Thursday, 20 June 2013

Metroid: Zero Mission (GBA)

Metroid Zero Mission title screen logo
Today I'm finally getting around to Metroid: Zero Mission, only a year or two after it was requested. This is the fifth 2D platformer in the series and despite the name it's actually about bounty hunter Samus Aran's first video game mission, as it's a remake of Metroid 1.

I have played this one before, though just enough time has passed now for me to have entirely forgotten everything about it. I actually managed to finish the game... on the easy difficulty. This time though I'll be playing it on normal mode, so I'm expecting it to be closer to the original's level of challenge and kick my ass from one side of Zebes to the other.

Unlike the original game, the remake has a bit of an intro to it, showing illustrations of Samus approaching planet Zebes in her ship on a mission to wipe out the Metroid infestation and kill the space pirate mastermind-in-a-jar, Mother Brain.

Personally I would've preferred if they'd gone with pixel art at this tiny resolution, though the artwork definitely isn't bad. I'm going to have to deduct points from the game though for being much more competently translated, with Mother Brain being referred to as 'the mechanical life-form' instead of 'the mechanical life vein.' It's like they're trying to drain all the charm out of it!

Sorry, but if they keep giving me art like this, I'm just going to have to keep showing it off. I like that they haven't tried to re-imagine Samus's outfit; it looks virtually identical to the suit on the Famicom version box to my untrained eye, though I'm sure an actual fan could point out 50 things they've tweaked for no good reason.

This place seems pretty damn re-imagined though, even more than Super Metroid's version of it did. Doesn't look bad though, even with that cartoony background, and it's nice to see they've added a mini-map in the corner.

Metroid (NES)
Here's the original game for comparison, released 18 years earlier. No background, no mini-map, only 30 health to begin with, and Samus's head is huge. It has a much bigger screen size though: it's 7.5 Samus Arans high compared to only 4.1 Arans on the GBA.

Also I guess the crawly spiky things went wandering off somewhere else in the remake. I assumed at first that they were just above the visible screen area, and they'd be crawling down any second now, but it turns out that the level really is only as tall as the screen in the GBA game. There's nothing above the screen for them to crawl down from.

Super Metroid (SNES)
In fact here's Super Metroid for comparison too, why not? This came out a decade earlier than Zero Mission and despite the SNES's higher resolution, the visible level is area is actually very slightly thinner than the GBA game relative to Samus, despite matching it in height at around 4.1 Arans tall.

Evolution of Samus (1986-2004)
This is because Super Nintendo Samus is huge, towering above all others. Though I'd say the new Zero Mission sprite manages to look at least as good despite its reduced pixel content.

Anyway screw the screen size and character design, I'm far more interested in comparing these guys:

Evilution of the scary face block (1986-2004)
You know, for a wise and peaceful race of advanced bird-like aliens, the Chozo sure liked to use a lot of skulls in their architecture. The things get worse every game too. I mean they were bad enough in the first game, but now they've got twice as many teeth and they glow.

I mean look at the thing! I'm worried it's going to take a bite out of my ankle any second now.

Anyway the morph ball is still present and accounted for, exactly where I found it in Metroid 1. A little shinier than I remember, but as long as it still lets Samus curl up into an impossibly small ball and roll through tiny gaps, it'll do just fine (bombs are no doubt still sold separately.)

Oh hey this is new, I've got a status screen showing what abilities I've collected so far and what they all do. It is both handy and visually appealing, I wish to shower it with approval!

Oh thank fuck, it lets me crouch and fire in this one as well! It's such a small change but it makes a big difference. They've brought the diagonal aim button across from Super Metroid as well. Otherwise it's pretty similar in how it controls and feels to the original Metroid, but Samus got around just fine in that, so it's all good.

I still have to shoot doors to open them too, another weird quirk of Chozo architecture. She's not even blasting them apart, they really are bullet energy activated doors. Yes this is my fourth Metroid game on the site and I'm still going on about that, sorry.


