Rewind Review - Metroid: Zero Mission
Day 6 of the Metroid Rewind Review is here, and with it we return not only to the Gameboy Advance, but also to Samus Aran's very first mission - her Zero Mission.
For those who do not know, Metroid: Zero Mission on the Gameboy Advance was a remake of the original Metroid (NES) title using the same engine that brought us Metroid: Fusion. While the game received an 89 score on Metacritic, it is notable that the game falls on the lower end of the lower-to-mid 90s scores that the franchise typically receives. With this in mind, I have returned to my high-school days to revisit a younger less-experienced Samus Aran in Metroid: Zero Mission.
Today we will rewind the clock to 2004, and revisit Metroid: Zero Mission on the Gameboy Advance to see if the game truly stands up to the legacy of the original Metroid title. As with all Rewind Reviews, Samus's Zero Mission will undergo a review process through the eyes of a 2015 critic. No nostalgia glasses, no excuses, no rationalizing hardware limitations, and no sparing myself from angry fans and readers - or in this case, my own nostalgia as well. Nothing will excuse this game from anything that we - as modern gamers - would expect from the genre today. Now let's return to Zebes for the third time in the series with Metroid: Zero Mission.
Seeing as Metroid: Zero Mission is a remake of the original NES title, I have decided to save myself some time - as well as your own - by only discussing the changes that Zero Mission makes. For those who have not seen the original Metroid story, you can find it in my Metroid (NES) Rewind Review.
I would like to start this plot overview with the very first cutscene where we see Samus arrive on Zebes, in which she says in monologue:
Planet Zebes... I called this place home once, in peaceful times, long before evil haunted the caverns below. Now, I shall finally tell the tale of my first battle here... My so-called Zero Mission.
What is interesting to note in this monologue is that Samus is directly speaking to the player to tell her story of what happened the first time on Zebes. While this game is a direct remake of the original game, this actually hints at Zero Mission being a slightly different telling of events than the NES game. While this is clearly shown through the actual gameplay (as many of the stages are similar but noticeably changed to better suit the mechanics of the Metroid Fusion engine), it also could be that the reason why the game is so much better is that it is a retelling through Samus's eyes. I may simply be overthinking this, but it does make sense.
Another inclusion is the use of cutscenes such as those found in Metroid: Fusion. However, a noticeable change is the shift from monologues and dialogues with the computer, to mostly sprite-art based cutscenes that show what events are about to transpire. These include everything from Mother Brain first spotting Samus enter Brinstar, to Ridley arriving on his ship.
For those who are interested in watching all the cutscenes, I have included them in this Youtube playlist below, spoilers are a given:
What is most important to note about Zero Mission is that while it retells the story of the original Metroid (NES) title, it also provides a new story segment that takes place after the events of said game. This is the famous "Zero Suit Samus Espionage Stage". This stage bridges the gap between Metroid/Zero Mission and Metroid Prime (or Metroid II: Return of Samus depending on which side of the "is Prime canon?" debate you're on). While Samus does aquire the Varia suit earlier in the game, it is here that we finally receive the "Fully Powered Suit" that players are more familiar with if they have played every game from Metroid II onward.
Aside from these changes, Metroid: Zero Mission has very little else to offer in terms of story, the rest simply copying that which Metroid (NES) already established. The changes that were made, however, do improve the game's plot substantially over the original Metroid and provide a more immersive experience. We get a small sense of Samus's insecurities during the mission once more, particularly during the Zero Suit section, and we feel weaker as well due to the fact that we are physically powerless without the Power Suit. The blend of monologues, cutscenes, and story through gameplay are simply remarkable - nothing short of what we have come to expect of the series in its later installments.
NOTE: While this is seemingly unimportant, I feel like I should note that Samus's wall jump is present in this game. This contradicts a plot point in Metroid: Fusion where Samus states that she did not learn how to Wall Jump or Shinespark until the events of Super Metroid since both abilities are present in this game. While this does not effect my final review score, I think it is up to the players to decide if this is a failure in terms of storytelling.
