20 Years in Space.
Super Metroid. (1994). Nintendo R&D1.
“The last Metroid is in captivity. The galaxy is at peace.”
Or so was the case in 1992, following the release of Metroid II: Return of Samus on the Nintendo Game Boy. It had taken Nintendo R&D1 - the team behind Nintendo’s biggest selling games, which in it’s roster included Donkey Kong (1981), Ice Climber (1985), and Super Mario Bros. (1985) five years before releasing a sequel, resulting in a switch from the Famicom Disk System to the Nintendo Gameboy. This change in platform may have presented the team with a limitation of colour with the DMG-01's monochromatic screen but it also established a new character design for the game’s female lead, Samus Aran, along with a more detailed environment and improved animation.
Metroid II was met with favorable critical reception, but this paled in comparison with its predecessor’s sales of over 2.73 million units. Its mono palette, small screen and basic audio design proved to be its weakest points amongst fans. Nintendo decided that if another Metroid game were to be developed, it would have to be designed with a richer environment in both graphics and audio — something its fans could immerse themselves with the lights turned off and the volume turned up. At this point, the Super Famicom had been on the high street for two years and Nintendo knew that in order to maintain the popularity of its flagship space platformer, a move to the 16-bit generation would be crucial. The request from the team to produce a title for the SFC, which had already been submitted prior to the release of Metroid II, was approved.
“We wanted to wait until a true action game was needed.”
Super Metroid was developed with a staff of 15 people. Metroid II’s producer (and Game & Watch pioneer) Gunpei Yokoi managed the project with Yoshio Sakamoto at the helm as director & chief writer. Makoto Kano filled the role as producer with music composition led by Kenji Yamamoto and Minako Hamano. This was to be the true sequel that the team had aspired to create. Shortly after its release in an interview with Weekly Famitsu, Sakamoto-san was asked why the project had taken so long (two years development and a year waiting for approval) he responded, “we wanted to wait until a true action game was needed and also to set the stage for the reappearance of Samus Aran." During development (described as ‘chaotic’) and leading up to the deadline for release, the team were limited with play-testing opportunities. Everything was being pushed back to the last-minute. This led Sakamoto-san to pass the game to his wife were she would play through and provide him with feedback which he relayed back to team, resulting in a number of map revisions. Nintendo of America’s Dan Owsen, would visit the team regularly and provided the game with its voice-over introduction. Sakamoto-san described the development as unlike any other project he had worked on.
“This time you can't really compare it. We didn't have anything for New Year's, and we don't release games until they're in the best condition possible. Until then I did my best to make it the best game it could be.”
Super Metroid’s plot picks up from where Metroid II left off. After exterminating the Metroids on SR388, Samus Aran brings the last surviving infant Metroid to the Ceres Space station for protection and scientific study. During her stay at Ceres, the scientists' studies reveal that the powers of Metroids could be harnessed for the benefit of mankind. Shortly after leaving the space station, safe in the knowledge that the last Metroid is in captivity, she receives a distress call from the Ceres. After steering her ship back to the space station (providing us with the first playable section of the game and a brief introduction to the controls), Samus discovers that everyone on-board has been killed and the glass containment unit that housed the Metroid lies empty, shattered on the floor. Samus searches the rest of the station to discover her nemesis and recurring enemy space pirate, Ridley (an obvious nod to Ridley Scott, director of Alien) clutching the infant Metroid. A fight ensues, with Ridley fleeing from the ship with the Metroid, leaving Samus with seconds to escape before the space station self-destructs. Samus pursues Ridley to the nearby planet Zebes, the same planet she had escaped from in Metroid II. From here the player takes full control.
With its reward system in the guise of item power-ups, abilities, atmospheric music, detailed sprites, animation and sprawling map design, Super Metroid (along with Castlevania) set the bar for what was to be expected for triple-A action/platform games for the 16-bit market. Super Metroid was a gaming milestone for the 16-bit generation. It was darker in tone for Nintendo, more so than what was released in previous years. It also provided the team with an opportunity to flesh out an 8-bit template that was set ten years previously and to enhance it’s mechanics. Music that fans will be familiar with is brought back in multi-layered stereo and the pace of the game lends itself more to a cinematic quality, something the team were keen to incorporate after pouring over frames from the Aliens movie franchise. The game introduces several new concepts to the series, including the option to enable/disable weapons and abilities in an inventory screen and a ‘Moon Walk’ ability, named after the popular dance move of the same name, allowing Samus to walk backwards whilst firing or charging her weapon. The game also features the ability to combine weapon beams, providing Samus with a grapple beam, similar in style to Simon Belmont’s mode-7 whip in Akajumo Dracula (Super Castlevania).
Super Metroid was met with widespread critical acclaim, receiving an aggregated score of 95.50% percent from Game Rankings, making it the website's 7th highest-rated game. It received rave-reviews in the west along with several awards, including EGM’s Editors' Choice award as Best Action Game of 1994 and also Best Game of All Time in 2003. Despite a release date in Japan which clashed with Donkey Kong, Super Metroid retained its popularity over the years and has became one of the most downloaded titles for the Nintendo virtual store. This month marks the 20th anniversary of Super Metroid. It’s an ideal time to sit down and reacquaint yourself with one of gaming’s masterpieces so why not turn off the lights, turn up the volume and take on the space pirates one more time?