A SHORT WALK TO THE RIGHT LATER.


Uh... a dead end? In Metroid 1 this was a long (statueless) corridor with a regular blue door at the end. I remember being harassed here by a jumpy fly creature that I could never hit, as it'd fly under my bullets and I was unable to duck, but he's gone now too. Well that sucks, I can crouch now so I was all ready to kick its ass this time around.

I somehow managed to play the original Metroid for an hour or so first time around without ever running into one of these Chozo statues, but on a replay I learned that they're actually everywhere in the game. They usually come bearing suit upgrades though (Samus wears a Chozo designed suit so it makes sense... kinda.)  This guy is entirely empty handed though. Though his empty hand is glowing... hey, that gives me a morph ball related idea!

Sitting on the hand in ball form opened up the passage to the next room and gave me directions to my next destination. On a map! Finally I've found a Metroid game that tells me where I'm meant to be going next, it's a miracle!

+500 points for having an actual proper in-game map as well. No need to hunt down the appropriate issue of Nintendo Power to find your way around in this one.

And they've added save rooms too! Look at that beautiful pixel work as the machine folds open to... I dunno, do high tech sci-fi save game stuff I suppose. I mean it wouldn't flicker like that if it wasn't doing something deeply... technical, right?

In the original Metroid on the NES I tended to reappear right back at the start of the area I was in every time I ran out of health, which was kind of a pain in the arse. Though it was at least kind enough to give me infinite continues, passwords, and let me keep the gear I'd collected along the way. Original original Metroid on the Famicom Disk System has saves instead of passwords, though no proper save point rooms like this, so it was basically the same as the NES game in practice.

Well this endless upwards tunnel is back from the NES game, though it's far less annoying this time around. Those flying turtle things are still immune to my standard arm blaster and the ledges are still covered in spiky monsters for me to accidentally jump up into, but at least it's not just a endless repetitive featureless void with the same recurring platform patterns all the way up.

Metroid (NES)
Meanwhile on the NES, imagine this repeated over and over again. Literally, as I kept accidentally falling off platforms and having to climb right back up again from the bottom. Even when I found a door I wasn't able to leave, as I'd have to hang a little longer killing monsters for the tiny pittance of health they dropped to get myself to full strength first.

The enemies in Zero Mission drop far more health fortunately, around 4 times as much right now, which pretty much removes the grind entirely.

Well it's nice to know there's still dead ends in the game. I guess I need to come back here later when I've collected the bomb upgrade to destroy these blocks

I'm actually ambivalent to this kind of game design. On one hand I like being able to go off the path and explore, but on the other hand it's a bit of a pain in the ass to only discover I've gone the wrong way after I've already fought through several screens full of enemies. Plus of course then I've got to fight my way back through them all again to get out, as they like to respawn.

HOLY SHIT! I was not expecting a giant spiky worm monster to dive out from the ceiling with no warning. This guy was not in Metroid 1. In fact I don't think I ever even reached a boss fight in Metroid 1.

Uh, okay shooting him isn't working... oh duh, I have to use missiles! A few rockets in the eye ought to sort him out, provided I can get my shots on target. Which I can't.

Wow, he eventually got bored and left, boss fight cancelled I guess. That's gotta be the first time a boss's gotten bored of a fight and quit before I was able to. Kind of embarrassing really.

Awesome, they didn't just add a map to the game, they've added map rooms too. Incredibly over complicated upload rooms that upload that 2kb of map data into her gun with a machine the size of a bus, using so much power that it makes her suit flicker.

Look how close those S save game rooms are on the map, there's barely any walk needed to get back to the where you left off after getting killed. Which is good.

Well I've finally gotten my bomb upgrade from one of those Chozo statues, so now I can become the galaxy's deadliest pok├ęball. At this moment I'm trying to utilise my devastating new bomb power to blast myself into the air high enough to grab that missile capacity upgrade sitting very implausibly in the gap between those sci-fi styled metal beams. But these flying creatures aren't playing ball: they keep knocking me sideways in the air and ruining my trajectory, and they never stop respawning!

