We Are Not Machines: A ‘Super Metroid’ Game Review

  • Game Title: Super Metroid
  • Completion Date: sometime in 1995 (maybe?)
  • System: SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System)
  • Score: 10 out of 10

Gosh, I’m tired.

I’ve very recently decided to make a few changes in my life. My wife and I made the (smart?) decision to eat healthier and to exercise.

Of course, we’ve always tried to be fairly healthy people. But, as we all know, there’s several different levels of healthy. On one side of the scale, there’s the kind of healthy where you try to eat a salad once a week from Panera Bread, and try to only eat half a bowl of ice cream for your nightly dessert. On the other side of the scale, there’s the healthy where you give up sugar, flour, and red meat, track your calories, and exercise every day. This is more along the lines of the kind of healthy we’re going for. I’ll let you know how long we can keep it up.

And my schedule, for the time-being, is a challenge. I get up before work to run two miles, then my wife and I do yoga after work. Then we prepare our dinner, and then we prepare breakfast and lunch for the following day, and then we clean all the dishes. Of course, we do all this with three children to look after. You never know when one of them will wander into the back yard. Or the front yard. Or the street.

My life is currently so formulaic, I may as well be a machine. Right?

But, as the title may suggest, we are not machines. We are far from it. And I wonder, if we could be, would we really want to become one?

. . .

Ah, Super Metroid. What a game. There are few things that I could look back on in life with the same kind of innocent joy. I loved exploring the expansive, dangerous, glorious planet Zebes in search of my poor helpless Metroid friend (yes, that is very loosely the plot of Super Metroid).

Of course, as with most things, nostalgia plays a massive part in this. I’m extremely confident that, if I were to play the game today, I would probably get aggravated every time I died or got stuck. I remember one part of the game where you had to use a power bomb to break a glass tunnel. I had probably passed through this tunnel a dozen times, but never had it occurred to me to try to somehow smash through it. Unfortunately I can’t exactly remember if I figured it out myself or someone had to tell me. But I can tell you about the otherworldly excitement when the glass began to crack, and suddenly shatter. After being so completely stuck for hours, finally free to explore a new area of the map, I was overwhelmed. The moment, however foolish it might sound to you, is a moment I will always remember and cherish. It is the very definition of nostalgia.

Finally figuring out that you can break that glass with a Power Bomb!

Super Metroid is one of those games that you long for. It’s one of those games that remind you of why you play video games. This game and another one called Castlevania actually spawned an entire genre of games, now known as a “Metroidvania” game. In these types of games, you start as a hero with pretty basic abilities. As you progress through the story, you acquire new powers, each one allowing you to unlock new areas of the map. The emphasis is on both exploration and upgrading your hero. How well a developer can build a world and make you, the player, feel as if you are exploring a brutal, lively, foreign world, will determine how well the game is received, and much the player is able to fall under the mystifying spell of that game.

. . .

The big reveal in the original Metroid (for the NES) was that Samus turned out to be a woman, with charm, beauty, and ferocity to spare. I suppose it was quite the shocker in a time when nearly all protagonists were men. I think, though, that if we really look at how the main hero of the story behaves, we may agree that their behavior doesn’t necessarily feel like a man or a woman. Their behavior, to me, feels more like a machine.

After all, are we really supposed to believe that a human being is capable of jumping more than five times her height? Or is capable of running at supersonic speeds? Or is capable of withstanding boiling lava? You may say, “Steve my friend, you’re missing the point. She has a super cool suit that can do all sorts of magic tricks.” Alright, I’ll take your point. But let me press the issue further. One of the things that Samus is able to do is roll into a ball. Yes, a perfect, spherical ball. I’ve been doing a lot of yoga lately, but I’ve never seen a move like that. In fact, this is used to comical effect in later games like Metroid Prime when Samus reads about how another organization is trying to mimic her fancy morph ball trick, only for the victim (a.k.a. the test pilot) to meet pretty devastating injuries as a result.

However, just discussing physical virtues alone does not really do my point justice. The fact is, Samus is as battled-hardened and robotic as any android I’ve ever met (and I’ve met plenty in my travels across various virtual landscapes). She laughs in the face of danger. She lives a life which appears to be completely devoid of any human relationships. Even the way you save the game seems to be giving her a jolt of energy (or maybe she’s backing up her memories?). Either way serves our narrative. She doesn’t seem to need to eat or drink or take a break, either.

