So what's with the Blog?I've recently decided to play through all of the games in the series (bar a few...) and a few fan projects such as the amazing AM2R and Prime2D while I'm awaiting the release of Metroid Dread. It's honestly the most fun I've had for a really long time playing all of these games. So the below will just be some super quick writeups of my experiences and what tools I used to play the games - Let's face it; all of these games are easy to emulate... and the fact that emulation can enhance the experiences tenfold, it's definitely worth the hassle of getting everything set up. Although I've also played some games on original hardware with original media!
In terms of making the blog... Why not?! Below are some ramblings about the games along with a screenshot or two. I won't be providing links to any tools I'm using or anything of the sort. If you want to look for this stuff, just use your favourite search engine!
The Game that started an entire genre:
The original Metroid was released in autumn of 1987 (and in European countries 5 months later). I loved it, it was a technologically advanced game for the time. In the most popular games of the time you tended to control a character that moved along a linear path and your goal was to get to the end with maybe one or two moves at your disposal (limited by the fact that the controller only had 2 face buttons, A and B). Metroid was different - you could negotiate rooms in an open-ended way which meant exploration was key to the experience. You could move to the right like your standard platformer, but you could also move back, up and down. Plus your character Samus earned lots of permanent upgrades as you played such as enhanced beams, missiles, the morph ball and different suits (most games of the time only gave you temporary power-ups that lasted at best 10 seconds). Also it was one of the earliest times where a game had a female protagonist (although this was a hidden fact until you beat the game with a 'good' ending - even the manual refers to Samus as a 'he' just to throw people off).
Boiling it right down, these games are about exploring rooms, trying to remember where you have been as you'll need to return to earlier areas as some doors won't open without an ability you need to find. You don't have to go through every room if you wish, but you at least need to defeat the bosses Kraid and Ridley, two high-ranking Space Pirates; when defeated then opens the area where you defeat the final boss, Mother Brain. Which is one of the most stressful battles I'd ever played when I was a kid - it's not quite bullet hell but you have to be fully aware of everything that's coming at you while you fight the boss.
So the original game is actually still a lot of fun to this day. The main problem with it is that navigation is difficult as there is no in-game map and the fact that a lot of the rooms look identical (some literally are but lead to other areas). But once you know where to go, you never forget the strategy! Also everyone knows the JUSTIN BAILEY cheat code.. apparently it's just sheer fluke that that combination of letters works as a cheat code. With it, you play as Samus without her power suit on, most of the powerups collected and most of the game already completed along with a huge bonus to health and missles.
I played the original emulated using the NES Classic stuff on the Switch, but I rented it back when I was a kid. The game can also be enjoyed on an emulator called Mesen which has the capability of replacing the original sprites with much higher resolution ones using a feature called HD Packs. The screenshots above shows the game as intended on the left, and on the right with the graphics and aspect ratio corrected for HD. Which do you prefer? They both have their charm!
I would recommend you play this game provided you've already played Super Metroid I think. As there is quite a technological jump and starting off with this game in this day and age might feel a bit too restrictive.
Fun times ahead:
Super Metroid is the third Metroid title (Metroid 2 was released on the Game Boy - it's one of the games I skipped but for good reason!) in the series and was released for the SNES back in 1994. So I've played this game to completion many times over the years and it remains one of the best in the series (pretty much any Metroid fan will tell you this) - it has way more of an atmosphere than the original Metroid along with lots of awesome enhancements such as a mini-map, morph ball bombs and a customisable Samus where you can select/deselect abilities and whatnot). There is also an astronomical amount of hidden areas in the game.
All of the bosses are vamped up as well with returning bosses like Kraid are now literally the size of a building instead of being just marginally larger than Samus. Also the final encounter with Mother Brain is also one of the most memorable boss fights.
I've played the game mostly with the emulator BSNES HD as it allows me to use a 16:9 widescreen patch which makes the game far more enjoyable on a modern display. Yeah, it takes away some of the mystery as you can see what's beyond a hidden wall sometimes but for somebody like me who has played the game a lot already.. it's not an issue. If you haven't played this game already... you gotta. A lot of videogame-y standards originated with this title and a lot of them are still used today.
Samus Gives Zero F's:
This game is an enhanced remake of the original Metroid featuring a largely similar map and storyline but with expanded areas and some more Super Metroid style mechanics to modernise it a bit. It was released for the GBA and uses the same game engine as Metroid Fusion which came out at a similar time (I believe the game engine is actually a heavily modified Warioland engine... strange!). I would say this version is 100% preferable to the original NES title as it now has a proper save system and the updated visuals along with the vastly improved performance and a brilliant soundtrack make for a far more enjoyable experience. But the key thing is the game now has the map from Super Metroid. You used to have to refer to hand-drawn maps with the original.
