Compared to the "lightning in a bottle" perfection of Super Metroid, the original Metroid can be a bit garish, and rough around the edges. While the creature design is top notch for 1987 and many areas of the game look great, other areas betray the tiled nature of NES graphics, yet they usually convey the world you are exploring quite effectively, and once you are engrossed in the game you won't care. As you continue to explore, areas can start to blend together, not to mention some room patterns are deliberately repeated. Add the lack of any mapping option and you can easily become disoriented while playing. The original manual came with a rough map to get you started. Either way, pencil and paper will be handy.
The manual also fleshes out the story of the planet you are on, mentions a Galactic Federation and Space Pirates, and so on and so forth, but all you really need to know is that you are a Bounty Hunter, you are going after Mother Brain, and you will be exploring many dangerous environments. While it's well known now, at the time Samus Aran was a secret female protagonist, which made for a nice plot twist – by 8-bit standards, anyway.
The "Metroid template" of a non-linear adventure that requires exploration and gathering of additional items and skills to proceed further is all here. Control of your character is mostly spot on, and there is something particularly satisfying about revisiting areas once your exo-suit is completely powered up – not to mention searching for the large number of secret passageways.
If the graphics are a bit rough compared to Super Metroid, the music and sounds effects are fully formed. Both moody and catchy, the basic Metroid melodies have not changed since. The challenge can get frustrating at times – particularly during the boss battles, but the A.I. and patterns play fair for the most part. The ability to play through again with a fully powered-up suit and five different endings are both nice touches.
If I have one real complaint, it is with the game's pacing and flow. For a game than encourages quick play, some areas really require patience and deliberate movement, even when back tracking. Also, collecting energy and missile to refill your coffers can really bring the gameplay to a halt. That said, some areas have critters that aren't too dangerous and often produce larger energy payouts than the usual 5 units.
If you prefer 16-bit games and/or only dabble in the NES classics, you may want to stick with Super Metroid or try out the Metroid games on Gameboy Advance, but … if you are willing to travel into the weeds just a little and play more challenging 8-bit fare, then Metroid is well worth experiencing at least once.
- Ben Langberg