For a number of years following its initial release in 1986, the original Nintendo Entertainment System rendition of Metroid was considered a classic in the 2D action adventure genre. After all, it got the ball rolling for the Metroid franchise and laid the groundwork for all of Samus' future adventures. However, by the early 1990s, the original Metroid had lost much of its appeal thanks to a glut of action games--including Super Metroid--that presented the same concepts in a better-paced, less-disorganized fashion. In short, the new games made their ancestor obsolete. Now, you can download and play this obsolete ancestor on your Wii by shelling out 500 Wii points ($5).
Some of the basic concepts are solid, if unremarkable. A group of space pirates led by Mother Brain is preparing to unleash soul-sucking creatures called Metroids across the galaxy. So, you, as interstellar bounty hunter Samus Aran, must travel to the planet Zebes to put a stop to the nefarious scheme. You begin the game armed with only a plain blaster, exploring the interconnected rooms and corridors of Zebes. But as you explore, you'll also accumulate a modest arsenal of weapons and tools. Different beams and missiles make it easier to eliminate the alien enemies that constantly respawn, as well as deal with the three bosses you eventually have to face. The tools you gather will enable you to travel as a tiny ball, plant bombs in your ball form, and jump exceptionally high. On your journey to the Mother Brain's lair, you'll also need to keep an eye out for extra missile pods and energy tanks that can increase your missile capacity and your maximum energy reserves.
Zebes is an open-ended world, and you're pretty much left to figure out the correct path through the game on your own. That's not a terrible thing by itself, but many rooms look alike, and you won't be able to refer back to and in-game map because there isn't one. Some passages are actually invisible until you shoot or bomb them. To make matters worse, there's no logical rhyme or reason behind the placement of weapons and upgrades. You'll never find them near the places you need them. The ultimate result of all of this is that you'll frequently find yourself lost, traveling through areas you're too underpowered to be in or wasting time shooting at random wall and floor tiles. A little aimless wandering can always be chalked up to providing a reasonable challenge. However, Metroid takes wandering to the extreme, so much so that players are never really allowed to develop a sense of pace or progress.
As far as the graphics and audio are concerned, the overall look and feel has held up well over the years. Many of the rooms are identical in appearance, which can make finding your way around confusing, but the juxtaposition of rocky and metallic foregrounds in front of dark backgrounds creates an overall spooky atmosphere. That atmosphere is further fleshed out by 8-bit musical interludes that are understated and eerie. The biggest problem with the presentation is the constant flickering of character sprites that occurs whenever more than a couple of enemies are visible onscreen, which is basically all the time. It won't affect your ability to shoot, but it's definitely distracting.
This Virtual Console release is a plain-vanilla emulation of the original NES game. While it's nice that all of the old passwords still work, it's a shame that Nintendo didn't bother to implement a multislot-save feature, similar to the Japanese Famicom Disk System. Other NES games on the Virtual Console, such as Excitebike and Mach Rider, have appeared with features that were once unique to their Famicom Disk System iterations, so it's not as if there isn't a precedent. At the very least, it would've been nice for Nintendo to do something to minimize the sprite flicker that's constant throughout the game.
Unless you're already a devoted fan of the original Metroid, you probably shouldn't bother downloading it from the Wii's Virtual Console shop. There's certainly no good reason to subject yourself to such a disorganized and frustrating game when--for only a few dollars more--you can download the similar, yet superior-in-every-way Super Metroid instead.