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What does it mean to follow Metroid?
August 11, 2014 12:14 PM   Subscribe

Maddy Myers of Paste magazine connects the influence of the film Alien on the game Metroid and looks at how subsequent imitators have failed to live up to the promise of Metroid's original design. 'Troid Rage: Why Game Devs Should Watch Alien—and Play Metroid—Again
posted by codacorolla (14 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
3 friends and I rented both the original Metroid and the NES to play it on when we were 8 or 9. We played non-stop for 72 hours, taking turns through the night to catch cat naps while one would play and one would update our always-growing hand drawn map.

I didn't think I'd ever re-capture the feeling of exploration, discovery, loneliness, and panic that Metroid managed to create.

Then I got lost in a mine in Minecraft.
posted by killThisKid at 12:28 PM on August 11 [15 favorites]


killThisKid: I didn't think I'd ever re-capture the feeling of exploration, discovery, loneliness, and panic that Metroid managed to create.

There has never been creepier, more ominous music in a video game than this.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:33 PM on August 11 [3 favorites]


This is a great article, and it makes a lot of points I agree with, but she seems to be saying that any Metroid imitator will fall short unless it has Metroid's open-world gameplay, Metroid's alien setting, and Metroid's subtexts about gender politics, isolation, and mommy issues.

I don't think this is fair. Games are allowed to openly copy each others' mechanics — after all, we don't often say that all RTSes are just ripoffs of Herzog Zwei and Starcraft. But we typically expect each game within that genre to tell a different story than the one before. This is less about laziness and more about the fact that Nintendo sues me if I make Metroid in all-but-name.

This feels like someone saying that people get RPGs wrong when they give them settings without dragons and castles and chain mail.

If the author wants a game that's like Metroid in all ways except the gameplay, I would suggest that Flashback gets awfully close.
posted by savetheclocktower at 12:40 PM on August 11 [2 favorites]


the feeling of exploration

Part of the cleverness: if you try to play it like a Mario right-scrolling side-scroller the game immediately confronts you with a dead end. You have to go backwards past the starting point to get the power-up you need to get anywhere. In this way, the game itself teaches you how the game is to be played.

It also lends a sense of claustrophobia right from the start. The only way forward is a hole too small to fit through. It doesn't feel fair. It's not a game about exploring a world; it doesn't have the sense of wonder of 8-bit Zelda. You are trapped in the dark with monsters and you can't find a way out.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 12:41 PM on August 11 [13 favorites]


Jeremy Parish's "Anatomy of a Game" series, on Metroid. On Super Metroid. (To continue after each post, scroll to link at the bottom of the page.)

Metroid is a game I love. I think a large part of its effectiveness is that it doesn't feel designed. It feels somehow like it just happened, like these caverns and passages you're exploring had no human creators. Tunnels are there without seeming purpose. Sometimes there are walls with secret routes in them, and the only way you'd know is the screen's scrolling doesn't stop at the "end," giving you possibly the idea to try bombing every tile....

I love Metroid, but yeah, your first time through it, without a strategy guide, it's going to take a few days, you're going to get stuck by those passages and the necessity of making a map. And playing Metroid with a strategy guide is not playing Metroid: getting lost and stuck are essential parts of the experience.

It's certainly not perfect. When you die, no matter how many energy tanks you've collected, you're restarting with 30 energy, meaning if you want to make real progress you're going to have to either get a refill from finding a new Energy Tank (very limited in supply) or grind up the health to get back up to full. And using Missiles as weapons is great, except refilling those takes even longer than energy.

But man, when you've beaten those bosses scattered at opposite ends of the game world, then activated the pass room without a single word to inform you that's what you're supposed to do, gone through Tourian filled with hyper-aggressive Metroids, gone through Mother Brain's surprisingly vicious Zebetite and turret gauntlet and destroyed the thing itself... and then made it through what comes after... it's probably the most atmospheric 8-bit game.

And you really can't fully appreciate Super Metroid, the most atmospheric 16-bit game, without having gone through Metroid first.
posted by JHarris at 12:47 PM on August 11 [12 favorites]


An interesting article and I think I agree with nearly everything. Super Metroid is my favorite game of all time, and Aliens one of my favorite movies, but I'd never really thought of the two things next to each other.

But kinda like savetheclocktower said; I've played a lot of imitators and sometimes I just like them to be fun to play, mechanically speaking, rather than a continuation of themes and environments I've already explored. Shadow Complex might have bland characters and environments but I had a great time playing it anyway.

Side note: In recent memory I think Dark Souls has come the closest to reviving the feelings I got when exploring Super Metroid for the first time. Thankfully Super doesn't have a Blight Town for me to get repeatedly punished in and ultimately quit because of :(
posted by Monster_Zero at 12:51 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


It's certainly not perfect. When you die, no matter how many energy tanks you've collected, you're restarting with 30 energy, meaning if you want to make real progress you're going to have to either get a refill from finding a new Energy Tank (very limited in supply) or grind up the health to get back up to full. And using Missiles as weapons is great, except refilling those takes even longer than energy.

I like this aspect. It made death mean something. And there were enough infinite-spawning things flying out of pipes that it never took all that long to be back in good shape.
posted by naju at 1:48 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


I like this aspect. It made death mean something.

