Hype is an odd beast. Too much or too little praise can push a piece of media into the realm of total avoidance. This trend doesn’t simply apply to public opinion at large. If my friends dramatically recommend a certain movie or book, a part of me will assume their admiration is exaggerated; as if their enjoyment of an experience simply cannot be as wondrous as they say. I know this notion is particularly foolish. My peers are intelligent people who enjoy things for apt reasons. But there is some media I have completely avoided due to an excess of hype.
When it comes to video games, a solid example is Super Metroid. This Super Nintendo classic is considered a masterpiece which has yet to be topped by other entries in its series. Every one of my friends who played Super Metroid enjoyed it from beginning-to-end, often replaying it more than once. This title even serves as the progenitor of some of my preferred games, forming one half of the “Metroidvania” sub-genre (the other half being my favorite game of all time). In spite of this resounding resume (and numerous eShop offerings), I did not make any effort to track down and play Super Metroid until this year.
Since Nintendo announced they are closing their rewards program, the publisher has thrown up over 100 games that can be redeemed using coins on Club Nintendo. I had a healthy wallet full of the virtual currency, so I decided to invest in the Wii-U version of Super Metroid. I figured since the game was practically free (and I hadn’t heard any hype in ages), it was a fine time to sit down and see if the years of praise heaped on this title were well-deserved. Sure enough, they were.
Super Metroid is one of the finest examples of environmental storytelling in video games. Where so many other titles rely on overwrought dialogue and lengthy cutscenes to tell a story, Super Metroid uses gameplay cues and understated details to present its narrative. The game rarely wrests control from the player, allowing exploration of the haunting planet of Zebes at their own pace. When the protagonist Samus comes across the corpse of a scientist, there is no break in the gameplay for a tight camera focus to reinforce the current situation. The player can take in all of the plot details organically, without being hit over the head with exposition.
The flow of gameplay is also fantastic. Since there are no forced tutorials for the items Samus acquires, the player is free to experiment with abilities at their leisure. This did cause a bit of a problem during my playthrough, particularly due to my lack of expertise with the Wall Jump and Space Jump. To my credit, the controls for these techniques are rather precise and take a bit of practice to become proficient. However, since I didn’t have to complete a preliminary test of skill to use these abilities (a common and frustrating trope of modern gaming), I could deal with challenges as they arrived.
In spite of excellent narrative structure and solid flow of play, Super Metroid is far from perfect. The third act of the game drags quite a bit, featuring frequent use of the game’s trickier moves and quite a bit of aimless wandering. There are several areas that punish the player for even the slightest mistake, leading to a dragged out death for Samus. These high risk zones are alleviated with the use of save states in the Wii-U version, but I can imagine being severely frustrated if I had to start from an in-game save point after a cheap death. Many of the bosses can be defeated using individual strategies, but I often found myself resorting to simply tanking through each encounter- relying on being able to take more hits than my foe to ensure victory.
Putting these minor complaints aside, Super Metroid definitely holds up 21 years after its initial release. The detailed sprites and moody soundtrack have aged quite well, remaining crisp and impressive compared to later polygonal offerings. The somber and well-integrated narrative expresses an interesting science fiction tale with more power than most modern titles. A lack of forced tutorials or cluttered interfaces means players can enjoy excellent play without interruption. At the risk of further hyping this game into the realm of total avoidance, I would highly recommend Super Metroid. After all, some experiences are truly worth the praise they are given.