Super Metroid (SNES) Review

The Short


– Perhaps the best space exploration game ever made

– Masterful use of sound and graphics create a simultaneous sense of dread and wonder

– Plethora of secrets and power-ups to find encourage replayability and backtracking

– Bosses are exciting and difficult

– Pitch-perfect pacing and level design that pushes you forward without ever actually telling you where to go

– Excellent story that uses less to tell so much more

– Decent length for a first playthrough, and sequence-breaking is easy and fun for replays


– Wall-jumping in this game is a major pain in the butt

– Weird “anti-piracy” systems can erase your save if your cart’s connectors are dirty (even on a legit copy)

– If you don’t know there’s a “Run” button, you’ll get stuck pretty quick.

The last Metroid is in captivity. The galaxy is at peace.

The Long

It amazes me that I brushed past Super Metroid the first time I played it. Back in my SNES emulator days I had the game, but after about five minutes I gave up on it (probably because the game plays awful on a keyboard). I found a new love for the series through games like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and Metroid Fusion, eventually bringing me back around to Super Metroid after beating nearly every other Metroid game in existence.

Ho boy, was I stupid for overlooking this game.

Now, I’m fully aware people “geek out” over games. Hell, I do it all the time. But considering I actually never beat this game until a few short years ago (and haven’t played it since, which is weird considering how many times I replayed Metroid Fusion, Zero Missionand Prime), I’d like to think I’m past the “geeking out” phase (especially since I didn’t really like the game the first time I played it). After replaying about 75% of the game last Saturday (yes, in a straight shot, and I forgot all the secrets and even how to beat some bosses, so it felt like a fresh run) I can say this on absolute authority: Super Metroid is one of the finest games I’ve ever played. Ever.

Man, that sounded like geeking out to me. Let’s get on to reasons, shall we?

This game has some phenomenal art design.

The story of Super Metroid is understated, but still worth mentioning. After the events of Metroid II (a little Game Boy game people tend to forget exist), Samus saved the last baby metroid in the galaxy, and turned the little chomper over to the galactic federation. Shortly after doing so, however, the station outputs a distress signal and Samus comes flying back just in time for Ridley of the space pirates to fly off with the metroid. Of course.

Samus flies down to the planet Zebus to pursue the space pirates and save the baby metroid. And that…is pretty much the story. Minus a rather fantastic plot twist near the end of the game, there isn’t much story here. OR IS THERE?!

Without bleeding too much into the next review section, Super Metroid has excellent atmosphere, which in turn can be used to imply a story without saying it. As you revisit areas that are repopulated with new monsters or unlock future areas like a derelict ship or areas crawling with space pirates, you start forming a story in your mind. The game never really says anything, but the places you explore obviously have tales to tell. It’s understated, and masterfully so, in a way that gets under you skin but still makes you feel like there is some sort of narrative going on. It’s quite clever, assuming you have enough of an imagination to get sucked in.

You never get to fly Samus’ ship in any of these games. That’s too bad.

Since there’s so much I could say about Super Metroid (and so much that has already been said this review seems a bit redundant), I’m going to focus the rest of my gameplay comments on two things that I really think set this game apart and make it shine, even from other games in its own series. First is the absolutely perfect use of atmosphere, and second is the immaculate use of level design to direct the player forward.

Also the use of bubble design to show how many bubbles are in…this joke is over.

The first will require a bit of hands-on reviewing. First, listen to this song below, and tell me what kind of feelings it invokes.

Fear? Dread, perhaps? Isolation? And when the piano track kicks in, maybe a trickle of hope? that booming bass is certainly ominous, but the rest of the song (especially the whistle) is absolutely harrowing. It’s masterful, to say the very least.

These are the feelings Super Metroid wants you to feel. It drops you down on a planet with next to no background, no instructions (more on that later), nothing; just a world to explore and mysteries to uncover. Who knows what lies in the bowels of the planet (but based on Samus’ track record: nothing good), but it is up to you and you alone to discover it. There is nobody to talk to, no dialogue, and no other people. The only other sentient creatures are enemies that never talk to you, and none of the old technology ever even conveys text. You are completely alone, fending for yourself on this planet.

It’s incredible how well the mood works in this game.

Just you and a host of aliens.

Rarely do games get under my skin, and when they do it’s usually horror games (and ones done well, like Silent Hill 2), but Super Metroid is more ominous than most horror games I’ve played. It’s crazy how well this works with the lights off at night, sitting in the glow of your TV blasting your way through dark depths. Lots of areas in this game don’t even have enemies, just places to explore and soak in. It’s a slower pace for a game, and one that lends itself well to the feelings they are trying to invoke.

That, I think, is one of the main reasons people look back on Super Metroid so memorably: the game is damn impactful. While future titles are still excellent, they still feel more like “games” to me than “experiences.” That might be a corny way of saying it, but Super Metroid is more about taking you somewhere than having you play a fun game. Yeah, the game beneath is still a blast, but it is never the first thing I think of when looking back at the game. I can’t say the same for the other iterations in the series, no matter how good they were (though a few areas in Metroid Fusion, such as the shaft you have to go down after the elevator powers down, did a good job emulating the feeling Super Metroid gave).

