Super Metroid came to define a whole subgenre of video games when it launched on Super Nintendo in 1994. The first Metroid game to appear on SNES is a challenging, intense action platformer with impeccable world-building, aesthetics, and level design that retains an enviable place on all-time best games lists to this day. Super Metroid will consistently tests your skills in a thoroughly satisfying way, and it's eminently replayable.
If you're a Switch Online subscriber, you can play Super Metroid right now for free by downloading the Super Nintendo Entertainment System app. Here's why you absolutely can't miss this classic game.
For creator Yoshio Sakamoto, the then-new Super Nintendo hardware offered up a host of possibilities and challenges for improving upon the formula established on Nintendo's first home gaming console.
“I thought it was completely different from NES. With NES, what we could do was simple. But with Super NES, unless you put in a lot of thought beforehand and drew up thorough designs, things that should be possible would become impossible,” Sakamoto said in a 2017 interview.
Sakamoto had joined Nintendo as a designer and was unfamiliar with the technical aspects that would make a game run. But as the company was leveling up, he realized that he would need to merge the worlds of design and technology. “We needed some degree of knowledge in order to give the programmers instructions, and above all, we needed a firm vision or the hardware would be difficult to deal with.”
Super Metroid is defined by that firm vision. Taking place in the unforgiving bowels of the planet Zebes, the game starts at a cleverly unfamiliar point: a Metroid larva (a very deadly jellyfish). With clear influences from the Alien movie series, the game continues its battles with Space Pirates with a twist—a Metroid baby who gets to have an impact on the game. Players had already seen the potential of Metroid larva in games prior, but here they have a far larger role.
With its claustrophobic horror motif, the Metroid series keeps your eyeballs locked on the screen, and it's in Super Metroid Metroidvania system — which often includes retracing one's steps to experience previously visited areas in new ways — really starts to take shape. Zebes is a pretty desolate world, without a friendly face in sight. With a helpful map in the upper right corner, Samus is pretty much on her own for much of the game, which makes the Metroid larva’s eventual intervention that much more impactful.
The foundations of the Metroidvania gameplay loop have held up for decades because it encourages the player to pay close attention to the details of their surroundings, and provides a tangible sense of progress and becoming more powerful. Super Metroid utilizes this gameplay loop to cultivate a persistent feeling of discovery and possibility. After watching a Space Pirate grab the Metroid larva at the beginning of the game, the player is suddenly forced to escape the narrow lab they’ve been exploring before it explodes.
On the planet Zebes, the mysteries abound. Fallen alien creatures offer new powers, aliens suddenly appear in familiar circumstances, and exploring the planet is as engrossing as anything in No Man’s Sky.
No description of Super Metroid would be complete without at least mentioning Mother Brain, the game’s horrifying and incredible final boss, which must be played to be believed.
Super Metroid became an international hit and is widely considered one of the greatest games to emerge on the SNES, if not all time. It has also become popular for speedrunning, but it’s worth taking one’s time as well. For the first-time player, the game remains a showcase in level design. The Metroidvania name stuck for a reason.
With a continuation in the series, Metroid Prime 4 potentially being a blockbuster release in 2021, there's no reason not to pick it up now.