It’s raining. Not like a little sprinkle or a fine drizzle, but an all-out torrent. The water is running steadily down the sides of Samus Aran’s spaceship, sending mini-waterfalls cascading to the muddy ground below. No one is going to mind, though. The natives of Zebes have long since cleared out of here. The only welcoming committee Samus could have expected included a bunch of laser gun-toting Space Pirates and a host of intergalactic monstrosities. But right now, there’s only this vast expanse of dark, rocky outcroppings… and the sense of being completely and utterly isolated. It’s not the kind of thing you know, but feel, like an emptiness in your stomach and a maddening silence that fills your ears. It’s something that Samus understands all too well. But it’s not quiet. The air is wracked with howling winds, the drumming raindrops, and the faint but oh-so haunting overworld theme music. She is not alone, either; she tracked Ridley and his Space Pirates here. They’re somewhere on this planet, waiting to kill her.
Wiping the water from her helmet visor, Samus peers out into the rain-drenched wastelands of Zebes and spots a small tunnel leading into the hillside. She takes no notice of the mud caking around her boots and calves. Why should she? Her mechanical spacesuit – no, her Power Suit - was a gift from the Chozo, her guardians and surrogate parents. This thing was made with exploration in mind. Besides, she’s too distracted by the glowing blue door at the end of the tunnel. The Space Pirates must have rebuilt it after their last encounter in Metroid… Samus shoots it open, and then steps into a dank cavern. It doesn’t look like there’s anything alive here, either. Just a bunch of mossy platforms and rocky walls that extend forever into the darkness. Of course, Samus knows better. She’s been here before, after all. Beneath these putrid caves and sprawling cliffs lies an immense network of halls, passageways, and shafts that lead down into the fiery, Hellish depths of the planet. There are places and things down in that lava-filled labyrinth that no person was meant to see. Even though she’s got a map built into her visor, she knows that she can get lost in here, wandering hopelessly in those dimly lit corridors until something comes to eat her alive.
That’s assuming that the Space Pirates aren’t wandering around their former domain. It hasn’t been long since Samus was last here, and the place looks about the same as she left it. The platforms are still in place, but they’re crumbling into dust. The decorative archways still bear the scorch marks from her plasma rounds and missile strikes. One hollow alcove in particular stands out; ages ago, it housed Mother Brain, one of the toughest foes Samus had ever encountered. Now all that’s left is a ruined, battle-scarred wall smeared with some dried-out pulp of the dead villain’s frontal lobe. But there’s something else in here, lurking in the near-lightless room and beyond the scope of her visor. No, not lurking. Waiting. Instinctively, Samus charges her energy cannon and lets off a round. In that brief, room-illuminating flash, and gets an eyeful of death. There’s only enough time to register the blend of gaping jaws, spiky armor, and insect eyes. She fires again and again, feeling that familiar blend of murderous hatred and righteous fury building with each passing second. These bastards killed her parents, and revenge has never tasted sweeter.
If there are tears in her eyes, Samus doesn’t notice them. She doesn’t stop firing until the last Pirate screams out in agony and dies in a gore-spattering explosion, and then takes a deep breath. These gut-wrenching firefights never get old; you never know when one of those things are going to crawl down a wall and roast you with a barrage of laser fire. Unsurprisingly, her suit is now howling its distinctive near-death alarm. But since the suit’s energy can be restored via the floating power-ups left over from her enemies, Samus desperately stumbles over to the nearest fried carcass and nabs as much energy as she possibly can. There’s no save station or energy recharger around, so this will have to last her. As she regains her bearings, she silently curses her own ineptitude. She’s one of the deadliest bounty hunters in the galaxy, and a botched Pirate ambush nearly cost her everything… When did she get so damned weak?
What was she thinking?! She never should have left her weapons behind after her last trip here! Everything must be strewn all over the planet again. There are far deadlier guns than the energy pellet shooter currently strapped to her arm; somewhere in the inner recess of Zebes, her trusty Ice Beam is waiting to be found. The Missile Launcher, her favored weapon and bane of Ridley’s existence, ought to be hidden somewhere around here too. But it can’t be just all the old stuff, right? Surely the pirates have some new technology for her to steal. Besides, her Chozo ancestors left ruins that descend far into Zebes’ fiery depths; there’s got to be a few surprises left for her to find… She’ll need everything she can get. Her Power Suit can only take so much damage, but there have to be reserve energy tanks out there. Besides, she’ll get roasted if she tries visiting Norfair’s lava and acid pits in her current suit. She can’t jump worth a damn and can barely move in water, which makes exploring Maridia’s watery caverns a dull - if not utterly suicidal - prospect.
Ignoring the scuffling sounds coming from outside if her peripheral vision (the quality of Super Metroid’s ambience is remarkable), Samus strides down another moss-ridden hallway and stares. There’s the Power Ball upgrade, the item that lets her morph into a pseudo-basketball and squeeze into tight spaces. After acquiring her signature power-up, she continues down the tunnel… and hits a dead end. She switches directions and winds up back at the Pirate Ruins… and another dead end. Great. This is the last thing she needs. It’s not that Samus is lost; she’s just missed something both important and unobvious. The Metroid adventures have always been about exploration, and this is the granddaddy of them all. Any of the walls might have a weak point that needs to be uncovered. Some of the floors and ceilings can be shot out as well. What looks like a completely empty room may hold the access to hidden passageways, false walls, and countless power-ups. In truth, there are enough secrets in this place to keep a person occupied for days. Sighing, Samus heads back toward her ship. She’s going to have to retrace her steps and look for anything that might lead her deeper into Zebes…
There it is.
It’s small and unimpressive. It’s just a hole, really. But that hole is the key to the vast labyrinth that makes up the world Zebes. The thing is, you never know what’s on the other side of these passages. What will she find down in the darkness? How far down can she go? Will she drop into a lava pit and melt into a metallic puddle? Will she slay the Pirates once and for all, or are they waiting to snipe her once she lands on solid ground? What grotesque monsters and lethal traps await her? It’d be so much easier if she could just turn around, get in her spaceship, and fly off into the cosmos until the end of time. But she can’t; she could never live with such shameful cowardice. Beneath that green visor and orange hunk of metal, she is still as vulnerable as anyone else. But she’s also Samus Aran, and she has a job to do to. Hounded by her inner demons, she morphs into a ball and rolls into the tunnel and to the adventure of her life. So begins Super Metroid.
Ten out of ten