The original Metroid was good, that much we've already ascertained, but its next-gen follow-up stands as one of the finest 2D side-scrollers and action-platformers ever devised. It's so good, in fact, that there's absolutely no reason you'd ever really want to go back and play the original afterwards because the disappointment would leave you weeping in a corner. No, really. It's that good.
I did it the wrong way around, of course, playing Super Metroid long before I even touched the 1986 original, because the SNES was new and shiny and awesome...although I never actually had one. Instead it would be a case of organising trips to friends' houses, consuming far too many E-numbers, playing for the entire day, waiting until parents went to sleep, and then switching the console back on for more. Sure, we'd played Sonic the Hedghog and Ecco the Dolphin and a bit of Shinobi and Golden Axe here and there. Link's Awakening had just come out too, and we were terribly excited for that. But Super Metroid was different.
For starters, it was one of the first games that caused extreme ambivalence within me: both the desire to rattle through the game as quickly as we possibly could - this is back in the day that everyone had crappy Casio bulky plastic digital watches that could be used as stopwatches and timers, perfect for speedruns - and the constant urge to explore every little nook and cranny that the game had to offer to uncover secret passages, hidden items and other tantalising tidbits. I can't play games any more without searching every corner, looking under every box or table, rummaging through every bin. This naturally leads to me taking an inordinate amount of time to finish a game these days. And it's all Samus' fault.
Secondly, it was far more of an experience than a game. Visual and cinamtic arts are all an enormous melting pot of sensory stimuli, and we're all affected slightly differently, and to varying degrees by certain things. But music and sound has always played a large part in my enjoyment of anything televisual, for me a good score can mean the difference between an engaging, engrossing experience, and mediocrity that leaves me cold. Metroid got the music side of things spot on and its SNES sequel took that to another level. As with the films that inspired it, this series is predicated on soundtracks that eschewed ostentatious sweeping aural soundscapes for rare dramatic moments surrounded by low-key, subtle instrumentation and arrangement. The result: a quietly powerful score that allowed the developers to contrast the stillness and solitude of space with occasional flourishes of sporadic violence and danger.
The plot to Super Metroid kicks off straight after the events of Game Boy title Metroid II: Return of Samus, with Samus summarising the previous two games, telling how a baby Metroid imprinted on her, how she took it to a bunch of scientists, how the scientists all wound up dead, and how a massive purple space dragon called Ridley murdered them all and stole the baby Metroid. Off samus trots once more to the planet Zebes, to go spelunking in her Power Suit, armed with a variety of new beam attacks, and hunt some Space Pirates. Needless to say, along the way she picks up an enormous array of funky new weapons, turns into a bomb-shitting basketball, fights a whole bunch of multicoloured disgusting creatures, dukes it out with an enormous brain and...no, play through it a bunch of times and find out how it ends for yourselves. There are several endings.
If all of that doesn't sound brilliant,well get your head checked...you may have had a fall.
The gameplay didn't change much, Samus was still outfitted with the same basic attacks, and the platforming and exploration were natural evolutions of the formula established in the first game rather than systematic overhauls of the system. The genetics for the series were already there, and they were already brilliant - this was just a logical progression really. Something very good becoming something outstanding.
The animations were better, the Zebesian landscapes and caverns more detailed than before, the 16-bit colour breathing new life into Ms. Aran's develish adversaries, and some of those bosses were big...and tough. Kraid, who took up so much space that you had to jump on a series of floating platforms just to pummel his face in, almost contributed to my first instance of controller rage. Samus herself was a paragon of athleticism and grace now, fluidly animated, Samus started off relatively weak, but ended the game as a female powerhouse of Pirate-sizzling potency, with enemies that at first seemed insurmountable, but after a new pickup or Suit upgrade suddenly felt the business end of your Spazer beam.
Super Metroid is about nothing if not empowerment. You reach a dead end, but you've just received the Morph Ball ability...time to see if there were any small tunnels and holes you missed that you can now squeeze into. You've found yourself in a pit with no way out, but wait! You remember you just acquired a jumping upgrade and if you time a somersault perfectly with your grappling hook, you might just be able to reach that ledge up and to the right. The way is blocked yet again, but if you run really really really fast at the wall, I bet you can smash through the rock and, oh what's this? A Chozo statue holding a beam upgrade? Why, yes! I've always wanted to be able to freeze alien parasites with an ice cannon!
Samus turned 25 at the weekend. It only seems fitting that to celebrate her birthday we fire up her finest moment and run that bastard Ridley down. She's never really been a dinner and movie kind of girl. So if you haven't played this superlative title, either steal your mate's SNES or borrow your mum's Wii (it's on the Virtual Console for 800 points), and get cracking. See how fast you can clock the game. She might not have proved as popular in Japan as a tie-wearing monkey or a fat, unshaven plumber, but we love Samus...because she kicks far more bottom than those oafs.