Metroid Zero Mission and genre

I've always liked playing video games but didn't ever really have a lot of them growing up. So the advent and growth of popularity of the term metroidvania didn't really mean much to me. I had Metroid II: Return of Samus on the Game Boy (quite a bit of my exposure to gaming, and especially to Nintendo gaming was in the form of their "withered technology" portables) but frankly found it very difficult as a child and never got very far with it until my recent play through on the original cartridge using my old Game Boy Advance. Oh I'd played modern era Metroid games, I loved the Metroid Prime series on the GameCube/Wii; the first, especially, captured the ethereal, lonely solitude of being the only soul standing among the ruins of past civilisations (although the mega-flies and razor grasses of the average archaeological site poses fewer dangers than the strange fauna and flora of Tallon IV). And I tried more than once to play, but hated, Metroid: Other M on Wii.

So, I've been working somewhat on a backlog of games from the past couple decades, and pick out games here and there to blast through. Having played Metroid II recently over a whole year ago (where the hell did that year go?!), the series being something of a current news item, and wanting something of a shorter game that couple be played through in a few hours in total rather than weeks, I plumbed for Metroid Zero Mission, the GBA remake of the original Metroid.

I've just finished it a few minutes ago and have Some Thoughts.

It was a good game, and I could see how it related to both the 3D Prime and Metroid II. It's relationship to the latter of these is of course not straightforward, being more recent and technologically advanced but also the game to which Metroid II was a sequel.
Not my screenshot

And I could start to see where some of the various comment against Metroid II came from. Not that I agreed with them, but I could sympathise. Metroid II was a much more cramped gaming experience. Samus took up much more of the screen, and there was much less real estate given to each cell of the map. The map itself was, while extensive, also smaller than Zero Mission's by a substantial degree, and also featured much less backtracking and the piecing together of paths.

But I also agree with Mark Brown's recent video, in which he compares the official and ersatz remakes of Metroid II, that he thought that with Metroid II the designers were trying to do something a little different. Metroid II is much more linear in terms of the structure of the map, and represents an inexorable path into the ever more hazardous depths of the planet. Perhaps wisely, the Game Boy game was defined much more I think by vertical spatial movement across its map, befitting the portrait orientation of the original Game Boy's LCD. However, the objectives to unlock the map, the extermination of the tough metroids, are often very much hidden. While there was some latitude in choosing which order to attempt them in, each in a particular cluster had to be destroyed before the next section of the map would unfurl. It was often very difficult to find the obscure and hidden paths to find them. Zero Mission however does much more handholding, as well as making much more use of mapping. It's difficult to ever deal truly lost in that game, and it's rare to be stuck for where to go to compete the next objective due to map markers. Metroid II was a claustrophobic, horror driven game in a way that Zero Mission was not.

But the similarities between them, and the 3D Prime games, is really crystallised in Zero Mission by what happens incense the main boss of the game is defeated. See, as a remake, the developers thought they'd add on an entirely new section, adding extra value and length to the game (length was one of those metrics that games magazines would score based on back then). It seemed a little unnecessary, as the narrative of Zero Mission had reached its denouement, so sees Samus shot down by to her old enemies the Space Pirates while she was blasting away from the exploding ruins that we had been exploring. It looked fun we realise that Samus has been deprived of her power armour, along with all the upgrades that we had equipped through the game so far. She was unprotected, with only a stun gun to fend off the Space Pirates (and only a slight bit of fan service in her all in one, body clinging romper). This promised an exciting, tense section of stealthy exploration. Sometimes promises are broken however. This last section, which took me maybe a third of the time again as the rest of the game to slog through, was not particulate fun. Worse, it didn't play like it was the same game. Gone was exploration, in favour of linear traversal of corridors one after the other. When done well this isn't a problem of course; many games from Super Mario to Half-Life 2 have been linear and awesome. But this was like playing a mediocre platform in shooter akin to Duke Nukem 2. It felt completely wrong, a serious misjudgement of the tone, style, and, worse of all, point if the game. Quite literally, seeing as the narrative had already reached its natural conclusion.

But it really helped me to work through what is meant by the term Metroidvania as a genre. The bolted on end section of Metroid Zero Mission was Metroid, but it just wasn't Metroidvania.

Proof of completion, And, how the hell was I still only at 57%?!


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