Admission time: I never played Super Metroid back in the day. Which is weird. I had dabbled in the original Metroid as a kid (and later absolutely LOVED the Zero Mission remake on GBA). I adored Metroid II on Game Boy back in the day (and somewhat ironically, found the Samus Returns remake kind of meh on 3DS). I thought Metroid Fusion ruled. And yet somehow I had managed to never play the one that general consensus calls the best of the 2D series until much later in my life. So this week I was thinking about how Super Metroid was a blind spot in my gaming history, and now that it's on the Switch Online app, I decided it was time to fire it up again.
The first thing that grabbed me was that opening. Not the gameplay opening, I'm talking about the cutscene before you even start playing which briefly retells the story of Metroid and Metroid II. It's just so... cool. The stark red lettering on the black screen simply stating "1994... Metroid 3." Oh and that's another thing - METROID 3. I love that in the opening credits that's what this game is referred to. I don't know why, but I feel like that's a much cooler title than "Super" Metroid. For whatever reason it bugs me when ongoing series had games that just plunked the word "Super" before their new SNES entries. See: Castlevania IV. Anyway, I digress. That opening cutscene is so badass with its reimagining of the Mother Brain encounter or the black and white palette of Metroid II.
Then there's the actual playable intro which is fantastic. And I like how Super Metroid really does kind of pick up where Metroid II left off. There's a brief battle with Ridley before you have to flee the planet before it self-destructs. There's plenty of time, but that countdown clock doesn't let you feel like there is. Great stuff.
I'm enjoying the game proper now. I don't really need to tell anybody that Super Metroid is good. You see it so often near those big lists of best games of all time. A part of me wishes I had played it back in 1994, as back then it must have felt earth-shattering. I mean this was before Symphony Of The Night. In a way it's hard for me to put myself in a mindset where I haven't played SOTN to death; or where I haven't played Zero Mission and Fusion. So as much as I can enjoy and appreciate Super Metroid right now, it's just not going to hit me with the same level of 'wow' as it would have in 1994. That is what it is.
But this is classic Metroid... I'm feeling lost and finding little secret areas and upgrades and stumbling upon unexpected boss battles. The music is excellent, naturally. It does a great job of giving off that isolation feeling - for better or worse. As a thirteen year old in 1994 I would have had so much more time to explore and experiment for hours on end. Obviously the inclusion of a map is helpful, though the game can still feel plenty confusing even with it at times.
Whenever I play Metroid games I get tinges of the Alien franchise - which is incidentally, a huge huge franchise for me. And that's by design of course. There's no denying the nods to Alien in these games. If I had unlimited time and resources, I'd love to try to write a book about the influence the Alien films have had on video games. But I don't. So somebody else should write it so I can read it, haha.
While I can certainly see why Super Metroid is a classic, it's weird but I just don't really get as sucked into it as other entries in the series. I definitely appreciate it and admire it. And I even have the desire to revisit it from time to time (yet, never seem to put the time into beating it). But it's definitely not my favorite Metroid game, which may be an unpopular opinion.
I've been pretty fascinated by the Wonder Boy/Adventure Island series for years. That's the best title we can come up for these games, but man, who knows. You could also call it the Monster World series. But it gets confusing. Heck, the most recent game is called Monster Boy. So yeah.
At any rate, I'd dabbled in quite a few of the old 8-bit and 16-bit games over the years. But it feels like the series has had a bit of revival in recent years for a couple of reasons. For one thing, the completely unrelated Shantae games by WayForward are absolutely inspired by Monster World. And those games have grown a cult following over time, thus sort of leading people to Monster World. Then there were some HD remasters of old games like Adventure Island Returns, Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap, and Asha In Monster World. And finally there was an honest to goodness new entry in the form of Monster Boy In The Cursed Kingdom.
Earlier this year I spent a good few nights playing through The Dragon's Tap (a remake of Wonder Boy III on the Sega Master System) and having a blast. It was a beautiful looking game that kept the original's difficulty while beefing it up with some quality of life improvements. So when the remake of Monster World IV was announced in the shape of Asha In Monster World, I was excited. And... I almost bought it.
Then I realized that I actually owned a digital compilation on Xbox which compiles Wonder Boy In Monster Land, Wonder Boy In Monster World, and Monster World IV - the original 16-bit version. So... I figured, while the HD version is probably much prettier, I could save myself $40 and just play the game I already have.
Monster World IV is a bit of an interesting story in its original state. It was released on the Genesis in 1994, and yet never made it to the US. I'm not exactly sure why. It was an extremely good looking game - colorful and gorgeously animated. I'd say it rivals anything that Treasure did on the platform. And I mean, Wonder Boy felt like a legit Sega mascot, sandwiched in between Alex Kidd and Sonic. So it wasn't until 2012 that it finally got localized on XBLA.
Coming off of Dragon's Trap, Monster World IV feels a lot more linear. There are indeed Metroidvania or RPG-lite tones. There's currency and new gear to buy and ways to increase your max HP (hearts) and so on. But the game's flow is less open world, and relies a lot more on platforming and (slight) puzzle solving.
I love the way the game looks. There's no doubt in my mind that Asha was the inspiration for Shantae herself. The music is solid. The platforming and action is tight. The boss battles are interesting and impressive with their huge sprites calling back to the animals you could morph into in Dragon's Trap.
But my issue with this game is that while it's generally pretty tight in that there's a hub world and basically just four dungeons to get through... those dungeons are huge. Like, way too long. Like, overstay their welcome long.
Case in point: I had gotten through what I thought was the first major dungeon after the intro levels and introduction to the hub world, and fought a boss based on the eagle form from Dragon's Tap. After he was defeated it spit me back into the dungeon. I assumed I had beat this dungeon since it had been a fairly long trek up to that point. So instead of backtracking, I used the item I was given to escape back to the hub world... only to find that I had only beaten the mid-boss. And I'd have to go back and do it all over again to proceed. Very disheartening.
So yeah, the flow of the game feels off. And that's based only on my own experience playing these games. But I've played quite a few. Granted, they all are pretty different in their mixture of pure platforming and RPG-ness.
One thing that's awesome in this game is your little flying companion thing. He's great. You can use him to float up and double jump. You can use him to slowly descend a drop. You can send him out to trigger traps or levers. He can even be a shield. It's a neat added mechanic.
At any rate, Monster World IV is not the best of the series, but it's fairly up there. Not top tier, but just below that. With extra points for visuals and style. I'd still be interested in playing the remake if the price was right. It's at least that good - good enough that I'd want to see how much they could have improved on the original.