Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Worlds of Metroid

Metroid games follow an Action Adventure formula that's quite similar to Zelda games, but differ in how the worlds are designed. Instead of exploring an overworld, where you can find entrances to dungeons, you land with Samus' Gunship on a planet, a space station or any celestial body, where you explore worlds consisting of multiple areas that are connected to each other, usually in the form of long elevators. In these areas you'll discover new items and face many enemies, as well as the various bosses. In a way they feel closer to the dungeons in the Zelda series and you basically get a giant mesh of them in a Metroid game world.

The way how these areas are arranged can be quite different from Metroid game to Metroid game, where four different world schemes have emerged over the course of twelve games, including the remakes. This post ought to be a little analysis of those schemes, as well as an overview of the individual game worlds of all the Metroid games.

The Maze

Worlds: Zebes, Tallon IV

  • Super Metroid
  • Metroid Prime
  • Metroid: Zero Mission

You could say that this is the "classic case" for a Metroid world. Here you really just explore a bunch of interconnected areas without any clear arrangement between them. All the areas can potentially be connected to each other in various ways. The final area, however, is usually sealed off and you have to clear certain key objectives like the termination of bosses or acquisition of keys in order to enter it and to face the final boss. The final area still might lead back into the other areas, though, for a classic escape sequence.

You can find this "setup" with Zebes in both Super Metroid and Metroid: Zero Mission with areas like Crateria, Brinstar or Norfair, as well as the world of Tallon IV in Metroid Prime with its "overworld", the Chozo Ruins, the Magmoor Caverns, Phendrana Drifts and Phazon Mines. There's usually no clear course through these areas, the player might switch back and forth between areas to make progress, which can lead to some confusion, especially in Super Metroid. In case of Metroid Prime the map will display hints, if the player is lost for too long. In Zero Mission you can follow the guidance of Chozo Statues all over the world, where your next target (potentially an upgrade to your suit) is always marked on your map.

It's notable, how unlike its remake the first game doesn't really fit into this category, despite it taking place on Zebes as well. Instead it follows a more hub-like approach, as described in the following category:

The Hub

Worlds: Zebes (NES), BSL Research Station, Aether, Bottleship

  • Metroid
  • Metroid Fusion
  • Metroid Prime 2: Echoes
  • Metroid: Other M

Here you have an overlaying main area, which acts as a hub and leads down to multiple sub areas in the game via elevators. Those sub areas can potentially be connected to each other as well, usually via hidden shortcuts, where they create some sort of circle that goes through all sub areas. A sub area may also lead to a deeper area.

The most notable examples would be Metroid Fusion and Metroid: Other M, where in both cases you explore a research station that is divided into multiple numbered "Sectors", each sector following a different theme like "fire" or "ice". The hub is called the "Main Sector", from where you can descend into the individual sectors via elevators. Over the course of both games you're constantly guided via objectives located in specific sectors, which creates a mostly linear experience. The sectors themselves don't really follow any patterns and a sector may not be explored in its entirety on your first visit.

A not so obvious example would be the first Metroid game on the NES, as already mentioned. Its remake Zero Mission transformed the world into a more maze-like scenario, it even added new areas like Crateria and Chozodia, but the original really treated its Brinstar area as a hub, from where you descend into the areas housing the bosses: Kraid, Ridley and Tourian. The only exception here is Norfair, which is placed between Brinstar and Ridley. But it really just acts as a link between these two areas, where there's only one elevator going down in between on each end of Norfair. It's also interesting, how the game treats is bosses as the main objectives, which are usually located near the lower end of the sub areas.

It's somewhat similar with Metroid Prime 2: Echoes on the planet Aether, where you have the Temple Grounds as an intermediary hub between the Great Temple and the three sub areas: Agon Wastes, Torvus Bog and the Sanctuary Fortress. Each area also ends with a boss located in a temple, where you need to collect three "Dark Temple Keys" to enter the boss chamber. These areas are probably the closest thing to a Zelda dungeon within the Metroid series. But it's not just that, in addition the game also features a light and dark world scenario, where you travel between the worlds via portals - a concept that was first explored in the Zelda series with games like A Link to the Past. Within the Metroid series this is fully unique, though, and this is separate from the hub world approach, which only takes place in the light world. In Dark Aether the areas are fully separated from each other with no connections between them, so you have to use the portals from Light Aether to enter them. This can be compared to Lorule in The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds.

