Retro Thunderdome – Metroid (NES) vs Super Metroid

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Retro Thunderdome – Two games enter, one game leaves in a battle of digital supremacy.

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN!

Welcome to the first ever Retro Thunderdome, a battle of graphics, design and overall fun between two giants of the genre.

Today’s contest pits old against slightly less old, originator versus innovator, master against pupil. While it may seem like an unfair fight, in the Thunderdome, all games are graded on an equal scale. Bits, chips and technology are irrelevant. Sound design, art style and fun reign supreme.

And now, for our contestants!

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In The Blue Corner –Weighing in at 8 bits, 1.79 Mhtz, this platform crawler helped create the space exploration genre. Released in 1987 under the Adventure Series category, this game did nothing but break boundaries, both in terms of gameplay and social awareness. One of the Mount Rushmore figures in video game history, please welcome…METROID!

In the Red Corner – This combatant weighs in at hefty 24 MB, the largest SNES release up to that point. By bringing the lessons taught by its 8 bit master to the 16 bit age, this game helped create a new genre of exploration and action. Welcome to the arena….SUPER METROID!

 

Round 1 – Art Design

super metroid roomMetroid features a chilling, empty world the likes of which gaming had yet to see. Large caverns full of creepy creatures gave gamers a terrifying world to explore. Although the areas provide a good mix of looks and feels, many of the rooms are recycled and repeated. For a game lacking a map, this is needlessly confusing.

Super Metroid takes the design of Metroid and amplifies it by a factor of 10. No two rooms look exactly the same and the new enemy types are inspired. The only knock is that much of the art and character design was lifted from Metroid and given a 16 bit face lift.

While it may seem unfair to compare NES to SNES, Super Metroid did more with their available horsepower. If Metroid had a bit more variety, it may have won the day, but the round has to go to Super Metroid.

 

Round 2 – Sound Design

The spare, bare soundtrack of Metroid continues to be one of the best in retro gaming. The main overworlds are upbeat and adventurous while areas like boss hideouts, item rooms and the final level are panic inducing. Even the end credit theme is perfection.

Super Metroid ditches the traditional score for atmospheric chamber music. Driving rain and synth vamps pepper the overworld while boss themes ratchet up the action. Occasionally, the pieces fail to mix with the atmosphere and when it doesn’t, it’s jarring (Brinstar and Crateria).

While both are exceptional, Super Metroid has more dead spots than Metroid. Given the sound effects themselves are a wash, this round goes to Metroid.

 

Round 3 – Gameplay / Control

kraidBoth Metroid and Super Metroid feature a fluent, floaty control scheme that feels like a low gravity space adventure. While both have the same mechanics, Super Metroid offers new ways to explore the world.

But more moves doesn’t mean more fun. Many of the special maneuvers in Super Metroid are relatively useless and worse, hidden in the game intro. Seriously, did you know you can do this or this with the Charge Beam?

The big upgrade Super Metroid offers is the ability to turn on or off your upgrades. Back tracking to find an Ice Beam in Metroid is a nightmare and grinds the game to a halt. They can’t even use the NES excuse. Inventory screens were commonplace in 1987 and for a title that requires a specific beam to beat the game, not allowing switching is a big problem.

Add to the mix multiple save points and a useful map, Super Metroid plays slightly better than its predecessor.

 

Round 4 – Overall Fun

entrance-to-brinstarMetroid’s fun lies in the challenge of navigating a world with limited resources. You could argue it’s survival horror. An archaic password system and unforgiving health regeneration ups the frustration, but the level design is so good, you rarely get completely lost. It’s retro challenge in the best possible way.

Super Metroid is a different type of enjoyment. More abilities, moves and power-ups equals freedom at the cost of difficulty. The game doesn’t hand hold and it’s not a walk in the park, but beating Super Metroid is a gaming rite of passage. Conquering Mother Brain in Metroid, without peeking at a walkthrough, garners respect.

Both a ton of fun and required “must plays”, Metroid and Super Metroid tie this final round.

 

The Winner – Super Metroid

Considering some rank Super Metroid as the greatest game ever made, it’s not a huge surprise that the SNES classic comes out on top. But this was like comparing Godfather Part 1 to Godfather Part 2. Generally I favor innovation over improvement, but when the end product is a masterpiece of side scrolling action, it’s impossible to ignore.