Some rooms are almost completely silent. It’s harrowing.

The other main thing I absolutely love about Super Metroid is how darn well they designed this game. Let me restate something I said earlier for emphasis: when the game starts, you are thrown into a “prologue” bit of gameplay where you go through the space-station, see Ridley, and evacuate. It’s a straight linear shot meant to set up the story, nothing more. After that, the game drops you off on the planet, rain pouring down on your ship and thunder booming in the background.

And…that’s it. That is literally all the direction you are given. Everything else from there is up to you; the game never tells you where to go, ever.

Though “into the lava” is not suggested.

Now, a lot of people are a bit confused with how Super Metroid works. They use terms like “non-linear” or “open world,” when really the game only gives the illusion of that. What Super Metroid does is gives you slight nudges in the right place to go, down a linear path, while never actually showing you that the line is straight. It does this in very simple ways: by gating your entry to certain rooms with powerups you haven’t acquired yet, forcing you down the right passway to said powerup, and then allowing you to backtrack and figure out where you use your newly acquired ability to proceed. Lather, rinse, repeat.

But, like the atmosphere, it’s this illusion that makes the game work so incredibly well, because the game never tells you where to go.

I guess it does tell you when to evacuate.

Think of Metroid Fusion. Every few rooms you’d stop at a data console and the game would put a point on your map of where to go next. Yeah, it was your job to figure out how to get there, but really the shot was linear (even if you had to go through vents or whatever). Zero Mission did the same thing with the Chozo statues: telling you where to go next. Super Metroid tells you where to go, but it does it with its gameplay and level design, which means you never break immersion. Let me give an example.


As you are journeying into the depth of the planet, you stumble across this glass passageway that seems completely out of the blue; it even has its own map section. Above and below you see water and even a door, but you have no idea how to get out there. As you go back and forth across it, getting powerups and revisiting old places, you wonder what might be beyond there.

When you get the Power Bombs, you realize you can break the glass. Now, in any other game it would have been like “SAMUS! You got POWER BOMBS! They are powerful and can blow up glass and stuff! Do you remember any glass you’ve seen on your adventure? HMM? Maybe I should PUT A POINT ON THE MAP FOR YA!

Not in Super Metroid, because you don’t need it to. You’ve already ran back and forth through this passageway a half-dozen times, wondering what the heck it does. Of course you are going to go test the power bombs out on it. And even if you don’t think of it, you’ll at least try blasting it with everything else in your arsenal until you find something that works.

This game is so clever I can’t stand it.

The whole game is like this. You find doors or passages where you can’t traverse them yet, but you know there’s something beyond that because you can both see it in the distance and your map indicates an extension there (after getting the data from the map room). So every time you get a new powerup it’s an exciting experience: now I get to go back and both get the items I passed by because I missed them, and I know where to go because I remember passing that door/passageway/grapple point two or three times and wondering “what’s beyond there?” You almost never get stuck because the game guides you with its gameplay, not with a tutorial. How many games in this day and age trust a player enough to do that? Well, considering they are still teaching me to “Look with the right stick” after doing it for eighty trillion other games, I’d say…none of them.

Also I hate this boss. Unrelated to the rest of the review; I just wanted to point that out.

All this is packaged together with tight controls, awesome gameplay, and excellent graphics. Really, the package here is complete. Though I guess if I had any complaints, it would be these two things: Wall jumping (essential for both sequence breaking and some tricky areas) is extremely difficult and counter intuitive. You have to spin into the wall, press the opposite direction, and then jump. If you press the opposite direction and jump at the same time (like, you know, any other game with wall jumping) it doesn’t work. It’s frustrating and annoying and BAH, though you do sort of get the hang of it in time.

The other thing is pressing select to cycle through sub-weapons is a pain. It’s nice they had one button to deselect whatever sub thing you are on, but you can’t ever have both x-ray and missiles equipped, which is kind of lame. I like how in the GBA versions they mapped that to the “R” shoulder button; made weapon swapping much quicker.

Man that intro music is…chilling.

This review hasn’t really gone into any depths regarding the gameplay or mechanics, but I don’t think it has to. Odds are you’ve either played Super Metroid and come to hear me gush, or have never played the game but have at least heard of them. I will say this: Super Metroid is essential gaming. If you have any affinity for games that involve exploration, atmosphere, or platforming you absolutely must play this game. It is easily the top of its class in nearly ever category, and there is a very, very good reason fans still clamor to it after all these years. And, believe it or it, it isn’t because of rose-tinted glasses.

It’s incredible that a game of this quality has held up so well, and even more so that it outshines all of its sequels without so much as breaking a sweat. At only $8 on the Wii’s Virtual Console, you have literally no excuse to not own this game. Seriously. Go get it, right now.

Five out of five stars. 

I love it so much I made this giant perler bead thing in my house. That metroid is bigger than my head!

Author: Nathan Major

Spirit Shark: Hammerhead. Retro game collector, true ginger, and SNES fanatic. Goal in life is to become Karnov from the NES game Karnov.

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