Monday, May 21, 2012

Super Metroid [1994] (action-adventure)

Disclaimer: This review originally appeared in the TOF e-magazine (issue #11, June, 20, 2009) - see 3 years have passed, I have beaten the game again (this time without stupid savestates), so I guess it's an appropriate time to translate this old review to English, also cleaning up silly things and providing kosher screenshots. Here we go:

Developers: Nintendo R&D1, Intelligent Systems
Publisher: Nintendo
Director: Yoshio Sakamoto
Composers: Kenji Yamamoto, Minako Hamano, Hirokazu Tanaka
Platform: SNES, Wii Virtual Console
Release year: 1994
Genre: Platform, action-adventure
System requirements: n/a


At first I wanted to begin this review in a pathetic way, something like 'this epic masterpiece was created...' or 'a legendary game...', but then realized that the bare facts will do much better talking. In 2007, Electronic Gaming Monthly magazine has awarded Super Metroid with the 'Best Game Ever' title - in my humble opinion, rightfully so.

When it comes to popularity and influence(s), the Metroid franchise is sure comparable to other Nintendo staples such as Super Mario Bros. and The Legend Of Zelda. Back in '88, the adventures of Samus Aran perfectly succeeded in thrilling and entertaining hundreds of fans in both USA and Japan, and so it all began. The series' revolutionary concept was honorably ripped off (see Castlevania: Symphony Of The Night), perceived at a different angle (see The Guardian Legend), and all in all acknowledged by the industry - an honor only the true breakthrough games deserve. But even the most original of all games have their influences, too - in his case it might be the Saboteur series for ZX Spectrum.

And speaking of the Metroid franchise itself, no chapter in it is as important as Super Metroid. Here is where a large number of standpoints was either invented or perfected from the previous games and carried over to future releases, including the Prime trilogy. I'm talking about the gadgets, advanced tricks and abilities, exploration methods and the style of the narrative (okay, the latter does controversially differ in Metroid Fusion, the direct continuation).

My own acquaintance with the series wasn't as smooth as for you, dear reader, with Wii and Virtual Console at your side. I've tried the first game a while ago, and was disappointed. I thought that the main character is male, Metroid is his name, and the game is split to levels. But then I learned that the last conclusion was wrong, and after some time spent smoking Wikipedia, I was just scratching my head. Of course, Super Metroid was praised the most, so that was the one I decided to try, and after the final cutscene and credits roll, I was never the same again.

So, to avoid such confusion as I have experienced, for those entirely unfamiliar, here's the backstory - not without spoilers, though.

The year is 20XX, the Galaxy is seemingly at peace - and by 'seemingly' I mean constant disturbance from the hordes of so-called Space Pirates. They form an organized group of raiders and terrorists belonging to different races, but sharing one vision - chaos and terror towards the civilized world. Regular army is hardly able to contain their attacks, so the Galactic Government is mostly relying on Space Hunters - hired guns making their living by disposing of the Space Pirates for cold hard cash. The best of the Hunters is a beautiful gold-haired amazon named Samus Aran, our main character.

The game starts off with her narrating the events of Metroid 1 and 2. After the Galactic Government decided to cut the throat of any Space Pirates' activity, Samus is assigned to travel to planet Zebes, and then search and destroy Mother Brain - the literal mastermind behind the Pirate operations. Reconnaisance is successful, but after Samus walking over the dead bodies of Kraid and Ridley - Mother Brain's top henchmen - and setting her feet to the enemy HQ, suddenly they appear...

Metroids, the creatures migrated to Zebes from planet SR388, carry two interesting abilities: they multiply when exposed to radiation and feed on the bio-energy of other living creatures, something similar to Tobe Hooper's Lifeforce (though they hardly resemble Mathilda May, rather they look like green jellyfish with fangs). Also, they are capable of growing past five different forms, ending up as terrifying monsters. No wonder that the Pirates have decided to use them as cannon fodder, so when Samus walked into the core of the enemy stronghold, the Metroid clones were already floating around everywhere, ready to suck up all life from our heroine. Thankfully, she was able to dispose of as many of them as possible and blow up Mother Brain to smithereens. So is concluded the original Metroid for NES (but not Zero Mission, the GBA remake - author's note).

Then Samus is talking about the events of Metroid 2: Return Of Samus (released on GameBoy). After setting up the successful self-destruction sequence on Zebes, she headed to SR388 to set the final score with Metroids and whoever (or whatever) was breeding them all this time. Everything went just fine, but the very last surviving Metroid, a little innocent larva, had mistaken Samus for its mother, and seeing no danger coming from this child, she took it with her to the Ceres research laboratory on Zebes orbit.

