Frivolous Waste of Time

Sci-fi, fantasy and video games

Archive for the month “June, 2013”

Fire Emblem: Awakening: Golden Pack DLC for Nintendo 3DS

The second DLC pack for Fire Emblem: Awakening serves a different purpose than the first, offering a steady path of riches and EXP rather than a focus on story or fan service. It’s actually the better package, offering a level of challenge utterly lacking in the first Champions of Yore pack.

There’s no plot arc between the three missions, or any real plot at all, but what is there is amusing and well written. The translation team for Fire Emblem: Awakening clearly have a lot of fun in their job, with a couple of thieves talking in ridiculous stereotypical Cockney rhyming slang and a group of menacing, but lonely, immortal warriors providing plenty of laughs.

The first mission gives us a group of enemies which drop insane amounts of gold, and the second EXP. These missions are really means to an end to shorten the grind rather than fun in their own right, but they serve their purpose well. The third mission is the star, a blisteringly difficult battle against the Dreadlords, who drop some epic weapons for your team. A simple map design combined with a small number of terrifyingly powerful foes provided a fun and challenging battle.

Although I enjoyed the Golden Pack more than the Champions of Yore, it’s really only worth it if you’re planning to keep playing Fire Emblem afterwards. It exists very much to supplement the main game, or future DLCs, so if you’ve finished the main game or don’t plan on purchasing any more DLC for Fire Emblem: Awakening, give this one a miss. fire-emblem-awakening-5a-e1360342057718

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Wool by Hugh Howey

Hugh Howey’s Wool has been attracting a fair bit of interest the last few months. Originally self published as a series of e-book novellas on Amazon, they’ve been collected together into the novel Wool. Despite its novella origin, Wool holds together as a well structured novel, with a strong cast of characters and a vividly realised world.

Wool takes place in the ‘silo’, an underground structure which houses the last of humanity after a nuclear conflagration  rendered the surface toxic and deadly. The silo is built vertically, with different layers serving different purposes, but all working towards the survival of the silo. On the top level the surface can be seen through cameras, although the lenses become coated with grime from the toxic winds above. Every so often, someone needs to go outside to clean these cameras, but this is a death sentence; because of this, expressing a desire to leave the silo, even in jest, is the ultimate taboo, and the committer off this crime will be given their wish and sent to cleaning.

The story primarily follows Juliette, a young mechanic who has been chosen for a key role in the silo. She soon realises the danger of her position, discovering a conspiracy which undermines everything she knows, eventually becoming a revolutionary hoping to pull the wool from the eyes of the silo’s occupants and oh my God I just understood the title of the book.

Although many of the actual ideas of Wool aren’t too original (the silo is basically a Vault from Fallout), the actual execution is excellent, and although the twists are all fairly obvious and unsurprising to the reader, it’s a thrill to enjoy these revelations through the characters. The novella structure creates an interesting style to the novel, with the novel split into a series of distinct events, often with different narrators and character focus. There’s a lot of slow paced worldbuilding at the beginning, although by the end this is extremely valuable and we can see why Howey invested the time into it.

Howey does a great job of constructing the world of the silo; if feels organic and natural, and the mysteries underlying it are believable and plausible. This is the sort of setting which you can just believe in. His prose is excellent, with only a couple of irrations. The way that his otherwise excellent protagonist Juliette constantly thinks in mechanical metaphors becomes a bit much, but it’s a minor flaw in an otherwise extremely self assured piece of writing.

His characterisation is top notch, with Juliette standing as one of the best male written female protagonists I’ve encountered. Seriously, Juliette stand on up next to Lyra Belacqua and Arya Stark, you earnt it. She’s incredibly tough, but without the bland ‘tough grrrl’ lack of personality such protagonists often have. One of the most interesting elements of the book is the irritating wet blanket of a love interest Lukas. At first I found his propensity for whining, brooding and bursting into tears annoying, but then I realised that he was exhibiting all the classic ‘damsel in distress’ traits. In a female character these traits are so expected as to barely even be noticeable, yet felt jarring in a man. Howey is inverting the traditional gender roles in science fiction, although I suppose that doesn’t make Lukas any less annoying; he’s just annoying with a purpose.

