Once again, this Sunday I turn over the Gameday Sunday post to a guest blogger, Frank Warden, who wrote and submitted a fantastic retrospective on the Metroid franchise. Since it's such a lengthy piece, it's been broken up to cover the span of a few weeks, so be sure to check back the next few Sundays for Parts III and IV! - Azure
With the popularity of Nintendo’s handheld game console, the Game Boy, it seemed fitting that Samus’ next mission would take place on the portable system. In 1991 Metroid II: The Return of Samus was released (it would arrive in Japan several months later) to modest praise, though it never reached the financial success that the original NES title achieved.
In the sequel, the Galactic Federation enlists Samus to eliminate the Metroid threat once and for all—by destroying the entire race on their home planet, SR388. Fighting against the creatures in their varying evolutionary stages, Samus must also confront and kill the dreaded Metroid Queen in order to fulfill her mission. The storyline owed much to James Cameron’s Aliens (1986)—both having their protagonist travel to number designated planets to eradicate an alien threat (Ripley in Aliens travels to LV-426 with the Colonial Marines to wipe out the Xenomorphs), not to mention that both include a form of monstrous alien ‘queen’).
Metroid II boasted several new gameplay abilities, most improved upon was the save feature, where the player could now save their progress via select locations within the game.
By 1994 the Super Nintendo was blazing the trail for video game consoles and it was due time for Samus to once again gear up and return to action. Original Metroid co-creator Yoshio Sakamoto had been absent from working on Metroid II, due to his desire to create a refined technical marvel for the more advanced SNES. Gathering up the best and brightest that Nintendo had to offer, Sakamoto poured all his resources and talent into forging what many still consider to be the franchise’s crowning achievement—Super Metroid.
Following the events of Metroid II, Samus Aran has spared the last surviving Metroid larva. She brings the young creature to the Ceres Space Colony to be studied by scientists. No sooner does the famed bounty hunter depart when the space pirates attack and abduct the Metroid hatchling, killing all of the colony’s staff in the process. It’s now left to Samus to track down the pirates and, this time instead of destroying the Metroids, must retrieve the race’s sole survivor. The space pirates have returned to the planet Zebes with a new labyrinthine base for Samus to explore and navigate through. Old enemies like Ridley make reappearances, along with a resurrected Mother Brain.
From the point when Nintendo approved the title to its eventual release, Super Metroid was in development for nearly three years. Fans were able to get their hands on Super Metroid in spring 1994 and it was instantly met with high approval from reviewers and gamers alike. The epic scale of the level design, innovative enemies, Samus’ new special abilities and cutting-edge 16-bit graphics were a hit. Super Metroid has since been called one of the best 2D action adventure games in history.
The SNES was still going strong in ’94, even though the aging system was reaching the end of its life-cycle. Talk of the Nintendo’s latest home console, the aptly titled Nintendo 64, was signaling a new horizon for gaming. The prospect of a new Metroid game was a very real possibility, and buzz of Samus’ latest adventure made the rounds for some time. Unfortunately followers of the series would be met with disappointment—at least in the form of an official sequel.
Samus made a cameo appearance as a playable character in Super Smash Bros., a crossover fighting game that had Nintendo mainstays including Mario, Donkey Kong, Link (from The Legend of Zelda), and several Pokemon doing battle against each other. It was released in 1999 and marked the first and only time Samus appeared on the Nintendo 64. By 2001 a follow-up game, Super Smash Bros. Melee, for the Nintendo GameCube would see Samus return to confront the likes of Mario and friends.
Be here next Sunday for Part III...