Retro Gaming: Metroid for the NES

Game: Metroid
System: Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)
Year: 1986
Type: Action-Adventure
Claim to Fame: Samus is a woman!
Trivia: The first female character to kick some serious ass!

Metroid was one of my first NES games and the moment I set eyes upon the sci-fi imagery and heard the eerie music I knew I was hooked!  I spent hours and hours battling through a plethora of strange aliens to obtain power-ups and eventually reach my target: Mother Brain.  I think more than anything I remember how much I loved the music of this game which later would come to influence me when I grew up to wage war in the dying music industry.  I still remember playing a show with this band that did a bunch of Metroid covers to perfection!  What a killer concept… and this was before all those 8-bit bands started up.  The guys would wear unabomber hoodies pulled tight with sunglasses obscuring their faces while hunched over their guitars and keyboards.  The music was just so creepy it left the audience feeling uncomfortable- half smiling reminiscence / half gawking in disgust and confusion.  Metroid was definitely an influence on my generation.

Metroid is an action-adventure game in which the player controls Samus Aran in sprite-rendered two-dimensional landscapes. The game takes place on the planet Zebes, a large, open-ended world with areas connected by doors and elevators. The player controls Samus Aran as she travels through the planet’s caverns and hunts Space Pirates. She begins with a weak gun as her only weapon, and with only the ability to jump. The player explores more areas and collects power-ups that grant Samus special abilities and enhance her armor and weaponry, granting access to areas that were previously inaccessible. Among the power-ups that are included in the game are the Morph Ball, which allows Samus to curl into a ball to roll into tunnels and use the Bomb weapon, and the Screw Attack, a somersaulting move that destroys enemies in its path. In addition to common enemies, Samus encounters bosses whom she needs to defeat to progress. Defeating an ordinary enemy typically yields additional energy or ammunition, while defeating a boss expands Samus’s capacity to carry ammunition and opens the door to the final area.

The production of Metroid was described as a “very free working environment” by Hirokazu Tanaka, who stated that, despite being the composer, he also gave input for the game’s graphics and helped name the game’s areas. Regarding the music, Tanaka said he wanted to make a score that made players feel like they were encountering a “living organism” and had no distinction between music and sound effects. The only time the main Metroid theme is heard is when Mother Brain is defeated, to give the victorious player a catharsis. During the rest of the game, no melodies are present because Tanaka wanted the soundtrack to be the opposite of the upbeat tunes found in other games at that time. Part way through development, one of the developers asked the others, “Hey, wouldn’t that be kind of cool if it turned out that this person inside the suit was a woman?”, an idea which was incorporated into the game.

Before Lara Croft, before Alyx Vance, before there was even an argument about women in games, Samus Aran was in deep space blasting aliens into bloody stumps. She’s the most feared and respected bounty hunter in the galaxy and remains one of Nintendo’s most popular and bankable stars.

When Samus first appeared in the original Metroid, players assumed the person inside the yellow armor was a man, just like every other character on the platform. Eventually, word of mouth spread that a secret ending (and cheaty passwords) revealed Samus as woman, instantly propelling her to the top of a very short list. Even though she loses her clothes as a reward for excellent playing, her in-game persona is all business, suggesting a girl who works tirelessly but still knows how to kick back.

The revelation of Samus being a woman was also lauded as innovative, with GameTrailers remarking that this “blew the norm of women in pieces, at a time when female video game characters were forced into the role of dutiful queen or kidnapped princess, missile-blasting the way for other characters like Chun-Li and Lara Croft”.

Codes for Metroid: JUSTIN BAILEY —— —— [or] NARPAS SWORD- —— ——

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About Jonathan G. Nelson

Jonathan G. Nelson is the editor-in-chief and owner of NERD TREK. He is also owner/publisher at AAW Games / AdventureAWeek.com, a tabletop gaming company based in Snoqualmie, WA. Connect with Jonathan via Facebook.