Posted by: seanmalstrom | September 4, 2011

Email: Zelda vs. Metroid

Greetings Master Malstrom,

I have a question regarding Zelda vs Metroid. I’m not talking about modern Zelda vs modern Metroid, just old school.

I’ve seen many debates over this. Which series is/was better between the two, and why? I’ve seen you talk as if old school Zelda is superior (which I agree with), but for what reasons? What does old school Zelda do superior to old school Metroid?

Maybe it depends on the game. If that’s the case…

The Legend of Zelda and Metroid

Zelda II: The Adventure of Link and Metroid II: The Return of Samus (I’ve never played Metroid II, so for all I know, this could be more unfair)

The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past and Super Metroid

In each case, which game is superior to the opposing one, and why? Which series is overall better? I’ve always felt Zelda is better, but I’d like to discuss it with someone who understands the games far more than I do to get a better picture of it.

What is ‘better’ is a matter of your taste.

Zelda was almost as popular as Mario. It was a mainstream game in that everyone played. It wasn’t uncommon for forty year old men to play Zelda (which you never see today). Five year old kids also played Zelda (they grew up with it).

This is how Zelda was when it was mainstream. Zelda was almost as big as Mario. And believe me, Mario was big. Zelda was like Nintendo take on the role playing game. It was a fantasy universe.

I have to laugh at the Ocarina cultists reactions to the cartoon. “Why is Link shooting at things with his sword?” Because that is what you do in Zelda. Your sword is magical and can shoot beams. This beam shooting sword definitely differentiated Zelda from every other fantasy game at the time. You always wanted to keep full life so you could safely shoot your sword from a distance.

Metroid was never mainstream. As you can see with this commercial, it talks about the ‘challenge’ of Metroid and shows the player with the NES Advantage (arcade stick). The NES Advantage was bought by the ‘elite’ players (I’m using elite here since saying ‘hardcore’ would confuse people). Not everyone who played the NES was a ‘family parent’ or a child. The Atari gamers and computer gamers were used to joysticks. They, naturally, gravitated to the NES Advantage. And these Atari and computer gamers were the most experience gamers out there. This is why the NES Advantage got associated with ‘challenging games’. The experienced gamers would gravitate to these games, and they all had the NES Advantage. The commercial is just playing on that.

A game console cannot be mainstream if it only has mainstream games. In order for a game console to rise in reputation, it must allow the elite gamers to prosper as well. If the NES did not have these type of games, it never would have attracted the older computer gamers. Metroid was that type of game.

Metroid is a very trippy experience in both the atmosphere and in the gameplay. The gameplay kept playing tricks on your mind. There were fake bosses, invisible walls, power-ups hidden in the starting area inside the ceiling, so on and so on. What I always thought was so powerful about the original Metroid was the contextual transformations the player underwent. When you found bombs, you can destroy blocks such as that room filled with them you went through all the time near the beginning of the game. It was a contextual shift, the game world transformed when you got a new ability. Unlike most games, Samus’s power didn’t grow vertically (with just a more powerful weapon), it grew horizontally. The ice beam wasn’t exactly more powerful, yet it gave Samus a different sort of power to hope on frozen enemies.

Metroid was a very difficult game. People, today, mistake this difficulty to be ‘broken’. Nope, this difficulty was a plus. Metroid was raved about by these elite gamers. Super Metroid was seen by a disappointment by these gamers in how ridiculously easy that game is (you could beat the game by renting it which is what I did. Pathetic).

This is why I don’t have a problem with Metroid Prime not breaking out into the mainstream. Metroid always had a different role than Mario and Zelda. Metroid was to be the banner in which the experienced gamers could rally around (which they could not do with Mario and Zelda). When people tell me how wonderful the Gamecube is, they are that ‘experienced gamer’ who really enjoyed Metroid Prime (and F-Zero GX as well).

I don’t see either game as ‘better’ as that they perform different ‘jobs’. Metroid’s job was to send experienced gamers for a loop (and it did that quite well. What a trippy game). Zelda’s job was to place you in a fantasy world, make you in wonder and fear of the dangers around you, and then you gear up until later you say, “I used to be scared of this. But I no longer am.”

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