Recently, I bought a console that would let me play classic NES/SNES etc. games on my modern TV. I never owned either of these consoles when I was growing up – my first foray into gaming was with GameBoy Colour and Nintendo 64. RetroSurfing is my record as I journey through some classics that I missed the first time around.
Nintendo have a large number of core franchises – those sure fire smash hits such as Mario, Zelda and Pokémon. There has been one series however, which has massively fluctuated in terms of popularity over the years, and has had difficulty keeping a steady flow of releases going, with long droughts not being particularly unusual. Despite that, it’s a franchise that is beloved by many, and is often viewed as up there in quality with the very peak of Nintendo’s output. I am, of course, talking about Metroid, the space adventure series dating all the way back to 1986, with the release of the first game onto the NES. Recently, the series seems to be having a bit of a renaissance – Metroid Prime 4 was announced alongside the launch of the Switch, we got remake Metroid: Samus Returns on the 3DS and now, almost twenty years after the last 2D game in the franchise, Metroid Dread has hit shelves and reignited passion for the franchise. I personally am very excited to play this latest entry, but I have something embarrassing to share – aside from oft-maligned Wii-entry Metroid: Other M, I haven’t actually completed any Metroid games. With Dread being marketed as the possibly conclusion of protagonist Samus’ long story, I felt like I couldn’t just dive in right away. And so, I hunted down a copy of Zero Mission, the now somewhat rare GameBoy Advance remake of the first entry in the series.
After months of looking, a copy of Zero Mission finally popped up in the retro game store near me. It was a bit expensive, so I held off at first, but then decided I would be an idiot to let it go, so I went back and picked it up a few days later. Over 8000 yen later (roughly £60), and I finally got my hands on it. Let me just say now – there is no reason that this game should be so hard to play in this modern day and age. It isn’t exactly demanding to run, and with how scarce copies are, it’s ridiculous that it isn’t more readily available over digital storefronts. I know it’s available on the WiiU Virtual Console, but that’s a console owned by so few people, whose store is going to start being gradually closed down from January 2022. Even if you do managed to find a physical copy, you’ll need to have an original GBA or Nintendo DS/DS Lite, as these are the only consoles capable of playing GBA cartridges. The other option, of course, remains emulation, but for people like myself, who would rather play through legitimate means, our options are woefully limited. Nintendo, do better.
Moving over to my actual experience with the game then – Zero Mission is excellent. The labyrinthine world of Zebes is a joy to explore. Traversal is quick and smooth – a necessity when games require backtracking as much as this one does – so it never feels like a drag, and room layouts were generally memorable, so it was rare that I felt myself being completely lost. The addition of a map in this remake of the original is however much appreciated, as those moments when I did need to reorientate myself would be made much more irritating without it. Exploring is great fun, and in a similar vein to The Legend of Zelda, going off the beaten track to be rewarded with power ups or extra ammunition provided a great sense of accomplishment. Another great thing is that, although the game provides a map through map rooms, there are still areas that are hidden from the map itself, meaning whenever you find one of these rooms, you feel genuine pride, even if they need to be explored to progress further.
The story here, as with most games originating from the NES era, is light, but thanks to some new cutscenes harnessing the power of the GBA, it feels a little more welcoming and inviting than the original. The addition of a wholly new section at the end of the game provides some interesting back story to Samus’ character and a real test of platforming skill. There are some pieces of environmental storytelling, such as the corpses of space pirates as you approach Mother Brain, the mysterious being Samus has been sent to kill, which give her alien metroid underlings a distinctly threatening presence, only made worse by how quickly they can kill you if you don’t deal with them swiftly enough.
I loved finding secrets dotted around the world of Zero Mission, and picking up those hidden items was a great kick. I thought I did a pretty good job at finding a good chunk of them, watching my missile count go up as I found more and more containers, but when I eventually got to the completion screen and found I’d only discovered 46% of items, I couldn’t believe how many more secrets lay hidden for me to uncover in a future playthrough. I finished this game in just two days, so, knowing it wouldn’t take that long, I’m somewhat inclined to go back and try to find more items, or try to finish the story again in a shorter amount of time. I can see why the Metroid series is so well-known for its replayability.
Zero Mission was my first foray into what is often considered the main Metroid series (I’d previously played a bit of Metroid Prime on the GameCube) and I have to say that I’m now eager to play more. I know that the 3DS game is the next point of call in the story, so I’ll likely head there next before returning to the retro games with Super Metroid and Fusion then finally heading into the world of Dread. I definitely have the feeling I’ve found yet another Nintendo franchise that has sunk its teeth into me. Now if only they could make them more accessible.