My Favorite Video Games, Pt. 3

Not only was number 8 originally released on the same system as number 9, it was actually released the same year as number 9. 1994 was a good year for video games, apparently. My eighth favorite video game of all time is Super Metroid.

I don’t recall my anticipation level for Super Metroid being as high as it was for Final Fantasy III, but I do remember that it was very high. I had played the original Metroid on NES briefly and Metroid II: The Return of Samus for Game Boy extensively, so I definitely knew what I was getting into. Super Metroid came out in April of 1994, and I got it for my birthday a month later. Super Metroid is one of those games that can be played over and over again and it doesn’t get old. Part of the reason for this is because it’s so freaking good. But it also benefits from the fact that it can be played in a variety of different ways.

First, a little background. Super Metroid differs from Final Fantasy VI in that it doesn’t place a heavy emphasis on story. There IS a story, but it basically just brackets the gameplay. To set the stage, you play as Samus Aran, a famous bounty hunter, who has just captured the last of the Metroids. (Metroids are jellyfish-like organisms that absorb life energy from other organisms.) She deposits the baby Metroid at a scientific research station, and heads off to find more bounties to, er, hunt. Before she gets very far, she receives a distress signal from the station she just left, and discovers that the station was attacked by the Space Pirates, a group of nasty dudes who yearn to rule the galaxy with an iron fist and have no idea how to come up with a clever name for their organization. The Space Pirates want to breed the last Metroid and use its life-sucking powers to aid their goal of galactic domination. Samus returns to the station, battles a Space Pirate leader by the name of Ridley, whom she had thought dead, and fails to keep the Metroid away from the Space Pirates. She is then forced to follow the Pirates to their base on the planet of Zebes.

At this point, the story is pretty much done (except for the ending), but the gameplay is just beginning. The Space Pirate base on Zebes is a vast and twisting labyrinth that exists mostly underground, and is jam-packed with missiles, energy tanks, power suit upgrades, and various other goodies for Samus to find and utilize. The joy of this and other Metroid games is exploring every little nook and cranny in an attempt to obtain every single little power-up in the whole game. Or you can blast through it as fast as possible and try to finish it with as few upgrades as possible. That’s the beauty of this game. It can be played as deeply or as superficially as you want.

Super Metroid has been one of the more influential games in the history of video gaming. The non-linear, explore-and-collect gameplay that Metroid introduced and Super Metroid perfected has been aped repeatedly but arguably never quite surpassed. (Except for one instance. I’ll talk about that in a few weeks.) Probably the games that have come closest are Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and Shadow Complex. The first of these was released on the Playstation in 1997. The second was released as an Xbox Live Arcade game in 2009. Both of them take the gameplay style of Super Metroid into interesting new areas. Castlevania, in fact, was so polished, successful, and influential in its own right that subsequent games that fall into this mold, such as Shadow Complex, have been referred to as “Metroidvania” games.

There is a sad side story that accompanies the history of Super Metroid. The Metroid series was created by a man named Gunpei Yokoi. As great as the Metroid games were, Gunpei’s real strengths lay in hardware development. His most impressive accomplishment was the original Game Boy, which was extraordinarily successful on its own, plus it laid the foundation for other highly successful handheld systems. Unfortunately for Gunpei, his follow-up to the Game Boy was the ill-fated Virtual Boy. The Virtual Boy was a strange hybrid system: too bulky to be considered a handheld, but too underpowered to be considered a full console. Its main claim to fame was that it displayed images in 3D, which was kind of cool, but not really all that exciting.

The Virtual Boy was a complete disaster. People who used it complained that it caused headaches (because of the 3D effect and harsh red monochrome that it displayed images in) and cramping (because you had to hunch over to use it). That, combined with the weird gray area that this thing existed in, meant that virtually nobody bought it. (Except for my parents. Because I really, really wanted one. Because I was too dumb to realize how terrible it was.) It was such a total disaster that Gunpei Yokoi was sacked because of it, despite his previous successes. Such as the Game Boy. And Super Metroid. Gunpei Yokoi went on to start his own company (Koto Laboratory), but unfortunately he was killed in a car accident soon after.

(Disclaimer: Wikipedia claims that Gunpei Yokoi did not leave Nintendo because of the Virtual Boy, but rather he had always planned to retire at the age of 50. I have never heard this story before, so make of it what you will.)

In any case, although Gunpei Yokoi may be gone, his creations live on. The Game Boy line of hardware was incredibly successful in its own right, and it laid the groundwork for the Nintendo DS, which is probably the most successful video game console of all time. And of course, Super Metroid is the 8th best video game ever created. Which is pretty impressive, when you think about all of the many, many video games that have been made in the past 40+ years. So there’s that. Check back next week to hear about the 7th best video game of all time!

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