NES Review: Metroid. The sci-fi classic that re-invented video game platforming

27 May 2006
Posted by:

Metroid for Game Boy AdvanceContinuing on with our Classic Game reviews, I have now decided to play through and review each game in the phenomenally popular Metroid series. As with my Ninja Gaiden reviews, a new review will be scheduled for each weekend from now on until all the games have been reviewed.

Metroid is by far one of Nintendo‘s most popular franchises. The main character, Samus, has gone on to become one of Nintendo’s star characters, making big appearances in all the Super Smash Bros. games as a starting character (interestingly enough, no N64 Metroid game was ever released. Samus however did star in the original Super Smash Bros. game and it’s her only 64-bit appearence) and most recently Nintendo has had tremendous success with it’s first-person Metroid Prime games and most recently the first-person DS entry, Metroid Prime: Hunters. But the original game is where it all started. And this 8-bit classic is just as great now as it was back in 1986. If you have never played a Metroid game, then this review is made especially for you, and will bring you up to speed on the Metroid universe and Samus’ first adventure on the planet Zebes. But the review is every much for Metroid veterans as well. I am a die-hard fan of the series and was weaned on the original, but I made it a point to look at the game from both perspectives. So go grab a drink, sit back, relax, and get ready to delve into Samus’ original Nintendo Entertainment System adventure! Enjoy. 🙂


Platform: NES
Also On: GBA, GameCube
Released: 1986
Players: 1
Genre: 2D side-scrolling action platformer
Save: Password
Developer: Nintendo R&D1
Publisher: Nintendo
Creator: Gunpei Yokoi
Metroid Title Screen
Nintendo‘s Metroid is by far one of the most original and unique games to ever hit the Nintendo Entertainment System (and the gaming world in general). Originally released in 1986, the game stars Samus Aran, a bounty hunter who has come to the Planet Zebes by issue of the Galactic Federation to find and wipe out the Space Pirate leader, Mother Brain, who is hidden somewhere on the fortress planet, with the title Metroids in tow. The rather simple storyline for Metroid doesn’t factor into the game at all outside it’s title screen (though the instruction manual delves into much greater detail) and only serves to set-up the adventure that’s to follow as well as the enemies you will encounter and the world they inhabit.

Metroid is a 2D, non-linear, side-scrolling action platformer. The brain-child of Shigeru Miyamoto’s mentor, Gunpei Yokoi (who also went on to make Kid Icarus and was the creator of the Game Boy and Virtual Boy systems as well as the 80’s Game & Watch portables), the game was a huge hit in the U.S. (though not until it’s re-release. The game eventually became the first Nintendo developed NES game to sell more copies in America than in Japan) and would go on to become a major franchise for Nintendo (along with Zelda & Mario), giving the world some of it’s best games. The Metroid series would spawn several great sequels on many different platforms and the third game (Super Metroid) is considered by many to be the greatest game ever made. The Metroid sequels are as follows: Metroid II: Return of Samus (Game Boy), Super Metroid (Super NES), Metroid Fusion (Game Boy Advance), Metroid Prime (GameCube), Metroid Prime 2: Echoes (GCN), Metroid: Zero Mission (a remake of the original Metroid for GBA) and most recently: Metroid Prime: Hunters (DS) and Metroid Prime Pinball (DS).

Metroid Brown BrinstarIn the original Metroid you use the control pad to move, B Button to shoot your weapon, and the A Button to jump. You can only aim right, left or up. And you can’t duck. The first power-up you will find however is found directly to the left of where you start off (and in plain view), and it is the Morph Ball. The creativity in Metroid is astounding, and the Morph Ball is a fundamental part of Metroid’s unique gameplay. Once you get the Ball, you are then given the ability to morph into a perfect sphere by pressing down, which allows you to fit into small spaces in walls that you couldn’t fit through before. This power-up alone demonstrate the creativity that Metroid creator Gunpei Yokoi infused the game with and throughout the game the Morph Ball is extensively used. The Morph Ball ability has become a signature of the Metroid series, along with several other power-ups that re-occur in later entries in the series.

