Some Saturdays ago we hang out at Beto’s place. Our day’s mission was clear, to finish Super Metroid with 14% item collection rate. For those of you who don’t know what that means, 14% is one of the many alternative game modes for Super Metroid in which you must finish it with a 14% rate of collected items, the minimum possible without the use of heavy glitching (namely X-Ray climb). To achieve this task we had to make some sequence breaks, and beat some hard bosses with less than 3 times the normal items and energy.
Super Metroid is a great exemple of what some game designers call Organic Difficulty, the kind of game where the player chooses if they want to power-up or not. In the Zelda series, for exemple, when you beat a boss a piece of heart will appear, but the player chooses whether to take it or not, so alternative gameplay challenges appear (like the 3 heart contest, where you should beat the game with only 3 hearts, or the Caterpie/Wurmple solo challenge on Pokemon games). These kind of challenges are common on most progression games but some are more rewarding and fun to play like the aforementioned Zelda and Super Metroid examples.
In Super Metroid this organic dificulty is very dynamic ranging from cakewalk difficulty level (100% any time run) to near frustrating difficulty levels (14% speedrun). If you want to finish the game with 100%, you will end up overpowered as for most of the bosses you only need some of the equipments. For instance, you can kill Ridley (not the last but the most difficult boss) with 30 supermissiles, or only 20 charged plasma/wave/ice shots. But you can do this without all these equipments. Aiming for 14% it would take all 15 super missiles, 5 missiles, 5 power bombs (hitting twice) that you have available, and 109 charge beams shots. All this while avoiding Ridley’s semi-random attack patterns, since you’ll only have three energy tanks (or 400 health).
Super metroid presents you with a lot of features to help the player perform sequence breaks, like wall jumps and infinite bomb jumps amongst other more obscure (and glitchy) mechanics like the famous Mockball. You can find out about these tricks here.
To support all this sequence breaking and alternative progression systems, Super Metroid packs a carefully built level design, in which everything fits so you won’t get stuck while trying to do something you weren’t supposed to. Some examples of how the level design helps sequence breaking in Super Metroid are the rechargers and cold rooms you find while hell running (passing through hot rooms in Norfair without the Varia Suit), the fishes and other elements in Maridia that allows you to traverse it without the Gravity Suit, the physically different lava pits before Lower Norfair, etc. The game has also lots of exploitable bugs-as-features like, blue suit, mockball, speed ball, horizontal bomb jump, shoulder pumping, and other more abusive bugs like X-Ray Climb and the Glitch Beams that help on sequence breaking, speed running or reducing the minimum % to finish the game. Some of these bugs are very handy and usually don’t do any harm to the game’s runtime. Sometimes we are left to wonder if these bugs were discovered by the designers and after evaluation were just left unfixed on purpose.
All that rabble was to praise Super Metroid for it’s excelence in game design overall. The game is impressive on so many fronts that its clearly no wonder it hasn’t aged on its 14 years of glory. Super Metroid is something like a unanimity at Aduge. We all love it and we play it extensively even today making experimental runs or just-for-fun playthroughs and challenges (some of them were even played during our strategic planning!).
So for all of you fans of Metroid out there, get to work. Get your friends together, buy some pizzas, prepare your living room and pump up your Super Metroid. You can play the 14% Challenge, Redesign, Impossible, or whatever you feel like it. And don’t forget to get your super-missiles before entering lower norfair. We did.