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Wednesday, August 09, 2006 

Classic Gaming Wednesday

Yes, we've been bad. Very bad. Two weeks passed by without a "Classic Gaming Wednesday." But fret not, because we're back with a goodie, and a "classic" in every sense of the word. So, without further ado, here's the Classic Game of the Week, because you can't go forward unless you know where you've been!"

It's hard to imagine a more fitting game to be the "Classic Game of the Week" than Metroid, which celebrated its 20th Anniversary, three days ago. The game itself, which would go on to sell bajillions of copies in the US and Europe, spawned one of the most beloved series in the Nintendo stable, and at 20-years old, continues to impact gaming to this very day.

Early on, things almost didn't get off the ground for bounty hunter, Samus Aran. When Nintendo released Metroid on August 6, 1986, for the Famicom Disk System in Japan, the game was met with lukewarm sales as Japanese gamers practically ignored the title. Thankfully, Nintendo decided to go ahead and port the title a year later for the NES in the US and European markets, and it would be there that the original Metroid would go on to become one of THE definitive classics of the 8-bit era.

In Metroid, you take command of kick-ass human bounty hunter, Samus Aran, the galaxy's most battle-hardened "Space Hunter." When the dreaded "Space Pirates" attack a spaceship containing a powerful organism from the deserted planet of SR388, the Galactic Federation calls Samus into action to recover the organism. However, Samus quickly discovers that the Federation's worst fears are realized; the Space Pirates found a way to multiply the organism and utilize it as a bio-weapon. Known as "Metroids", these huge, floating, amoeba-like parasites have the ability to suck the life-force out of any living thing that they attach themselves to within mere seconds, instantly killing their victims. Because the Metroids have an insatiable appetite for life-energy, they continue to feed until there are no more potential victims for them to kill, making them perfect weapons. With little time to waste, Samus spares the pleasantries and lands right on the Space Pirates' home base on the planet, Zebes. It is at this point where you take command of Samus as you embark on a quest to wipe the Metroids and the Space Pirates off the face of the planet.

Those Space Pirates ain't know who they messin' wit!

Armed with an incredibly powerful cybernetic suit, Samus can withstand an incredible amount of damage and can fire powerful beam weapons at enemies. The suit also allows Samus to turn into a morph ball in order to roll through tiny spaces that are otherwise unreachable. Throughout the course of the game, you'll eventually find powerups for your suit, such as Hi-Jump Boots and additional beam weapons, which allow Samus to reach areas that were once off-limits.

What made Metroid stand out from other games was the title's incredible nonlinear design, which was an innovative mix of platforming and exploration. At first, you'll notice that as you're playing the game, there will be areas that you can obviously see that need to be explored, but you don't have the proper means of getting there. As you move on, eventually, you'll acquire suit upgrades that will allow you to pass through these previously unreachable areas, therefore getting you closer and closer to your ultimate battle with Mother Brain, the leader of the Space Pirates. This game mechanic, which was incorporated by the late Metroid producer and Nintendo design legend, Gunpei Yokoi, would be copied and adapted to many other games that were released long after the original release of Metroid, such as Konami's Castlevania series and Capcom's Mega Man series.

Turning into a morph ball would help you here...

There are so many things that contribute to why Metroid is among gaming's most memorable classics. Between the level design, the "can't get it out of my head" soundtrack, the numerous encounters with Metroids, the epic boss battles, the power-ups, and Samus' sheer ability to kick ass, Metroid was, and still is, one of the best gaming experiences ever. And who could forget the game's classic ending, where you discovered for the first time that the character you had been controlling throughout your mission on Zebes was actually, gasp, a girl! (Assuming you got the best of the game's five endings) Metroid was the first game in history that featured a female protagonist who did not need to get saved at some point by a hero. And with the legendary "Justin Bailey" code, one could play as Samus without the suit, revealing her true identity for all to see.

The wonders of the "Justin Bailey" code...

If you haven't checked out Metroid at any point in your life, you need to stop what you're doing RIGHT now, go out there, and get yourself a copy of this game. Between the millions of used NES copies still on the market, the hidden copy of it in the GameCube game, Metroid Prime, and the GBA re-release in the "Classic" series, you have no excuses. Besides, it's Samus' 20th birthday. You owe it to her. Take her out for a spin. Relish and ENJOY this gaming classic. And then come back and tell us what you thought. For everyone else, just run through this game and challenge yourself to beat it under an hour. If you can, you, my friend, still got it.

Kill them Metroids for old times sake

Modern Day Sequels?
You bet! After the release of the original Metroid, Nintendo released Metroid II: Return of Samus for the original Game Boy, which on its own merits, is another gaming classic. Then, there was the absolutely incredible sequel, Super Metroid for the SNES, which was many a Metroid fan's dream come true. Then, after a hiatus, the Metroid series came back in 2002 with a bang with the critically-acclaimed Metroid Prime for the GameCube, which saw the series' successful translation into 3D. Old-school fans who wanted to experience Samus in her old 2D environment weren't left out, as the excellent GBA game, Metroid Fusion was released. Then in 2004, Metroid Prime 2: Echoes was released for the GameCube and Metroid: Zero Mission, a remake of the first game, was released for the GBA. Nintendo re-released the original Metroid for the GBA in 2005 as part of the "Classic NES Series." And finally, in 2006, Nintendo released Metroid Prime: Hunters for the Nintendo DS, a 3D game in the same vein as the other "Prime" titles for the GameCube.

Currently, Nintendo is working on the the final piece of the "Prime" trilogy, called, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption for the soon-to-be released Wii. It is safe to assume that with all the action Samus has received in the past few years, we won't be seeing too many Metroid titles in the immediate future. Thankfully, every single title that has been released since the original has been excellent, and all are games that one should experience at some point in their lives. The same cannot be said about many other gaming series.

Fun Fact: Story-wise, Metroid was inspired by the movie, Alien, the 1979 classic starring Sigourney Weaver. Between the whole "deadly alien" aspect and Samus' gender, Metroid and Alien have quite a few things in common. To pay homage to the movie, Samus' recurring Space Pirate nemesis, Ridley, was named in honor of Alien director, Ridley Scott.