Metroid: Zero Mission Preview

Everything old is new again in Nintendo's upcoming retelling of Samus Aran's first adventure.

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Messing with a classic is always a dicey thing. While using new technology to freshen up or overhaul an old concept may sound good in theory, you always run the risk of incurring the wrath of purists and generally messing with people's happy memories. One look at George Lucas' defiling of the classic Star Wars Trilogy with the new special editions should offer a compelling argument for why it's not a very good idea to try to reinvent the past. However, Nintendo is aiming to do just that with Metroid: Zero Mission, a retelling of Samus Aran's first adventure. It's based loosely on the original NES Metroid and is set to replace the NES game in the Metroid continuity. The game was first shown at last year's E3 in nonplayable form, but it has since been kept under wraps, with the exception of the occasional media update. We had the chance to try out the final version of the game to get a feel for what to expect from it, and we are pleased to report that all is well. Based on what we've played, Metroid: Zero Mission appears to serve up a tasty selection of old and new elements that work well together and maintain the quality of the NES classic.

 Samus is back in a new take on her first adventure.
Samus is back in a new take on her first adventure.

The game's story is once again told in flashback. Though the beginning and ending are the same as in the original Metroid, the journey itself is radically different. If you don't remember, the original Metroid proceeded thusly: Renowned and capable Samus Aran was sent to the planet Zebes in pursuit of some nasty space pirates who'd stolen a mysterious new life form called "metroid." Samus was forced to infiltrate the pirates' subterranean fortress and traverse many dangerous areas in order to find and defeat the menace of the space pirates and their new bio-weapon, the metroid.The narrative is now fleshed out with cinematic sequences and bits of exposition that paint a more complete tale that should help tie the Metroid games together a bit more.

The gameplay in Zero Mission draws on elements from the previous Metroid titles and ends up with something unique. You can choose from three difficulty levels when you first fire up the game. As always, Samus must explore her surroundings and collect power-ups to make her not-so-mighty suit a force to be reckoned with. Like in the original Metroid for the NES, Samus starts out with hardly any abilities. For example, like in the original game, her initial beam doesn't shoot all the way across the screen until you collect the long beam, which increases the reach of her beam attack. In some cases, the power-ups you collect will be new, such as the power grip, which lets you grab on to ledges as in Metroid Fusion.

However, the power-ups are just one of many new elements that have been added to the adventure. You'll come across chozo statues that will form gates you can unlock by defeating bosses. Other chozo statues will charge up Samus' power and direct her to new locales on one of the most welcome additions, her map. A more subtle, and we'd wager much more annoying, addition to the experience is small parasitic creatures. We noticed the little critters popping out of different places as we went about our business. We initially thought they were a cute interactive touch, but one of the little guys happened to stick to Samus as we ran by them, and it seems they're destined to be deadly pests. If only one is stuck to you, that's fine, but if several of the little buggers are stuck to you, they pose a serious problem, since they do damage and can run down Samus' energy meter pretty quickly. Another new element is a spiderball-like track you can use in different ways to cross over to new areas. The track uses a moving platform you can either have Samus grip and ride or, if the platform's path is too cramped, you can use the morph ball. By using some well-placed bombs to boost up and attach to it, you can make it past obstacles that would prevent full sized Samus from passing. We've already come across a cool puzzle that makes use of this new element.

The game now features cinematic sequences to flesh out the story.
The game now features cinematic sequences to flesh out the story.

There will also be new uses for the morph ball, which call to mind Metroid Prime. You'll find special areas where you'll need to switch to ball form and access special launchers that shoot you around. There will also be mysterious new items to collect; while they're impossible for your suit to analyze, they'll let you destroy alien artifacts blocking your path once you collect them. Despite the number of additions, Metroid: Zero Mission still feels a lot like the original game, due in large part to its gameplay. The control has a tight feel that obviously owes quite a bit to the scheme used in Metroid Fusion.

The graphics in the game benefit from both the Game Boy Advance's powerful hardware and a very deliberate art style. While it could have simply been made to look like Metroid Fusion, that didn't happen. Instead, the graphics have been overhauled to give Zero Mission a modern look that's a few steps behind Metroid Fusion. Samus' character sprite is bulkier though well animated. In the early levels we saw, the emphasis is on the foreground, while the backgrounds are modestly detailed, which is more in line with the look of the stages in Super Metroid on the SNES. The cinemas also call to mind the SNES games--they are made up of rich 2D art that's sparsely animated. The end result is a unique look that works. The modern and retro elements help the game look as though it may have preceded Metroid Fusion on the GBA, which is a cool touch.

The audio in the game includes some nicely updated tunes from the original NES game as well as original music that fits comfortably in the mix. The sound effects have been fleshed out some because of the presence of capable sound hardware. You'll hear some ambient sound, such as rain, along with the familiar effects used for Samus' jumps, weapons, and power-ups. Bosses will now be considerably more fearsome, thanks to the meatier audio. Kraid, for instance, is far more intimidating this time around now that he has a terrifying roar.

 The graphics in Metroid: Zero Mission have been updated quite a bit compared to its NES predecessor.
The graphics in Metroid: Zero Mission have been updated quite a bit compared to its NES predecessor.

From what we've played so far, Metroid: Zero Mission is shaping up to be the Game Boy Advance's first must-have title of 2004. The one-two punch of strong visuals and engaging gameplay makes for a compelling experience fans won't want to miss. Some diehard purists may not be pleased with some of the changes made to the old game, but there's plenty to enjoy here. The game has a winning layer of polish and ties everything together nicely. Anyone up for a challenge will want to keep an eye out for Metroid: Zero Mission when it ships this February.

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