Saturday, 13 August 2011

Metroid (NES)

Apparently Metroid is a portmanteau of the words "metro" and "android". Though that doesn't really explain anything.

Mother Brain the mechanical life vein.... what?

Actually, forget it, it doesn't matter. I'll just go look for a giant brain and shoot it.

Samus Aran, heroic space biker, teleports into the caves underneath Zebeth. And the excellent classic Metroid music begins.

Are these guys metroids? I'm guessing no, but some of them drop health pick ups when I kill them. Which is lucky because Samus doesn't even start off with full health. I dunno, maybe she has a cold or something.

I went left and found a thing! What a stroke of good fortune.

If this is anything like Zelda II, then if I had gone the other way I'd have probably fought my way through ten rooms before realising I needed this thing to open a door somehow. Then I'd get to travel all the way back to look for it! Through all the newly respawned enemies I'd just killed.

Well I found the use for the thing quickly enough. It turned out to be Samus' morph ball power up! Now I can duck and roll through narrow gaps.

Though I can't actually attack while ducked, so I should probably get out of this hole before that creature blocks the exit.

Oh crap, these neon bats are dive bombing me! And then they explode!

How the hell does a animal evolve to dive and explode when they see something moving? I would have thought that any creature born with that trait would remove themselves from the gene pool pretty quickly.

The first door in the game. Fortunately I already know that those blue things are doors and I have to shoot them to make them open, or else this could have gotten embarrassing.

Okay, so far I've learned this much about the place:
  1. This isn't just a cave filled with stone and metal ruins. There's advanced (probably ancient) technology down here and the power is still on.
  2. Whoever built this place actually thought that gun activated doors was a good idea. This was all created by a civilization of lunatics. I should be cautious.

Ah, here it is. It's not exactly a door like I thought, but this is still the first barrier that I'd need the morph ball power up to get past. If I'd gone right instead of left at the start, this would be the point I'd have to start backtracking.

Oh crap it's a bird! He's a murderous winged maniac and he's after me.

This thing has a really weird movement pattern. I tried shooting at it for a bit, but I think it'd be better if I just ran.

Hmm, seems like these little enemies hovering around in my way are invulnerable. Annoyingly.

Well I've learned something else about the people who built this place. They could either fly or they could really jump, because these steps must be around 4 meters apart. Fortunately Samus can really jump too. She even somersaults in the air a few times each jump for no reason. Plus she has full control of her movement in while airborne, so it's easier to get around than in Castlevania.


Okay, either the screen has been looping around, or this is a really tall room.

It wouldn't be so bad if these enemies would drop health more often. I'm not desperately short of health, but at least it would make me feel like there was a point to this journey. A little reward for my efforts.

I should stop and check the map to see how far up this shaft goes...

Uh, the NES pad only has four buttons and none of them are bringing up a map. Or even a menu. Does this seriously not have a map?


I've found a door! I'm finally out of here.

The door leads to a corridor!

And the corridor leads to an identical shaft. No, wait, not identical. This one is gold.

At least I've got another door to check out... in a while. I'm going to go do some BASE jumping instead and see what's at down at the bottom.

Son of a bitch. I hit one too many enemies on the way down. My own fault for being impatient.

Huh, that's it? One life and then game over? That is harsh.

I mean this place is HUGE... and I only get one life? And no saves? Harsh!

Well at least I don't need to pick up the morph ball again. I guess whatever I collect I get to keep forever, even after a restart.

Now I get to go back to that shaft again and pick up where I left off. Wherever that was. Maybe I'm supposed to be drawing my own map on graph paper as I go.


Oh great, it's another one of those birds.

I'm hesitant to jump off this ledge, because I know that little bastard is only hovering around down there because he's too dumb to fly around the floor. If I leap off then there's nothing left stopping him from diving right at me and I'm too dumb to avoid him.

Hah, I made it! Damn bird took most of my health, but I made it across the room.

Oh, bullets don't work again red doors, huh? I wonder whether I need to find a key or a switch for it, or if is this more of a rocket launcher type of deal. Maybe it'll just open by itself later once I've killed a boss.

Either way there's nothing left for me to try here. Time to go back across the room again. Back past the birds.

Look at that! He's sliding across the floor so all my shots are just flying over his head. Samus's suit allows her enough freedom of movement to curl up into a tiny ball just fine, but crouching down is impossible for her. If she could just tilt her gun arm down 10 degrees that would be enough!

I don't mind enemies respawning every time I walk off screen, because it means I've got a renewable source of health pick ups. But I need to kill them first, and they're stubbornly refusing to be in the way of my bullets.

And knowing my luck this thing won't even drop anything. Which is a shame because this low health warning beeping noise is getting on my nerves now.

Two birds! Well I'm fucked.


