retro, video games

Retro: Super Metroid

I just finished playing through Super Metroid for the first time. It is definitely not the first time I have been close to finishing it however. I’ve been trying, while playing through it this latest time, to figure out why exactly I keep coming back to this game. Despite being over a decade old and coming out numerous times – including the recent release on the Wii’s Virtual Console – people are still playing it. Obviously, I am one of these people. So, why do I keep coming back?

I never owned a SNES. I know, it’s strange. For someone who has confessed to playing, and completing, a large number of classic games, it is an odd fact. But, as I said, I didn’t. So, once I discovered the ability to play older games on a PC (via emulation) I tried to find all of those old games that everyone had always told me about. This was how I first played Super Metroid. Playing it on my family’s first PC, I went about exploring a game that was already over five years old. Over a period of a week I worked my way through the game, with the occasional glance to strategy guides. Once I got to the very end however, I received quite a shock. I lost my save file. Due to some strange program crash, I lost all of my save files and had to start over. Only, I didn’t want that. After spending hours with this game and building up a collection of emotions, many of them variations on frustration, the prospect of doing all that again was too much. I gave up. I promised to try to play through the game again in the future. A couple of years later, I got that chance.

I’d always wanted a laptop. For the longest time, watching a movie in which the character used a portable technological device would prompt some jealously on my part. I wanted that! Upon finally getting one – a used one, but loved nonetheless – one of the first things I did was to download some emulators and ROMs. Within this batch of illegal bits was, of course, Super Metroid. This was my second time with the game. Being able to play the game while sitting outside or even on the couch was great. Despite playing through a large portion of the game, I soon lost interest. Maybe it was the availability of other games or just the neat fact of having a laptop, but I soon found other things to so. The plan of beating Super Metroid went unfinished.

One of the selling factors that caused me to buy a PSP (the first time) was that people had created a large number of homebrew applications. The ones that peaked my interest the most were the emulators. Having any number of classic games at my fingertips was quite exciting. I remember thinking that this would give me access to all of those old games that I never quited seemed to finish. Before I could get back to my retro playing however, my PSP screen broke. At the time I had decided to try to buy a new PSP, but could not afford it. Two weeks ago, I finally had the money. Within minutes of taking the PSP out of its packaging, I had already rewritten the firmware. I reloaded the emulators. I next tried each of them out to make sure they still worked. Testing the SNES emulator brought me to a list of games I had on the device which included – surprise, surprise – Super Metroid. I vowed to finally beat it. Over a hour, I did just that.

It has aged, I won’t lie about that. The language of video games has moved on, evolved, since the time of this game. What was considered to be innovative – backtracking through levels to discover secret areas – has been done again and again. Playing this though reminds you that this game was one of the first to get it right. Getting a weapon or technique prompts exploration of those blue areas on the map, those unexplored bits. It doesn’t help that upon entering the menu screen you are shown not only where you are but what you have yet to discover. It does have things I don’t like as well. I found the grapple beam parts of the game – swinging from one part to another, often quickly – to be very annoying. I can never seem to get that right. Add to that the wall jumping – climbing long vertical spaces by jumping from wall to wall – which I always fail to do right the fifth or sixth time and you have something I should hate. I don’t though. But neither do I love it. It holds a strange relationship to me. I just keep coming back.