The defeat of Mother Brain doesn’t mean it’s game over, of course. It wouldn’t be Metroid if you didn’t have to run desperately to the exit before the enemy base explodes.
You have three minutes to reach your gunship before Mother Brain’s lair detonates. While the notion of an escape sequence should feel like old hat for Metroid fans, the Super Metroid take on the concept differs somewhat from that of the first two games. The original Metroid‘s escape sequence was a tense reprise of that early sequence in which players climbed a seemingly endless shaft made far more difficult by the tiny size of the platforms and Samus’ slippery jump physics. Metroid II‘s escape scene was the exact opposite: A stress-free climb back to the beginning of the game made possible by the baby metroid.
Super Metroid, on the other hand, takes a third tack. Although the platforming here isn’t nearly as difficult as in the first game, the exit route is much more convoluted. The challenge isn’t simply jumping with swift precision but rather finding the proper path.
It doesn’t help that the place is lousy with space pirates. Sure, the Hyper Beam cuts through them with surgical precision, but their acrobatics and energy blasts can slow you down, especially if you’re trying to take the sustained space jump approach to the end.
The escape sequence consists of two main rooms. The first is a sort of mini-maze that can easily trick you into wasting time by following the wrong path – though it does offer a direct route that you can streak through by using the Speed Booster to rush to the end and air-dash through a portion of floor if you know it’s there. The second is more linear, but it’s convoluted in its linearity, forcing you to double back several times.
At the end, you have to deal with a room reminiscent of the large cavern following the acquisition of the Screw Attack: Lava rises, scattered platforms occupied by space pirates prevent you from simply jumping to freedom, and a ledge beneath the exit boxes you in if you stick to the right side of room. Where you could afford to screw up in Norfair and still come out ahead, too much of a goof here will cost precious time and prevent you from escaping properly.
And just to rub salt in the wound, the escape route actually ends up leading you back to the ruins of the exit shaft from the first game. Granted, you have a Space Jump now, so it’s nowhere near as hard as in the original Metroid, but it definitely gives you an “oh crap” sensation once you dash through what appears to be the exit only to find this waiting for you. Oh, and the acid or lava or whatever rises here well. No rest for the weary.
Eventually, you’ll end up back in the “real” game world again, covering ground that you saw very early in the game (and possibly passed through in a hurry once or twice since then). While being thrust into the non-linear corridors Zebes could become disorienting or confusing while you’re rushing to freedom, the designers very helpfully locked down all non-essential doors. There’s no way to get lost here, because you’re being guided. As so often has been the case with Super Metroid, arbitrary door locks keep you from wandering or backtracking at inopportune times. The fact that no one ever complains about this in Super Metroid but rail against it in Metroid Fusion will make for a handy object lesson in subtlety of design, I think.
Well, there is one non-essential door you can duck through if you like; go down one screen to the right once you reach the surface of Crateria and you’ll find the room that used to lead to the first Torizo and Samus’ Bomb power-up now features your little tutorial friends locked in a cage for some reason. How they got here is a mystery – maybe Mother Brain was ticked that they helped you out? – but the fact that they’ve been corralled here works to their benefit. Once you free them, you can head out on your way again.
The explosions surrounding Samus grow more violent as the clock ticks down. This is kind of like Call of Duty and Uncharted, huh?
Your ultimate goal, of course, is Samus’ ship. Once you reach it, the game is truly over: Samus automatically drops down into the cockpit and returns to space.
Up through the fancy Mode 7 clouds, where the entire surface of the planet appears dappled with fiery light.
And this time around, it’s not just the space pirate base that explodes; somehow the whole of Zebes goes up in flames.
Farewell, Zebes. Farewell, tormented souls of the Wrecked Ship. Farewell, mournful Draygon babies. Farewell, overly protective mother turtle and your innocent children. Farewell, dead adventurer guy and the grody space-bugs who were munching on him. Everything is gone now.
Only your tutorial buddies escape, should you set them free, flying away from the cataclysm as a tiny dot to parts unknown.
In the end, you’re given the obligatory time-based variable ending. Complete the game quickly enough and, per usual, Samus strips down to a bikini. Hey, just because she’s the most powerful woman in the galaxy, capable of single-handedly putting a stop to an entire race and blowing up a whole damn planet doesn’t mean she gets to have dignity. Come on, this is video games, man.
Look at those abs, though. She and Vaan should do fitness video together or something.
Interestingly, Super Metroid doesn’t tell you how long you took to complete the game as Metroid II did. Instead, it tracks the percentage of items you’ve collected. This distinction made a huge impact on how fans would come to treat the game in the following years, helping to inspire them to approach their playthroughs in different ways. Fastest possible complete runs were the obvious outcome; less obvious were self-imposed challenges to see just how few items are needed to complete the game.
Of course, the real secret behind Super Metroid‘s extensive playability is its excellence. The game is fantastic, exquisitely designed from start to finish with hardly a misstep to be found. Those play variants are ultimately just excuses for people to explore a masterpiece in new ways, like watching a beloved film with director’s commentary on. Super Metroid endures through the ages simply because it’s great.
Though of course there are a few other reasons, too.