Not just a bigger and better version of earlier Metroid games, it's a triumph of game design and a legitimate classic.
As interstellar bounty hunter Samus Aran, you must return to the planet Zebes, site of the first Metroid game, to track down a Metroid larva the creature Ridley has stolen from a space station. A brief sequence at the beginning sets the stage, filling you in on what you need to know from the first two Metroid games, but don't expect anything in the way of narrative after that. The game is short on storytelling but long on atmosphere and on really exceptional gameplay.
Upon your arrival, you have only your ordinary blaster, but it's not long at all before you start acquiring new weapons and abilities, and boy, are they fun. Before all is said and done, Samus will be able to roll into a ball, run at insanely fast speeds, jump repeatedly without ever touching the ground, and much more, and you're never far off from getting your next nifty upgrade. Samus' speed, agility and awesome assortment of powers make playing the game a thrill, and Super Metroid offers a greater level of control than previous Metroid games, giving you the ability to aim up or down at an angle with a press of a shoulder button. The constant sense of becoming more and more powerful, and earning access to more areas to explore, is tremendously satisfying, and while this formula may not have originated with Super Metroid, this game is still one of the best examples of it.
Exploring the mazelike environments of Zebes is a pleasure unto itself. You'll traverse all sorts of striking landscapes, all of which look terrific. Many of them have animated backgrounds which contribute to a sense of atmosphere and depth, and they range from soothing and beautiful to scorching to just plain otherworldly. And of course pretty much all of them are infested with strange creatures of one sort or another. The enemies you encounter are as diverse as the environments they inhabit, and the game has some particularly memorable battles. You'll face off against a few truly massive bosses, whose screams are as fearsome and terrible as Godzilla's.
The game is not without elements that can be somewhat frustrating. The game improves on the original by including a map feature, which is a very important addition, but while the map does indicate areas that you've visited and areas you haven't, it doesn't indicate the locations of doors, or direct you as to where to go next, and many important locations are in secret areas that don't show up on the map until you visit them. At a certain point in the game, you acquire an X-ray scope which can help you locate these areas, but scouring the game's environments with the scope looking for hidden areas can be a very time-consuming process. This process of exploration may be fun for some, but for those who find it more frustrating than enjoyable, there are numerous FAQs available to help speed things along. While Super Metroid has become a popular game for speedruns and those who know it inside-out can complete it in ridiculously short amounts of time, most players can expect a good six-to-ten hours from the game on their first playthrough, and it's certainly a solid enough adventure to offer considerable replay value.
Super Metroid still looks great. Not only are the environments well-designed and some of the bosses impressively large, but Samus herself is very detailed and moves exceptionally smoothly. The sound is every bit as effective; some of the shrieks and screams of the monsters you encounter are unsettling, and the music is understated and memorable, perfectly contributing to the atmosphere and sense of isolation.
It's not for nothing that Super Metroid is constantly heaped with praise. Most games that originated in the SNES era seem a bit dated today, but here is a game so well-made that it still feels fresh. If you've never played it, don't hesitate to take advantage of its availability on the Virtual Console. Not just a bigger and better version of earlier Metroid games, Super Metroid is a triumph of game design and a legitimate classic.