developed & published by Nintendo/2004.2.9
1 Player/Cartridge/GameBoy Advance
Yoshio Sakamoto, after a successful return to the Metroid series with Metroid Fusion, brought even more love to the GameBoy Advance with Metroid Zero Mission, a remake of the one that started it all. Game design philosophy, let alone the technology, had changed dramatically during the 20 year span between the original and the remake, but the fundamental ideas are still as green as ever. The combination of traditional and progressive design results in a 2D action game that retains the atmosphere of the original with none of its frustrations.
Zero Mission favors the atmosphere of the unknown over the linear progression of Metroid Fusion. As with the original there seems to be a never ending supply of secrets and mysteries to be uncovered in the depths of Planet Zebes’ crumbling caverns. The game does have a few manga-style scenes as you progress to help flesh out what little story there is, but don’t expect a cinematic masterpiece.
As usual Samus collects power-ups to enhance her suit, which in turn opens new areas for exploration. Every inch of Planet Zebes has been carefully designed. Winding pathways lead to rooms containing power ups that look like dead ends, but bombing a hole in the corner of the floor or ceiling opens a tunnel that conveniently takes you back to the entrance. This type of level design virtually eliminates backtracking and is something Metroid still does best.
Exploring Zebes for the first time (again) is a joy as Samus has the agility of a gymnast. Largely translated from her repertoire in Metroid Fusion (but with redrawn sprite animation), Samus looks great and controls perfectly. Introducing some of the innovations that were added to the sequels, such as the ability to grasp and cling to edges, adds dramatically to the way you’ll explore each area.
Graphically this is easily the best looking GBA game to date, using the impressive Fusion engine to full effect. The sprite animation, background detail, and special effects are all top-notch and a couple of the bosses are several screens tall. It has a style reminiscent of American comics, which has a more graphic look than Fusion. The only thing it lacks is a steady supply of impressive boss monsters to fight, something Fusion had in droves. In keeping with the original Metroid, there are essentially four main bosses, but there are a number of new minibosses and a great sequence near the end of the game where Samus loses her powersuit. This new chapter requires players to slink around without being detected by killer Space Pirates, while unlocking the mysteries of the Chozo ruins.
The music is standard Metroid fare; ambient and a little weird, with recognizable themes breaking up the different zones. Some areas don’t even have music. Instead, the player is treated to Close Encounters of the Third Kind-esque notes emanating from the computers and machinery entrenched in the planet’s core. These tranquil moments help to establish the mood that the series is known for.
It’s difficult to say which of the GameBoy Advance Metroid titles is better, but for what it’s worth Zero Mission is a great example of how remakes ought to be done. Game design has changed enough in the past twenty years to really improve the experience: it’s much easier and more fun to play, game play has been expanded using all the improvements from later games, and save rooms make it much more accessible (than the password system of the original). The modern level design alone makes the experience so much more enjoyable, but the original 8-bit Metroid can be unlocked for those sadists who want to experience it.
Following series tradition, Zero Mission features multiple endings depending on how quickly a player can beat the game while scoring secret upgrades; a lower completion time resulting in different comic book panels of Samus (the best ending requires a playtime of less than 2 hours, but the first time through will probably take between 3 and 4 hours). While not a lengthy game, its real value lies in the repeated times you’ll play through it to perfect your overall ending.
Quick Run Down
- Tight controls
- Excellent presentation
- Expanded scenarios
- Expert level design
- Original game is included
One Sentence Review: The original Metroid hasn’t aged as gracefully as some of its contemporaries, but this remake is more than just a much needed facelift.
One Word Review: Blistering.
>>> Metroid Zero Mission can be connected to Metroid Fusion to unlock cool artwork from that game into the gallery accessible in Zero Mission. The original NES Metroid is unlocked after the main game has been completed.