single door just after having a hard time collecting them ? (well, missiles turned to become common later but you wouldn't guess it) Fortunately, you get a few powers that makes the game less horrible to play, like an item making your shots longer (because you can initially only shot to a very short distance, which is stupid) and an item allowing you to jump higher, another allowing you to freeze enemies. Unfortunately this one cannot kill them until you freeze, shot again to unfreeze, and repeat until the monster is dead, which you don't want to do, so you don't get energy and missiles from enemies, which is too bad.
I hated the high number of pointless dead-ends that were among all very hard to access. It will happen to you to travel trough a couple of rooms with a lot of enemies, lava, breakable blocs, etc... and found yourself just in front of a wall with absolutely nothing else (sometimes there is also 5 missiles or something not very worthy like that). Also, those dead-ends are typically almost a replica to a similar place which is not a dead-end, so this is really horrible, because if you don't remember exactly the layout of the rooms, you don't know if you're in the right place or not after passing a door.
There is secret places that you need to found in order to continue the game, that are impossible to found. I remember once I had to place a bomb on a normal looking floor with lava below it. Actually the lava is fake, and a particular place in the floor is breakable with a bomb. Who would guess it, really ?
A real problem is that the game engine is barely functioning at all. This game is really glitchy. Your jumps are horrible to control. Samus sometimes jumps normally and sometimes will do some rolling jumps, which are hard to control because both won't move with the same depth, and you don't know in advance which one will be effective. This is especially frustrating in vertical rooms which involve lots of platform jumping, and you'll fail often jumping from one platform to the other, and end up falling instead of climbing.
When you get hit, you jump back WAY too much and your character got absolutely out of control for about one second, which is long in a platformer game. Unfortunately, you get invincible for a time which is way too short, and you cannot put yourself in a safe place in time. Levels way too often have stupid lava (or acid ? graphics are so bad I can't tell) that will constantly drain your HP while you're in. Very often you'll fall in lava after loosing the control of your character after getting a hit, and then you'll have trouble getting out of that lava, and when you're done another foe will hit you again, etc... There is also the breakable blocs (you can break them by shooting them), which will actually self-reconstruct after some time, and damage you if you stand in their way, without warning (often pushing you into lava, remember). This is one of the worst frustration you can have playing Metroid, and it will happen *way* too often. Oh, and I didn't mention how stupid the AI of the enemies are ! There is very few different enemies actually, and they are all very predictable, yet hard to avoid for some reason, which is even more frustrating. There is some enemies palette swapped from other, but that weren't stronger, faster or anything, and there is also enemies looking different, but behaving exactly the same way, which looks dumb (the other way around would have been much better).
I did not mention how it is frustrating to shot to one door, passing trough it, and getting hit by enemies in the new room before even taking the control of your player again and having a single chance to avoid them ! Another horrible thing is those monsters which come out of pipes, again and again. Just at the exact same time to kill one, a new one immediately pop-ups. But as long as you don't touch the first, there is no other coming out from the same pipe. This is incredibly unrealistic, but fortunately once you get the ice weapon, you can freeze the first, and because it's not killed, this refrain others from appearing.
Finally, the few bosses the game features are absolutely impossible to beat because the keep hitting you by throwing a million of projectiles, and you loose control after getting hit, and then hit another projectile, fall in lava, etc.. Horrible. Not to mention the boss music sound like a 3 year old child playing with an old electric piano (I think I already told that).
The ending is plain stupid. Seriously. You have to escape trough a set of very narrow platforms that repeats for a while (hard to jump from one to another, due to bad controls) into a limited amount of time (even more frustrating than other vertical rooms when you fall down all the way by missing a platform), and finally when you made it watch Samus strip-teasing (the shortest time you get to beat the game the further the strip-tease will go, and there is people around to dare to call this multiple ending...), and this is supposed to give the player a shock, because he's supposed to not know Samus is a woman. Actually the shock to me was how bad graphically the (partially unclothed) Samus looked. In case you wonder, she's not sexy *at all* regardless of which ending you get and not worth beating the game, because the only ending is the strip-tease and the credits. She also shakes her and in a way it looks *so* wrong ! (again it's supposed to look sexy but it looks dumb and cheap).