And here's where Super Metroid picks up, stating that 'The Last Metroid is in captivity. The Galaxy is at peace'. So is it - the Metroid larva is given to the scientists for research, and overjoyed Samus flies away seeking another assignment, when suddenly the space station sends out a distress signal to her, being under surprise attack by Space Pirates! Quickly rushing back, Samus finds the laboratory demolished, the scientists dead, and the Metroid - ...

This is where you grab the controller, and kick it into motion.

In terms of gameplay mechanics, the game (like the rest in the series) is a non-linear open-ended adventure across the big, big world, divided into several distinct zones and filled up with secret passageways, treasure rooms and narrow spaces without any obvious dead-ends. You can go wherever you want, but there are several plot points that are exposed only when it is required by the plot itself. This interesting balance is, undeniably, one of the series' trademarks. Sometimes, scripted events such as lava flood can be triggered once you enter the room or kill a boss.

Aside from being such a determined explorer and warrior, Samus is able to upgrade her power armor by finding the artifacts and peripherals to plug in. There are several kinds of them:
    - Weapon upgrades. Those are self-explanatory - we start off with a classic pew-pew blaster, but near the end it is upgraded to serious business. Also, there are missiles and mines, each of two kinds. Only the first type of mines is available as soon you receive the Morph Ball (see below) and has infinite ammo - for the Power Bombs and both kinds of missiles, both ammo and capacity upgrades have to be collected.
    - Spacesuit upgrades. There are three spacesuits available, counting the starting one, and each has its own features, such as resistance to water buoyancy and lava heat. Also, Samus is able to somehow contort herself into a rolling ball and explore the smaller passageways and pipes, perform walljumps (this is a hard one, has to be mastered as you go), somersault continuously in the air, run like hell, and way more.
    - Other gadgets include the magnetic ray (gives you the ability to swing on the special kind of surfaces) and the scanner, which reveals the secret passageways when directed onto the walls, floor and ceiling.

To assist Samus in her long travel above and mostly below the planet surface, there is a convenient map system. All the rooms that have any points of interest are highlighted - such places include the Chozo statues (where most of the upgrades are scattered), boss chambers, and each section of the planet's underworld is hosting several kinds of special rooms which are sometimes pretty tricky to uncover and reach:
    - The Save room (S icon). Pretty simple - you enter, you save, you go on exploring. They're situated pretty fairly, rare enough for the game to keep being challenging, and often enough to reduce any frustration as much as possible.
    - The Map room (M icon) reveals the geography for the current location. Fortunately for the true treasure-seekers, not the whole map is revealed, so you're still never sure if you have uncovered all the possible spots.
    - Missile reload room (Missile icon)
    - Health recharge room (Sun icon)
    - Samus' ship (eh, you'll see it anyway) - it's capable of refilling health and missiles, along with saving your current progress. Unfortunately it's immobile, so you can't really rely on it too often.

Aside from the regular goons, which the abilities, items and rooms listed above are willing to help in defeating, Zebesian grand maze surely contains several Minotaurs, each with an unskippable bossfight. Destroying them reveals new rooms to explore and strip out of items. While the boss disposal tactics are a bit on the redundant side, the fights themselves are sure as hell made as entertaining as possible, competing in an adrenaline rush with the best bosses in any Contra game. Almost every major opponent is twice or even twenty times bigger than our heroine, presenting a force of destruction worth reckoning with, all leading up to electrified and epic final confrontation!

All in all, as you can see, the gameplay is perfectly balanced with no useless features and lots of memorable moments in the usual, time-honored Nintendo fashion. But what about the aesthetic side of things?

I'll never forget seeing the opening screen for the first time. For something made by a gaming company of such reputation, it's really damn creepy with all these bleeding corpses lying around, helpless bleeping of the Metroid larva and, of course, one of the most haunting title themes ever conceived. It consists of three-something chords, sure, but it's still fascinating, how magnetic such a simple thing can be.

Once the theme song ends, some demo clips are shown. To tease the player, especially if he has beaten the game, some of them contain a display of some advanced moves, unexplained during the main campaign - like the one I like to call 'Sailor Samus' - you'll get it when you see it. Actually, after I've beaten the game for the first time, there were four such features, shown in the demo but not encountered ingame.

Speaking of the graphics, they are unbelievable! It's one of those cases when the first-party developer manages to squeeze out 150% of the console's power. There's a lot of special effects, obligatory Mode7, creative animation - even for such a traditional thing as the death of our protagonist - and most importantly, living and breating scenery in the background, from the woods of Brinstar to lava pits of Norfair and depths of Maridia. It's one of those cases where the maps are believable locations designed by an artist, not the bare blueprints drawn by a retired (or retarded) military cartographer.

