I didn’t have the pleasure of enjoying my first Metroid game until Metroid Fusion, which is a great game in its own right but it wasn’t until 2012 when I would be able to experience my favorite Metroid game to date. I received it as a Christmas gift from a friend who couldn’t believe I hadn’t played Metroid Zero Mission. I won’t go into detail too much on Fusion but my main complaint with that was the lack of freedom and having things spelled out for me. Other than that I loved it, so you can imagine my long time Metroid loving friend’s reaction when I told him I hadn’t yet played Zero Mission. I completed it rather quickly during my work week. I’d play it on my Game Boy Micro at work and then popped it into the Game Boy Player on my GameCube when I got home. It’s now one of my favorite games and among the games, I attempt to replay every year or two.
Metroid has always been pretty successful but it hasn’t received as much love from Nintendo despite having a very vocal community and normally commanding decent sales figures. With Return of Samus and Prime 4 finally being announced I thought it’d be time to revisit Zero Mission and other Metroid games throughout the year. Metroid Zero Mission is the first of a few different remakes Nintendo has done over the years and it’s something I honestly hope they keep doing because they do a great job of retaining what made the original so special while also throwing in updates that help bring the game into the modern age. I’ll just say this right now: I absolutely appreciate the original Metroid, what it did for gaming, and how surreal and incredible it was when it released–but it’s not my jam. I appreciate it for what it is but Zero Mission is the final word for me on Samus’ first video game adventure. It gets the details right and changes the right things.
Metroid Zero Mission opens with Samus appearing on a world being used as a hideout for space pirates. The Federation attempted to wipe them out but they retreated deeper into hiding. They’ve been experimenting with Metroid life-forms and how to use them as biological warfare so it’s extremely important they be stopped. The Federation having little luck decides to send in the bounty hunter Samus Aran, who is considered one of the best bounty hunters in the galaxy. You arrive on the planet and immediately get to work. Fans of Twilight Princess’ long intro or Other M‘s nonsense would be appalled to see the player thrust directly into almost uninterrupted gameplay bliss. The gameplay is simple but addictive. In fact, along with Symphony of the Night (which it also helped inspire), the two franchises helped coin the term Metroidvania which has luckily spawned dozens of incredible games that utilize this beautiful formula that Konami and Nintendo seem to forget they helped popularize in the first place.
As Samus, you’ll travel across the planet while you tackle common enemies, dispose of larger and more difficult boss enemies, further the story while accessing previously unavailable areas while getting more and more powerful every step of the way as you unlock new abilities, weapons, and increase your missile capacity and HP. It’s beautiful and incredibly satisfying. Zero Mission is built off of Fusion’s engine and also adds tweaks that were not present in the original Metroid. The first thing players will notice is the graphics which look absolutely stunning in their 16-bit glory that just wasn’t possible on the NES. However, there’s plenty more tweaks but veterans need not worry as the original spirit and intentions of the game are fully intact. One of my favorite touches is that Samus can shoot in all directions now. In the original, if you wanted to destroy an enemy low to the ground or at an angle it required maneuvering on Samus’ part. Samus couldn’t shoot in certain directions but luckily she now can thanks to the power (and additional buttons) of the Game Boy Advance! You also get a bit of a nudge on where to go next but don’t worry, it’s not at all like it was in Metroid Fusion. You’ll get a nudge as to which area you need to go next. You still need to figure out what to do and what needs to be done along the way. It’s a perfect balance really because the exploration is still intact but the player has a general idea of where to go next, which helps avoid completely avoidable frustration. There’s more story this time around too. There are some cutscenes that help tell more about Samus’ beginnings, her relationship to the Chozo alien race, and there’s even additional gameplay after the original final boss. Yeah, there’s a lot in this package and it all works hand in hand to create the definitive version of a game that was already incredible when it released.
The graphics are absolutely beautiful and help bring the world to life in ways that I’m sure the original development team only imagined possible. It’s so nice seeing additional details and touches on this classic adventure that came out so long ago. The modern controls and tweaks in that department also make the game more accessible without taking away any of the challenge or fun. I also really love what they did with the sound effects and music. It’s every Metroid fan’s dream and if you’ve never played a Metroid game then I’d absolutely recommend you start here as it’s a great place of checking out Samus’ roots while also experiencing some of the best 2D gameplay in the genre it helped create.
A lot of complaints about Metroid Zero Mission back when it released centered around the length but look, this is an older game and a lot of the length stemmed from now knowing what to do and some difficulty spikes. I’m okay with the creases being ironed out to create a much more satisfying experience, even if it doesn’t trim the length some. It’s been thirteen years since the remake released and it’s barely aged at all, other than the graphics which are 16-bit and I don’t think I need to explain how well those have aged. This experience may not be as long as other games but I’ll absolutely take a well rounded two to four and a half hour journey filled with adventure, excitement, and polish every single step along the way. The little bow on this near perfect package is that the original version of the classic itself is available after you complete the game. Yeah, Nintendo knows how to do a remake and I hope they never stop. Check out this cult classic that’s among some of my favorite games and if you’ve never played a Metroid game then start with Metroid Zero Mission and then jump on over to Super Metroid, which will be one of my next retro reviews!
Metroid Zero Mission
- A remake from the ground up on a genre defining cult classic
- Tight controls help give you complete control over Samus Aran
- Exquisite sound effects and a beautiful soundtrack
- Length is perfect which a well rounded and polished adventure that features excitement every step of the way
- Graphical overall helps this game shine and gives it detail that helps shape the galaxy you're tasked with saving