Nope, not metroids. Just moctroids, those foul fakers of the sea. It was a moctroid that you may have spotted as a momentary blur during Samus’ descent from Maridia’s sandy regions to the watery caverns below.
Moctroids are — as the name suggests — mock metroids. They look similar and exhibit similar behavior, floating through the air (or water, actually), homing in on Samus to hover near her and drain her energy away through contact. But they’re pale shadows of real metroids; they’re smaller, move more slowly, and can be destroyed with Samus’ arm cannon alone. Physiologically, they demonstrate their weakness relative to their deadly cousins by featuring only a single red nucleus rather than a cluster of three.
Like everything else in Super Metroid, the existence of moctroids is never explained. There’s no datalog entry to talk about their origins, no running navigator commentary to muse on their behavior or appearance. You’re left to wonder about them — are they actually related to metroids? A new larval form? There are clues, or rather suggestions, about their nature in the design of the environment; moctroids exist only in a specific region of Maridia, an industrial structure that cuts through the natural caverns above and below, attached to the bizarre technological boss’ room. The suggestion seems to be, perhaps, that the moctroids were an experiment or something similar, artificially created and left behind when this region (like the rest of the planet) was abandoned.
Or, heck, maybe they’re just jellyfish that coincidentally bear a weird resemblance to metroids. You’re never told, and it doesn’t matter. It’s just an intriguing mystery you encounter along the way, made all the richer for the fact that there’s no answer to be had.
Living amidst the moctroids is a random mini-boss encounter — one of many unique creatures living in Maridia’s depths. It’s a strangely unchallenging battle — the creature pops out of the walls from a random hole and either slides to another hole or simply belches out some projectiles. A few shots to the head puts a stop to all that, though. If not for the fact that you’re locked into this room and the wall to the right doesn’t crumble away until you destroy the creature, it wouldn’t even really feel like a boss. Of all the battles set pieces in Super Metroid, this one is easily the most mundane.
The remainder of the main path through a Maridia makes heavy use of grappling points — swing points per usual, of course, but also tall parallel columns of them that Samus can cling to before leaping off in the opposite direction. This is basically just another means of platforming, effectively the same as simply leaping from one platform to the next higher one, but it requires slightly more technique and skill. It’s an interesting application of the Grapple Beam, a different and never-before-seen twist on the well-explored rules of grappling in platform games.
The stacks of grappling points ultimately lead to another of these eye-door things, which should give a good picture of what’s ahead.
Yes, yes, another boss.
Draygon — a creepy-beyond-belief fusion of seahorse, crab, shrimp, and Tetsuo Shima’s fetal mutant form — lives in a massive chamber lined with energy beam turrets. The guns on the side take pot shots at Samus, firing on her current position, while Draygon sweeps into the room along an arcing path that brings it into range of Samus’ head. Naturally, a collision hurts Samus, not Draygon.
Draygon approaches in one of two different ways, actually. In addition to the quick swoop, it also advances much more slowly from a lower angle, firing grey gobs in a random spread. The gobs are an adhesive substance that bind Samus and keep her from jumping; once she’s bound, Draygon darts forward and grasps her, rising into the air in a growing spiral movement and stopping occasionally to pound Samus with its tail. These physical strikes are absolutely devastating, inflicting tremendous damage on Samus, and it keeps right on assaulting her until you button-mash your way free.
Frankly, the fight initially seems hopeless. Draygon moves so quickly that you can’t simply spam Super Missiles, which are much too precious to waste filling the air trying to predict its movements. Its slow, relentless adhesive assault is difficult to avoid and leads to absolutely brutal direct attacks. And all the while, those stupid turrets are peppering you with energy blasts.
More than any part of the game to date, the fight against Draygon demands observation, mastery of patterns, and good timing. Draygon makes its swooping attacks until you manage to connect with a hit or two, at which point it switches to barfing goo globs. And while it’s essentially impossible to dodge these projectiles on the ground or to jump over Draygon from a dead stand, you can manage it pretty easily from the short ledges at the edge of the room. Of course, standing there is simply begging to be bombarded by the emplacements directly above. But that’s actually easily remedied — the turrets can be shattered with missiles, reducing them to passive dangers (raw electrical fields that cause terrible damage if you brush against one) rather than active ones. That allows you to stand on the ledges to leap over Draygon as it makes a slow pass, avoiding its most dangerous attacks… and as a bonus, the ledge puts you at just the right height to fire a few missiles into its exposed belly as it draws near.
Draygon is the toughest, deadliest boss to date in the entire series, but discipline and cautious play will win the day.
Or you can play dirty and commit mutual suicide.
Those gun emplacements, when shattered, reduce to high-voltage sockets absolutely sizzling with electricity. The energy is deadly to Samus, but interestingly it can also harm Draygon as well. Of course, the creature is smart enough to avoid it, but you can force the issue by performing an act of double self-harm. If you allow Draygon to grab you, its rising spiral movements will eventually bring it to a point where you can create a circuit by lashing out with the Grappling Beam. If you manage to connect, energy will pour into Samus’ armor, quickly sapping her health… but the energy ravaging her system will deep-fry Draygon, which becomes stun-locked and frozen in place. Provided you’ve collected enough Energy Tanks, all you need to do is maintain the circuit and wait it out; eventually, Draygon will run out of health before Samus does.
This is a deeply counterintuitive tactic, but at the same time it’s not at all opaque. It makes absolutely logical sense; of course Samus’ metal armor would be a conductor for this intense electricity. Of course it would harm an aquatic beast in contact with Samus. And of course the idea of snagging the energy ports has been alluded to in the design of the immediately preceding area, which saw Samus snagging onto vertical surfaces with the Grappling Beam in order to climb walls. This alternate tactic asks you to synthesize observation with common sense to perform an action that seems utterly insane but also perfectly logical.
However you manage to destroy Draygon, your reward is the Space Jump. Super Metroid‘s Space Jump works more or less like it did in Metroid II, allowing you to perform infinite consecutive midair jumps, but the timing is far more forgiving this time around. The ability to hold a Charge Beam shot when you leap as a sort of limited, ersatz Screw Attack extends to Space Jumping, which can be tremendously useful. The Space Jump makes Maridia much easier to navigate in any case — between the sand that mires Samus’ leaps and the vast, cavernous spaces all around, gaining the ability to bypass most of those areas is a huge help.
And of course, you can only exit Draygon’s chamber by Space Jumping out. On the way out, you’ll probably notice the strange cubic objects in the background — are they fixtures of the ceiling? Do they represent a vast distance within this chamber? Are they objects suspended by the antigravity that makes Space Jumping possible? Again, no answer are forthcoming, and the game is all the better for the mystery.