Ah, this was a way better door to go through. There's a shiny new power up down there for me if I can just make this ridiculously easy jump without screwing up and falling into the lava/quicksand below.

I made the jump! And then fell into the next pit and got stuck. I'd be able to get out if enemies would just stop flying at me from out of those pipes.

Yeah I think this is probably lava. Because Samus just lost all her health and died again.

And now I get to make the whole bloody journey back again.

But it turns out that the power up I grabbed lets me switch my arm gun to a missile launcher! I only get five shots with it, but enemies have started dropping missile ammo so that's fine.

I'm tempted to go find that red door and see if I can get through with a missile, but nah.

I'm pretty sure I've missed something vitally important in this area. But I don't care, I'm going down this lift to the next area anyway. I'm sick of this place.

One thing I like about this game, is that the enemies are instantly visible against the background and the rest of the level. I've never once taken damage from an enemy I didn't see.

Of course it wouldn't have been nice if they'd managed to make enemies stand out from the background without making the background entirely featureless and black, but this works.

You flying assholes! I was right there, basically touching the power up! That thing would have doubled my missile capacity... 10 missiles. I could have done so much with 10 missiles.

I'm not sure I even want to start again now. I really can't be arsed to go jumping around those shafts any more, and I'm not sure I'll even be able to find this place again.


I'm back at the lift! IT RESTARTED ME AT THE LIFT!

Checkpoints are a wondrous thing. Well... they're better than nothing anyway. Save points would have been nice. Or even just saves.

I got my missile capacity upgrade, and then carried on to find a secret hole in the wall... that leads nowhere. I get the feeling I'm missing a crucial piece of equipment here.


This wall had me stuck for a moment, until it occurred to me that the bricks were cracked. Which is the universal video game sign for 'you can blow a hole in this'.

Actually, the game has been pretty good so far at mixing things up and throwing different obstacles at me. And not a single insta-kill bottomless pit (yet)!

Awww, just leave me alone! Please! I'm not even after you guys, I'm just here to kill brains and metroids.

...and Samus is dead again. Final score: two missile pick-ups and a morph ball.

I actually kinda like this game, despite the flaws, the difficulty, and the... limited graphics. But there are two things that just kill it for me:
  1. No map. None that I've found anyway. It means I have to either memorise the layout of this maze and all the locations I'll need to return to, or draw up my own map. And it's probably not much fun to constantly have to pause the game to draw in the next area. Or to keep track of how many screens you've travelled when the levels scroll with the player.
  2. Being thrown back to the area entrance on death. The game doesn't even have lives! Sure I keep all my stuff, but I still have to replay all the areas I previously travelled through to get back to the room I died at, and that's not that easy because as I mentioned earlier... no map!
    Plus I'd have to hang around and grind enemies to refill my health each time, else I'd just be asking to be killed.
Which is a shame, because the game really does have atmosphere, plus solid gameplay and controls. I'm done with it now, but it's got me looking forward to trying out the sequels. Next game.

Metroid series:
Metroid II: Return of Samus (Game Boy)
Super Metroid (SNES)


  1. You just need to play the Zero Mission remake on GBA. Metroid really pushed the limits of what the NES could do at the time, thats why the walls are featureless and black, you may have noticed the huge (for nes) variety of enemies and walls, well the ROM chip in the NES could only hold I think 256k of info (512k with the expensive add-on chip), something like 8-16k of that which can actually be loaded into memory at one time, and each area needs its own color set to load efficiently, so they really did the best with what they had at the time.

    And no there isnt a map, I don't know anyone who played this at the time without the issue of nintendo power that included a map of the general layout. A lot of NES games, especially the ones made or consulted on directly by nintendo were made deliberately hard if you didn't get nintendo power. A pretty low thing to do, but you they were all over news stands at the time so you didn't need a subscription or anything you just needed to get the right issue. Also they had to program NES games in assembly, which is really only one step away from raw binary math so a map system in a game this complex, either couldnt have been more than a simple picture of the whole layout, or if programmed to be effective and dynamic, would have used up alot of space that they decided would be better used on more enemies and color options (also it would have taken forever to get into/out of it, as the rest of the memory would have needed to be purged). A choice that makes sense when you think of how common the nintendo power abuse was at the time.

    I can clear a few things up for you though. Samus' suit is made out of chozo (ancient dead race) technology, and the planet zebes is an ancient dead chozo planet, thats why you are able to find upgrades for your suit exploring ancient ruins, why your weapon opens the doors, and also why missles function as a kind of security card (the ancient chozo used energy beams to communicate and stuff, and had extra modules for the same thing to act as a weapon when necessary, though with missiles its more like cracking a rock shell, as once you've used a missile on the door, you never need to do it again, the normal beam will open it. When you think about little touches like this, and how little resources they had available, some of the glaring omissions and faults make more sense).