It also made having to turn the game off mean something: having to regrind up health from a password load because your dumb parents didn't understand that this is important, I can't just restart. It meant turning off the TV but not the NES on the sly. It meant putting masking tape over the power light. It meant a kind of metagame terror about the game itself.
posted by cortex at 1:51 PM on August 11 [15 favorites]


I like this aspect. It made death mean something.

I think death could be made to mean something without forcing players to grind up health after dying. There are three kinds of enemies in Metroid, which we might call Small, Large and Metroids. Metroids are only available at the end of the game, leaving Small and Large.

Small enemies will leave either nothing, a ball worth 5 energy, or (if the player has less than maximum missiles) 2 missiles. Large enemies leave either 5 energy, 20 energy, or (if needed) 2 missiles.

Those rushing enemies are Small-type. If the player has 6 energy tanks and is trying to refill at one of those enemy pipes (which are a few minutes away from the start point of Brinstar), and each enemy takes 4 seconds to kill with the Screw Attack, then maybe one in three enemies will leave a 5-point energy ball. That requires 114 energy balls, assuming no mistakes.

114 x 3 x 4 seconds: 28.8 minutes to refill your health.

If the player has full missiles, that's shortened by a third: about 15.2 minutes.

I generally excuse Metroid for this, now, because I don't die often in the game anymore. I also know it's better to find a room with multiple Big enemies, because those 20 energy balls make a big difference, or if I'm at the end of the game to use Metroids themselves, since their energy balls always give 30, and their missile pick-ups also give 30. Or maybe even use that famous energy tank in the ceiling of the third room in Brinstar to get a one-time full refill. But new players probably won't know about these things.

And yet....

One of the great secrets of game design is the importance of continuity of experience, of allowing the player's state to be varied, to bring aspects of past adventuring forward into current challenges. That increases replayability, because a given task might be easier or harder depending on what the player has done before, and a player who might ordinarily be stuck somewhere might be able to unstick himself by having a good run-up to the sticking point. And it makes the adventure overall feel less less like an isolated series of unrelated events, because state carries over between them.

Having full health refill points is convenient, but it eliminates some of that continuity by setting the player's health to a definite point, discarding state from before. (It also makes speedruns and other challenges more interesting.) Of course, a player grinding up to maximum health is trying to do that same thing, only much more slowly. But since Metroid effectively scores players by completion time, grinding will harm players in the final ending tally.

Well this is kind of a muddle. Overall what I'm saying is: it's complicated yes, but it's probably better to do it Super Metroid's way of having sporadic full-health recharge points than Metroid's approach of YOU WILL SUCK EVERY POINT OF YOUR HEALTH METER OUT OF THE STILL-BEATING HEARTS OF YOUR SLAIN FOES!!!
posted by JHarris at 2:16 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


3 friends and I rented both the original Metroid and the NES to play it on when we were 8 or 9. We played non-stop for 72 hours, taking turns through the night to catch cat naps while one would play and one would update our always-growing hand drawn map.

I didn't think I'd ever re-capture the feeling of exploration, discovery, loneliness, and panic that Metroid managed to create.

Then I got lost in a mine in Minecraft.


We did this with Mega Man 2. I've never forgotten that night. Just the right combination of Cheetos and Pepsi to keep us going all night long.
posted by Fizz at 2:24 PM on August 11 [1 favorite]


Super Metroid is my favorite game of all time, and Aliens one of my favorite movies, but I'd never really thought of the two things next to each other.

I thought Metroid Fusion made the Alien connection quite obvious. Your clone is prawling the corridors like an Alien for most of the game and there is another shout out in the plot.
posted by ersatz at 7:14 PM on August 11


This feels like someone saying that people get RPGs wrong when they give them settings without dragons and castles and chain mail.

I disagree with the sentiment of your comment, not because it's wrong, but because the framing is totally different. When you hear about an RPG, that's very obviously applicable to many settings, but when you say your game is like Metroid, you're evoking a single game, a single mood, and experience, and just by name-dropping Metroid you're saying something so much more specific about your game.
posted by cellphone at 6:32 AM on August 12 [1 favorite]


I don't have much to add, except that Ghost Song looks amazing and I'm grateful that the author pointed it out, even if it was as an example of falling-short-of-Super-Metroid.
posted by tybeet at 10:44 AM on August 12


When you hear about an RPG, that's very obviously applicable to many settings, but when you say your game is like Metroid, you're evoking a single game, a single mood, and experience, and just by name-dropping Metroid you're saying something so much more specific about your game.

I don't mind games name-checking Metroid when it's meant to be synonymous with the metroidvania portmanteau the article's author loathes so much, indicating platforming, exploration, collecting, and especially the potential for backtracking. For instance, Guacamelee! is a metroidvania game that has little in common thematically with Metroid but owes a ton to the series gameplay-wise. That's why it cheekily gives you power-ups from familiar statues.

Or take the Castlevania games that get glossed over in this article. I'm showing my lack of gaming credentials by not being able to cite Symphony of the Night, but Aria of Sorrow has a guy amassing cool destructive powers and gear, and it totally works as a fun experience and as a parallel to the game's theme of the corrupting influence of power. There's an air of mystery around the setting, but it's not really comparable to Metroid's atmosphere and doesn't need to be.

If these games that compare themselves to Metroid are half-assedly imitating its themes, that deserves criticism. But there's plenty of room for metroidvanias that explore different themes using similar mechanics, and there's good reason for name-checking Metroid as a shorthand for those mechanics.
posted by knuckle tattoos at 8:07 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]


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