Samus Aran is one of the pillars of Nintendo. There's simply no mistake; she is a legitimate badass, who stands as one of the most iconic and trail blazing characters within gaming; a pioneer in female protagonists being both powerful and beautiful. It helps that the Metroid franchise has generally been prolific in generating great games since its release in 1986, right up to the present day with a grand total of thirteen titles. Two of which we'll be looking at today in our ongoing issue of Sequel Stories.
With an age gap of eleven years, Metroid II: The Return of Samus and Metroid Prime mark two distinct times within the franchise and represent the series harnessing the very best out of the console they were released on. Yes, there were other games in between these titles, however I feel Prime acts __as a “spiritual successor” to the second Metroid game and both are very close to my heart.
Memory lane is a path often traveled within my pages and once again serves as the jumping off point for today. The Game Boy was the first “console” I ever owned and I loved it beyond belief. I had three games to begin with; World Cup 1994, Top Ranking Tennis and Metroid II: The Return of Samus. It was the latter that received the most game play and I was hooked on it. To begin with, the difficulty was such a challenge that it made me want to play on, as it was firm but fair. You were punished appropriately but the game never hurt you unfairly, which allowed for progress and lessons learned, and thus, repeat attempts and consistent hours poured in. Combat was satisfying, you could rip through the lesser enemies and a satisfying “pop” would emit once a foe was dispatched. Of course, bosses and so on were more challenging, but more on that a little later.
One element that is woven throughout each iteration of the game is the ability to gain power-ups. In Metroid II, it always felt like a huge deal when you unlocked a new upgrade to your potent arsenal, as you had to first break through a barrier with your missiles and then come face to face with a Chozo statue, holding a mysterious orb. (Pictured below). The amount of intrigue this detail offers it part of the game's magic; you really feel immersed in a larger universe, which is compounded by a plethora of strange creatures that float around as you engage in some fun and demanding platforming.
You'll notice above on the heads up display a quirky symbol on the bottom right with a number, 38, next to it. This was the metroid counter. It's important to remember Samus is a bounty hunter, equipped with an array of abilities (such as rolling into a perfectly round ball to navigate confined spaces) and is hunting down all of the metroids. Once again, when you encounter these strange creatures, the game makes a grand moment out of it, freezing the screen and initiating some heart pounding music to let you know you're in for a fight. Again, the game provides tremendous feedback both visually and audibly, allowing you to focus in and get to grips with the situation at hand, keeping you engaged and immersed.
What else helps suck you in to the game's world? Music. A great soundtrack merges reality with your gaming experience and submerges you into the level design and compliments the environment, as well as providing a perfect audible cue for a dangerous situation, as mentioned above. This is a trope shared between the two games on discussion; Metroid 2 lures you in to an almost false sense of security with it's bouncy and vibrant notes at the beginning of the game, but soon after you dispatch your first metroid (within minutes) you enter a zone that has a distinct musical shift, alerting you to the fact that playtime is over, and things will start to feel a lot more real.
By comparison, Metroid Prime's open and sprawling environments had music to perfeclty supplement the world design, with ambient sounds that engulf you into the evironment and its ancient history and again, perfectly compliment each setting you traverse.
The music in both games helped drive home one feeling; loneliness. It's you, on an alien planet, infested with weird and wonderful creatures who want nothing more than to eat/rip/tear you apart. This was really felt with Prime, as all of a sudden things shifted from a 2D side scrolling perspective to first person view, right through Samus' visor.
This leads in to how Prime was an absolute game changer for the franchise, yet remained loyal to its core elements. As mentioned, the change in perspective was a move to get the game series into the modern era; the title was launched on Nintendo's latest creation, the beloved GameCube and therefore, a make over was required. Now experiencing the world through Samus' eyes, everything was different. The game had drastically shifted from it's original design, yet retained key elements such as upgrades, puzzle solving, backtracking and more. One of the greatest and subtle implementations was the heads up display, which curved around and made you truly feel like you were in the visor. Coupled with this, flashes (explosions and such) would reflect Samus' eyes in the visor, giving a real sense of realism and providing a unique and unparalleled visual experience.
A huge game mechanic that was reinvented for this iteration was the ball. As already mentioned, Samus has the ability to curl up into a small ball and traverse many areas that couldn't be explored otherwise. With Prime, this was taken to the next level; literally. On the 3D plane, the puzzle games became even more inventive and challenging, as you were free to roll around in any direction and often had to, in order to complete the challenge. Right here is an example of how a sequel should be; retaining elements of the original series which worked and expanding on them in a meaningful and exciting new direction.
The aforementioned visor was more than just an ingenious visual tool however, it also added tons of new gameplay options. One such ability was being able to scan your environment and generate information on an object, enemy and architecture. Apart from functioning as a nice insight into the lore of the game, you can actually glean valuable information, whether it's how to attack a foe by revealing a sweet spot to target, or by analyzing a weakness in a structure to exploit, it opened up a whole new layer of depth, again setting the standard for what a good sequel should be.
The above may just about scratch the surface on how influential, timeless and downright fun these games are. They remain relevant to this day, as exemplified by Metroid II receiving a recent HD remake and Prime still being talked about, with a hotly demanded sequel apparently in development. This all means that if you haven't played either title, I implore you to do just that and find out for yourself how special these titles really are.