I suppose I could always just leave this pit without collecting the entirely optional upgrade. After all, I'll probably be able to collect it later with far less effort after I've grabbed a few extra gadgets for my suit... but I'm way too stubborn for that. I ain't leaving this room without those missiles.


MUCH MUCH MUCH LATER.


Mother Brain gazes through the security feeds, her eyeball focused with cold rage as I finally grab that bloody missile power up. How do you like that, my dear nemesis? Does it send a chill up your mechanical life-veins to know that your adversary is capable of achieving the impossible?

Actually she's just watching me descend to the next level on an lift during a brief illustrated interlude. But if this is anything like the original Metroid (and to be honest it's starting to become pretty unrecognisable at this point), then I'll soon be backtracking back up to the starting area to unlock some new path.


EVEN LATER.


Hmm, I'm starting to feel like I've taken a wrong turn now. The nature of the game means it's theoretically possible to accidentally break sequence and get to areas you're not meant to be in yet, and this place definitely seems to be taking me in the opposite direction to where I'm meant to be heading.

Also I haven't got the running upgrade yet, so I wasn't fast enough to make it across this floor before it collapsed under my feet, sending me tumbling to the ground below. Lucky I never suffer fall damage really.

Metroid Zero Mission Samus ship
Oh hey ship, nice to see you again. I guess I've just gone around in a huge loop and ended up right back at the start again. Alright then, back to the lift then. Let's try this again.


SOME INTENSIVE METROIDVANIAING LATER.


Okay, let's move!

And... go!

Uh, how do I get this thing moving? Shooting in the opposite direction isn't doing a damn thing and shooting the red light isn't working either. But shooting is basically all I can do!

I suppose this is another one of those dead ends then for now. I'll have to make a mental note of where this is (because there's no way of making actual notes on them map of course), then come back if I find a thing to activate these things.

Oh shit, another boss fight so soon? Well I'm trying to act as pathetic as I can here, but unlike the last boss this guy isn't showing any sign of getting bored or wandering off. I'm starting to worry that I might actually have to fight back this time. Fortunately the bullets he spits out contain health and ammo, so if I can just avoid getting hit I can get back to full strength without leaving this corner.

Then comes the most fun part of all, trying to figure out his pattern and how I can injure him! Well I'm sure it must be fun to someone anyway. Personally I generally can't stand boss fights for whatever reason, even when they're perfectly reasonable like this one is.

Oh I see, he's a variation on that bloke that charges at you, only to get stuck in a wall when you jump over his head, as seen in 15,000 other games. Not that I'm complaining, I'm just getting bored of it now. I wanna go exploring, not jump over this guy's head five times to prove I'm capable of repeating a simple trick without getting cocky and making a dumb mistake.


A FEW DUMB MISTAKES LATER.


Alright, the worm is dead and I can finally start making progress again! Or not, as it seems that this brick can only be destroyed with a missile, and I can't fire missiles while I'm all curled up in a ball. So both those doors are off limits for now. Another dead end.

Well if I can't get to the grey corridors from the right hand side, how else am I supposed to get to the next yellow dot? There's no other doors on the map, and if I remember right the top left side where the blue meets the grey is all flooded with lava.

Sometimes I hate my infallible memory. Look at that flying turtle down there looking so smug; immune to my shots and immune to lava, what an asshole. But that does seem to be the only way through.


I still haven't found a lava-proof suit, though perhaps I won't even need one now that I've collected two extra energy tanks of health. I mean the lava isn't instantly lethal and I only have to survive long enough to reach a door and get out of there. Well I've tried every other room and bombed every floor for secret passages, and I got nothing better left to do to than go swimming in lava, so I might as well jump right in.

You son of a bitch game. It was fake lava, there's nothing actually here.

