BY NINTENDO, 2004
25 WORDS OR LESS:
A smoothed-over version of the original Metroid, expounding on Samus’ first mission to the planet Zebes.
Back to the future
As obvious as it may seem, Metroid: Zero Mission is the start of something. With 2002 bringing us the return of the series, this ride is headed for rejuvenation. And why not? It seems to have done the Zelda series some good. Zero Mission is likely one of many more Metroids to come, and whether or not they might be remakes like this one, we at least hope they’ll be as well done.
Yes, Zero Mission is a remake, and yet it isn’t. It is one because it takes the story of the NES game, where Samus is sent to her former home planet of Zebes to eradicate the Mother Brain and stop the space pirates from breeding those brain-sucking metroids. It isn’t a remake because of the elements of the other 2D Metroids that are injected into it. Items like super bombs and abilities like the speed boost, plus the addition of the Crateria area and the post-Mother Brain plot twist help fill in the holes between this game and the others, not to mention it all freshens things up considerably.
To the suprise of no one, ZM plays similar to Metroid Fusion with some certain additions and deletions. Most notable is the return of the map pointers that show you where to go next, though thankfully the progression isn’t as restictive as the hand-holding map stations in Fusion. You’re allowed to explore more, clearing off any rooms on the map you missed on the way, trying to reach areas you currently can’t (who said bomb jumping? Good answer), gaining new items, and then pushing on further.
It’s a lot more generous, but what’s especially pleasing is how smooth it all plays; Samus runs, hops, spins and fires in every direction with quick flicks of the d-pad, making for a pretty intuitive game. And the Power Grip ability, again borrowed from Fusion and which lets Samus hang off of edges and climb up, is still the most obvious and useful addition to the Metroid series. Go and play the slower NES Metroid afterwards (available after beating ZM once) and just try not to screw up as you try to grab onto a platform, or pressing down intending to duck but going into the ball instead and getting hit by an enemy that you can’t shoot.
Visually, however, ZM is mostly in its own world. There are still the darker brooding areas but brighter, more contrasted rooms can also be seen and tie in nicely with the game’s boldly-lined promo art. Though again, it’s not too far removed from Fusion, as there’s plentiful detail in the walls and floors, needed to help hide those pesky fake walls and floors. And the onset of short dialogue-less cutscenes when meeting bosses or entering new areas is another nice touch carried from Fusion and should have been another series no-brainer.
Yet no matter how much it improves on the original or even Fusion, Zero Mission still falls victim to its brevity … or does it? Kraid and Ridley can be real pushovers and the game can be completed straight through in an average of 3 hours or less, provided you don’t get stuck halfway and have to backtrack through every single room to find the one wall or item you missed (I’m not afraid to admit my absent-mindedness forced me to clock in at 6:23 the first time through). But as any Metroid vet will tell you, it’s the replay, stupid. And indeed, with two difficulty modes (and a third unlockable), a mess of devilishly hidden upgrades and the long-standing tradition of speed runs, you may be spending more time with this than you intend. But wait, let’s just be sure, here: Lessee, it’s a Metroid game, it looks great, it’s portable, it’s not Metroid II … yeah, this one’s not leaving anytime soon.
Nintendo has finally realized that a remake is more than pretty graphics and battery saves, because Zero Mission really feels like a brand new game and is one of the few that makes it difficult to go back to the original. And those feelings are justified when you see all they’ve added and improved to make this installment stand out as a proof-positive way of doing things. It’s a game for fans, for newbies, for anyone wanting some good solid portable gaming. And for Samus, it can only get better from here. —Ray Barnholt
Zero Mission official site