Tuesday, August 18, 2015

What Designers Really Need To Learn From Metroid

Metroid for the NES and Super Metroid for the Super NES are two of the most influential video games ever made.

The games' non-linear progression, solo exploration and action based gameplay have, along with Konami's Castlevania series, influenced so many action-platformer games that therm term "Metroidvania" was coined in video game reviews to describe the genre. The Internet is chock-a-block with all sorts of indie game plaftformers that display their Metroid influence proudly. But, as Maddy Meyers explain, just because you can count Metroid as an influence doesn't mean your game is automatically as good:

Take Shadow Complex, for example, a “metroidvania” that is obsessively similar to Super Metroid in terms of play-style—except that it’s 2.5D instead of 2D, so the world feels a bit more layered and packed out with compelling new surfaces to scale. That said, for a game that supposedly takes its influence from Metroid, Shadow Complex falls wildly short in terms of aesthetics, narrative and nuance. The plot follows Jason, a bland-as-a-plain-bagel man whose girlfriend gets kidnapped right out of the gate by shadowy soldiers. The game’s artists gave Jason a far more boring existence than Samus Aran’s, overall. Instead of beautifully designed, vibrant, unique armor and towering, glorious alien architecture, Jason gets black-and-gray suits and bland warehouse crates and hallways. (He doesn’t even strip down to a bright red swimsuit at the end of the game, either.)

So what makes Metroid stand out? Why is it so important as a game?
The reason why Metroid and Super Metroid work, at least in part, is because they evoke a fearful feeling of exploring and surviving, as well as a sensation of not-belonging, of being lost, and of rebuilding oneself piece by piece. Samus fights a cyclical, endless war on familiar battlegrounds; she goes on unglamorous, personal quests, often with little institutional support (in contrast to heroes like Master Chief or Marcus Fenix, who spend their campaigns being loudly lauded and supported.) Metroid is dark, and not in a cheesy way—in a mournful, slow, deliberate way. 
The fact that Samus is a woman matters, and it has always mattered, but that’s not the only element missing from contemporary Metroid imitators. The other missing pieces are even sadder: the lack of emotional nuance and depth, the shying away from the grit of loneliness, the dark existential depth of outer space, and the murky waters of motherhood (incidentally, videogames already do dads plenty—but only Metroid and Portal have even come close to tackling “mommy issues”.)
Meyers also goes into a very insightful breakdown of the movies Alien, Aliens, and Terminator 2 and how Metroid is the video game that comes closest to capturing the sci-fi feel of these movies.

Have you played a game that lives up to the Metroid legacy? Is it even possible? Sound off below.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"The Fall" comes close to capturing the feeling, although unfortunately the game is pretty short and more or less linear, and the puzzles are more of the scavenger-hunt variety.

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