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