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Metroid: Zero Mission

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Released: 2004

Genre: Action Adventure

Format reviewed: Game Boy Advance

Publisher: Nintendo

Developer: Nintendo R&D1

We explain why everyone should play Nintendo’s GBA reboot of its classic NES game.

The Background
The concept of Metroid: Zero Mission first began life in 2002 after Nintendo’s R&D1 team had just wrapped up Metroid Fusion. Considering the possibility of another Metroid project, one team member suggested Super Metroid, which made perfect sense thanks to the Game Boy Advance and SNES sharing very similar architecture.

Director Yoshio Sakamoto had other ideas, however, and wanted to remake the original NES adventure. Due to concerns that its recent release was a departure from the series, Sakamoto decided to give players that were new to the series a proper taste of what the classic franchise was originally like.

Metroid: Zero Mission made its first official appearance at E3 in 2003. It was initially expected to link to the incoming version of Metroid Prime II: Echoes (as Metroid Fusion and the original Metroid Prime had done) but Sakamoto revealed that the time delay between the two games meant it was no longer possible.

Eventually released in 2004, Metroid: Zero Mission followed the typical trend of Metroid releases by selling less in its home country than it did abroad. While criticised by some for its short length (it can be completed in roughly six hours), it nevertheless went on to achieve high scores and many gamers and websites have since gone on to regard it as the best 2D Metroid in the series.

There's a wide range of nasty bosses to destroy in Zero Mission.
There’s a wide range of nasty bosses to destroy in Zero Mission.

The Game
The first thing that strikes you about Zero Mission is just how gorgeous it looks. Backgrounds are meticulously detailed and brimming with the same atmosphere that made Super Metroid such a joy to explore. While the original NES outing was a somewhat barren affair, Nintendo R&D1 introduced plenty of flora and added more personality to the vicious fauna that can be found on the huge world.

Zebes is certainly a diverse planet, with each area featuring distinct locations that really drive home the feeling of exploring a strange foreign world. Secrets are hidden away in the most unlikely of places and you’ll need all your skills in order to discover every last one. Add in some truly evocative music that is every bit as menacing as the tunes found in Super Metroid and the end result is a massive aesthetic update that instantly recalls nostalgia for the 8-bit original, but somehow makes everything feel fresh and exciting. No small feat.

Another improvement to the original Metroid is the addition of the many new weapons and items that Samus can collect. The Power Grip is a very handy device that enables you to grab onto ledges, the Gravity Suit enables you to move through any environment without being slowed down, while the Speed Booster is a handy dash attack that will break through certain objects once Samus has built up enough speed.

The addition of these items and many more greatly change the structure of the original game, but not so much that it becomes completely unrecognisable to anyone who played the original. And don’t worry, all of Samus’s core items and weapons like the Maru Mari and Ice Beam are still available and are still used to solve exactly the same puzzles as before (in addition to a few new ones).

Several new bosses also make an appearance in Zero Mission, and while they’re not quite as inventive as the mayors that appear in Metroid Fusion, each and every one is extremely satisfying to battle. Honourable mentions go to a huge centipede that constantly harries you in Zero Mission’s opening half hour, and a gross lava monster that Samus must avoid by using a handy zip-line, but each and every one lingers in the memory and looks particularly fantastic on the Game Boy Advance’s small screen (although we’d personally recommend a GBA Micro for the best effect).

Add in plenty of extras like a Time Trial mode, the ability to replay the game on several difficulty levels – a first for the series – the option to link up to Metroid Fusion and the original NES classic and Metroid: Zero Mission becomes the best 2D Metroid we’ve ever played. That’s right, we actually prefer it to the already stunning SNES classic.

Shooting this statues gives you access to brand new powers.
Shooting this statues gives you access to brand new powers.

Why It’s a Future Classic
We’ll admit that choosing a reboot of a proven classic is cheating ever so slightly, but what better way to know that this will still be revered in a decade’s time? Everything about Zero Mission is structured beautifully, constantly introducing you to new items and then giving you the relevant areas and bosses with which to best utilise them. Of course, it helps that the core structure has been in place for 18 years, but what impresses here is just how well Sakamoto and the rest of his team have integrated the new items and levels into the core game.

It’s all fitted together so flawlessly that you’d swear it had always been in there from the very beginning. Add in a final third that enables you to play Metroid in a whole new way and Zero Mission cements itself as a cast iron epic adventure that may be short in stature but is a journey you’ll want to return to time and time again.

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