It’s dark inside Ceres Station. The lonely bleep of untended computers echoes off bleak metal and scattered corpses. With an intake of breath the door opens, and a bounty hunter appears, surveys the grisly scene from within her visored suit, and as it dawns on her what has been stolen she darts away in pursuit.
So begins Super Metroid, the pinnacle of 2D adventuring. Never since has a game provided so much freedom along with such depth of control, nor produced such a finely tuned tension, solitude and a sense of impending doom without resorting to cheap scares. And somehow, it succeeds simultaneously as both a sequel and a reimagining of the original game.
A matter of minutes later, after your panicked flight from the collapsing ruins of Ceres Station you arrive on the surface of Zebes, the caves and passageways of which form your playground for the rest of the game. With a heroic jingle you emerge into a hostile environment, desperately underequipped and uncertain of what to expect. The obvious path lies silent and uninhabited, just as you left it all those years ago when you first escaped the firey destruction of the planet’s interior, your two-button NES pad gripped in triumph. And as you delve a little deeper, you rediscover the shattered remnants of your final battle; Mother Brain’s glass tank, shattered and broken; your escape route, burned and decayed from a decade of disrepair.
Or as in my case, you miss all the relevance of this historical retread as you didn’t play the original, but even then the all-pervading silence and lifelessness – other than the tiny scavengers scurrying away at your approach – leaves you breathless. I already knew I was in for an epic; that they included the complete map and strategy guide for free in the oversized box suggested that this was going to be no straight shooter.
What I didn’t expect was a masterclass in extraterrestrial potholing, mixing the old tradition of leaping from ledge to ledge with squeezing through the tiniest of cracks with the help of an ever-increasing arsenal of technical wizardry and high-payload weaponry, working ever deeper into the heart of the planet, down into the flooded environs of Maridia and the magma caverns of Norfair. And with each rediscovered technology, you feel just a little more prepared for the incredible odds that await you round the next corner.
It’s not even that Super Metroid’s particularly hard – with a bit of careful exploration you rapidly become such a badass that only the most cackhanded playing will result in your untimely demise – but that even as a fully equipped power-suited badass you feel strangely vulnerable, trapped deep beneath millions of tons of rock, entirely alone.
Yet as the sirens wail and the unexplained planetary destruct mechanism ticks down, you know you’ll be back, stalking the corridors of Zebes, revelling in the solitude.