If I were to play Super Metroid for the first time today, would I like it?

Image by Flickr user Mark Lehigh
Image by Flickr user Mark Lehigh

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I really like Super Metroid. It’s one of my most favorite games of all time and one that I can’t separate from my video game life. The game celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, and I can still see myself, all those years ago, glued to my parents’ television set as I guided Samus on a path to victory.

The very first time I played Super Metroid, it didn’t go so well. It wasn’t awful enough that I never wanted to play it again, but it was difficult. I hadn’t played either Metroid or Metroid II, but the mechanics of the game weren’t completely foreign; it was more my silly impatience that got in the way. I died…a lot…mainly because I didn’t take time to plan my jumps and I was terrible at timing my shots during boss battles. But the more I played, the easier it became. Soon enough, I had had the entire game memorized, secrets and all, and I eventually became almost speed-run good at it. Super Metroid marked a singular moment in my experiences with video games, one where I felt at ease with the games that I enjoyed. Super Metroid became a good friend, one to which I could return over and over again with open arms and without judgment.

But as I’ve recently and sporadically been playing through Guacamelee, I can’t help but wonder: if I were to play Super Metroid for the first time today, would I like it? Like, really like it?

Guacamelee is a brilliant and beautiful game. (Seriously, its vibrant Day of the Dead-themed worlds are gorgeous!) I won’t spoil it here for anyone who’s not yet played it and wants to (you can find out more about it on the developer’s site, Drinkbox Studios), and I’ve not come close to the ending, so there’s that too. Anyway, at its core, Guacamelee is Metroidvania platformer complete with lots of adventuring and discovery. You maneuver your character through various 2D levels, fighting off enemies, collecting coins and special items, and participating in mini-boss battles and regular boss battles. Throughout the game, you receive special moves that help you progress. There’s an overarching plot that propels your character’s motivations and a number of interesting, helpful, and funny non-enemies to encounter along the way.

While Guacamelee plays very similar to your best Metroid and Castlevania games, it becomes quite difficult in the later levels, many of which require a high degree of button-pressing dexterity that I simply don’t possess. Anymore.  It’s a little hard to explain without spoiling things, but take, for example Guacamelee’s “dimensional shifts.” (They’re presented in the video above starting around the 0.39 mark.) Once these shifts are executed, you can roam the lands with the “living” or with the “dead,” and each landscape is slightly different with different platforms (and enemies) to navigate. Often you have to shift dimensions in order to make thing appear or disappear. A simple case would be where you have a series of platforms with every other one “invisible.” To make your way across, you have to shift dimensions mid-jump in order to make the next platform appear. Then you have to shift back mid-jump to make the next one appear, and so on.  This is all well and good when the levels are simple, but once you add in moving platforms, instant death-traps, and multiple enemies (sometimes with their own dastardly battle mechanisms), things take a decidedly frustrating turn. I’m terrible at managing and coping with complexity in games, so managing intricate button sequences almost has had me on edge with the game’s later stages. I also have the added “bonus” of infrequent play, so every time I pick the game back up, I have to re-learn all the moves.

Believe me when I say that I really like Guacamelee, and I absolutely and without hesitation recommend it for anyone who enjoys platformers. (Yes, I complain, but it’s all out of love.) However, I can’t help but wonder if I would be having the same experience if I were playing, for the first time, Super Metroid instead of Guacamelee. My age-addled hands aren’t nearly as dexterous as they were decades ago. My gunked-up brain doesn’t process things as quickly as it used to. Super Metroid is not nearly as difficult as Guacamelee, but it’s not downright easy either. Back then, I had the luxury of time – a number of consecutive hours to focus on a single purpose. Now, though I may be sitting in front of Guacamelee, my mind wanders to “gotta remember to schedule those dinner plans,” or “oh kitty — not the new rug!” or “what the heck is leaking now??” I’m pretty sure that those same thoughts would be roiling inside as Samus battled Kraid. And then I’d die and try again, and try again, and try again. Oh, I’d probably love it, but the everlasting fondness…? That I’m not so sure about.

9 Comments Add yours

  1. The age-old story of always having a fondest memory of one’s childhood, and the same experience not measuring up later on in life. Rewatching ‘TMNT’ or ‘He-Man’ is almost painful, and one wonders what we saw in it in the first place.