Perhaps I've just gotten used to the Metroid games and their tricks by this point, but to me this game actually seems to play fair most of the time... up until now. But I'm calling bullshit on this. There's no way I could have been expected to know that this particular pool of lava would disappear when I jumped into it, even if it is the only obvious way left to go.


A MERE HANDFUL OF CORRIDORS LATER.


Oh hi, uh, Kraid is it?

I get the feeling that this guy probably did turn up in the original Metroid, unlike that worm boss, but I didn't get close to this far into that game, so I don't know for sure. Look at him though, that's totally a NES boss.

Okay, so it seems I have to shoot his eye to get him to open his mouth, then fire a missile down his throat, then I just repeat that like 500 times. A MISSILE Samus, fire a missile, not the ice beam!

Wait a second, I'm sure I've fought this boss in a game before, but that's impossible unless...

Super Metroid (SNES)
AHA! He was the asshole that kicked my ass in Super Metroid! He even shoots out crap from the holes in his gut in a similar way. I never did manage to defeat this guy, but to be fair I did only give it the one try before succumbing to despair.

I can't really blame the game for this, but whenever I reach a fight like this I have to pause after a minute or two and go for a walk, maybe get a snack. Perhaps go watch a film or go play something entirely different because oh shit I just don't want to fight this guy anymore! It's not even frustration because I'm doing badly, I just don't want to carry on with this routine any longer.

I started getting sloppy and ended up losing two tanks full of health. Fortunately they're basically just extensions to my health bar, so I can recharge my life back to full just by shooting the fingernails he fires off (ew) and collecting the power ups hidden within. He can barely even harm me down here, so I can't even complain about the fight being stupidly tough. It's perfectly reasonable as long as I use my head.

And then Samus was killed and reappeared at the last save point, with all the gear she'd collected since the last save gone. Wow, they're definitely not hiding that she's female this time around.

Oh, I didn't get killed during the boss fight, I actually beat Kraid no trouble (to my great surprise). No I ended up getting falling into lava few minutes later, then getting stuck there when one of those flying things harassed me and prevented me from getting back out. And that was actually my first loss in the game, so I think it's probably fair to say the game is a little easier than the original Metroid. Far far less frustrating as well.

Space pirate Ridley pops up in a short cutscene to show that his ship is heading for Zebes, but he's going to be disappointed because I'm turning this off now. Not because I'm tired of it, but because I've been playing it for 2 hours and I've already got a ridiculous number of screenshots.


Alright, what did I think about Metroid: Zero Mission then? Well it seemed a lot like Super Metroid, with the frustration dialled down a few notches. There were still a lot of situations where I was bombing walls to look for secret passages just to make any progress, but they seemed a bit less secret this time around. I found that I could spot a lot of them even before blasting chunks out of the walls and aside from that cruel fake lava trick I found myself able to make steady progress just by thinking things out logically. Plus I like how it often led me back out of a room through a different path to the one I came in from, so I wasn't retreading the same areas over and over again so much like I did in the original game.

Back when I played Metroid on the NES I mentioned that there were two things that really killed the game for me (aside from the difficulty) and that was not having a map, and always getting thrown back to the area entrance on death, and Zero Mission has none of these issues. In fact I can imagine that some people would find the game far too easy and get frustrated that you have to finish the game on Normal difficulty before unlocking Hard mode. Which actually is a really dumb feature, I don't get why they did that.

But me, I love the game. It looks great, sounds great, plays great, it points you in the right direction without leading you around the whole way, and they even got rid of the grind for health! I wouldn't mind finishing it a second time actually.

    

And those were the words I wrote about Metroid: Zero Mission, I hope they brought some light into your day. And if you're feeling in the mood for sharing some words of your own about the game or my site, the comments box stands ready to convey your wisdom to the world.

1 comment:

  1. Nice review!
    Go ahead and finish the game a second time if you have the time. I really enjoyed it, and I played it through 3-4 times to get some of the various unlockable gallery pictures.

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