This week’s Monday’s game is my #7 ranked NES Essential Play: Metroid.

Metroid was the first game in the hugely successful and popular Metroid series produced by Nintendo. While Metroid may not be the best of the series, it’s certainly a groundbreaking game compared to the other NES games of it’s time. Metroid was released in August 1986 in Japan, which is a fairly early release for the NES system.

The hallmark of Metroid, which follows the series to today, is the non-linear exploration aspect of the game. This was an almost unheard of concept at the time for an action game but has since become extremely popular in recent days with games like Elder Scrolls IV and V, Fallout 3/New Vegas, Infamous, etc.

Metroid is based on the solid foundation of side-scrollers. You have your character Samus Aran, an intergalactic bounty hunter in a power suit, who can jump and shoot to progress through the game. Where Metroid starts to blaze its own trail is in the way the game was designed. Previously, side-scrollers adhered to a pretty simple equation. You have some number of levels, possibly sub-divided into other smaller levels. At the end of each level there was a boss, and when you beat the boss you moved to the next level. It was fun and it worked. Metroid threw out this equation and wrote a new one.

In Metroid you have four areas of a bigger, discrete world. All these areas can be explored at your leisure, and any given area can be returned to whenever you like. Scattered throughout the world are items and power-ups that both make you more powerful and might give you the ability to visit new areas that were previously inaccessible (such as the high jump boots allowing you to make jumps to higher ledges). The placement of these items rather brilliantly lead to the logical flow of the game. By making certain areas inaccessible until you acquired certain items, the world design could be carefully planned out so that certain items would have be acquired before you could gain access to some of the bosses.

The real beauty of the game, though, was the sheer amount of stuff you could do before even finding the first boss, and while you do have to fight two bosses to gain access to the last area of the game, neither boss was required to be the first one. Granted, it was faster to fight a certain one before the other, but you could easily skip the first boss, do more exploring, beat the other boss, and come back for the boss you skipped. It was this freedom of exploration that made Metroid such a good, and memorable game.

The other half of the feeling of exploration that Metroid helped cultivate in the players, was the sheer number of hidden items and rooms. More than any other game of its time (or indeed most made to date), Metroid was full of hidden stuff. Missile expansion tanks hidden in bricks you could destroy with a bomb to reveal them, hidden rooms behind false walls, weapon change stations underneath fake quicksand, and on and on. If you really wanted to explore every nook and cranny of Metroid you were in for quite the ride.

The game also had a nice twist ending for those who could conquer it in under 3 hours (though these days it’s common knowledge). As it turns out, Samus Aran, the heavily armored, arm-blaster wielding bounty hunter, is a woman. It was nearly unheard of in those days for a game featuring a gun-toting main character to have that character be anything other than a male. This twist ending shocked and delighted the gamers of that era, and Samus has been the more recognized pillar of feminine strength in the gaming world ever since.

As Metroid was a pretty popular game, it’s still readily available today. You can snag a used copy of the original NES cart for under $10, otherwise there was a re-release/update of the game for GameBoy Advance under the name “Zero Mission” which can be found for $10-15.

-Confusion is a state of mind, or is it?

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