Metroid is a classic game that is often understood as a clumsy run at the ideas that would be perfected in Super Metroid. However, older tech and design sensibilities do not merely limit, they also facilitate. Metroid’s particular virtues can be obscured by the impression that some sequel or remake does what it was trying to do better. While there is a clear lineage between them, Super Metroid has distinctly different sensibilities than its predecessors. Super Metroid is not a refinement. Rather, it emphasizes certain elements of a potentially wide genre space. Revisiting Metroid with an open mind and clear eyes shows a world of possibility that Super confines.
There’s no getting around the fact that Metroid can be difficult to revisit. It was treading new ground in a time that had foundationally different sensibilities than now. It can come across as unfair, even cruel, and it is without the more contemporary affordances of a map and plainly stated objectives. That bareness, though, is a strength, making its hostile alien world more difficult to comprehend. While new abilities increase survivability, the world never really becomes safe in the way it can in later entries. Infinitely spawning enemies, deliberately confusing layouts, and the lack of clear markers for items make the world strange and at least a little unknowable.
While Metroid is without plot except in the barest gestures, it does have an arc. As Samus descends deeper into the planet Zebes, the more metallic and cold the environment becomes–until she reaches its source, the horrific prison of flesh and metal that is Mother Brain. A metal heart beats at the center of a wild world, a steel poison creeps through plant-covered capillaries. It’s legitimately poetic, but relies entirely on imagery to make its point. Even the notoriously silent Super Metroid is more explicit.