I played this game on an emulator called VBA-M. Why? Well, original hardware tend to have terrible displays (such as the one I use...) and the only other 'real' alternative is to use a GameCube with a Game Boy Player - I sold that attachment though during lockdown so this is the next best thing! I've not enhanced the game by any way other than scaling it up.
This is another game in the series that I can whole-heartedly recommend.
Putting things together:
I'll say it... this is my favourite game in the series. Why? It's 100% the tone and the atmosphere. The Metroid series is fairly dark for Nintendo but this game takes the cake for me. You start the game by being infected by a parasite which nearly kills Samus, and her recovery meant being your DNA surgically altered with Metroid energy (don't ask) and parts of her power suit surgically removed... for her then to emerge quite different and also very weak due to most of her suit being pulled from her.
A lot of fans didn't like this game so much as it was far more linear than the previous games and the fact that the game basically told you where to go at certain points, but I enjoyed the departure as it essentially created an experience that felt more crafted and deliberate. Less times fumbling from room to room (trust me though, there is still a lot of it in here) along with a fun new enemy to contend with called the SA-X which essentially a parasitic clone of Samus at full power but who is a terminator-like killing machine. Think of like Mr X or Nemesis from Resident Evil - there are occasions where the enemy stalks you and cannot be defeated - and the only thing to do is run.
As it uses the Zero Mission engine it has a similar look and feel, it was also released for the GBA. I actually played this game on a REAL GBA SP (so the screenshot for this one isn't one I've taken)! I've owned the game for a while now as it's something I always wanted to have on my shelf. I've also played a few prototypes on the VBA-M emulator which I obtained from The Cutting Room Floor.
So yeah I would personally recommend this game but it's not for everybody. Also, if anyone is thinking about Metroid Dread, then play this game as canonically Metroid Dread follows on directly from this game.
Primed for greatness:
Next is Metroid Prime, the game that divided the fanbase upon it's announcement. The development was handed over to Retro Studios over in the UK and it appeared to be an FPS instead of your typical Metroid. Thankfully it was far more than this; it basically plays like the other games but in a 3D environment. The first person perspective was a fabulous idea and the first game is definitely the best in series when it comes to the difficulty curve and the pacing. The game world is not enormous per-se but there's so much backtracking and hidden upgrades this game takes a really long time to master.
There's also a heck of a lot of story elements and lore to pick up along the way, Samus makes use of different beams and different visors, the most important being the Combat visor and the Scan visor. But we also gain an X-Ray Visor and the Thermal Visor. The latter don't get used a whole lot but the visual effects used on them look great, especially for the time. For instance with the X-Ray visor you can see Samus' arm through her cannon (a neat touch with this is that with the different beams on offer, the icons are of a hand gesture, and you can actually see Samus make the gesture depicted when you switch to a different beam - it's definitely something which would be difficult to discern on original GC hardware).
So yeah if you wondered which was the best game in the Prime series, this is it. Play this one. In terms of chronology, I believe this game takes place before Super Metroid, so it's a relatively young Samus.
I played this game on real hardware but switched to emulating on a special fork of the Dolphin emulator named PrimeHack. This allows you to play Metroid Prime series games with PC style keyboard and mouse controls. Some of the keyboard controls are a bit odd at first but you get used to them. Plus with emulation I was also able to improve texture quality, upscale the resolution to 1080p and give it a full widescreen treatment. The thing about Metroid Prime on the GameCube is that it was MEGA TIGHTLY optimised for the hardware by Retro and it makes extensive use of culling - essentially what you don't see through Samus' eyes, the game doesn't render, which improves performance a ton. So altering the resolution or aspect will show the culling... but thankfully there is a simple checkbox in PrimeHack which completely disables culling! Everything is rendered, but PC's can handle it.
I took a screenshot of (or as close as I could figure out) the same area on PrimeHack and you can compare it to a screenshot I downloaded that was taken on original hardware...
So Metroid Prime 2 was essentially more of the same; some quality-of-life updates were made to the Scan visor and upgrades like the different suits and beams were streamlined (for story reasons also). This game also introduces (or re-introduces if you got the secret ending on the original game) Dark Samus, who turns out to be Metroid Prime itself and has taken the form of Samus due to the fact that it absorbed her Phazon suit. Sorta like how Venom takes on Spiderman's characteristics after combining with him for a time.
Anyway. The thing I will say about this game - IT IS SUPER DIFFICULT. It's not too bad to begin with, you come across some fairly challenging puzzles and whatnot but then you're thrown into the Dark World where you basically die if you step outside of the 'safe zones', which is pretty hard to do when you're also fighting creatures. I'm sure I'll have another go at it at some point but I never managed to get very far in this one. I don't think I was alone as Metroid Prime 3 doubled back on the difficulty and it was a far more accessible entry to the series.
Once again I played this on original hardware. I did test it out on PrimeHack just to check it out and it performed the same as the original. I may actually try it with an infinite energy cheat on just to bypass those moments that took the fun out of it for me.
I would probably not recommend this one to most players.. but if you are up for a challenge, by all means.
