Metroid: Zero Mission
Review by Mike Finkelstein
Customarily Nintendo takes its time when making video games. Although they put out three Super Mario Bros. games in the NES era (four if you count the two different versions of Super Mario Bros. 2), they're no Capcom, usually taking their time to put out a title and regularly delaying games until they're just right (in this regard they're a lot like Blizzard and that companies "it'll come out when it's done" policy"). As creative head at Nintendo, Shigeru Miyamoto once said, "A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad," and that's why Nintendo so often will simply delay, or cancel, a game instead of releasing something without their customary magic.
After the release of both Metroid Fusion and Metroid Prime, fans would have expected for the series to lay dormant for a time. It took 8 years between the release of Super Metroid and Metroid Fusion, and while the first three games in the series came out in a span of eight years, no one figured the company would go back to rapid fire releases for the series. Instead, though, it was a bit of a surprise that Nintendo already had two more Metroid games coming out in 2004. One would be a sequel to the company's first 3D effort in the series, Metroid Prime 2: Corruption, while the other was long requested remake of the original title, Metroid: Zero Mission.
Admittedly, until the release of Metroid: Samus Returns, Metroid: Zero Mission (titled Metoroido Zero Misshon in Japan) stood as the only remake in the entire series. That said, the original Metroid was in dire need of a refresh. While a good game in its own right, the title had not aged well when compared to later entries in the series, especially when compared to the sublime Super Metroid. In comparison to the series post-Super, the pacing of the original title was noticeably slower, the world less detailed, and many of the then-modern convenience people came to expect from Metroidvania titles were missing in the first game. With Metroid: Zero Mission, Nintendo aimed to correct that.
An enhanced remake of the original title, Zero Mission followed the same general shape of the original game in the series all while adding in a bunch of stuff to make it look, feel, and play more like Super Metroid and later titles in the series. Naturally, the first thing fans noticed was that the game looked better. Where the original was solid in design and aesthetic for the NES, this new version had slick, smooth 16-bit graphics on par with the crisp and detailed art of Metroid Fusion. This was a very pretty game built on the Fusion engine and optimized to look and sound as good as the Game Boy Advance could handle.
As far as conveniences from later games, Zero Mission included save points as well as an actual map. Metroid purists might have balked at these additions but the rest of us were grateful for them, the original game was hard, even obtuse at times, when it came its its structure and design and anything to make the exploration-heavy adventure a little more bearable was greatly appreciated. Save rooms had been a part of the series since the second game, Metroid II: Return of Samus, so their inclusion in this remake was an absolute necessity.
Samus also picked up a number of upgrades that weren't in the original game but were in later entries, such as the Space Jump and Speed Booster, Super Missiles and Power Misses, additional beams (that could also stack and work together), and the Power Grip. This made Samus much more maneuverable in the new version of the game than she'd ever been in the original. It also meant that new areas could be added in, with new ways to unlock secrets and explore regions of the planet previously familiar to players.
This also meant that some of the control additions included in the series were added into this game. The inclusion of speed booster, for example, meant that Samus could now shinespark through areas that previous would never have expected that ability. How areas could be rearranged and upgraded because of newfound abilities like that shinespark, or the wall kicks. Going back to the original game after playing the newer ones meant you had to play as a Samus that felt absolutely crippled, but with Zero Mission you got a return to form for our powerful heroine in her original title. It felt, in some ways, like we were playing the first adventure like it was meant to be played.
The biggest change to the title, though, came at the end of what would have been the original game. Instead of Metroid: Zero Mission ending with Samus flying in her ship off planet, it now continues on with Samus's ship under attack from the remnants of the Space Pirate navy, shooting her down right when she thought she was free of Zebes. She lands, losing her power suit and access to her various Chozo upgrades, and is forced to go through a Space Pirate ship in just her base uniform (the so-called "Zero Suit"), looking for a way to escape the planet.
This new area is something of a contentious inclusion for fans of the series. The additional area does have its own tense pacing, making the players work extra hard to survive without all the perks they've gotten used to. At the same time, it does feel a little tacked on, like a short adventure there to pad the length of the original title and say, "hey, we didn't just remake the game. Here's this new mission!" But the new area is hardly a full-fledged zone, and most players, even casually, will get through it in a half and hour or so. It's an interesting inclusion but not entirely fleshed out.
That said, for players that hadn't tried the original title before, this new area functions as something of tightly paced denouement to the main adventure. It adds a final piece to the story, showing that all the Space Pirates weren't inside the Zebes base (illustrating how they could have survived to continue hounding Samus after this first adventure) while challenging the players with a new way to play the title. Even if it is short, it's still an interesting addition to the game that makes you appreciate all the work that went into the remake even more, at least as far as this reviewer was concerned.
The original Metroid is a classic in its own right and, no matter what, there will be a segment of gamers that will never like a remake of a classic game. If you aren't of that camp, though, Metroid: Zero Mission is about as good as a remake can really get. It's a worthy game that bridges the game between the story of the old era and the game play of the modern Metroid series. Few things can truly measure up to Super Metroid, even within its own series, but Zero Mission is probably as close as the series has come in its attempts since.