I really loved Wool; it looks set for huge success, and it deserves it. There’s a prequel already out which I cannot wait to read, with the continuation of the main story coming in a couple of months. Wool is a must read for any science fiction fan, but I think than non sci-fi fans would enjoy it too. It’s definitely not hard sci-fi, and doesn’t beat you around the head with lore and science, so I recommend this one for anyone. Hugh_C_Howey_Wool_Omnibus_article

Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D for Nintendo 3DS

Although I enjoyed the original on Wii, it didn’t feel like the natural place for it, with clunky motion controls and an experience better enjoyed in small chunks. An already fun experience completely comes to life on the 3DS, as proof that there is still room for innovation and charm in the sidescrolling platformer genre.

Yet again, Donkey Kong’s bananas have been stolen, although his classic foe King K. Rool is nowhere to be seen. Instead, it is the Tiki tribe that are the foes, weird mask creatures who hypnotise animals and horde bananas for some reason. Look, it’s a Donkey Kong game right. What did you expect?

The environments of Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D are gorgeous and dynamic to an extent that makes Nintendo’s own Mario sidescrollers pale in comparison. They’re not just statically beautiful, but frequently changing and moving, but without being distracting. Although there are some generic locations such as the forest, cave and fire worlds, they never feel generic, and instead rather fresh. DK Island has never looked this good.

The gameplay is basically the same as Rare’s classic Donkey Kong Country series, with running, jumping, and being launched around in barrels. I love mine cart levels in platformers, and there’s no series that’s ever done them as well as Donkey Kong Country, and they’re as fiendish as ever here. Diddy Kong returns, but in a different fashion to the classic games. When gained from a barrel, he provides his signature jet pack to give DK a little extra boost in his jumps. When he’s lost DK needs to wait till the next barrel to get back his invaluable ally. There’s are also some highly challenging levels in which DK flies around in a rocket barrel, with these parts providing the greatest frustration. This is overall a very challenging game, although an easier mode is now made available rather than the classic Wii mode. I do recommend going for the harder difficulty, it’s a big part of the experience, but there’s still plenty of fun to be had on the easier difficulty. The boss fights are generally fun and inventive.

There are a few elements of the earlier games missing in Donkey Kong Country Returns, such as underwater levels. The Donkey Kong Country games were some of the very few to get water levels right, so they were missed here. Although Rambi, DK’s rideable rhino friend does make a couple of appearances, there weren’t nearly enough. The lack of swimming levels means that Enguarde the swordfish is missing too. Hopefully the upcoming Wii U sequel brings these elements back.

Donkey Kong Country Returns is a decent length game, and with plenty of reward for taking your time to collect all of the bonus items. A secret world can be unlocked for those with more time and patience than me. It’s a worthwhile package, with plenty of replay value. This game is an example of game design of utter solidity, clearly made by people who have mastered their craft.

Although there’s naturally some lost visual fidelity from  the transfer from Wii to 3DS, it holds up much better than you might imagine. The environments lose little of their muster, and the frame rate remains solid throughout. This being a Donkey Kong Country game you want the music to be stellar, and it really is. The return of Rare’s classic tunes are the obvious highlight, but the new ones are nice too. This is an exquisitely presented little package, and one which is impressively crammed into the 3DS. Although I only looked at it a couple of times, the 3D effect is surprisingly good, much better than it usually is for ports.

Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D is the perfect version of an already great game, a must for anyone who loved the originals, or even enjoys platformers. Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D is comfortably in the running for this year’s best platformer, although Rayman Legends may give it a run for its money in a few months!donkey-kong-country-returns-3d-nintendo

Fire Emblem: Awakening: Champions of Yore DLC for Nintendo 3DS

Fire Emblem: Awakening is the first Nintendo game in which I’ve ever paid for DLC. It’s something we’ve come to expect everywhere else in the industry, but it feels really odd from Nintendo. To be fair to them, it’s hard to imagine Nintendo screwing over their customers as much as other companies, but their first foray into DLC is far from a success.

