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Metroid: Zero Mission

If you've been reading any other sites (shame on you!) for gaming news, you know that the gaming press has been going nuts over Nintendo's latest Gameboy Advance title, Metroid: Zero Mission. And certainly, there is a lot to love about Samus' "new" first adventure. But Zero Mission also has a few fundamental flaws as well, keeping it from being a great title.

Zero Mission, as its name implies, is a retelling of Samus' mission to planet Zebes, where she first encounters the Space Pirates, Mother Brain, Ridley, and the energy sucking organisms known as Metroids. But far from being just a graphical update, Zero Mission takes the spirit of the original Metroid title and creates a new game from it. The game is based on the Metroid Fusion engine, the first GBA Metroid title, but eschews the text heavy narrative and spelled out mission goals in favor of short cutscenes and vague directions (Chozo statues direct you to the next room you should be making towards), which is much more in line with the feel of the Metroid series.

Many of the rooms and puzzles in Zero Mission recall aspects of the original Metroid. Indeed, a veteran Metroid fan will both appreciate the loving care Nintendo has put into recreating the Metroid experience and blow through the game. Though the game is structured very closely along the lines of the NES classic, Samus has many of the power ups available to her that were originally in later Metroid games, including Megaton bombs and gripping walls. Some of the new items (aside from wall grip) are hardly used in the game, and features like Megaton bombs and an automapping feature (not present in the original Metroid) make Zero Mission much easier than the NES original. Indeed, I'm not very good at Metroid (sometimes I find the game's logic hard to follow, and I struggled through Super Metroid and Fusion), and I was able to beat the game in little more than five hours of gameplay time, and maybe five and a half hours in real time. This is Zero Mission's biggest problem. Though beating the game unlocks a hard mode and the original NES Metroid, the game is still really short. Having seen this, another thirty percent of gameplay has been added after the player defeats Mother Brain. I won't give away what happens, but Samus, known as the Hunter in Metroid Prime, becomes the hunted in a gameplay situation that is very much like running away from the powerful SA-X in Metroid Fusion.

Zero Mission's presentation is great; the graphics are crisp and clear and better than even Fusion. Metroid has always been a bit of an oddball title for Nintendo, and the spartan, but eerie backgrounds and foregrounds of Zero Mission capture the ambiance of Zebes well. The game takes the series into new artistic ground by giving the game a very comic book look and feel, especially in the cut scenes. Bosses in Zero Mission are enormous and look and sound terrific, especially with long-time standbys Kraid and Ridley. The music too, is classic Metroid upgraded to the Gameboy Advance's better sound system. Indeed, taking into account the bosses, sound, and power ups, Zero Mission is often more reminiscent of Super Metroid than of the original NES game.

In short, the game is great, as long as it lasts. But only hardcore Metroid fans are going to want to play through the game more than once or twice. Nintendo remained very close to the original Metroid as far as the map of Zebes was concerned, but I would have rather had a much bigger game, which the Gameboy Advance is completely capable of supporting. Zero Mission is one of the best GBA games out there now, but it is somewhat hard to justify the price of the title compared to the gameplay it allots.

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