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.