Champions of Yore is all about fan service to previous Fire Emblem games; Chrom and his army encounter ‘Old Man Hubba’, a fortune teller who has lost control of the Einherjar, cards which hold the essence of ancient heroes. Chrom is forced to battle these ancient heroes, who see Chrom and his band as simple brigands.

This DLC, which contains three missions, disappoints immediately by only containing one actual map played upon three times. For the money that’s charged, this is unacceptable. There’s no room for anything interesting tactically, due to this highly lazy move.

Although there’s some fan service-y fun to be had, the Einherjar aren’t nearly as interesting as they should be. There’s no real coherent plot to these three DLCs, which considering the strength of the plot of the main game is a sad surprise.

Champions of Yore, as well as being incredibly short, is very very easy if played at the end of the game, where I imagine most people will playing. Fire Emblem icons such as Marth, Roy, Ike and Lyndis are laughable jokes to defeat, undermining any of the epic feeling this DLC could have had. It surely wouldn’t have been difficult to implement a sliding difficulty to this DLC based on the players average level.

The player’s reward for completing the DLCs three mission is the addition of classic Fire Emblem characters to Chrom’s army. These characters have no conversations or support though, removing what was probably the most compelling element of the main game. They’re also completely useless in battle, and nothing but a liability for your better rounded main characters.

Champions of Yore is a highly disappointing debut release for Fire Emblem DLC; there’s potential there, and I loved Fire Emblem: Awakening enough that I’ll take any chance to jump back into it, but there are cheaper and more rewarding ways to do so. fire-emblem-awakening-chrom

The City & The City by China Miéville

Well…no one could accuse China Miéville of doing the obvious. Miéville’s work typically engages with a big, strange idea, and The City & The City may be the weirdest yet. Although not perfect, I loved this book; in fact, it’s probably my favourite China Miéville novel since The Scar.

The City & The City takes place in the twin cities of Beszel and Ul Qoma, which are situated in an unnamed location in Eastern Europe, with a strong post-Soviet vibe pervading the place. The main conceit of the novel is that the two cities exist in the same geographic location, due to a mysterious split 2000 years before. Although large amounts of the cities do not cross over, with certain areas being only is Beszel or Ul Qoma, some areas are ‘crosshatched’, and exist in both cities. Crossing in these areas to the other city, or even acknowledging their existence, is the ultimate taboo, and citizens of both cities are trained to ‘unsee’ the other. To do otherwise is the invoke the wrath of ‘Breach’, a mysterious power which enforces the border between the two cities.

The concept of two cities occupying the same geographical space is one which a lot of readers will struggle to make sense of, and I advise you not to try. Yes, on the surface the idea may seem silly, but if you open your mind up a bit you’ll begin to see what Miéville is trying to do. Miéville is inconsistent as a world builder; the London of Kraken owed too much to Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, and the setting of Embassytown never quite came alive for me, but the twin cities of Beszel and Ul Qoma stand alongside New Crobuzon of Perdido Street Station and Iron Council as one of Miéville’s finest creations. The metaphor of The City & The City is clear, but powerful; the way in which the citizens of Beszel and Ul Qoma are trained to ‘unsee’ is a clear indictment of the way the homeless are ignored  in society, as well as a commentary upon divided cities in general. The reader finds this enforced separation ridiculous, we wonder ‘can’t they see how much they have in common, how much they could achieve if they worked together’, but nationalist and jingoistic sentiment keeps them apart; I’ve felt the same confusion about the Jews and Muslims in Jerusalem. Beszel and Ul Qoma are both fascinating and entertaining settings in their own right, but also work as a symbol; there are few authors who can pull off both, but Miéville does with gusto.

The actual plot follows Inspector Tyador Borlú, a member of the Beszel Extreme Crime Squad, and his investigation into  the murder of Mahalia Geary, a foreign student with an interest in the two cities and the mysteries surrounding them. Borlú’s investigation brings him to the heart of the two cities, as he discovers secrets which threaten to shatter the delicate balance of power between Beszel and Ul Qoma.