This game actually ows a lot to the horror genre, perfectly keeping the trademark 'rat in the maze' attitude with its structure. And what's a better way to stress the menace and haunting environments, than to have a gloomy subtle soundtrack. There's a lot of dark ambient pieces, with some orchestral and almost heavy metal tunes mixed in for variety (but mostly, for the boss fights or unexpected events), managing to keep even the most psychedelic melodies catchy and memorable. A good example will be the Wrecked Ship theme, phobic and quiet, with some downtuned drums in the background, but by God does it compliment the atmosphere. It was one of those rare moments in gaming when I was really getting scared.

What's left to discuss... the controls, maybe. Sure everything is handled very smoothly - no lagging, no thumb-aching combinations - with the exception of wall and Space jumps, maybe - aside from the advantages described above, it's just so fun to play. It even was fun and convenient to play since the very first Metroid - thankfully, no game in the series suffers from the same drawbacks as, say, pre-SotN Castlevanias. And yeah, Symphony Of The Night, as directly inspired by Super Metroid as it is, ironically was the first in its series where the controls got really polished and beefed up. Influences can be good sometimes!

Here's all I wanted to say about a masterpiece called Super Metroid. Is it a good game? It's a phenomenal one. In terms of the gross revenue, it wasn't a smash hit even in Japan, but it was noticed and praised rightfully for its innovation, immersion, atmosphere and intelligence. It broke new ground for the game designers, gave way to eight sequels, prequels, midquels and spin-offs, and remains one of the most popular speedrunning games, for all those players willing to beat it as fast as possible collecting one hundred percent items and receiving a thumbs up from armor-less Samus. Genesis did do what Nintendidn't, but it never even tried to outdo what Nintendid with Super Metroid. Go play it, like... NOW!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

My Top 10 Favorite First-Person Shooters

10. Call Of Duty

The first CoD is simply a masterpiece. I love it! I've played several other WWII-themed shooters, but only Call Of Duty has managed to create a realistic atmosphere and emerge the player deep into the not-so-modern warfare (sorry for bad pun). The graphics are superb, the levels are anything but repetitive, and the tactics very greatly between the campaigns. It was especially refreshing to see a Western developer finally remember who has actually won in WWII, and that really says something. It's hard to describe why the first Call Of Duty is so great, but thanks to PS3 and X360 re-releases, you can try it for yourself. Call Of Duty is the one WWII-themed FPS (not counting Wolfenstein, OK?) that I have beaten, simply because I cared to beat it.

9. Strife: The Quest For Sigil

An obscure action-RPG from the Doom era, specifically the last commercial game that used the Doom engine. The developers gave it a serious boost with complex interface, primitive yet present role-playing system, dialogue voiceovers and multiple endings. Hexen expanded the technical possibilities and restrictions of Doom, but it was Strife that really nailed the engine limits. Its influence is undeniable in other 'intelligent' shooters like Deus Ex and System Shock, but overshadowed by its more famous successors, Strife is, too, a pretty complete and enjoyable, though not flawless, videogame.

8. System Shock series + BioShock series

Warren Spector is the man. He is responsible for the greatest action-RPGs to ever grace the PC. Fresh off Ultima Underworld, he and the crew unleashed System Shock - an ambitious hybrid of a first-person shooter and free-roaming RPG set in the coldness of outer space, with your only means of defense being a metallic pipe (at the beginning) and above average hacking skills. Everybody around you lies dead, and then there's the menacing entity of SHODAN - the violent artificial intelligence sending hordes of zombies and biomechanical nightmares in your way. System Shock 2 broke all the boundaries with larger world, new engine (Dark Engine, to be exact), new development team (Irrational Games) and a reputation of one of the scariest games of all time. And BioShock? It has new setting, new play mechanics, new role-playing system, but talk about a glorious comeback!

7. Half-Life

First, let me say straight - I've never played Half-Life sequels. I know they are epic influential masterpieces, hell, I even have them legally bought on Steam, but due to the time shortage, I never had a chance to check them out. HL1, though, is a different story. My first ever CD was actually a HL bootleg, though my machine didn't meet the system requirements at all. However, as I got a new PC, I've beaten it, then I've beaten it on PS2 - it's a great game, rightfully regarded as the first mainstream FPS with detailed and intricate storyline (I stress 'mainstream', because there's the Marathon trilogy and System Shock).