The Multiple Worlds

Worlds: Alimbic Cluster, Federation Solar System, Bermuda System, ...

  • Metroid Prime Hunters
  • Metroid Prime 3: Corruption
  • Metroid Prime: Federation Force

This is quite a different approach from the others, where instead of areas connected to each other you get completely separate areas that each offer landing sites for Samus' Gunship. From one Landing Site you can travel to any other landing site in the game to switch between the areas or to travel swiftly to different locations within the same area, if it offers multiple landing sites. You can compare this to The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, where you dive to three different areas below the skies to one of many Bird Statues, which basically act as your "landing site" there. The difference is that there's no sky hub connecting all this, traveling space merely acts as a loading screen. Usually the different areas are located on a planet or a space station within the same star system.

The first Metroid game that did this was Metroid Prime Hunters with its Alimbic Cluster, where you explore Alinos, Arcterra, the Celestial Archives, the Vesper Defense Outpost and finally Oubliette. Each "area" here only offers one landing site at the start, but you get to activate teleporters as shortcuts to later points within the same area. With the exception of the final area, you will visit each planet / station at least twice with a (generic) boss at the end of your explorative efforts. This will award you with eight "Octoliths", which you need as keys to open the final area.

Metroid Prime 3: Corruption then expanded this approach with the planets Norion, Bryyo and Elysia in the "Federation Solar System", as well as the Pirate Homeworld in an unknown system. You can even visit two special places outside these systems, the G.F.S. Valhalla and the planet Phaaze. The main planets, Bryyo, Elysia and the Pirate Homeworld, are home to individual areas that may be connected to each other and offer multiple landing sites. The Leviathan Seeds, which are house to a boss and the final goal for each of these planets, are always completely separate, however, with a landing site on their own.

Metroid Prime: Federation Force can also be listed here for the sake of completion, where you get to explore the planets Excelsion, Bion and Talvania in the Bermuda System. However, because of its mission-based focus on multiplayer it doesn't have a real world layout, but instead offers 22 individual levels that are fully separate from each other.

The Circle

Worlds: SR388

  • Metroid II - Return of Samus
  • Metroid: Samus Returns

This is more of a special case that so far was only used for the planet SR388 in Metroid II - Return of Samus and its remake, Metroid: Samus Returns. Here you essentially follow a linear route through the planet of SR388, where you go in a full circle back to the landing site in the beginning. The areas are usually place at the side of this route and you have to kill all the Metroids in one area, before you can move on to the next.

With Metroid II - Return of Samus things were a little bit more special, because in this game you basically wander through one large cave system. There are no elevators connecting the areas as in the other 2D Metroid games. The remake, however, added elevators between areas and gave them a clear separation with that. But it also added Teleport Stations, which offers the same comfort as the different landing sites in Metroid Prime 3: Corruption and makes it easier to travel back to any of the previous areas for backtracking.

The Future?

With the Metroid Prime Trilogy it's noteworthy, how each game in the trilogy follows a different pattern. So, in case of Metroid Prime 4 you'd expect them to try something different as well. It could follow the linear "circle" approach of Metroid II, but it's more likely that we will get something new for the series, for example an open world approach. This could lead to something like an "open planet" game, where you explore a small planetoid in its entirety.

A 3D Metroid game after this might also offer an "open space" approach akin to No Man's Skye, just not with procedurally generated worlds. It would be similar to Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, but more ambitious, where you can fly your ship on your own and explore the Metroid universe that way.

1 comment:

wintercoast said...

The Divided is a very common video game trope. Mario does it all thetime with the stage select (Super Marion 64 first added that extra Hub of a castle, but the 2D Marios before it just really had a stage select).

Skyward Sword was going to do the Divided more like those three Metroid titles, according to interviews with the directors. The Sky would have been more of a stage select than a Hyrule Field. Thank goodness we got the Sky as it is, though it still felt notably more empty than Hyrule Field or even than the Great Sea.

I don't think it would be too hard in future titles of Metroid that go with Divided worlds to give us some more action travelling between them. They could even take some cues from Starfox if they wanted to! I think that would elevate that world type a little bit, as currently it feels the most bare-bones of them.