As well as an excellent sci-fi novel, Miéville shows himself as an able writer of a good old murder mystery. He does a good job of weaving both types of narratives together, with the plot staying mostly interesting and coherent throughout. Things begin to derail slightly towards the end, with a somewhat rushed and messy conclusion taking away slightly from the whole, but it’s hard to deny that The City & The City is a strong science fiction and police procedural.

Miéville  can be quite self indulgent with his prose, but he’s gotten better and reigning himself in as he’s gone on. Police procedurals tend not to be the most overwritten genre, and true to this tradition the prose is surprisingly plain given the bizarre concept. That’s not to say that the prose is poor, in fact it’s just right for this novel, with the plainer style actually reinforcing the madness of this setting rather than undermining it.

The characterisation is probably the weakest element of the novel; I’ve still yet to read a Miéville   which could rival The Scar for the quality of the cast of characters, and it’s hard to get too invested in this bunch. Borlú isn’t the most dynamic or interesting of protagonists, although a decent supporting cast helps matters. I liked Corwi, a foul mouthed police woman, but she’s very much a toned down version of Collingswood from Kraken. Slightly more interesting was Dhatt, an ‘old school’ Ul Qoman cop, but overall it’s still the setting which is the star. There’s no stand out character in The City & The City; everything pales against the concept itself.

The City & The City is one of Miéville’s best works, and one which I think even non fans of sci-fi would enjoy. It manages to convey a genuine message whilst also being damn entertaining, which isn’t an easy feat. For all his flaws, Miéville is still one of the most interesting authors around, and one whose books I snap up at every opportunity I can get.the city and the city

Metro 2033 for Xbox 360 and PC

Metro 2033 is a game with a whole bunch of cool and interesting ideas, that don’t quite come together into an entertaining whole. There’s so much done right in Metro 2033, but it’s not quite enough for it to escape it’s glaring flaws.

Metro 2033, an adaptation of a Russian sci-fi novel, takes place in Moscow following a nuclear war. The survivors have made a new home in the Moscow Metro, safe from the toxic fumes which cloak the surface, but under constant threat from the hordes of deadly mutants which regularly assault their stations. The protagonist of Metro 2033 is Artyom, who after learning that new mutants known as the Dark Ones threatens their station, embarks through the metro to Polis, a capital of sorts, to gain help against the new threat.

The clear star of this game is the Metro itself, and there’s an impressive sense of atmosphere. The scary moments between stations are incredibly tense, although the moments on the surface don’t work quite as well. Metro 2033 is a very linear game, but when exploring metro tunnels that linearity makes perfect sense; when bought outdoors this is much more jarring. I was very impressed with the occupied parts of the station, with these parts having an impressively ‘lived in’ feel to them. The constant hum of conversation makes these areas feel like places people would actually exist. Metro 2033 has worldbuilding not far from Half Life 2 and BioShock in quality, but is let down by its poor gameplay.

The story isn’t particularly interesting, and isn’t helped by Artyom’s silent protagonist nature. He does narrate during the loading scenes, so the lack of speaking during the actual gameplay is baffling, and only serves to drag you out of the narrative. There’s an interesting element of moral ambiguity introduced in the latter half of the game, but nothing is really done with this. Perhaps the sequel explores on this further, I don’t know, but Metro 2033 doesn’t quite succeed in telling a compelling story, despite how interesting the world is.

Metro 2033 is an FPS with survival horror elements, but doesn’t do either particularly well. The shooting is very clunky, and not particularly satisfying. The stealth option is usually more fun, and are better implemented than in most games (I’m looking at you Assassin’s Creed III), but after playing games like Dishonored and Mark of the Ninja my standards for stealth have raised. The AI occasionally does something clever to keep you on your toes, but more often you’ll catch them running blindly into a wall.

Metro 2033 does have interesting ideas though. The outside areas are toxic, so the player must wear a gas mark which will crack as the player takes damage, eventually needing replacements. There’s not a huge amount of depth to this mechanic, but it helps build the immersion. Probably the most interesting innovation of Metro 2033 is the use of high grade ammo as currency, which leads to a great risk/reward dynamic; this ammo does much greater damage against enemies than the regular stuff, but you are literally shooting money. Still, the interesting ideas here aren’t enough to raise the gameplay above mediocrity.