Here you are all my long list of frustrations about this game. It's still not over yet. Even if you disagree with all the stuff above I can understand it because it's just my own subjective opinion, and if only the above mentioned stuff was wrong with the game, I could understand why some people could consider Metroid not be so bad. However, here you are a few objective facts that really turn this poor game into total crap.
- When you die, regardless of how you progressed in the game, you are always given an energy of 30. All further energy should be collected from dead enemies, and it takes a lot to get some safe level of energy. In the beginning of the game 30 energy allows you to get hit 4 or 5 times, and at the end of the game, 2 times. Add the lava, and that mean if you die, you have 99% of chances to die right after this, again, again and again. In other words, if you want to beat the game, you have to not die a single time (or spend hours where weak enemies are in order to get more energy).
- The Japanese game used disk system saves (you could save your game on the disc after getting game over). However, Nintendo decided to change this to a password system when porting it to the NES. No, unlike what most people seems to think, the reason of this is NOT because the NES cartridges didn't technically allow to save yet (this would have been true if the game was released earlier actually). I know a lot about NES cartridges, and I can guarantee you that each non-FDS copy of Metroid in the world have a slot for a battery inside the package, allowing the game to save data in it's RAM. The RAM chip is just not connected to a battery, and Nintendo did just not want to pay $4 per game to place a lithium battery in them. Instead, they put that password system. Okay, counting all Metroid cartridges produced this makes a lot of money, but does Nintendo prefer saving money or release quality games ? It seems it's the first (at least until they released Zelda).
- Passwords are *case sensitive*, which is a horrible idea. How to make difference between 'l' (lowercase L) and 'I' (uppercase i) ? Lower case and upper case letters are colored differently, but who actually want to take pencils of two colors to note passwords ? They also managed to place a bar inside the 'O' (uppercase o) while the 0 (the number) doesn't have a bar, and normally it's the other way around. And NO, Metroid did NOT invent passwords or anything. That system was invented at least one year and a half before the U.S. release of Metroid, and probably even before.
- There is a horrible beeping sound playing when you are low in energy. The FDS version play the jumping sound very fast, and the cartridge version play a simple beep continuously. This makes the game tedious to play when this happen, and almost force yourself to voluntary jump into lava just to stop that noise.
- The game is (almost ?) impossible to beat. People who beat it should have used savestates, strategy guides and walkthroughs, secret passwords that allows you to cheat or, for the most cases, a combination of the above stuff. I don't call a game like this challenging, but just frustrating.
The Bottom LineMetroid was designed with some care to it, but overall it's a horrible game to play. One of the worst gameplay experience I had. It has some better sequels, but this one is horrible. I often also see good parts of games I don't like, but for this particular one, I really don't see anything either fun, beautiful, educative, creative or addictive in it.
If you played Castlevania 2 - Simon's Quest except pretty much the same, only with more trouble to control your protagonist, and with MUCH worse music and graphics (also without the fun "horrible nights", and without the towns, and without distinction between overworld and dungeons).
All people calling this a masterpiece are either sarcastic, ironical or just doesn't have the same concept of quality than me in videogames. I'd almost recommend to download the game emulated to make fun how bad this game looks, or just stay away. And if you happen to like the game, don't hesitate to write a review to tell people why, because I really don't know how to like a such horrible game.
If you want a NES game involving exploration and unlinearity, play Zelda (or better yet, Final Fantasy). If you search for a good and fun platformer, play Super Mario Bros. (or better yet, Mega Man). If you already played a recent Metroid and wonder how the series started, I recommend to keep in the darkness, because an enlightenment on this bad game will make your opinion of Metroid games decrease.