Welcome back to the world of Zebes. Samus Aran, our intrepid bounty hunter, begins her first mission on her adopted homeworld in this remake of the original Metroid. In this sixth installment of the Metroid series, the creators took the original conflict of Samus versus Mother Brain, and applied what they have learned with Metroid III and Metroid Fusion to create a game that is much more accessible and interesting to play than the original that it is modeled after.
The best place to start would be with the graphics and the engine that powers this remade version of the original game. While I didn’t see anything overly spectacular about the graphics in this GBA-SP powered version, they are the same ones that Metroid III began to pioneer, and that Metroid Fusion refined greatly. The large areas move smoothly, especially when you are moving quickly. There is no noticeable slowbown, even in the big boss fights where their large detailed sprites move quickly. Almost every area has a background to it, providing depth and feel that is appropriate to the area. The sprites are good looking, making every monster recognizable, while making them larger and more colorful as well. This holds true for Samus as well, with her suit showing upgrades as she picks up the different power upgrades throughout the game. A nice noticeable addition to the game is the use of short cutscenes depicting various parts of the story. The animation is simple, but stylish, giving more story to the game than before.
This is one area where I would advise every Metroid: Zero Mission player to go get headphones for their GBA/GBA-SP. The music makes every one of these levels, without a doubt. Each zone (Crateria, Brinstar, Norfair, etc) has its own theme, remixed from the original game. The songs rise and fall depending where you are in the area, ranging from quiet and back in the background at the start, to pounding and dramatic in the Boss areas.
The sound effects for some of the weapons are a little annoying and can sound distorted over the GBA speaker. On headphones it is not much improved but it doesn’t sound as distorted. I could only hope that they would lower the gunfire sounds a little bit in future versions, as it would easily block out other sounds, and greatly irritate people around me even on low volumes if I was not wearing headphones. This is still a minor complaint compared to how well the other sounds stood out.
In the control department, I don’t really have much to say. It is solid and well done. Samus jumps and moved like I would expect her to. I only had to spend a minute or two getting jumping timing right at the start, and I dove right in. Advanced maneuvers didn’t take much to master, though I found the shoulder charge a little difficult. The fact that I didn’t have to spend an amount of time ‘mastering’ the control let me get into the game that much faster. My only gripe with this game would be its use of the shoulder buttons. This complaint isn’t truly against the game, but against GBA-SP hardware though. If you have problems using the shoulder buttons on the SP, then be warned. This could make the game more difficult as the missile button and aim up/down button are on the L and R buttons.
The game does a very good job of fleshing out the story of Samus Aran’s debut into the video game world. In the original Metroid, all you got as a lead in for the story was ‘Go to Zebes and defeat Mother Brain’. They used a few more words to describe it, but not many. The game starts off the same as before, with Samus having arrived just inside the entrance to Crateria. You then progress around the map discovering new tools for Samus to use in her quest to defeat Mother Brain. As you discover each power up, starting with the Morph Ball, moving on to missiles, Bombs, missiles, energy tanks, missiles, etc, you have to take this equipment and discover what paths it opens up to you. There is reason to traverse each area in the game multiple times to gather as many of these powerful upgrades. This version of Metroid is helped in several ways. In the original game, the only way to replenish energy is to find another energy tank (which would top you off) or kill monsters and pickup the energy units they left behind. This would lead to long and arduous runs just to prepare for a Boss fight. In Metroid: Zero Mission, the various Chozo statues you encounter double as refilling stations and upgrade protectors/guides. When you roll as the morph ball into the statue’s hand, it refills your energy/missiles/aux items to full. In several cases the statues will point you in the direction that you need to go by providing a blip on your map. This feature gives much focus to what would be a frustrating exercise in ‘Where do I go now?’. All in all, I never felt at a loss of where to go or what to do in an area where I felt trapped. There are some unique ways to get through doors or creatures blocking your path, but they are not difficult to find.
All in all, Metroid: Zero Mission doesn’t bring anything truly groundbreaking to the system. What it does bring is a good solid game which is fun to replay. It also has several things locked away until you complete the game. A gallery to look at the ending picture you earn (dependant on time, difficulty and percent of items collected) is available. Also available is the original Metroid, with a save function so you don’t have to use those crazy codes to restore your position within the game. You can also link in your Metroid Fusion cartridge with another GBA and unlock a gallery for Fusion, revealing all the ending images, as well as providing some pictures from Samus’ early life.