Metroid Zero Mission -
In the year 2004, two years after the series' debut on the Gameboy Advance with Metroid Fusion, we received a game that would not only be the second Metroid title on the Gameboy Advance, but many gamer's second chance to experience the Metroid series in its original capacity. While Metroid Zero Mission is technically a remake of the original Metroid released on the NES in 1986, it certainly has no problem justifying its own existence. Updated graphics along with the original Metroid in-full now being literally in the palms of your hands are nice touches, but careful consideration must be made when reviewing this retouched game; does the original Metroid still hold up even with meticulous updating, or is this one classic better left back in the 80's?
The story, as is the case with many Metroid games, is easy to understand. Our protagonist, Samus, is sent to Planet Zebes in order to annihilate the mechanism being used by opposing space pirates to build super weapons. With the exception of a few cutscenes added in order to update the feel of the original (at that point) 18 year old game, Metroid Zero Mission pretty much leaves you to explore on your own. Those who have never played a Metroid game before should have no problem entering the series via Zero Mission, as multiple difficulty levels are available to select right from the start, and even on Normal difficulty, the game isn't too challenging.
The difficulty usually associated with the Metroid series stems from the player lacking the intuition necessary in order to figure out where in each of the game's 7 (later, 8) worlds they must explore next. Navigating each room in each environment is simple enough, and the map, upgrades, and new abilities come with the exploration, along with the opportunity to uncover secret passages that more often than not will lead the way to the next area or even to supplementary power-ups such as an increase in missile-storage capacity, or health buffs. Updated graphics borrowing assets and art design from Metroid Fusion are extremely successful in bringing life to the once aging world of Planet Zebes. Hardware limitations of the Gameboy Advance seemed to be no hindrance at all while designing Metroid Zero Mission; from start to finish, Planet Zebes is an absolute pleasure to explore.
Often if a game is too easy, it can become boring. Then again, if a game is too challenging, it can become discouraging. Despite Metroid Zero Mission being a little bit on the easy, and while I'm at it, short side, it does not lack any bit of the magic that gamers have come to expect from other Metroid games. Initially, the map sizes of many of Zero Mission's environments, such as Norfair or Ridley, can feel intimidatingly ambitious. While "intimidating" can often mean "discouraging", as it does in many other games, Zero Mission finds a way around this through building up the confidence of the player by building up the strength of Samus. Small power-ups, such as the Charge Shot, Missiles, Super Missiles, and Morph Ball just to name a few, are awarded frequently, and the types of power-ups obtained are never too similar to the power-up most recently acquired. Missiles and Super Missiles are acquired at opposite ends of the game, as are Morph Ball and Power Bomb, as well as many other similar upgrades. This rapid change in arsenal often supports rapid changes in scenery; if you've just acquired a new weapon, you can expect a new type of area, thus a new type of gameplay.
Though an average playtime of Zero Mission will probably only last around 3-4 hours, there is plenty of content to be enjoyed after the initial play-through is completed. Finishing the game once will not only unlock Hard mode, but will unlock the original Metroid game which can be played by selecting it in the Options menu. Inputting a certain sequence of buttons on the Options menu of a game file after having completed Normal mode will also unlock Time Attack mode, which will time how quickly you can complete 1 play-through on Normal difficulty.