The original Metroid game for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) came out on August 6th, 1986, which means this Saturday was the Metroid 30th Anniversary. At TheTech52 we are big fans of Metroid, and so we wanted to dedicate this entry to briefly looking back on the franchise to see what modern games can learn from it.
Metroid was great, Super Metroid is considered by many to be a masterpiece, but in our eyes, it’s the first Metroid Prime which first released on the Gamecube in 2002 that is the true pinnacle of the franchise. The game takes exploration to a whole new level that is oftentimes not matched in games released today, almost 15 years later.
The game throws players into a huge alien world with almost no introduction and they’re free to explore. Yet, there’s also a very cohesive structure to the level design; there’s no way to “break” the game. Only certain places, chosen very wisely, are accessible with the starting gear and once the player obtains more gear they’re able to access more areas. This remains the progression for the entire game and it’s simply wonderful how well put together it is. It’s what’s known in the gaming industry as the “Metroidvania” structure (named after the franchises that pioneered it, Metroid and Castlevania) at its absolute best.
That is topped with two key gameplay mechanics that were a first for the franchise – first person view for true immersion, and scanning, which lets players uncover the world at their own pace instead of it being shown when the designers want via cutscenes or set-pieces. The scanning is also where the bulk of the story is held. You read that right: the story is optional and is integrated fully into the gameplay instead of shown at intervals like a movie. So many games that claim to be “open-ended” wish they were this interactive.
Even today, on the heels of the Metroid 30th Anniversary, Metroid Prime is still a revolutionary game to this day in the sense that it’s designed, in many areas, in smarter ways than plenty of modern games.