Since Zero Mission uses the same engine as Metroid: Fusion, the game provides a truly wonderful gameplay experience. A slight change was made to the game's mechanics: the Super Missile is separate from the regular missiles, and as a result the "select button" returns. Thankfully, this does not actually ruin gameplay all too much since Super Missiles are rarely needed, and they quickly return to the regular missiles once depleted. Arguably this can lead to some minor frustration for players who accidently use the precious supply of Super Missiles, but it is an issue that is dismissable under human error.
Kraid returns in Zero Mission, but resembles his Super Metroid counterpart instead of his original Metroid (NES) form
Enemy variety is plentiful in Zero Mission with every single enemy from the original game having redesigned sprites to match the changes in graphics since the days of the NES. There are also new enemies and obstacles that have been added to the game as well, such as the King Worm boss, as well as several other bosses that are unique to this version of Metroid. Bosses returning to Zero Mission from the NES title have also been reworked to match their Super Metroid counterparts more closely, the most notable example being Kraid, who now takes up 5 screens, just like he did in the SNES game.
Just about every issue with the original Metroid has been addressed in Zero Mission thanks to the Fusion engine. You can now aim at enemies that are below you, and all damage feels deserved instead of simply an old NES "extend the gameplay" feature. The reliance on an instruction booklet is similarly gone, as Zero Misison takes Fusion's in-game explanations a step further by giving you an inventory screen that provides you with all the information you need on Samus's arsenal.
If players found SA-X to be a pain, this section will be a nightmare for those players
The addition of the Zero Suit mission also provides a gameplay experience that is unique to Zero Mission, as it makes players rely more on stealth than any other Metroid title. Taken straight out of the SA-X portions of Fusion, Samus must avoid the line of sight of all Space Pirates found on the Mother Ship on her way to the Chozodia Temple in order to acquire the "Fully Powered Suit" or else face the consequences of being armed with only a paralyzer. The mechanics in this section successfully make the player feel powerless, as we do not have access to any of our items aquired up until this point - including energy tanks - which in turn adds to our immersion in the game.
Unfortunately, as much as Zero Mission brings to the table, it equally takes away. I did say earlier that Metroid: Zero Mission was the first Metroid title that I completed. However, I did not say it was the first I played. To put it plainly: the game is easy.
Any walkthrough found online will show just how easy it is to not only avoid damage, but also to recover any of the very little health that players lose
While the game sports some of the lowest damage reductions in the entire Metroid series, it once again suffers from enemies that do not do enough damage to make you feel as though you are at risk of death. Similar to Metroid Prime, Zero Mission offers higher difficulty settings, but even the game's "Hard Mode" barely holds a candle to the sheer dread of taking damage that Metroid: Fusion provided, and is only available after completing the game in "Normal".
Players probably remember this exageration being true for most games between 2004 and 2012
Why this became an issue once more is beyond my understanding, but I imagine this is nothing more than a result of the dumbing down of video games that players experienced between 2004-2012 where video games in general suffered from a severe case of holding players' hands by providing them with 3 hour tutorials instead of learning through the game itself. These statements are true of Zero Mission, as the game feels like it is holding your hand. While there are certain areas that are hidden in the game, none of them were particularly difficult to find. In fact, I was able to get a 100% collection rate with a game time of just under 2 hours in "Normal Mode" without a guide or actually trying all too hard to find everything. This marks the first time I have recieved anything above 80% during my entire Rewind Review playthrough, and it truly speaks to the relative ease of this game in comparison to other 2D Metroid titles.
