The journey into Maridia marks a turning point for Super Metroid. Until now, the game has been half-adventure, half-tutorial. The caverns of Brinstar and Norfair (and to a lesser degree, Crateria) comprise an intricate interlocking puzzle, designed to send you retracing your steps in search of new tools and pushing a little further against the limits you’ve previously encountered. With the acquisition of the Gravity Suit, though, Samus now has in her possession more or less the full extent of her capabilities. There are a few new weapons to acquire, yes, and a major tool for navigating Zebes not far on the horizon. But, realistically, you can do just about any and everything possible in Super Metroid.
So, the nature of the game changes. The second half of the journey tends to be far more straightforward than what’s come before, with few gates remaining to impede progress. The critical path is locked down by the need for certain abilities, but for the most part Maridia’s challenge lies more in its scope than its complexity.
A significant portion of Maridia involves the duality of water and air. Despite what you’re seen (through that tube in Brinstar, and possibly the rooms immediately surrounding it) this zone is not strictly submerged. In fact, the barrier to completing this area comes not from the presence of water but rather the need to break the surface of the water in certain areas, which kills Samus’ momentum and makes progress impossible. This semi-submerged rock maze containing the entrance to Maridia can’t be navigated until you have the Gravity Suit, since the passages are too far above the surface of the water to reach, and bomb jumping doesn’t work underwater.
You can actually enter Maridia two different ways once you have the Gravity Suit. There’s the main entrance here, or you can go back to the shattered glass tube. Equipped with her new suit, Samus is much less limited in her ability to travel through those passages.
In reality, the main entrance is much faster, because it consists of only a handful of chambers before sending you through a huge conduit that rapidly drops you down to the area adjacent to the glass tube. This tunnel is similar to one you may have encountered in Metroid II, with one difference: Your movement through it is automated. You don’t have any control over how quickly you move. So you pass by a handful of screens at high speed, catching only a glimpse of their contents which allows the game to tease you with a preview of sorts….
…namely, a room that you see for less than a second, which appears to contain a metroid. (I’ve simulated the motion blur here, but this is a pretty accurate recreation of what this room looks like as you zip past at high speed).
Of course this isn’t a metroid, but how could you possibly know that at a blurry glance? It’s definitely no mistake that the level designers made this room overlap with the single high-speed duct in the entire game — or that they even built a duct mechanic instead of using an elevator or something. This detail of the game actually does make sense structurally, as the conduit separates the upper, drier portion of Maridia from the flooded lower areas, but the real point is to make your heart race at the sight of a presumed metroid.
Could I be closing in on the game’s finale, you inevitably wonder? And why not? You have most of the weapons, tons of energy and weapon pick-ups, and you’ve seen pretty much all there is to see in Norfair and Brinstar, the zones that appeared in the original Metroid. This could very well be the end game!
But you have to get there first. This room, which flummoxed Samus sans Gravity Suit, is much easier to navigate now. The shimmering curtains of sand no longer weigh her down. But it’s still not a total gimme; while Samus’ water physics are no longer infuriating, wet sand has much the same effect. Samus sinks into it partway, and (borrowing a note from Super Mario Bros. 2) she has to make quick, tiny hops to escape. Unfortunately this proves to be one of the more irritating parts of the game, as the sand’s suction takes effect almost immediately, and leaping from the surface requires split-second timing. Meanwhile, these crustacean dudes burrow into the sand and barf little projectiles at you from off-screen.
As it turns out, you’re not really meant to explore this room until later, when you can skip over the sand entirely. It’s here, early on in Maridia, so you get annoyed with it right away and then return to it some time later and laugh at how stupidly simple it is when you’re properly equipped.
Also hereabouts you’ll begin to encounter enemies that Samus, even with all her amazing weaponry, can’t destroy. These Space Pirates are completely invincible until you find the Plasma Beam upgrade in Maridia, and they hit hard.
The payoff for dealing with them? Hidden goodies in the walls. Here you can find a Super Missile in a blocked-in spot in the wall of a large chamber that can only be reached by dropping into a hidden spot in the adjacent cavern. Fortunately there’s one of these little crab guys to tip you off, if you’re paying attention.
I mentioned Metroid II earlier, and in many ways Maridia feels more like Metroid II than any other portion in any other Metroid game. Without the intricate gating of weapons and tools, the rooms here sprawl in every direction. Maridia contains the largest chambers in the entire game, and most rooms have multiple exits that allow them to be navigated in multiple directions. Now the trick isn’t to figure out how you get to where you’re going but rather to keep track of where you’ve been and make sure you don’t miss anything.
Oh, and also, not to carelessly get stuck on the wrong side of a one-way passage. The door leading back to the shaft near the Power Bombs in Brinstar can be a serious punch in the biscuits if you’re not paying attention.
Many of the cavernous expanses here in Maridia must be traversed with the Grappling Beam in classic Bionic Commando style, swinging from point to point and making multiple consecutive in-air grabs of single contact points. The Grappling Beam has some weird physics, especially the way it lets you spin 360 degrees around a single grapple point. You can even come to a halt upside down above a free-standing grapple block if you do it right. This doesn’t really have any material impact on the game, but it’s fun to goof around with. The sheer flexibility and number of undocumented features in Super Metroid‘s tool set is matched only by, say, Hideo Kojima games, or your better flavor of roguelike.
Maridia’s wide-open spaces are riddled with hidden passages, some totally huge — at several spots, you can simply walk into a wall. The brazen obviousness of some of these secret areas stands in amusing counterpoint to the way the rest of the game until now has operated.
And the game never ceases to come up with entertaining or unexpected new ways to put your tools to the test. Even though the learn-through-play phase of the action is largely over, you still need to experiment. This guy, for example, can be used as a grappling point… but when you attach to him, he inflates and begins to move, forcing you to react quickly.
This area makes extensive use of shinesparking. There’s one missile expansion back near the glass tube that requires an incredibly complex maneuver involving clearing out an adjacent room of obstacles, storing up a spark before reaching the door, dashing over to a specific spot in the floor, and performing a pixel-perfect shine jump up a narrow corridor between several platforms and into a Samus-sized hole where the missile awaits. It’s possibly the most difficult item to collect in the entire game, a test of mastery.
At other times, the game plays with the quirky traits of monsters. These snails can only be destroyed with Power Bombs, but they retreat into their shells when you shoot them. And if you run into one while it’s pulled into its shell, you’ll kick it along with an amusing tin can sound effect. Again, this has no material impact on the actual game, but it’s an amusing little quirk.
And then, out of nowhere, bam! Metroids!
…or something like that, anyway.