The voice acting goes for the questionable approach of having the characters speak in English with varying Russian accents. Some of these accents are great, some are utterly terrible, and in the worst cases can utterly break the immersion. Still, this is at least a great looking game, with an impressive level of detail. Little details like the lighting help to build the tension and immersion; Metro 2033 is a game which attempts to get by on its looks but doesn’t really succeed.

Metro 2033 is a curious game, and considering how cheap it is these days, if the concept particularly interests you it may still be worth a go. I can’t recommend it very highly though; this game is frequently frustrating and often just not that much fun. Metro-2033-Logo

Something Rotten by Jasper Fforde

Something Rotten is the fourth book in Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series, and although more books have been written, feels like the conclusion of this chapter of Thursday’s story. Multiple storylines are rounded off in this book, which is just as funny and madcap as the others.

Unlike The Well of Lost Plots which took place almost entirely in the BookWorld, Something Rotten returns Thursday to the ‘real’ world. Thursday, her two year old son Friday and Hamlet, travel back to reality, and Thursday renews her efforts to have her husband Landen uneradicated, as well as to bring down the sinister far right fictional politician Yorrick Kaine. Thursday also has to cope with a lab illegally cloning William Shakespeares, the return of a 13th century prophet and the need to win of the SuperHoop for Swindon, the national croquet championships.

As much as I like the BookWorld, I think Thursday works better within the constraints of the ‘real world.’ Since this world is almost as bizarre as the BookWorld, this isn’t saying much, but overall I was very happy to return here after The Well of Lost Plots. By this point there’s a well established lore to this setting, with Fforde’s parallel Swindon beginning to form into a comic location to rival Pratchett’s Ankh-Morepork.

Something Rotten is structurally similar to the first two novels, in that they contain a vast number of plot lines which all pop up and vanish seemingly randomly, before converging towards the end.  Something Rotten could probably have done with a little more structure; the first novel, The Eyre Affair, is still the most tight. Still ,the manic energy which Fforde keeps running through the entire novel makes it hard not to completely absorb this book in a matter of days. In some ways, Something Rotten feels like an ending to Thursday’s story, and Fforde shows himself a dab hand at more emotional scenes, rather than just mad cap comedy. One scene towards the end was actually very moving, showing a depth which had hitherto not revealed itself.

This novel is every bit as funny as the rest, although I missed the footnotes, which are largely absent from this release. Terry Pratchett knows the comic value of a good footnote, and it’s a shame to see this element missing in this novel. I find it genuinely very hard to pin point exactly what it is that makes Fforde’s writing so infectiously readable; it’s never taken me longer than a couple of days to finish a Thursday Next book.

Alongside familiar characters such as Thursday, her family and her colleagues at SpecOps and Jurisfiction, which are as likeable as ever, there are a bunch of entertaining new characters to join the fun. The addition of Hamlet, constantly dithering and angsty, is a hilarious nod to any of us who at times have felt that the Danish prince could have used a good kick up the backside. A few familiar characters really come into their own here too, such as Thursday’s brother Joffy, and Emperor Zhark from the BookWorld. Yorrick Kaine, although he played a role in the last couple of books, rises at last to main villain status, and does admirably there.

Something Rotten is another highly enjoyable release from Jasper Fforde. Although the structure could do with a bit of tightening up, this is far from a deal breaker. Alongside the laughs, and there are plenty, is a lot of heart, and I can’t wait to see more of Thursday Next. First though I’m going to give the spin offs a look; it’s safe to say that I’m far from done with Jasper Fforde. 595417

DmC: Vergil’s Downfall DLC for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC

I really liked the Devil May Cry reboot, and since the poor sales mean a sequel is unlikely this DLC release is probably the only slice of DmC that I’m going to get. Thankfully, Vergil’s Downfall is a good release, providing a good template for what DLC should be, and adding an interesting perspective on the DmC lore.