One shot and most common enemies are stopped in their tracks from the Ice Beam
The difficulty also suffers due to the fact that Metroid: Zero Mission resembles Super Metroid more than Metroid: Fusion. Since the Ice Beam is no longer limited to missiles like in Fusion, this game marks the return of the Ice-Plasma-Wave-Charge Beam. In fact, due to the relatively low health of enemies in this game, this beam feels more like the Hyper Beam from Super Metroid once you find the Fully Powered Suit. This is somewhat insignificant since the game ends shortly after you recieve said suit, but it does not change the fact that the Ice Beam is perhaps the most over-powered weapon in the 2D games to date.
Once again, everything that Fusion did right, Zero Mission does again. The sprites in Zero Mission are beautiful, and do everything that they need to do. Backgrounds, on the other hand take a more stylistic design, appearing more like a comic book or manga rather than the technological design of Fusion. The effect actually works instead of taking away as some might expect, since the entire game - cutscenes included - seems to take more cues in art direction from manga styles of drawing. This may be a result of the Metroid manga that was released around this time, as the game does feature in later cutscenes a flashback that uses a frame from said manga.
Images from the manga and in-game sprite art presented side-by-side
Little details in design are also prevalent in Zero Mission, as the pose of Samus as she traverses the Zebesian landscape once again plays a role. This is Samus's first mission, and while the gameplay fails to make it feel like Samus is inexperienced, her appearance does. With her cannon arm erect at all times, it shows that Samus has not yet learned that holding her arm cannon outward at all times is tiring. It speaks to Samus's inexperience in battle, and her running style (while looking somewhat clumsy in its attempt to copy the original Metroid) actually makes it seem like Samus is just as clueless as we felt while playing any Metroid title for the first time.
At this point in the Rewind Review series, I do not think I have ever said anything bad about a Metroid title, except for Metroid II. The same still holds true for Zero Mission as its remixes of original the Metroid soundtrack are stellar to say the least. With a much stronger sound engine, Zero Mission is able to turn the already powerful beeps and boops of the original NES title into a beautiful melody of 16-bit orchestrated pieces. The experience is simply wonderful, something that needs to be heard while playing the game to truly appreciate.
While I typically dislike the use of nostalgia to bait in players, Metroid: Zero Mission's overall presentation does not feel as though it was designed for the players of the original NES title. Instead, the game feels fresh, designed for a new generation of gamers that never experienced the NES era. Everything that is present in the NES game is here, and it is done better.
It does what a remake should do: reinvent the game for a newer audience.
By using a lot of the elements that past 2D titles brought to the table, Zero Mission has provided an excellent reimagining of the NES source material. The only shortcomings the game does have are a result of what the game had to work with: the Metroid (NES) title that in reality was only difficult and time consuming due to its failures. While this cannot excuse this game's relative ease, it does put into perspective how little the original Metroid brought to the table.
That said, I give Metroid: Zero Mission a 6.5 out of 10 as it provides a genuinely pleasant experience, but ultimately falls short due to not providing anything new for the series. While I personally would have loved to give the game a 7/10 or an 8/10, the score would have relied more on nostalgia rather than the guts of the game. While the game reinvents the original Metroid (NES) game, it doesn't do anything for the series as a whole. Exploration is easy, enemies are laughably so, and by fixing the flaws with the original Metroid it also makes the experience feel... empty. The very fact that there is an "Easy Mode" in the game as well feels like an insult to both fans and gamers, making this perhaps the first casual Metroid title.
I recommend this game for first-time players of the action-platformer genre. While I also recommend this as the best way to experience the original Metroid game, I would advise long-time fans of the series to find a copy where "Hard Mode" has already been unlocked or to simply take the game's lack of difficulty with a grain of salt. It is a fun game, truly it is, but it just lacks that... something... that makes a great Metroid game.
Be sure to check back on this article, or the GameSkinny front page for future reviews as we make our way from the original 1986 Metroid on the NES to the 2010 release of Metroid: Other M. In my next review we will be exploring the planet Aether in Metroid Prime 2: Echoes. Until then... See you next mission!
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