Third time's the charm:
Metroid Prime 3 was a bit of an oddball as it was on the Wii. It made extensive use of the Wii Remote controls so you had to wave your arms around to interact with things, select weapons etc and of course aim and shoot. What you also may notice is that the developer (once again Retro Studios) tried to make the game a bit more light-hearted and fleshed out from a storyline perspective. On top of that they were far more willing to show Samus' human side where in previous games it wasn't really alluded to that much. For example, Samus is definitely more vocal when she takes damage, and you see her face far more clearly while playing the game, especially in the Scan visor (in the other games you got brief flashes of her eyes when you were close to explosions etc). There's also a fair bit of voiced dialogue at the start of the game.
What was also interesting was that you actually made use of Samus' gunship for the first time in the series. For every other game in the series the gunship was used in cutscenes and (usually) at the start and end of each game. It was also used as a static point to save the game and restore your resources. This game features various (fixed) points where you can call your gunship and have it target obstacles etc. It also expands on a substance called Phazon which is a big deal in the Prime series (dunno why I've not mentioned it til now.. it's literally the biggest plot point in the series). it's basically a substance that can make things extremely powerful but also unstable to the point where you can become corrupted (basically: super strong but your soul is gone and you're no longer 'you'). A lot of the stronger enemies are comprised of this stuff including Metroid Prime itself (aka Dark Samus) and Samus herself can make use of it with a special suit called a PED suit. This lets her use Phazon briefly and enter a sorta Starman-like mode called Hyper Mode. When you're in Hyper Mode you HAVE to expel all of the Phazon (by shooting it out of your cannon) or you die. So it's a kinda risk-reward thing (Also, you actually enter Hyper Mode the first time at the end of Prime 1, so it's something the developers returned to).
It's a lot more fun than Prime 2 and the world feels a bit more varied as this time you aren't stuck on one planet or space station - you actually jump from planet to planet on a map screen. It's not as good as the first game and the Wii Remote controls make it a bit of a pain at times... but you know.. there are ways around that. Dark Samus is the main villain again in this game, and the ending wraps up the series rather nicely.. which is probably why we've not seen a sequel yet. Metroid Prime 4 has been floating around the aether for many years but I think it's kinda done. Unless they remake them which is a possibility.
So I've played this game on original hardware but once again I've also played it using PrimeHack. The emulator does some neat tricks to make the game think you're using motion controls with the keyboard. Also, the mouse aiming and movement works as expected.
Would I recommend this game? I would, but I would probably say.. play it using the emulator. Wii controls are such a faff and a lot of the motion control puzzle stuff definitely feels outdated.
AM2R (Another Metroid 2 Remake) is a fan-created remake of the Game Boy title Metroid II: The Return of Samus. It was (mainly) developed by one person and he managed to do the entire game. The premise of Metroid 2 is to basically go to the Metroid home world and exterminate the species, with the ending having a twist where Samus finds the very last Metroid as it's about to hatch and cannot bring herself to do the deed. The Metroid sees Samus as it's mother and thus follows her. This ends up being a major plot point throughout the series, specifically in Super Metroid and Metroid Fusion.
The game looks and plays like Metroid Zero Mission and feels like a game that Nintendo would have produced themselves. Obviously Nintendo had to shut down the project as it was using their assets (Nintendo are very strict on this matter) and the fact that they were in fact working on a Metroid 2 remake themselves. The game is still widely available for download and I would recommend it. Is it better than the Nintendo remake...? It's a really close call, but even that by itself is a staggering fact. One person versus Nintendo and it's a close call. Play this.
Also, the developer was hired by a developer called Moon Studios who you might know from the Ori series, so they definitely hired a talented designer! It's also worth pointing out that some savvy fans of the game have managed to break the executable open and continue development despite the original developer stopping due to Nintendo.
It's only available on PC, but I believe there is a fan port to the Android platform also.
2 is a Prime number:
Prime2D is a surprisingly good fan game which does what it says on the tin: it's a 2D rendition of the original Metroid Prime and it plays like a cross between an old-school Metroid and a 2D analog shooter (if you've ever played Codename Gordon, the gunplay is quite similar to that). It's only mouse and keyboard control, and the mouse pointer acts as Samus' aim. It replicates a lot of the visual style of Metroid Prime and the level design is heavily inspired though not a flattened carbon copy.
The production of this thing (it only ever came out as a short Demo unfortunately) was amazing. The sprite work, the animation, the lighting, sound effects and music are all above what you'd expect. You can just tell a lot of love went into all of the details. The game that was released to the public wasn't very long, maybe 20 rooms or so with some lore to uncover as well as a rather lengthy boss battle that has quite a lot of phases (maybe TOO many).
I'd recommend everybody check this out if you've played the original Prime, just to experience what could have been in an alternative universe.
This Demo was only available on the PC. It makes sense for Nintendo to shut it down but it was impressive.