Sunday, May 16, 2010

Top 50 Games - 32. Super Metroid

Super Metroid is one of the greatest games of all time. And by "one of the greatest games of all time," I mean one of the top 10 greatest games of all time. And by "one of the top 10 greatest games of all time," I mean like one of the top 8. Possibly the greatest game ever to grace the greatest console ever (the Super Nintendo, obvz), Super Metroid is a monumental, ageless, bewilderingly deep masterwork whose intricate game world blows almost every other one out of the water. Full of twisting passageways, tight spaces, and carefully concealed secrets, the cavernous network of distinct rooms that is Zebes is a mind-blowing creation. And yet it often doesn't feel like it was created by a team of Japanese geniuses: it feels real and frighteningly organic. From the dark skies of Crateria to the alien flora of Brinstar to the haunting music and watery isolation of Maridia, Super Metroid absolutely nails atmosphere. This is a 2D game from 1994, and its moodiness is only matched by a few games released in the last 15 years. Zebes is home to a fascinatingly foreign ecosystem, one that does its best to drain protagonist Samus of her precious energy tanks. To deal with the planet's native hazards, along with those of its invaders, Samus gains access to a variety of weapons, gadgets, and upgrades. One of the most ingenious aspects of Metroid is that each new item is necessary and serves both exploratory and combat purposes. Using these tools to progress is one of gaming's trickiest and most fascinating challenges. Whether you're using the Ice Beam to freeze enemies into floating platforms so as to ascend a vertical shaft, deliberately being pulled into quicksand as a shortcut to another area, or revealing cracks in the floor with the X-Ray visor, Super Metroid is constantly presenting the player with opportunities to apply their investigative skills and ability to solve problems. And when these problems are solved, all through the player's own ingenuity, the rewards are more than sufficient. They aren't cutscenes, though; no, they're new mechanical additions that change gameplay and yet are grounded in context. None of this context is trite or spoon-fed, either; it is gleaned from the environment and the player's deduction. The mythology is awesome, by the way: an ancient race of galaxy-conquering bird philosopher-scientists named the Chozo, whose statues silently offer you technological prizes. Insect-like marauders that have made this planet, once a Chozo sanctuary, into their home base. Saber-toothed, life-draining jellyfish called Metroids. Mother Brain. Metroid Prime, in case you were wondering, would have been #51 on my list and my feelings toward it are similar to those I have for Super Metroid. However, I feel as though Metroid's world design makes more sense in 2D, and I think this SNES installment better captures the essence of the series and its artistic style, even though Prime is graced with a modern level of convenience. If you can get over the fact that it contains backtracking, Super Metroid will present you with one of the most magical, mysterious, and sophisticated game experiences out there.

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