Super Metroid Turns 30, and It’s the Perfect Time for a Remaster

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Super Metroid Turns 30, and It’s the Perfect Time for a Remaster

How do you update one of the great videogames of all time? Very carefully is both the joke answer and the reality of things. You can completely reimagine it so that it’s both the original and something completely new, like Capcom has done with games like Resident Evil 2, or you can simply update a game that holds up in the ways it needs, like with bringing it into the HD era and updating control scheme options and so on, like Nintendo did for Metroid Prime with 2023’s Metroid Prime Remastered. In either case, you need to be sure that it’s the correct decision: there were plenty of reasons, in the case of Resident Evil 2, to give it much more than just a new coat of paint and some quality of life updates. Conversely, Metroid Prime, in its original form, is as incredible in the present as it was over two decades ago, so much less was needed to bring it to modern audiences and let them see as much for themselves.

Which brings us to Super Metroid, a seminal game that first reached North America 30 years ago today, on April 18, 1994. However you feel about the term “Metroidvania”—I’m a “pathfinder” guy, myself, shout out to Brendan Hesse—you can’t deny the influence Super Metroid had on an entire genre of games, one that becomes a larger and larger chunk of the general game population by the day. Super Metroid might have sold all of 1.42 million copies in its original SNES run—no, really, that’s it, it was outsold by the Super Scope peripheral—but apparently the majority of those buys ended up spawning independent game studios. (And you can’t say that Castlevania: Symphony of the Night did the heavy lifting in the pairing at retail, either, because it somehow managed to be outsold by Super Metroid.)

Super Metroid has never been given a remake, but Nintendo has not been shy about remaking or remastering Metroid titles. Metroid Prime Remastered was already given as an example, but that’s not even the first reworked Metroid Prime release: the entire trilogy was put on the Wii, with the first two games, originally made for the GameCube, given revamped motion and pointer controls akin to those of the Wii-exclusive Metroid Prime 3: Corruption. Metroid II: Return of Samus was released on the Game Boy in 1991, and was remade from the ground up—like, completely remade, not just graphically, but in terms of content and gameplay, too—for the 3DS in 2017, as Metroid: Samus Returns, courtesy developer MercurySteam. And then there’s Metroid: Zero Mission, the first of the Metroid remakes, which was developed by Nintendo R&D1 in 2004 for the Game Boy Advance. This was a remake of the original 8-bit Metroid for the NES, made with the engine that powered the 32-bit Metroid Fusion on the GBA, and incorporated many items and gameplay elements that hadn’t come to the series until Super Metroid. 

Each of these remakes was handled in a very different way. Metroid Prime’s was rightfully labeled as a remaster, because it was that more than anything else: it was rebuilt from the ground up for the Switch, yes, but that was more graphically than anything, and also so that the various control schemes from over the years, as well as new ones that blended the old and the new(er) ones, could be chosen by people with preferences what they felt was the definitive way of controlling this classic. Metroid: Samus Returns was not just rebuilt from the ground up for the 3DS, but is an entirely different game this time around. The same basic narrative and gameplay conceits are still there, and the core reason for Samus being on planet SR388 to kill off the metroids so that the Space Pirates can’t get their hands on anymore of them remains. But there are so many more boss fights, completely new to the series designs, and so much more game in general this time around. You never need to play the original Metroid Prime again if you’ve got the remaster, not unless you’re curious about just what it looked like on a GameCube, but Metroid II and Samus Returns are completely different experiences.

Metroid Zero Mission is, to me—a person who does want to know how things used to play and wants to understand their original context, but also understands that plenty of great, retro games can be updated and improved for the present—the platonic ideal of a remake. It both celebrated and enhanced its source material on more powerful hardware, without doing away with everything it was celebrating in the process of remaking it. It’s the original game, but with elements of later Metroid titles in the same style incorporated into the original maps, also updated to accommodate those new items and techniques, and all made to look much more detailed and simply better than was possible on 8-bit hardware. And yet it didn’t go nearly as far as changing things as Samus Returns: Zero Mission is still Metroid, but with tweaks that enhance the original experience both in spirit and in practice, instead of entirely its own thing.

On top of that, Zero Mission includes the original Metroid on it, too, making it available to play (in an emulated form on the cartridge) once you complete the remade version. That’s neat to have, but it also implies that Zero Mission isn’t a replacement for 1986’s Metroid so much as a companion to it. More remakes should do this sort of thing! Just as an example, there’s no reason a Switch cartridge couldn’t have the remade Link’s Awakening as well as the Game Boy and Game Boy Color versions of Link’s Awakening on it, too, but alas, not even something as great as that remake can fully live up to what Zero Mission managed over a decade before. 