    1. You know, it never even occurred to me that the lack of map might have been due to technical limitations. I mean sure the NES has the power to map out a dungeon for games like Zelda, but I can imagine how Metroid's world might take more resources to keep track of. Still bloody annoying though.

      Also I'm totally considering Zero Mission a requested game. I may have played it a tiny bit already (to completion), but I suppose now I'll just have to start a new game. At some point.

  2. After thinking about it for a minute, I think you were having most of the problems you were having because of 3 reasons:
    A) You didn't seem to be looking for secrets at all, secrets are the main point of the game besides killing the brain, and the majority of energy tanks (powerups that add to your total health by 99) are secrets you find by blowing up wall spaces and rolling through them with the morph ball. There are only 3 I remember that are given to you as bonus for killing bosses, all the others are either total secrets (though usually easy to find, really the super missiles are the only hard ones, but boy are they hard) or require some puzzling to get to. Also a lot of those hopping/diving enemies are much easier to kill if you get the long beam (which you never got, its the second and arguably most crucial of the early upgrades) or if you use missiles (which you couldnt afford to do because you never got any spare missle tanks)

    B)You never got the bombs for the morph ball! You left brinstar (the first world) wayyy too soon, I'm not even sure how you made it to the elevator with no extra missle tanks, no extra power tanks and without getting the long beam OR the morph bombs. You must be better at these games than you tend to give yourself credit for, or at least very tenacious because I didn't even think that was possible!

    C) Yes missiles open red doors. And super missiles open green doors, plasma opens blue doors (or something) etc. That red door in brinstar that you decided not to go back to open with your missiles? It has the morph bomb behind it, an upgrade that would have made your life much easier. Nearly all the early secrets REQUIRE that upgrade to get, because you can't jump in morph form without it, any morph ball passage that goes anywhere but exactly straight needs that upgrade (the secret you found in norfair (bubble world) that you said didnt go anywhere? It has an energy tank, you would have increased your health by a third, and thus your constitution, if you had just gone back to get the morph bombs and tried them there, the energy tank is just a few squares past the jump.) and you absolutely have to get at least a few of the secrets to get anywhere in metroid, they make them pretty easy to get if you look for them at all, so I guess they figure they could get away with requiring a few.

    You can get pretty far in metroid if you are skilled enough without the secrets (as you demonstrated without knowing it) but you CANNOT beat mother brain without getting at least like 25% of them, because she takes like 30 missiles to die, and I think 5 super missiles to even break open the glass case surrounding her, so you have to have at least that much to even have a chance, and she has security systems that shoot a constant stream of death at you constantly, so you need at least 6 energy tanks (at least I did) to survive long enough to pump those 30 missiles into her.

    You did amazingly well for having no idea how to play though, I'd love to see you revisit the game either with zero mission (which has a map, checkpoints and a little computer buddy that downloads shit from chozo statues and tells you where you should be going to get the next vital upgrade in the right order) or with one of the many internet maps that lets you know the general layout and where the upgrades are.

    Oh, and sorry for the wall of text, this was a particularly thought-provoking review though, and really took me back, because the original metroid is the first game I ever owned that really made me think, and also the first game that ever really pissed me the fuck off without turning me off it completely. It was good to think about it again, especially in the beginner's context you approached it with.

    1. I suppose it makes sense that after playing 600 games for the site I'd end up getting really good at something, and I seems I've gotten to be an expert at fucking up.

      I've noticed that a lot of NES games rely on the player stumbling some pretty well hidden secrets to make progress, and I suppose your Nintendo Power theory would help explain why, but it completely goes against my wimpy lightweight 'modern gamer' views on game design. Not that I don't like secrets, I just think they should reward the player's luck or ingenuity rather than punish players who don't systematically search every corner of every room for hidden passages. Plus it doesn't help that there's no indication that you're going off to another section without picking up something important.

      But yeah, now that I've seen a lot more games from this era it's pretty blindingly obvious why Metroid gets so much love. Games like this, Castlevania, Mario Bros, Zelda, even Mega Man were so much better than their average competitor, and it's given me a new respect for them. Though I think given a choice, I'd rather replay Zero Mission.

  3. Yea if you compare the type of map that most NES games use to the type of map that zero mission or even super metroid ended up using, you can imagine how much coding that would have required. Super Metroid and Zero Mission have fantastic map systems that have to keep track of a lot of data. If you are interested in the specifics, i've worked in programming and I've dabbled in assembly so i can break it down for you without getting too technical.