The controls in Metroid are perfect and easy to grasp. The animation is smooth, the graphics are simple but fit perfectly with the feel and mood of the game, and the gameplay is fun. Timing is a big part of Metroid. Timing your jumps, attacking enemies when they are vulnerable, and knowing the intricacies of how enemies attack, how your weapons work, and how best to destroy or dodge an attack. Manipulating the d-pad and the jump button right are key to success, and you will get better the more you play. There aren’t really any downsides to how the game plays outside of some slowdown when multiple enemies are on-screen.

Metroid has a serious science fiction feel to it. The action is intense, as the world is inhabited by many enemies, and the game isn’t easy by a long shot. The game’s mood and atmosphere are also perfectly in tune with each other. The whole game oozes other-worldliness. Giving off this cold, desolate, you-are-here-alone feel, with it’s black backgrounds and your character being the only human in sight. The enemies are also all odd creatures, and the environments get increasingly more menacing as you progress. Particularly two of the boss hideouts will capture you with their unique visual design and haunting music. The mood and feel here is simply unparalleled, especially on the NES. No other game gives you that freakish feeling quite in the way Metroid does, and it’s all thanks to the combination of unique visuals and design, and great moody music that creates this striking atmosphere.

While the mood, music and atmosphere are all top-notch, thankfully so is the gameplay. Metroid is a side-scroller where you are pretty much free to go anywhere on the planet that you want to from the get-go. In addition, there is absolutely no hand-holding here (which is unheard of in this day and age), not even a map (though you can find a simple, but helpful, general layout of the world in the game’s instruction manual). You are completely on your own, old-school style.

Metroid Ending Over 10 HoursThis means that if you have never played the original Metroid, or worse still, a Metroid game (tsk, tsk), then you are in for a world of pain and confusion. The key to Metroid and it’s maze-like planet of Zebes is to make mental note (or better yet, literal note) of where you have been. Keep track of what doors you have entered, what items you got there, and what doors and passageways you didn’t enter. And remember to go back there once you have finished going wherever the current direction leads. It is really easy to get lost in Metroid. And since newbies don’t know where they are going and where such and such power-up is, the game can be extremely daunting. Don’t give up hope however. The more you play the game, the more you will get a feel for how the game lays out and how things are set-up, and you will find that it really gets easier and more familiarwith each play through. If you have played the game a lot, or are a master at Metroid like me, then you will find it easy and fun re-discovering Samus’ original adventure, and even more fun playing the game in your own way, getting the items in whatever order you choose.

When you first start the game out, your arsenal is very limited and it’s easy to die. But in true video game fashion (and Metroid being one of the originators of this style of play), you will grow in ability as you gain new power-ups that you discover along the way. New power-ups allow you to access sections of the world that were previously inaccessible (as well as increase health & missiles). For example, you will need missiles to get into locked doors that contain new weapons (such as the Ice Beam. Take note that you can only carry one beam at a time), armor (Varia Suit) or abilities (Screw Attack, High Jump Boots) and will need Bombs (which, once discovered, allow you to lay bombs when in Morph Ball mode) to blow up blocks or sections of walls and floors, allowing you to get into those areas. This type of play makes Metroid really fun and original. The game world is simply full of secrets. You never know where a certain path will lead (and many of the areas look similar, so remember to keep that mental map handy) and you will be awe-struck by how clever and hard to find some areas are. You literally must remember to always bomb walls and floors, and to look out for clues. Everything in Metroid is fair game for a breakable surface leading to a new area. Walls, floors and even roofs can be shot or bombed, opening up a new path. And power-ups are VERY well hidden. It will take all of your video game skills if you want to master this game and find everything that it has to offer.

It’s truly awesome to watch Samus grow in power as you gain new power-ups. The game naturally gets easier as you discover new weapons and abilities. For example, having the Ice Beam makes the enemies much less threatening, as you can now freeze them in their tracks before they even have a chance to attack. The Varia Suit cuts damage in half, and the Screw Attack literally decimates any enemies in your path. However, even though you are so powerful, and you gain more health via Energy Tanks as you progress, the game always remains tough and there is always the threat of dying. It is very difficult to gain back energy in this game if you have lost a lot. Matter of fact, you need to keep in mind not to get below a certain amount of health if there are no energy tanks left for you to find. This can lead to much frustrationif you don’t know ahead of time, cause if you are out of energy by the end of the game, then you’ll end up wasting a lot of time simply trying to gain your health back to capacity (enemies will sometimes give off orbs that refill a bit of health when defeated), and enemies take more health away when you get hit than you gain from collecting energy balls from them. The best way to tackle the game is to take note of where Energy Tanks are, and only get them when you need them. Especially the further on in the game you get. It’s worth noting too that there are two more Energy Tanks than the total you are allowed to carry. Meaning that, in the end of the game, if you have all six Energy Tanks, then there are still two more left which you can go back and find if you are low on health, but it won’t give you another tank full.

