Super Metroid makes the fire zone Norfair a much more elaborate and varied locale than it was in the original Metroid. The trick to Norfair in the previous game was that it was crammed full of hidden breakable blocks the required obsessive searching in order to advance further into the sequence — a dense and unintuitive approach to design. Here, Norfair impedes progress in a less oblique fashion. Rather than obfuscating the path forward, it instead makes use of the area’s proximity to the molten areas of the planet to put the concept of heat to work against Samus.
There are different intensity levels for the heat and magma in Super Metroid. At the basic level, you have magma that drains Samus’ health when she steps into it. This time around, that can be counteracted by acquiring the Varia suit. There are more intense pools of magma deeper into the planet, however — semi-transparent liquid rock that no defense can counteract. But sometimes heat affects the air as well, and a number of rooms in Norfair are filled with a shimmering heat that saps Samus’ health even if she steers clear of magma.
You’ll find the first of these rooms immediately upon entering Norfair. The large cavern through the first door on the right begins draining your health as soon as you step into the chamber. The health loss doesn’t happen so fast that you can’t immediately turn around and shrug it off, but it is rapid enough that you can’t realistically make it through the area before your health reserves run out. And the room opposite this cavern within the central entry shaft of Norfair features a series of descending gates that, as in the first crumbling platform room in Brinstar, you can’t simply dash past.
Don’t worry, though, Norfair isn’t quite the dead end that first impressions might suggest. You can collect an energy tank at the bottom of the shaft; you still won’t have enough health to get past the inferno room, but it never hurts to improve your survivability. There’s a second valuable item in here as well, hidden away — but since the door locks behind you, you’re goaded into finding it. You can’t unlock the door until you kill all the enemies in this room, but those enemies are tucked away on the other side of the floor. You can even see one crawling around down there, to coax you into bombing the floor and accessing the hidden passage.
Now, you can simply kill all the creatures here by making a circuit of the secret passages and return to the central shaft, but that would be dumb. After all, once you get into the hidden areas, you’ll find a hole in the wall leading further away from the main shaft. What explorer worth her salt wouldn’t check that out?
And at the bottom of the shaft is this handy little gem, which enables Samus to jump much higher than usual. Once again, once you drop down into the left area here, you can’t actually leave this room without collecting the boots as the dividing wall is too high to be leapt from the left side under Samus’ normal steam.
Unfortunately, the High Jump Boots don’t help you bypass any of the obstacles blocking off the side passages here in Norfair, so there’s nothing to be done but retreat meekly from this area and return to Brinstar. Your options in Brinstar prove to be rather limited, however. If you head back the way you came, you’ll find yourself at the bottom of the eastern shaft, which is essentially a dead end unless you’re really amazing with bomb jumps — it lacks a single platform for several screens up, dotted only with drifting Rippers. That free fall you took to get to where you are now was essentially a one-way fall.
This gives you a tiny handful of screens to pick through in search of a way forward. If you missed the Spazer on the way down, you’ll quite likely uncover it here (possibly, and mistakenly, thinking it’s a path forward). You still can’t do anything to the glass tube through Maridia. Eventually, you’ll have to uncover the hidden passage in the elevator room to Norfair, a single block that can be cleared away with a Super Missile. Rolling through that gap brings you to a room in which a grotesque face contains a door forward, which you can now reach with ease thanks to the High Jump Boots.
Though not separated out discretely on the map or sealed away by an elevator, this area is in fact Kraid’s lair. The first of Super Metroid‘s minibosses lives here — and, unlike in the original Metroid, his difficulty level seems scaled appropriately to his location in the game. This turns out to be a fairly straightforward sequence, though it definitely takes pleasure in messing with your mind.
The main thrust of Kraid’s hideout is a lengthy horizontal room decorated with the green honeycomb blocks and monster-face spikes of his lair in Metroid, which you have to run through while avoiding a gauntlet of spikes flying through the air from off-screen. It feels remarkably similar to the final stretch of a fortress world in Super Mario Bros., advancing toward Bowser while dodging a fusillade of flames — probably not a coincidence. And, at the end of the barrage, there’s Kraid!
Whom you defeat in a single shot. What?
Nope, that wasn’t the real Kraid. As in Metroid, this was simply a fake version of the monster designed to trick you. And it really is quite disorienting. Destroy “Kraid” and there’s still more to see this way; the next room eerily contains the body of a dead human explorer. Those crustacean bug things from the destroyed escape shaft scatter from his corpse as you draw near. The body is slumped against a wall facing a bizarre new kind of door — a missile door that take five hits to open, somewhat like a red door. The difference here is that the door exists in the form of a monstrous fanged eyeball, and to open it you have to pop it with missiles while the eye is open. There’s some serious chthonic horror going on here.
And, once you blast open the eye-door, you see why: The real Kraid resides here, and he’s huge. Once you enter his chamber, Kraid emerges from the ground… and keeps right on emerging until he towers over you, two screens high. While he bears a superficial resemblance to the Kraid you battled in Metroid, he’s absolutely enormous, and you can only damage him by blasting his open maw, way up there, two screens up.
Because Kraid has become so enormous and bloated, he can’t really do much in the way of attacking. But he kind of doesn’t need to, because he’s so huge that his simply walking around poses a credible threat. He can easily push Samus off the few safe footholds in the room, knocking her into spikes just by brushing against her. His spindly little T-rex arms would be laughably pathetic if they weren’t so huge relatively to Samus. And while he possesses only the same attacks he used in Metroid, the change in his physical scale also changes the nature of those attacks.
The arcing spikes he launches from his back now follow a boomerang pattern, circling back around to hit Samus from behind while she’s drawing a bead on his head. (They also originate from near his head, making it difficult to get a clear shot at his weak point.) Meanwhile, the spikes he launches from his belly are so enormous that they essentially serve as makeshift platforms; while they hurt quite a bit if they hit you with their leading edge, you can safely jump on top of them to use as a stepping stone to his vulnerable face.
Only Kraid’s inner mouth meat can be damaged by Samus’ attacks, but it’s not like he walks around with his jaw hanging open for easy access. To convince Kraid to open his mouth, you need to fire on his eyeballs. There’s kind of a Punch-Out!! reflexology to this: Shoot one spot, another target becomes available. Due to the way your weapon selections cycle in Super Metroid, it’s pretty easy to use a Missile to hit Kraid’s eyes, then switch over to a Super Missile as his mouth opens to ensure maximum damage.
Kraid can’t actually absorb much damage before going down in flames. It’s a very well-balanced battle, in fact. There’s a lot happening on screen at any given moment, and reaching Kraid’s vulnerable point takes some doing, but once you figure out what to do and how to do it he goes down in just a few shots. But even when you know his weak point, you need to navigate the precarious footholds and be sure your attacks on his weak point aren’t mooted by his boomerang spike attacks. There’s a minimum of tedium and unfairness at play here, but you still need to work for your victory.