    Every bit of memory in an NES is prime real estate , I looked it up and it does have only 16k of memory space, so for an integral feature like a map that needs to be swapped in and out of memory dynamically (without the luxury of loading times or segment swapping, which is like disk swapping only with internal memory) you have to consider that 16k an absolute ceiling of what the map could use up in activity. It would only have to display one world at a time, but the actual map itself wouldnt be the hard part. A static picture could be a raster sprite like everything else, which wouldnt be too bad, but it wouldnt work at all without at least a feature where it reveals gradually as you go, and keeps track of your current location, and it wouldnt be worth much without an objective marking system. Thats where it really gets tricky.

    Since you've beaten Zero Mission, you know the sheer amount of upgrades and stages to the game. Its bad enough for the developers that each of those requires a variable to record it's name, activation, power up sprite, and activation sprite, an objective system would require at very minimum an aditional two variables to function effectively. An "active objective" variable, marking it as active, and a "location relative to map" variable. The former could be a boolean, a simple "on/off" switch of only one binary bit, no big problem even on the NES if they arent too great in number, the latter however would have to be a string, which is how lines of text are stored, the most space consumptive of all variables and which the NES is notoriously bad with. Remember thats in addition to the already significant amount of variables just required for one upgrade to even work. This is no problem on the SNES and the computers of the day, which had more memory and more complicated architectures that were much faster and had more memory management features, but the NES was a simple direct architecture, built for cheap fast production, and minimum amounts of internal hardware, so space in both the memory and the game cart was at a severe premium.

    However, they could have done a slick swapping scheme between memory and game cart (like zelda is famous for) and had enough space that way, so my suspicion is that the limitation lies in the notoriously stingy NES memory address book. See, every active or stored variable not only needs space for storage of the value, but also a part of reserved memory needs to record the location of the variable, so it can be accessed without having to read through the entire chunk of data. In some string heavy games like zelda, they set up a tricky swapping scheme (what I mentioned before) where the cart itself has a little bit of extra memory, which is not only used for saving games but also for the storage of frequently changed, but infrequently accessed, strings and long numbers, like the player name, location, etc.

  4. However, even this is limited by the extent of what the NES is able to address, to keep records of it's existence. So in a game of great complexity like metroid where the problem is not so much the size of it's variables but the *amount* of it's variables, this kind of thing is unfortunately not possible. You know the NES is an 8-bit console of course, but what this actually means is that the CPU has an 8-bit processing space, and can only process numbers in 8 binary bits. Thus the size of the variable index is limited to the maxiumum size of a single 8-bit number. So the highest number of variable entries the NES can keep track of is 256 (this is why in the first zelda, he can only hold 255 rupees, because 0 is included). When you think of how many things need how many variables, you can appreciate the difficulty of programming a game like metroid or zelda in an NES environment, and you can see how much of the game they would have to remove to make space for a map that was even just a static picture that revealed itself as you went along.

    Whew! That... took alot more time and space than I was expecting. I thought "oh its a simple enough concept as far as programming goes, I can explain this without another massive text wall", and sure enough, another massive text wall. Sorry, I'll try and control myself in the future, its hard though as your style of reviewing is abnormally thought provoking as far as gaming blogs go.

    Also I completely agree with what you said regarding secrets in games, I also think that more could have been done than the solutions they came up with. They relied heavily on manuals at the time, and they still ended up sucking badly most of the time. I think the only games I can remember from the NES with manuals that were necessary but also really worth reading ( as opposed to just talking to a friend for the same information) was zelda and metroid, because they were so colorful and well written. I still remember how well metroid's manual did convincing you that Samus was was male without ever saying it specifically, making the end game reveal of her long blond hair all the more impressive, thats got to be the only NES game ending that actually felt worth it.

    I was hoping you would consider Zero Mission, when I first read this, before my mind ran away with me, i was considering requesting either ZM or Fusion, and fusion is interesting, but it's got to be ZM, especially considering how far you got without essential upgrades. I actually got out my old cart to try again, and try as I might, I CANNOT get anywhere in norfair without the long beam and the secret tanks you get using the morph bombs. If/when you play zero mission, try doing the same thing (if the objective system will let you, I dont remember how insistent the new computer is), I'd really like to know how you managed that, even running past the enemies when possible, I would need at least 2 extra energy tanks to get into norfair without the long beam. Damn impressive.

    1. You really know lots about programming + games :O
      Something interesting about the game: the original japanese metroid had saves, because of those "floppy disks for saving" in the Famicom Disk System.... the release that we know was in NES cartridge, without battery backed memory....
      And Zero Mission is great, maybe the best Metroid ^-^

  5. Good post. Metroid is probably the weakest game of the series, but it was good for its time. I'll be reading Metroid 2 next to see if you got stuck at the same point early on that I did.

    Here's my own post on the first game:

    I noticed we basically had the same reaction to "Mechanical Life Vein". The ending text is even worse!

  6. Weakest game in the series? gtfo


Semi-Random Game Box