A unique tune plays as Samus appears on screen for the first time in a dark corridor with strange platforms and odd creatures overhead. Taking the controller in our hands, players quickly learn the controls. Pressing the LEFT or RIGHT arrows causes Samus to move left or right on screen. Pretty basic right? Well, here’s where one of those innovative gameplay things comes in that blows your eight year old mind… pressing the UP arrow? It makes Samus aim her beam cannon up! And wait till you see what happens when you press the DOWN arrow… oh, wait… nothing happens. Not yet…


So, as you can see, Samus is in Brinstar. And she only has 30 health. And just a basic beam cannon. What do we do now? Hold the UP arrow and start tapping that B Button to blow those alien bug things straight to hell and start farming the energy they leave behind!


From here, we are treated to another new play mechanic that further presented how unique this game is. In most games of the time, players traversed right across the screen to progress. Players doing so in this title would find that their path was impeded by large wall with small tunnels. Since the only way to get through the tunnels appears to be crawling and we obviously can’t do that yet, we’re left with only one option… go left. I know I know, this isn’t all that impressive nowadays, but back then it was a major gameplay mechanic. Castlevania did have certain sections where players traversed the screen from right to left, but it always returned to the standard of left to right.

Metroid did away with linear progression by introducing the concept of finding entirely new sections of the map by simply going left. This nonlinearity presents us with a more complex map and deeper immersion. In addition to this, there is no direct route from start to finish forcing us to explore every section. Some areas require new equipment to reach while others make finding specific equipment a necessity because we need it to merely survive. By going left, we find one of those essential pieces of equipment and it also happens to be one of the most iconic.

The Morph Ball…sponsored by Pepsi apparently…

The Morph Ball, or Maru Mari (Japanese for “roll up”) as it was called in this first game, stands as one of the most memorable elements of the Metroid series as a whole and appears in every single game. It also allows us to glide through those tunnels and into other tight places. With the first of many upgrades in hand, we can now get on with our mission. Diligently exploring each of Zebes’ five sections, we can eventually uncover an additional nine upgrades for Samus’ armor: the Long Beam, Ice Beam, Wave Beam, Bombs, Missile Launcher, High Jump Boots, Screw Attack, Energy Tanks, and the Varia Suit. If you do actually manage to retrieve all of the upgrades, Samus becomes nearly unstoppable!


Each upgrade has its own benefits, proving just how necessary they are to progress through the game. When we first begin, Samus’ beam only travels a short distance requiring her to get up close with the enemies and opens her up to a lot of damage. The Long Beam allows her to shoot clear across the screen as well as reach the high ceilings. The Ice Beam is exactly what it sounds like, freezing enemies in place allowing Samus to use them as a step, plus it’s the only way to fight the Metroid themselves. The Wave Beam dramatically increases the damage our heroine doles out and can fire through walls and other barriers. The Bombs are an upgrade to the Morph Ball that allow Samus to reveal hidden tunnels in the floor while leaving booby traps for enemies. The Missile Launcher gives Samus another way of slaughtering enemies, is needed to open certain doors, and is the only way to destroy the Metroid once they’ve been frozen.

The High Jump Boots are another upgrade which do exactly what they sound like – they increase Samus’ jump by 1.5 times. Used in conjunction with items revealed by the Long Beam, this allows players to gather them and reach previously unreachable areas. The Screw Attack is another jump upgrade, unleashing a devastating attack on enemies that come into contact with it. Energy Tanks supplement and increase Samus’ health. These must have items are concealed throughout the map in walls and ceilings, raising Samus’ health by 100 points with each tank. The final upgrade is the Varia Suit, an overall upgrade to Samus’ armor itself. Though it would not become the iconic weapon it is until Metroid II, in the first game it is still one of, if not the, most powerful upgrades. Varia is actually a mistranslation of the word “Barrier,” which is literally what this baby does. The Varia suit cuts all damage received by 50%, protects Samus from acid pools, and insulates her from extreme heat and cold.


Like any game in which the protagonist gains new powers and abilities, once Samus has located all of her upgrades, the game takes on a whole new feel. Unfortunately, we really don’t get to use her at full power till close to the end of the game.