Backup up some memories?

The fact of the matter is that, however we look at it, Samus mirrors our own human lives quite horribly.

The truth is, we humans are very poor when it comes to living a life resembling that of a machine. These things, with their artificial brains and limbs, are designed to accepted certain instructions and execute those instructions without fail. In fact, when they cease to follow those instructions, they are considered defective. Broken. As a human, I have tried to live a robotic lifestyle more times than I can count. I seem to have a sick habit of trying to follow very strict regimens. There was a time when I tried to drink a food substitute so I wouldn’t have to bother making my breakfast or lunch. That didn’t last long. There was another time when I told myself that I would work out for an hour and half every day, without fail. There was a time when I told myself I would cut out all sugar and stick to fruits and vegetables. Failures, every one of them.

Of course, when I talk about living a robotic lifestyle, it’s not just about diet and exercise. One thing I’ve noticed quite often is that we tend to live life in waves. There are weeks at a time when I feel energetic and capable, nailing my long list of daily tasks with ease. There are other times when I can hardly think about getting out of bed. There doesn’t seem to be a rhyme or a reason for when I’m able to keep up with these strict routines and when I can barely crawl out of bed. The best I can say is this: people are not machines. The task we found so easy the day before may seem nearly impossible the next day, for no apparent reason at all. The body and mind are strange things. The fluctuations of each are a mystery, and likely will remain a mystery for many years to come.

. . .

Therefore, what can we say? Should we aim to be more like our friend Samus – a nearly robotic persona who will explore, climb, fight, and jump past any obstacle with robotic precision, with no fear inside of her? Maybe. Maybe not. I’m not here to answer questions. I’ve never really been great at coming up with answers (coming up with questions, though, I seem to be very good at)

To do away with the physical limitations and the constant ebb and flow of our mortal bodies is one thing, and that would be a benefit enough. However, we have only touched on the emotional aspect.

I don’t know about you, but the majority of my thoughts generally tend towards guilt, thoughts of imperfection, and worry about all sorts of things. I’m a perfectionist. We curious people have a tendency to always think of the perfect specimen in any given circumstance, and then belittle ourselves because we fall short of it. The perfect parent. The perfect husband. Someone who exhibits kindness at all times. Someone who is always graceful and never angry. The idea of attaining perfection in any area of our lives is laughable, of course. Everyone knows it’s impossible to live a life like that. But for some reason, it doesn’t stop us from trying. And it doesn’t stop us from getting angry with ourselves and always thinking we could do better. Oh, how I wish for the simplistic workings of a machine. When they break, it’s not their fault. It’s the fault of manufacturer. When they are working, they are thinking of nothing else but the goal set before them. And they happily hum along, performing their jobs to perfection.

. . .

Of course, if you’ve played Super Metroid before, you’ll already know that my ramblings about robotic perfection is complete nonsense. Let me explain.

. . .

At the end of the game, we find Samus in a desperate situation. Her highly sophisticated abilities and her perfect suit is no match for Super Mother Brain (the big bad evil guy/girl of the game), who brings Samus to her knees.

It’s at this moment, just before the final strike from Mother Brain, that her friend, the Metroid she came to find on the lost planet, comes to her aid. The Metroid attacks and nearly kills Mother Brain. Stealing Mother Brains abilities, the Metroid revitalizes Samus and then gifts her with a new and powerful weapon. With it, Samus is able to defeat Mother Brain and escape from the planet before it explodes.

It should come as no shock that it is her humanity, not the abilities bestowed upon her by her sophisticated technology, that saves her life, and enables her to complete her mission. In these final moments of the game, we see that we were wrong to think of her as an emotionless entity. Now, we see her more as mother than machine. Her ability to form a bond with an alien life form, the Metroid that saves her life, turns out to be her greatest ability.

. . .

In our everyday lives, when we feel as though we’re subjected to one abuse after another, let’s remember that we are not machines. We are not meant to go chugging through every situation like robots, checking off to-do lists, and never stopping for a break.

We are living, breathing, thinking humans. We go through lengths of time when we feel as strong as wood. And then, for no apparent reason, we feel that the wind could snap us in two. We fall, often. Sometimes, we have the strength to get back up, and keep going.

Let’s live like human beings, and treat others the same.

Game On.

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