Vergil’s Downfall takes place just after the end of the main game, following Vergil’s defeat by his brother Dante. Vergil retreats to another dimension and is taunted by figures from his past, such as Dante, Kat and his mother. Vergil’s inner crisis is played out in outer violence as we get to the core of what makes Vergil tick.

The bizarre dimension Vergil finds himself in is interesting, but the complete lack of a grounding in reality means that this location doesn’t feel quite as vivid as that of the main game. Part of what made DmC’s Limbo so striking was the way that it featured twisted variations of our own architecture and landscape, with the floating platforms of Vergil’s Downfall lacking this element. Still, it’s hard to deny that this DLC is still visually strong, with a boss battle taking place in a desert whilst Vergil’s metaphorical heart hangs in the background provided that wonderful mixture of bizarre and compelling which made DmC’s visual design so great.

The story of Vergil’s Downfall is largely told in animated sequences; this is a common storytelling method in DLCs to save money, but unlike in most DLCs these sequences are actually really cool and look very nice. Sure, it probably is there for financial reasons, but who cares when it looks this good? Vergil’s Downfall’s plot is a bit of a mess, but it’s definitely interesting to get inside Vergil’s head a bit; Vergil was one of the most interesting characters of DmC, the definition of a tragic villain.

Vergil controls in a similar manner to Dante, but he’s more than simple palette swapped clone. His style is much more rigid and firm than Dante’s more flowing movements, giving the fights a subtly different character. Still, the basic mechanics are unchanged from the main game, which considering the quality of those mechanics is no bad thing. The fun ‘angel/demon’ weapon mechanic returns, and the platforming is as fun as ever. There are a couple of fun boss battles, with one against a shadow version of Vergil standing as a definite highlight.

The animations for Vergil are as excellent and satisfying as they were for Dante, with Vergil’s Downfall looking every bit as great as the main game. The voice acting still stands up well, with Vergil containing that exact right balance between sinister, cool and tragic. The production values were one of the defining strengths of DmC, and this is also the case for Vergil’s Downfall.

Vergil’s Downfall isn’t long by any stretch, but it certainly offers a lot more value than a lot of DLC. The opportunities for replayability which define the main game are still there. This, coupled with the excellent production values makes this DLC one to recommend to anyone who liked Ninja Theory’s reboot half as much as I did. tumblr_mij6i5CWPN1qjec28o1_500

The Great Bazaar & Brayan’s Gold by Peter V. Brett

The Great Bazaar & Brayan’s Gold are a couple of short stories set within Peter Brett’s ‘Demon Cycle’ universe. Before embarking on the most recent book, The Daylight War, I decided to give these two a go. Both cover an intriguing, and little heard of part, of the ‘Demon Cycle’ narrative; Arlen’s time as a Messenger before his betrayal by Jardir and subsequent rebirth as the ‘Painted Man.’

Brayan’s Gold

The first story of the pair follows Arlen’s very first Messanger expedition, in the mountains just outside of Fort Miln. Sent to escort a cart load of explosives to the Duke’s mines, Arlen encounters bandits, a pair of forlorn lovers and a new type of demon which he hadn’t encountered before. This is a fun story, and it’s nice to see Arlen still relatively green and still very human. Brayan’s Gold offers a fairly tight individual story within itself, and doesn’t simply feel like something which was cropped from The Painted Man. We get a nice beginning, middle and end, with this story standing as a possible beginning for Arlen’s path from talented and clever young man to the Deliverer of legend.

The Great Bazaar

Overall, I’d say that this is the stronger story of the two. ‘The Great Bazaar’ is a story is two halves; the first is Arlen’s exploration of an abandoned Krasian village to find the priceless pottery left there, and the second is his return to Fort Krasia and his dealing with the khaffit Abban. Abban is one of my favourite characters in the series, and more of him is always welcome. Much more so than ‘Brayan’s Gold’, this story fills in an essential gap in the narrative of The Painted Man; how Arlen came into the map to the ruins of Anoch Sun, an essential part of his journey into becoming the Deliverer. This leads to the story feeling much less self contained and tight than ‘Brayan’s Gold’ did, but nonetheless this story is probably the most tantalising of the two.