Now let’s talk plot. As stated before, Samus responds to planet Zebes to recover the stolen Metroid organisms from the Space Pirates. The pirates’ vile leader, Mother Brain, intends to subject the stolen Metroid to beta waves, forcing them to multiply at an exponential rate. Our brave heroine has completed many missions for the federation that others deemed impossible, so once more donning her Power Suit, she enters the maze-like fortress of a planet.


Working her way through the first area, known as Brinstar, Samus gathers several upgrades and battles her way through the Space Pirate hordes. This area offers up the Morph Ball, Long Beam, Bombs, the first Missile Tanks, and an Energy Tank. Take note that there is not a boss to be fought in Brinstar. In fact, there are only three bosses in the entire game! During Samus’ exploration of Brinstar, she will come across a statue of several creatures. Right now she can’t do much to the statue, but once the first two bosses, Ridley and Kraid, have been defeated, her path to Mother Brain will be open. Moving on to Norfair, the atmosphere takes on a decidedly more sinister appearance. Within Norfair, Samus finds the Ice Beam, High Jump Boots, the Screw Attack, more Missile and Energy Tanks, and, eventually, the Wave Beam.

Completing Norfair, Samus finds herself readying to battle the first of Mother Brain’s lieutenants, Ridley. This evil space dragon also has a very deep connection with Samus. Ridley’s Lair offers up several more Missile and Energy Tanks before bringing you face to face with the beast himself. And where better to fight a dragon than over a vat of molten lava?! Force feeding the scale-faced pirate a full serving of missiles, Samus watches with a sense of satisfaction as the dragon explodes into little bits just large enough for a doggie bag… I don’t care if I’m projecting here! Years later, we learn that Ridley murdered Samus’ parents, making every encounter with him especially intense and personal.


Working her way out of Ridley’s Lair, Samus continues her fight, entering Kraid’s Lair. More Missile and Energy Tanks can be found along the way, as well as a bit of a red herring in the form of an easily defeated Fake Kraid. The real thing is waiting down the same hallway, standing over a vat of acid for his showdown with the bounty hunter. Once more putting her missiles to use, Samus stomps the overgrown lizard under her boot, then heads out for Tourian. Passing back through Brinstar, she retrieves the Varia Suit upgrade, then returns to the large statue of Ridley and Kraid. This time, the stone versions of her fallen foes are flashing. Shooting both reveals a bridge that brings her to an elevator down into the final area.


In Tourian, Samus encounters the Metroid for the first time and damn are these things dangerous! These flying jellyfish with teeth will latch onto her if given the chance and then immediately begin draining away her energy. Quickly freezing them before the Metroid can turn her into a snack, Samus is able to blow them away with several well placed missiles. Running through the corridors as fast as she can, dodging more and more enemies along the way, Samus enters the final room… at the end of this deathtrap awaits her final prey, the Mother Brain! Dodging the rinkos flying everywhere and blowing down the barriers with her missiles, Samus at lasts confronts the biomechanical creature that unleashed this nightmare.


Shattering the creature’s glass jar and launching one last missile, Samus breathes a sigh of relief as Mother Brain explodes into jelly. Her relief is short lived, however, when a message pops up exclaiming, “Time Bomb Set, Get Out Fast!” Shooting her way through a newly revealed door, Samus hurriedly makes her way up a narrow corridor, barely escaping the underground fortress before it explodes. With the nightmare truly over, Samus relaxes and removes her armor, revealing her true identity to players for the first time. Boarding her starship, she sets off for her next mission… the destruction of the entire Metroid species! Although this will have to wait until 1991’s Metroid II for the Gameboy.

The ending itself actually brings up yet another innovation – the fact that different completion times resulted in different endings. In what has become a standard practice for many games today, this was a unique treat that created replay-ability. By the way, the reason Samus is revealed in such skimpy attire? Check the ending of Alien and Aliens, you’ll find Ripley in much the same way…

I wonder what happens if you complete the game in ten minutes…
Sai & Stormy are writers, gamers, and full time nerds. Sai can often be found with a comic in one hand and a game controller in the other. He specializes in the history/mythology of comic books, legends of video games, and sculpting figurines. When Stormy is not fully immersing herself into her 80's childhood fandoms, she enjoys making cosplay, desperately tries to get her old Nintendo games to work, and will do whatever it takes to make time to read her favorite books. They live somewhere down south where it gets very hot with a boneheaded dog named Melvin.