The bosses in Metroid are very well hidden, and there are only two of them outside the Mother Brain herself. They present quite a challenge and you will need lots of missiles if you are to defeat them. That shouldn’t be too much of a problem though, as long as you have enough missiles to take out the first boss (Ridley is easier than Kraid IMO) then you should be fine, as defeating a boss will give you a ton more maximum missiles (as a reward for defeating them), which should enable you to have enough to defeat the next boss.

Metroid Re-Release BoxAs you play try and notice the little tricks you can do to make the game easier. For example, there are some tough enemies that are made way easier to defeat if you simply freeze them and follow up with a missile. To defeat the small crawling enemies that are coming toward you (remember you can’t duck) simply roll into a ball, lay a few bombs and watch as they walk into them and are destroyed. You will find some breakable sections of walls that seem impossible or hard to reach. One way to reach them easier, instead of trying to lay bombs against the wall to bomb yourself up, is to lay one bomb, then another directly afterward but before the last bomb blows up. Do this a bit off from the wall (not directly against it), then when the bombs blow up roll toward the wall. This will toss you up into the air. It is these kind of things that give this game so much old-school technique. It’s truly a game that is fun to master.

The world of Zebes is wonderfully designed. Not only are the levels and layouts astounding in their simple complexity, but the world is full of great touches. From the mysterious Chozo statues that hold your power-ups in their hands, to other unknown creature statues that you encounter before entering the lairs of the bosses, the game is full of great touches that really go a long way in giving the planet of Zebes it’s haunting character. The music is some of the best and most memorable you will hear on the NES, and has it’s place among the great game tunes of the 8-bit generation for a reason.

NorfairMetroid also has it’s fair share of reply value. There are five endings total depending on how fast you conquer the game (you need to beat the game in under an hour if you want to get the best ending, which is quite a feat to accomplish) and it is virtually impossible that you will collect ALL of the Missile Expansions, Energy Tanks and power-ups on your first play through the game. It is very possible to beat the game without collecting everything. Sadly, the first Metroid does not give you a percentage rating to let you know how much of the items you have collected. There also is no save in the original game, but there is a password given if you die (Metroid was one of the first games to use a password system). Albeit, a very complex, confusing, long and crude password. Some modern versions of the game, such as the version of the original Metroid that is unlockable in Metroid Prime, do allow you so save a game and I would recommend one of those versions over the NES original.

Metroid is available in these following forms: You can play the game in Metroid Prime by hooking Prime up to Metroid Fusion using the GameCube Game Boy Advance cable, you can play the original Metroid by beating Metroid: Zero Mission and selecting it under the Options menu and lastly the game is available as a stand-alone game pak for the Game Boy Advance as part of the Classic NES series. This version replicates the original NES game in packaging art, the art on the cartridge and includes the original instruction manual. Metroid will also be available (no doubt) on the Wii‘s Virtual Console when the system launches this holiday (’06).

Metroid Re-Release CartMetroid is also extremely well known and beloved for containing one of the greatest video game discoveries (and subsequently, endings) of all time. If you could successfully beat the game in under an hour (for the best ending) or under three hours (for a slightly different), then the player was treated to Samus’ true form. You see, all throughout the release of the game and even in the instruction manual, Samus, the great space bounty hunter, was always mentioned in masculine form. The instruction book literally calls Samus a “he“. But in the end, if gamers were skillful enough to get the best ending in the time allotted, they were treated to a huge surprise. Samus’ suit comes off, and revealed beneath is a women. This kind of discovery was unparalleled in the world of video games. And while some people could take the discovery in a negative way (for example, by viewing it as a sort of “reward” to the mostly male video game audience. Said reward being some pixely form of sexism), the majority of people saw it as a positive (since Samus was really the first lead female character in a video game, even though players didn’t initially know it), and it is very reminiscent of the kind of video game surprises that other great game designers, like Metal Gear Solid creator Hideo Kojima, would follow in the future. Metroid did it first, and left it’s mark on the industry and in the hearts of gamers everywhere.

