While the original Metroid didn’t create non-linear game design, it certainly popularized it. Spearheaded by Game Boy designer and Game & Watch creator Gunpei Yokoi, Metroid almost singlehandedly created the Search Action genre. Tasking players to traverse a non-linear world, accumulating powerups in order to progress further. This gameplay style would be seemingly perfected by its Super Nintendo counterpart, Super Metroid.
In the years since Super Metroid’s 1994 release, the Search Action genre has slowly become one of the most dominant styles of video game of the modern day. The tendrils of Super Metroid’s influence can be seen throughout gaming and has transcended the genre it had a hand in creating. The iteration and innovation based on one of the Super Nintendo’s greatest titles can even be felt in the resurgence of the series itself. Super Metroid’s prolific legacy has not only greatly influenced the games industry but has helped Metroid make the comeback it most certainly deserves.
Location: Planet Zebes
To say Super Metroid is a classic is an understatement. It’s aged like fine wine. Beautiful pixel work brings to life a foreign alien planet. A haunting soundtrack sets the tone for an atmosphere that’s palpable. The feeling of isolation and desperation creates tension like no other. From the moment Samus steps out of her ship, Super Metroid is able to create a gripping experience, unlike anything on the Super Nintendo. The same could be said for the likes of Super Mario World or A Link To The Past but where Super Metroid transcends its counterparts is how its impeccable design meshes seamlessly with its willingness to trust the player.
While the freedom of non-linear and open-world design is intoxicating, if done wrong it can be obtuse and frustrating. Just look at the original Legend of Zelda which is nearly impossible today without a guide or prior knowledge. Super Metroid feels ahead of its time in this regard. It juggles so many variables and ends up achieving a perfect cohesion of player agency, incredible level design, and truly organic player progression. Nintendo created the perfect storm of an approachable yet complex title that is so well crafted it feels timeless.
The mix of its atmosphere and gameplay coalesce into a truly special experience. It sets itself apart from not only the console’s library but all of Nintendo’s properties. Super Metroid is not just one of the best games ever made but also one of the most influential. Similar to games like Final Fantasy, Super Mario 64, or Wolfenstein 3D, Super Metroid would revolutionize its genre and be the inspiration for countless titles for decades to come.
The “Metroidvania” Genre
Super Metroid’s success pushed the Search Action genre forward to encompass more than just the series. While Konami would dabble with certain elements of the Search Action genre for Simon’s Quest on the NES, Castlevania would fully adopt the formula with the PS1’s Symphony of the Knight. The popularity and acclaim of both Super Metroid and Symphony of the Knight lead to the creation of the colloquial term for their genre. A portmanteau of both franchises, the Metroidvania genre was self-explanatory when the term was coined. Nowadays it’s a bit more nebulous.
While the genre would be dominated by the likes of both respected franchises for years, it wasn’t until the late 2000s that it would see mainstream appeal. Indie titles such as Shantae and Cave Story would be inter-spliced by the likes of Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow and Portrait of Ruin, Metroid Fusion, and the Metroid Prime trilogy. While the latter would be influential for 3D design, Super Metroid’s legacy would continue to be the building block for countless titles going forward.
While the two giants of the genre started to fade during this time, the void was filled quite nicely with titles that used Super Metroid as inspiration. Shadow Complex, Dust: An Elysian Tail, SteamWorld Dig, Gucamelee, Axiom Verge, Ori and The Blind Forest, Dead Cells, and Hollow Knight. All of these games and more took what Super Metroid did well and made it their own. Even as the Metroid franchise was on the decline, the genre maintained its relevancy and even continued to grow. Super Metroid‘s influence strengthened the genre it singlehandedly built to sustain itself, setting the series up for its own renaissance.
In the mid-2000s, Metroid was at an all-time high. Metroid Fusion and Metroid Prime were seen as some of the best games in the series, dominating both the 2D and 3D space. But by Prime’s 3rd installment on the Wii in 2007, the series wasn’t seeing much of the same success. While the series was on a bit of a hiatus in the 2010s, the rise of games like Axiom Verge, Ori, or Hollow Knight kept the genre alive. It also showcased the staying power these types of games had to Nintendo who had seemed to lose faith in the franchise after the lackluster reception of games like Other M. After the commercial failure of Federation Force, Nintendo would give Metroid what could’ve been one last chance in the form of MercurySteam’s remake of Metroid II.
Metroid: Samus Returns for the 3DS was a return to form for the franchise nearly a decade in the making. The remake was aptly named, as Samus Returns was the most successful title since Metroid Prime and put Metroid back in the public consciousness for the foreseeable future. From then on, Metroid has been one of Nintendo’s most popular series. An announcement of the long-awaited Metroid Prime 4, the release of one of the best games in the series in Metroid Dread, and a superb remaster of the original Metroid Prime has given Metroid fans what they’ve been hoping for.
It’s not farfetched to see the connection between Super Metroid’s legacy and the series’ resurrection. A title far ahead of its time that inspired hundreds of games in the future, each one better and more unique than the next. The subgenre Super Metroid birthed slowly but surely grew in size to one of the biggest in the industry. This popularity created an environment where Metroid could thrive once more. And thrive it has. The series hasn’t seen success and popularity like it has today since the early 2000s and it has its predecessor to thank.
Super Metroid isn’t just a great game. It’s a landmark title for both Nintendo and the industry at large. Very rarely is a game responsible for creating a genre and staying relevant for nearly 30 years, being the impetus for said genre to grow and prosper. It’s a monumental achievement in game design that’s not only stood the test of time but has become better with age. Its legacy lives on with new installments and titles that showcase the best genre has to offer. Super Metroid is as important today as it was nearly 30 years ago not only to the Metroid franchise but to the games industry in general.