Super Metroid

Super Metroid at 30: Samus ponders her mortality.

This was a long drive to the fireworks factory, but we’re here now: if Nintendo is to remake Super Metroid at some point—an entirely plausible scenario given it’s, again, now 30 years old, and they have not been shy about remaking other Metroid titles—it should go the Zero Mission route and not that of Samus Returns. The latter is an excellent title, one of the best on the 3DS, and manages that despite some flaws that MercurySteam would work out in time for Metroid Dread. The reasons for letting MercurySteam blow Metroid II up like they did and rebuild it from the scattered pieces that remained, though, are not relevant to Super Metroid. The Game Boy was the home for Metroid II—it’s genuinely incredible that the game managed to sound and look the way it did on an 8-bit machine that used the same screen as graphing calculators, yes, but still, that was the hardware. While it had some items and techniques the original NES game did not, it still was not opened up, gameplay-wise, nearly as wide as Super Metroid ended up being. There was so much room to grow the game here, and that Nintendo, at the time, still had Metroid II available for sale on the same platform Samus Returns was released on, made it so that the source material wasn’t being “erased” in the process, either. 

Shorter: MercurySteam had reasons to take a big swing with a game that, while good, was also considered the worst mainline title in the series until Other M showed up and turned it into a debate.

Super Metroid, however, remains a classic. You will still find people out there saying that it’s the best Metroid game out there, and while I don’t agree with that sentiment—Metroid Prime, baby—it’s not difficult to make a convincing argument for it as the series’ highpoint. Metroid has made some advances over the years, and so has the hardware that games are developed for, but big picture, Super Metroid is as perfect in 2024 as it was in 1994. It doesn’t need the Samus Returns treatment: at most, it needs a fresh coat of paint to either make it look like Metroid Dread or like the kind of retro-styled indie gems the genre it inspired is populated with, that keep the vibes of the -bit era but powered by engines beyond what the SNES could have ever run. And… that’s mostly it, really. 

Make the wall jump a bit more intuitive and easier to pull off, more in line with post-Super Metroid titles. Maybe add in the option for a little more signposting for where you go next, a la Metroid Prime, where it’s something that can be toggled on and off and not forced on you if you’d prefer to navigate entirely on your own. Like Zero Mission did, update some of the gameplay to incorporate new elements introduced post-Super Metroid—like melee combat—but without fundamentally changing the game’s entire design a la Samus Returns. Create a more brutal difficulty to play on for veterans and sickos, like Prime and Dread have, but again, this is an optional thing. That’s all it needs! Super Metroid already includes so many mainstays for the franchise—Grapple Beam! Shinespark! X-Ray visor! Gravity Suit! Screw Attack!—so a larger-scale revamp is unnecessary.

Super Metroid’s impossibly tight design and lack of handholding helped to birth an entire genre, and you can feel the difference between it and many of the games it helped to inspire just by playing them. The pacing of Super Metroid is a thing of miracles, its opening a masterclass in catching up players on the past of the series and thrusting them into its present, in just over two minutes. There isn’t another bit of narrative of any form until you reach the climax of the game—it’s just you, isolation, pathfinding, and the inner chambers of a planet and its inhabitants trying to make a meal out of you. Narrative isn’t bad! Story isn’t bad! But Super Metroid is a masterclass in giving you some context for what you’re about to do, and then letting you do it without getting in your way again for the duration. 

It still feels miraculous today, with the only times I ever groan at it even a little coming when I try to get the muscle memory of wall jumping going again. This is not a game that needs considerable work done to it. Pick a way to graphically update it, incorporate those aforementioned changes, and drop Super Metroid HD or what have you on us unsuspecting but deserving folks. 

Maybe Super Metroid will feel a little light to people who are used to playing Hollow Knight for 30-50 hours, or are accustomed to Dead Cells’ combination of pathfinding and roguelike with loads of optional challenge content. That’s no reason to give Super Metroid the Samus Returns treatment, however: Super Metroid is that rare thing, a perfect game that holds up over time, and it’s that element of it that should be spotlighted if it’s given a chance to return as something besides a digital re-release in the future. We’re living in the midst of an era that this game helped to bring into being in the first place, coming off of the best-selling Metroid game in series history: now’s the time, more than ever, to show that Super Metroid has still got it, by simply letting it continue to be Super Metroid.

Marc Normandin covers retro videogames at Retro XP, which you can read for free but support through his Patreon, and can be found on Twitter at @Marc_Normandin.

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