A quick and memorable password for playing as Samus’ true form, unarmored, was eventually discovered and made the rounds to gamers everywhere. You could do it by entering the password screen and typing in:

justin bailey (top-line)
[insert all dashes here]

Other passwords that give similar and different effects are also known, but that above is the most popular and well-known password.

Mother Brain HideoutIn the end, Metroid is a fun title that oozes personality, and in my humble opinion, it is a great game on it’s own merits that stands up wonderfully to the test of time. However, if you aren’t a gamer weaned on the old-school NES-style ways, then you will probably find the game very hard. It is as old-school difficult as they come, and obviously the 2D graphics and limited animation will far from wow you.

But, if you can look past that and instead concentrate on the creativity of the game as a whole; The unique enemies and bosses, the weapons, the music, the design of planet Zebes itself and its labyrinthian areas, and the great gameplay ideas and sense of exploration contained within the game, then there is no reason you should not enjoy Metroid. This is easily one of the most unique games ever made, and a true old-school classic. Metroid is a Nintendo masterpiece, and it’s no wonder that the series is so beloved. The way it is made simply couldn’t be done today, but the limitations in the hardware brought out the best in 8-bit design and gameplay, while keeping the game extremely challenging but very rewarding for those willing to delve into all that the game has to offer. If you are in any way an old-school gamer, a Nintendo fan, or looking for a great classic action platformer, you can do no better than Metroid.

MetroidFUN FACTOR: Metroid is a very fun game, with lots to discover and many ways to play. The game is very hard however, especially for newbies, and it can be frustrating at times. It’s also easy to get lost and hard to gain back health. So taking all of the above into account, I give the game a score of: 8.5

Graphics: Simple but effective. The animation is good, the creatures are all unique, and the different sections of the planet all have a distinctive look. There are no backgrounds, but that actually works to the game’s favor in setting the haunting, desolate mood. 8.5

Sound & Music: The sound effects are all very unique and the little ditty that plays when you collect a new weapon has reached legend status among gamers (along with that well-known Zelda ditty that plays when you discover a secret) and the music is some of the best and most memorable on the NES. Beloved by gamers everywhere. 9.5
To hear some awesome modern metal remixes of these classic Metroid tunes, check out

Presentation: This game has aged very well. Nothing about it screams “outdated”, but rather it screams “old-school masterpiece“. The mature presentation and moody, mysteriousfeeling go a long way towards making the game enrapture the player in it’s world. 9.5

Samus Cool Art (Zero Mission)
Ingenuity: Metroid is a true originator. The game was so far ahead of it’s time and it’s great gameplay directly effected such revered and long-standing series as Castlevania. It set the precedent for open-ended non-linear 2D worlds, and collecting power-ups to make your character stronger has been done in virtually every action game since. 9.0

Replay Value: Multiple endings, lots of power-ups and tons of stuff to find. While it doesn’t have “replay value” in the modern sense (there are no unlockables for example), it is still a game that you will most likely want to replay once you beat it, to try and get a faster time, collect power-ups in a different order, or simply complete the game 100%. Which in itself will take you a long, long time, especially if you have never played the game before. And even if you have mastered it like me, it’s still a fun game to revisit from time and time. It truly returns you to the glory days of video gaming. 8.5

Reviewers Tilt: I’ve always been a fan of Metroid, ever since I was a kid and first laid eyes on it. The mysterious, haunting mood captured my attention and the great music stuck with me the rest of my life. Metroid made an impression on me like few games ever have. In my personal opinion it’s easily one of the greatest games ever made, and for that reason it gets my highest honor as far as tilt goes. 10


Categories: News, Reviews

About the author

Josh Romero By Josh Romero: He is a lover of videogames, as well as metal music, Gilmore Girls, chatting, social networking, Phoenix Suns, reading, writing and many other nerdy things. Read his posts here and connect with him on Youtube.

  • Recent Comments

  • Archives