6. Deus Ex

Warren Spector's cyberpunk epic was a smash hit back in 2000 that redefined the FPS genre. The story of JC Denton and the gang was larger than life, with sophisticated writing never seen in the genre before (again, I'm talking about the mainstream shooters). The graphics may be lacking even for the time, but the visual design, storytelling and Alexander Brandon's breathtaking score even all the flaws out. I have it on a bootleg CD which claims to contain the GOTY edition, but for some funny reason it is unplayable without the multiplayer (sic!) patch that I have finally tracked down on another bootleg CD. Thanks to it, the game became English from broken Russian, and the rest is history...

5. DOOM series + Heretic and Hexen

The first game has single-handedly created the canon and reputation for the FPS genre. Brutal and gory, DOOM threw out a revolution and influenced countless developers, from Raven Software to... Chex manufacturers! That's right, what followed the success of the original DOOM 1 and 2 was a pantheon of superb first-person shooters - Heretic, Hexen, Chex Quest and Strife. Also, DOOM has introduced a concept of modding by storing the resources in WAD files, and to this day the first two games are rightfully regarded as Carmack and Romero's finest hour, as well as the following efforts by Raven Software, the stellar Heretic and Hexen franchise.

4. Quake series

Despite having far superior competitors out there, Quake is the ultimate in multiplayer. You haven't lived until you've been raping and slaughtering all your adversaries with the Rocket Launcher, Lightning Gun, Shotgun, BFG, running around with a charged up Gauntlet and, of course, having the adrenaline rush of your life when the announcer hauntingly states that ONE FRAG LEFT. The single player in Q1 and 2 is also worth checking out, with Q1's dark Gothic castles and fantasy enemies, and Q2's hub levels and interesting sci-fi storyline. Quake 4 and Enemy Territory were kinda meh in the eyes of both gamers (including myself) and critics, but thanks to Quake Live, now you can experience the unforgettable deathmatches right here and right now, without even leaving your comfortable browser!

3. Unreal series

Unlike the other shooters of the time, Unreal didn't just have a set of levels. It had the WORLD. Developed, breathing and astonishingly beautiful planet of Na Pali welcomed our hero, a space prisoner, who fell from the sky and unknowingly was destined to free the locals from Skaarj tyranny. Every gamer remembers the moment of leaving the prison vessel and taking a first look at the sky. It was unreal indeed. This game has also launched Epic Games to superstardom, where they are still residing without any signs of weakening. A game, a benchmark, a whole planet to explore!

2. Duke Nukem 3D

Who doesn't love this muscular cynical superhero whose daily routine consists of hanging out with babes, kicking ass and chewing bubble-gum? Once he gets out of gum, it's up to aliens to experience all the sounds of fear. Shotgun, machinegun, shrinker, Mighty Foot - Duke has it all, but there's more. The glorious introduction of the legendary Build Engine, almost fully 3D levels (in terms of structure), portal system, highly interactive environments and charmingly dumb sense of humor - Duke Nukem 3D is a greatest spoof and at the same time, celebration of first-person shooters ever!

1. Marathon 2: Durandal

I can write another 'War & Peace' by praising this game. It's definitely inspired by someone higher than the sky.

Thanks to for great screenshots!

The official wallpaper for Shin Kami Tensei: Megiddo City

This is the official, revised wallpaper for the upcoming PC indie horror FPS title, Shin Kami Tensei: Megiddo City. Enjoy!





Friday, May 11, 2012

Introducing MEGIDDO CITY

Good day Ladies and Gentlemen!
It has been decided that from now on, there will be a new, centralized, synchronized title for the videogame developed by yours truly.

But for now, let us recap (the following is taken from's Forum):

First it started off as a cyberpunk shooter called Overload: Back To Basics, then it mutated to the Gears Of War'ish third-person shooter called Project Savior and had two alpha versions released (powered by Dungeons3D and ZDoom engines). Then, I've decided to create a 2D side-scrolling prequel called Thunder Angels using the Game Editor engine.

Then I've re-watched Game Trailers' Metroid Retrospective and renamed the whole franchise to Megiddo City (a.k.a Sergei Savenko's Megiddo City, Megiddo City: Shin Kami Tensei). It's a non-linear first-person horror shooter in the vein of Metroid Prime and Resident Evil: Gun Survivor. It's powered by ZDoom engine and features a soundtrack by Andrew 'Necros' Sega (most famous for his music in Crusader: No Remorse and No Regret).

Our main characters in the first game are female cybernetic space marines, featured on this (currently, a bit obsolete) wallpaper:

Right-click and choose 'View Image' for full size