Fair_SM_ending

Have a suggestion for our next pair of combatants? Throw it into the comments or tweet it to @SkirmishFrogs or @BillTuckerTSP on Twitter.

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About BillTucker

Writer, gamer and beer geek, Bill Tucker writes words for a number of sites and publications. He currently blogs for the Entertainment Weekly Community and The Austinot as well as contributes film reviews to a number of literary sites. He’s also a published author of creepy short fiction and uncomfortable essays. Follow him on Twitter @BillTuckerTSP and check out all of his everything at thesurrealityproject.com.

16 Comments

  1. Great write-up bro. I like the emphasis on the sound\music, which (imo) was just as important & profound as the graphics. I also agree that this was as tough to call as Godfather 1 and 2.
    Really fun to read bro. It’s great reliving these memories again. 👍🏻

  2. Good stuff! I just have such nostalgia for the original it is hard for me to look at this clearly. The first time I played super was in my late 20’s . Don’t get me wrong it rocks the house but if I am in the mood for some Metroid it will most likely be the original.

    • The original is much more “pick up and play”. You can blow through it two sittings, and doesn’t require the time investment of Super. Of course, you can get through Super in about three hours, but you need to be a master to do so.

      Thanks for reading!

  3. Well Well Well…. another VS series huh? Interesting….

    Ha ha ha, Im only kidding. Great read though It seemed a bit one sided. Was this a squash match perhaps?

    • Oh, there’s no contest! You win hands down. Video versus written? Not even a fair fight!

      But since you were first to the punch (no pun intended) on this site, if you’d like me to step down, I have no problem doing so. I’m sure I can think of something a bit more original.

      As for the match itself, my apologies for making it feel one sided. While Super Metroid won most of the categories, they were all close calls.

      Thanks for reading!

      • Whoa whoa, no need to step down! More people doing more stuff about more games is nothin’ but a good thing, frog friends.

        But seriously: NES Metroid never stood a chance. You give it plenty of fair credit for its design, sound, etc. — but while the original was a proof-of-concept project (and still a great game, don’t get me wrong), Super Metroid is a masterful work of pure gaming wonder.

        And that thing in the original where your passwords don’t count your increased health really sucks, too.

        • Cheers to that! To be honest, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do this as my first one, but I had already done the playing / research. Personally, I consider Super Metroid to be the greatest game ever made, so Metroid really didn’t stand a chance. But it was a fun exercise and gave me some good practice in formatting the series.

          Cheers again and thanks for creating this awesome platform!

      • Are you kidding? For one, the WWE wouldn’t be anything without WCW.

        If anything we need more versus! Plus people have different opinions.

        Keep it coming.

  4. request:

    I’d like to see the original Castlevania vs. The Original Ninja Gaiden on NES

    OR

    Batman NES vs. Ninja Gaiden

    OR a three way with all of the above

    I’ve been comparing those games in my head for years.

    • I’ve been wanting to pair up both original Castlevania and original Ninja Gaiden, but for some reason I never thought to pit them together. Interesting concept! That just may be my next installment!

      • They always seemed very thematically similar to me, almost as though they were designed by the same team… what with the high difficulty, candle-demolishing, similar sub-weapon systems… but Gaiden plays much faster

        but I’ll leave those comparisons to you 🙂

  5. Nice write-up. I always shied away from the original Metroid because of its open-ended nature, as I played mostly very linear games as a kid. Super Metroid passed by me as a kid because I was a Genesis owner, so it wasn’t until about a year ago that I finally played through the game for the first time. Absolutely fantastic game, and it kind of makes me want to dig my copy of Metroid Fusion out, as well as maybe go back and play the original again, since I have a better handle on some of the base mechanics.

  6. Super Metroid is more or less what a sequel SHOULD be: an improvement in every respect. That is why it is so highly regarded as one of the best games ever made. But the NES original is still a great (but hard) game, and deserves recognition.

    Considering that the first game got the Metroid: Zero Mission remake treatment, which was great, I would REALLY like to see them at least have someone else do a similar 16bit style remake of Metroid II. That is the “forgotten Metroid”, really, as it seems few people ever really talk about it, or have even played it. I think if ANY game merits/deserves a full on remake, Metroid II does.

  7. Pingback: 5 Side-Scrollers Reviewed – KCimgd Ryan Nothard

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