The Great Bazaar & Brayan’s Gold is an interesting little diversion, far from essential but a decent read nonetheless. Don’t rush out and buy it, but if you spot it in a second hand shop like I did, or even cheap from Amazon, it’s worth picking this up and giving it a look.images (5)

Super Metroid for the SNES and Virtual Console (Wii & Wii U)

Just as reviewing a classic novel feels weird, the same for a classic videogame. I’ve never really played a 2D Metroid game before, although I loved the Metroid Prime series on Gamecube and Wii. Super Metroid is a game generally held as genre defining, and one of the few SNES classics to have passed me by. When it popped up for £0.30 on the Wii U Virtual Console I had no excuse not to give this classic a chance, and see whether it stands the test of time. The result is mixed.

Super Metroid picks up after Samus Aran’s near genocide of the Metroid species at the end of Metroid II. A baby Metroid has imprinted onto Samus, and so she brings this specimen to be examined at a lab, before Ridley, the leader of the Space Pirates, shows up and snatches the baby away to clone more Metroids. Samus follows Ridley back to Zebes, the setting of the original Metroid game, to foil the Space Pirate’s plans.

An area where Super Metroid immediately shines is in its impressive atmosphere. The combination of atmospheric music, beautiful 16 bit graphics and interesting world design makes Zebes a compelling location to explore. It’s somewhat redundant to refer to this game bas eing in the Metroidvania genre, but..er, that’s what it is, and so exploration is an important factor, and trotting of the beaten track and taking the time to look around is almost always rewarded with upgrades and new items. I can absolutely see why Zebes is considered one of the all time greatest videogame locations, and in this element Super Metroid hasn’t aged at all.

The plot is kept nice and minimalist, but it is there, just not spelled out for us. This is how plot in Metroid games should be handled, not with overwrought emotional cutscenes (I’m looking at you Other M). The baby Metroid adds an interestingly personal element to the story, which humanises Samus much better than any ham fisted attempts at romance could ever do.

So, how does Super Metroid play? It’s a sidescrolling platform action game, with lots of jumping and blasting enemies. Samus gains new items along the way to open up previously inaccessible paths, and fights several inventive and interesting bosses. Mechanically, Super Metroid still holds up in most regards; it’s still a lot of fun to play, and still feels smooth. Classic items such as the morph ball and the screw attack add to the fun as things get going, and the gradual addition of cool new moves and weapons offers a compelling reason to carry on. The level design is generally good, but there’s a massive overreliance on the Metroid variation on ‘pixel hunting’, having to find a random piece of floor to shoot to open up new areas in certain rooms. If this was just for side stuff I wouldn’t mind so much, but there were several times I was stuck in the main adventure until I realised I just had to shoot a random piece of floor or wall, visually identical to the rest, to proceed. It strikes me as an artificial way to create challenge and extend the game.

The thing is, they really didn’t need to extend the game of make it more challenging. The actual story may not be that long, but if you take your time to explore and seek out the hidden upgrades, you’ll find a lot more game here. This game is hard too, although the Wii U ‘Restore Point’ feature helps. The idea of having to back track from each save point after failing on a tricky boss battle sounds nightmarish to me, so the ability to create an easy point just before a boss fight or tricky area makes things a lot friendlier.

Super Metroid, whilst feeling very modern and accessible in many ways, still doesn’t lack for flaws. I was unable to beat the final boss of this game due to a poorly signposted point of no return, leaving me underequipped to be able to take on this foe. An ability to go back out into Zebes and gain more upgrades to help me take down the final boss would have been great, but this mindlessly irritating game flaw somewhat tainted the game for me.

The excellent soundtrack, sound effect design and visuals helped numb the irritation, with Super Metroid’s brilliant design standing as one of its crowning achievements.

I finished Super Metroid with mixed feelings; in some ways it’s timeless, but it also shows some infuriatingly poor design choices, the kind of design choices which we tend not to see these days as everyone realised they were a bad idea. Still, on balance, my experience with Super Metroid was a positive one, and I recommend picking it up whilst it’s still on sale. images (4)

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