Metroid Zero Mission is a weird little game. On one hand it’s fantastically realised remake of the original game – retooling areas to suit modern gameplay design trends and adding in completely new ones to placate fans of the original who had already seen it all. On the other, it’s over rather quickly and doesn’t pose much of a challenge to the player. But it’s been nine years since then, it could’ve either matured or aged even more badly. So while Zero Mission is conceptually how a remake should be done (ie. Not just a fresh lick of paint visually), does the game still hold up today? Absolutely.
Metroid Zero Mission wastes no times in getting players right into the games world. Like any typical Metroid game, Samus lands on a mysterious planet – Zebes. She has one and only one task, and that’s to remove the presence of the (now nefarious) space pirates. As a secondary objective of sorts, she must also exterminate the Metroids, who the Galactic Federation deem to be a threat to the galaxy. It’s a rather simplistic storyline but also reflective of the time when the original game was released – where gameplay truly trumped any narrative experience.
For Zero Mission, the designers opted to further flesh out Samus’ original story and add more to the canon. Many of the sequences you’ve seen in the NES original will make an appearance here, albeit adjusted. But a few more will be completely new. To “update” the game to fare against its contemporaries, several new cutscenes have been incorporated to give more weight to the story. While it’s definitely resultant in an experience that’s less hesitant to make you take breaks to watch some exposition – it’s by no means as extensive as Metroid Fusion or even Other M was with its story elements.
Much like any other Metroid game, Zero Mission’s design is grounded in making the player feel isolated and letting them explore a strange and alien world at their own leisure. You’ll explore several areas while you attempt to find a new path to take in order to progress further – no doubt noticing all kinds of visual cues and hints that indicate you’ll be returning to these same areas some time later. It’s a very simplistic and well put together kind of design and one that many titles (especially in the indie sector) have attempted to emulate, albeit poorly. Zero Mission’s, heck, the entire franchise’s dedication to this type of game design is easily what makes it stand out from the rest.
Anyone who played the original game will notice how much more modern Zero Mission feels. You can now switch between missiles and the standard energy beam with the touch of a button and you can even shoot diagonally. New abilities have been added from previous games in what feels like an attempt to keep the games “consistent” such as the Charge Beam. Of course, Samus can now save her progress using save rooms instead of long passcodes so reminiscent of the NES era. They’re all minor things but they’re also an interesting indication of just how far we’ve come with modern games.
Some of these more modern features have trickled their way into Zero Mission as well, but might be met with a few raised eyebrows. While Adam isn’t here to boss Samus around like he did in Fusion, there is a similar “waypoint” system in place with Zero Mission that tells players where they should be headed next. It’s a simple system that tells you more about where to go rather than how to get there, but it’s some that does remove some of the isolationist feel from the game and is definitely something worth mentioning.
Without a doubt the most talked about aspect of Zero Mission is it’s sizeable epilogue, which concludes the events of the game and explores territory (both literally and figuratively) previously unseen in Metroid games. Following the completion of the game, Samus will be thrown into a moment of crisis and lose her power-ups – including her suit – and must escape from a space pirate encampment. This part of the game is definitely built with stealth in mind, however it’s not too intrusive and very enjoyable to play, evoking similar feelings of tension and dread to the SA-X sequences in Fusion. It’s definitely one of the more memorable moments of Zero Mission.
But despite this being added into the game, Zero Mission still feels like a rather short affair. Anyone looking to get through the game, while collecting a few collectibles here and there could easily get around between four to five hours out of the game. Completionists should be able to squeeze out six. The inclusion of typical Wii U Virtual Console features (like save states) may even shorten this time. Still, this problem is slightly mitigated by the cheaper price on the eShop but it’s definitely one of the shorter Metroid experiences.
Completing the game unlocks a few things that might warrant a repeat playthrough. First off, there’s the full ROM of the original Metroid game. It’s a fun look at just how far this franchise, and games in general, have come but it’s likely to be borderline unplayable after being accustomed to all the luxuries that Zero Mission brings the player. There’s also a hard mode, a sound test (groan) and some artwork that can be unlocked. Not a heap of stuff, but Hard Mode at least is worth another run-through for the more dedicated fan to see one of the games multiple endings.
Visually speaking Zero Mission blends visual elements from Super Metroid and the game on which it borrows it’s engine from, Fusion. The result is a bizarrely colourful and yet perfectly secluded looking world that feels truly alive. Backgrounds animate, boss fill the screen with all kinds of weird and wonderful projectiles. Zero Mission truly is a visual feast. I know I keep harping on about this, but it really is amazing to compare locales on Zebes from the NES area to their updated counterparts in Zero mission. The improvements are fantastic without compromising the look or feel of the original.
As per usual, Kenji Yamamoto has crafted a wonderful soundtrack for the new areas while updating the original tracks from the original game to fit in with the new style and aesthetic. There’s not really a whole lot more that can be said about the game’s soundtrack – just that it still elicits the same sense of nostalgia as it always did – and that you’ll be pining for a new Metroid game in almost any form by the games end.