There’s something undeniably magical about every time I step into the well traveled bounty hunter boots of Samus Aran in the SNES Classic Super Metroid. Whether it was the awe of 9 year-old me experiencing the massive world for the first time or the nostalgic joy and appreciation of journeying through Zebes for the 12th or so time 25 years later, I never stop smiling when immersed in this world. That first time playing it, I knew it was something special, but looking back now after over two decades of games that have emulated the perfection crafted by Nintendo, it’s still crystal clear why this title changed the gaming world as we know it and launched a thousand Metroidvanias.
The foreboding atmosphere and minimalistic storytelling transport you to a world full of mystery whose secrets can only be unraveled through thorough exploration. Fortunately, you have the best map system that 1994 had to offer at your disposal compliments of a wonderful, ever-expanding blue and pink grid letting you track the many winding paths you backtrack through repeatedly. My attempts to map every inch of this perfectly constructed planet reminded me of my same efforts earlier this year in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, another classic that already owed a debt to Super Metroid just three years later. This was the first time a game felt like there could literally be a secret in any tile. Every block was a bit of well orchestrated destruction away from turning into a new power-up or a route to some secret. Hours into the game, I was surprised at how often I was pulling out my x-ray scanner in search of yet another hidden passage. While the x-ray scanner may force you to stop moving completely, it expands the breadth of the game seemingly infinitely, making you certain your map will never be complete.
Another important piece of this game that gets me every single time is how brilliantly designed it is to have the same locations you’ve traversed countless times already feel suddenly brand-new when you acquire a new power-up granting you some novel form of movement like super-speed or a high jump that are now just assumed to be in any game. The true bastion of power-up glory for me, however, remains the grapple beam. Whenever I get my hands on it somewhere around two hours into the game, I feel a true sense of accomplishment. I know I’ve managed to scour the planet for resources without getting lost and giving up, and now, with my new friend, I can get seemingly anywhere. This same rush can still be mined from newer fare like Hollow Knight, but it’s never as pure as it is here.
Aside from the dozens of core aspects of Super Metroid that remain brilliant even compared to the beefed up modern-day games, there are also a ton of little touches that make me smile and feel like a kid again. It’s silly things like the fact you can turn on the ability to do the moonwalk. It’s clever spins on scenarios you’ve come across dozens of time in the game already like a puzzle that requires you to roll up into a ball in a statue’s surprisingly vacant hand typically reserved for a power-up to avoid a spike-filled death trap or the boss that is actually meant to be pushed to his death instead of defeated the old fashioned way. Or it’s the unanticipated charm that comes from accidentally falling down into a deep pit only to have a new alien friend teach me a new move to return to the surface. For the 5+ hours it took me to successfully escape the exploding planet, I was in pure gaming heaven.
Sure there are a few signs of age to the game including some minor control squabbles (I’m looking at you wall-jump) and the lack of fast-travel, but these inconveniences are a relatively minor price to pay to enter a time capsule where you can literally watch thousands of game developers’ inspiration be born. With the recent announcement of Super Metroid (and several other fantastic SNES titles) coming to Switch this fall, it’s a perfect time to go back and relive the game that started it all. Hell, you might even find yourself still surprisingly emotionally attached to an endearing 16-bit baby alien.