I’m back in America, on the Internet, and at a computer. As such, I’ve updated the past two entries with images! Read them again… for the first time.
Hope you’ll forgive the way Samus flips back and forth between armored/unarmored, and the occasional emulator cruft — these screens are generously provided by Rey at VG Museum, so the breakdown of specific screens depends on his whims at the time of capture.
Despite the poor telegraphing of Samus’ post-Bomb-acquisition pathway, the game still does a pretty good job of leading you to some of your next essential goods. While the Missiles, Bombs, and Maru-Mari are the only absolute gear requirements for completing the mission, you can find a few more items littered throughout Zebes to make the quest far more reasonable.
As an aside, I’m in agreement with some of the reader comments that forgive the weird disconnect in the placement of Ridley and Kraid. The former’s lair is convoluted and filled with the hardest-hitting enemies in the game outside of the final area, while the latter’s lair offers a remarkably direct path to the encounter and features creatures barely more powerful than those in neighboring Brinstar. Yet Kraid packs a wallop with his two-pronged projectile barrage of spikes and spines, while Ridley’s sole offensive measure travels one of two arcs, one of which leaves a Samus-sized gap right at the boss’ feet. You can literally stand in one spot and pump him full of Missiles without taking a point of damage.
Why the incongruity? I’m going to chalk it up to the fact that no one had ever created mid-game bosses like Kraid and Ridley before, and certainly not in a sandbox environment. Heck, Metroid’s manual introduced the term “minibosses” to the world; when a friend first tried to explain their existence to me, all I could see in my mind were little mafia dons with tommy guns — clearly not a bit like the reality of Metroid. The fact that Zebes’ zones hint at a proper line of progression with enemy damage tallies is admirable enough that you can’t be too bent out of shape over the fact that the bosses themselves don’t really match the difficulty curve of their surroundings.
The most important non-essential item in the game makes itself evident for the attentive. Actually, even the inattentive can find it regardless of their competence, because it appears in two different locations, one of which isn’t particularly hidden. But for the keen-eyed, one Ice Beam awaits in Brinstar, not at all far from the Bombs. You wouldn’t intuitively know to go there — certainly its hiding point is less obvious than the path the Kraid’s lair, which begs for exploration (whether correctly or not) once you’ve grabbed the Bombs — but you can easily break the game wide open in a matter of minutes by collecting the two weapons in sequence.
The Ice Beam makes for an interesting upgrade. Again, it handily fulfills the Metroid mandate of extending the reach of Samus’ exploration while simultaneously making her more powerful. Although, technically, the Ice Beam makes Samus less powerful, requiring her to shoot an enemy twice as many times to destroy it as with her normal beam. Rather than increase her damage output, the Ice Beam causes her gun to fire a dual mode beam that freezes and unfreezes enemies. Frozen enemies defy physics by becoming temporarily rooted to the spot at which they’re struck… even if that spot involved being in motion dozens of feet above the ground. Does it make sense? No. Is it cool and useful? Oh yes.
A frozen enemy becomes completely harmless. Not only will it neither move nor attack while frozen, but Samus can leap on its back to use as a stepping stone. This can prove incredibly useful in many situations. Many of the game’s vertical shafts include no platforms at all, only Rippers drifting back and forth. Even the invincible yellow ones can be frozen; in fact, they exist entirely for the purpose of using as makeshift platforms. When you shoot a normal, destructible enemy that’s been frozen, it thaws instantly (rather than the freeze effect wearing off after several seconds), but shooting a frozen invincible enemy simply extends the duration of the freeze. As such, you’re able to chain together frozen creatures as long as you need to reach otherwise inaccessible areas.
The Ice Beam also proves handy against infinitely respawning creatures, such as the various types of insects that appear from the pipes, rise to Samus’ height, and zip toward her. They can be persistent irritants, but each spawn point will only allow one creature to be in play at a time. Without the Ice Beam, the only way to halt their appearance is to wait until one drops a health or Missile pickup, causing that spawn to fall out of play until the drop disappears. But you can also simply freeze foes, removing them from your threat radar long enough to traverse a tricky area.
Very few areas in the game actually require the Ice Beam (especially if you’re willing to exploit the wall-jump glitch) with the exception of the final area, Tourian: The Ice Beam is the only way to destroy the game’s crushingly dangerous eponymous monsters.
What’s clever about the Ice Beam in Brinstar is that it’s hidden in a way that draws your attention. It’s located off a shaft beneath a bridge — one that doesn’t appear to include breakable blocks. Yet for some reason you can see an enemy flying around beneath it, which seems odd; it’s not like Metroid to include creatures you can’t blow up. And on top of that, if you watch its movement, it sometimes flies into the water below the bridge and disappears, seemingly caught on something out of sight. This is in fact your clue that not only can you blast a hole in the bridge to reach the space below, you can drop through the illusory liquid to the shaft below.
If you don’t figure this out right away, a second Ice Beam appears in Norfair as well. But either way, you’ll first need to learn the most subtle and unintuitive trick in Metroid’s entire arsenal of secrets….