When the original Metroid was released in 1986 for the NES, it became an instant classic. The action adventure game spawned a franchise of sequels and remakes that spanned generations of game hardware. Now that Nintendo has rereleased the original Metroid on the Game Boy Advance as part of the Classic NES series, the question begging to be asked is: Why? It's easy to see how certain aspects of Metroid's design made it a classic, but 18 years later, the overall package just doesn't measure up to today's action adventure standards. Moreover, the game is of dubious value, because it has already been included as an unlockable bonus in other recent Metroid games.
Metroid puts you in the role of interstellar bounty hunter Samus Aran. Space pirates are threatening to unleash dangerous creatures called metroids on an unsuspecting universe, and it's up to you to stop them at the source--planet Zebes. You'll need to rely on Samus' weapons and acrobatic abilities to get through Zebes' dangerous environments. At the outset of the game, you're armed with little but a peashooter, but as you explore the surrounding area, you'll soon discover an array of power-ups, such as the maru-mari (which lets you roll up into a ball to get into tight spaces). Jump boots increase the height of your leaps, while weapons such as the ice beam and missiles increase your firepower so you can more effectively combat the game's respawning enemies and memorable bosses. By the time you reach the final battle with Mother Brain, Samus will be bristling with an impressive assortment of fearsome weapons, in addition to energy tanks that soak up damage.
A big part of the fun (or, to some, a big part of the frustration) is finding each power-up and then trying to figure out which parts of the map you can explore further as a result of your newfound abilities. All your backtracking and experimentation contributes greatly to the game's length on a player's first run through, but, today, just about anyone interested in Metroid has probably played it before. As a result, you can run through the game in scarcely a couple of hours if you know exactly what you're doing. And since this is a straight port of the original game, everything you remember from the NES version will help you here. Even the bugs, such as getting yourself stuck in a door and wiggling up the wall, remain in this version.
The biggest problem with Metroid is that the manner in which the game challenged players 18 years ago is considered almost irritating today. Secret passageways are often hidden in random and unintuitive places, encouraging players who are stuck to bomb, shoot, and jump at anything to figure out what to do next. There's also no automapping feature, and many passages look similar--if not almost identical--to others, making navigation a confusing process. Further complicating matters are the number of vertical passages you'll need to explore that require quite a bit of platform-jumping. While this type of level design was more commonly accepted in the NES days, it could test the patience of many players today, particularly those who are playing Metroid for the first time and those who haven't had the luxury of a walk-through. In short, the game's design hasn't aged particularly well.
As far as graphics and sound go, Metroid is as dated as you could expect from an early NES game. Samus herself exhibits decent animation as she runs and jumps about the levels. Her arm cannon also changes color depending on whether you have the beam or missiles enabled for firing. Monsters have a decent amount of variation in appearance, and the bosses are also fairly large. The biggest problem is the homogeneity in level design. Bright, obnoxious colors are often used to differentiate one passage from another, but one area still tends to look more or less just like another, which can make pathfinding difficult. On the audio front, Metroid's sound effects are pretty basic, but the music is a bit better than average and is still memorable today.
Overall, the original Metroid is an example of a game that might have been better left to nostalgia rather than having been rereleased as a stand-alone game. The highlights of Metroid's design are in some ways also its weaknesses. Today's sequels and remakes on the Nintendo GameCube and Game Boy Advance do a far better job of formulating those same design conceits into games that are much more palatable to the tastes of today's players. And, again, when you consider that for just a few dollars more you can buy the great remake Metroid: Zero Mission, which comes with the original Metroid as an unlockable, there just isn't much reason to buy this version of the game.