    The one set of games I can always go back to (and am now!) is the Metroid Prime series. Of the three, I love the first entry the most, which I eagerly pre-ordered back when I was 21. If one game has my enduring love, it is Metroid Prime =)

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    1. cary says:

      I didn’t have much luck with Metroid Prime the first time round (long story), but I recently re-bought the trilogy and started playing again. Sadly, my progress has stalled, but it really is an incredible set of games! It’s awesome that you’re still enjoying them today. 🙂

      P. S. He-Man the movie…man oh man. What were they thinking?!

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  2. cary says:

    Reblogged this on Recollections of Play and commented:

    For many of us, video games do more than just fill up free time. They provide outlets for pent-up emotions. They connect us with people across the world. And they serve has historical waypoints — like pins on a map that tell us where we’ve been. Those memories shape and inform our gaming experiences in the present. For example, the more I play (and become increasingly frustrated with) Guacamelee today, the more I wonder if I would enjoy its ancestor, Super Metroid (and my most favorite of all games) today. Super Metroid, in my mind, isn’t nearly as difficult as Guacamelee can be, but still, do my anxieties spring from the fact that my reflexes aren’t what the used to be, or something more? Find out in this post I recently wrote for United We Game.

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  3. ohwowheyho says:

    The thing with Guacamelee is that it blends the classic Metroid style of exploration and retracing your steps with new abilities, with a Devil May Cry style, combo-based combat system that requires serious practice to master.

    Not wanting to spoil anything for you, but if you think the main game is difficult then just wait till the final two bosses and see the games biggest failing: A huge difficulty spike right at the end.

    It took me an entire sleepless night to beat the final boss on the Vita version and I haven’t wanted to touch the game since… funny how a single poorly executed game design decision (in this case a terrible uneven difficulty curve right at the end game) can cripple my enjoyment of a game.

    Overall, Super Metroid is just better designed and paced and so I wouldn’t say it’s due to your reflexes, but the fact that Guacamelee adds the hardcore beat-em-up aspects from other series to the mix and makes it uneven. (I did love it though, I’m a sucker for dem combos!)

    Recommendation for your Nu-Metroidvania fix:
    Check out Steamworld Dig on Steam/Vita/PS4 http://steamworldgames.com/dig/.
    It’s gentler than Guacamelee, but has that old Metroid flavour that you love so much…

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    1. cary says:

      Oh no, not another game to add to the backlog! 😉

      I’m stuck at the second to last boss in Guacamelee, and what you say is absolutely true. (I’ve already spoiled the end for myself by going online to look for advice so…) I’m not at the point where I’m ready to give up, but I came incredibly close last time I played to breaking my controller. I can’t bring myself to return to the game yet; knowing me and difficult bosses, it might be months still before I feel up to the task. I agree that throwing in curveballs like going from difficult to [expletive deleted] impossible don’t make for good replays. As beautiful and fun a game as Guacamelee is, once I beat it (and I will), I don’t see it as a must to replay. It contains too many potential rage-quit areas for my taste.

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  4. catstronaut says:

    I think Super Metroid is just one of those games that completely nails what it’s going for. It’s atmospheric, lonesome, and vibrantly depicted. I think there are a lot of trouble spots that would be frustrating, but it’s the type of game that would definitely hold up to fresh eyes.

    Guacamelee is just… not as good. It’s certainly not a bad game imo, but the things that make Super Metroid special just aren’t there. There’s no atmosphere or tension, the powerups are more humdrum, the secrets less exploratory. Super Metroid isn’t a classic for the gameplay, per se, but rather for the feelings it invokes throughout and how those feelings feed into exploration.

    I do think there are parts that would be a complete pain for the amount (lack) of patience I have now, though:
    1: Learning to wall jump was a true test of patience even then (but also one of the most rewarding experiences in any game)
    2: Draygon (the underwater shrimp boss) is a total stupid that you kind of have to plow through with lots of energy tanks, unless maybe you’re a total beast at Metroid?
    3: The fact that there’s a point of no return towards the end of a *heavy exploration game* is one of the dumbest things ever.

    Otherwise the game is mostly incredible, and I expect newcomers would feel the same way. At any rate, it’s certainly inspiring a whole new wave of games at the moment, and has an (almost?) equally incredible companion in Symphony of the Night. Here’s hoping some of these upcoming indies truly capture the feel and spirit of these two games. I’m playing Rogue Legacy right now — I’m really enjoying it, but the atmosphere and feel of the game are leagues behind these classics.

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    1. cary says:

      I should add Rogue Legacy to my own wishlist, but I’ve read that it’s a bit difficult. Sadly, I just don’t have the patience that I used to for difficult games, which is why (eeeep!) I’ve still not yet completed Guacamelee! I mean, I’ll get back to it eventually, someday…when I feel like I really have my patience in check.

      Your comments about SM are spot on. I totally agree that if I was just learning the game today, that Draygon would be a real problem. Him and Phantoon are my least favorite bosses of the game. And I still have problems with the wall jump and special moves! With SM, sometimes it seems like you have complete mastery of the controls, and sometimes that game make you feel like a dolt. I guess that only adds to its classic charm. 🙂

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