[Currently listening to: More Dragon Quest Symphonic Suite. Once you start, you just can’t stop.]
It’s time to take a page from Sebastian’s book.
Good stories know their atmosphere. Do you want to create a comedy? A mystery? An epic? Some funky hybrid of all three? You need to know the characteristics and voice of your genre, otherwise you’ll end up with some kind of mess that tries to appeal to different audiences but ends up angering everyone.
When the ingredients come together in just the right way, you get an unparalleled masterpiece that plunges you completely into the world that’s been created. It can become a story that transcends generations. Lord of the Rings knew its mood; so did Sherlock Holmes. This is one reason why their stories have lasted for decades to even centuries, and are still being re-imagined to this day.
And in the arena of games? One that’s arguably done it best is Super Metroid.
Samus Aran tackled the loneliness of space long before games like No Man’s Sky attempted it. Exploring unpopulated planets solo is her natural state-of-being (as proven by the reception of games where she operates under supervision). To set the proper mood for a story like hers, you need all elements to express a solitary – yet vaguely threatening – atmosphere.
Metroid for NES and Metroid II for Gameboy created the foundation for this atmosphere, which would go on to be perfected in Super Metroid. The maze-like levels of Metroid instilled a sense of desperation as you struggled to remember where you’d already been and where you were going. Metroid II did a little more to guide you along the path, but it took you deeper into Metroid nests, emphasizing the idea that you were getting in over your head, and escape wouldn’t be easy.
These attributes and more heighten the Super Metroid experience ten-fold. A map makes it easier to find your way, but each world is so differently constructed and filled with its own unique threats that some mystery remains as you explore. You start in the quiet caverns of Crateria, moving from there into Brinstar’s more lively vegetation. On the way from Brinstar to molten Norfair, you pass through a glass tube looking into Maridia’s water world. You think, “What will I find when I get to THIS part of the game?”
That’s the beauty of Super Metroid‘s mood: absolutely none of these worlds are explained to you beforehand; you play the true role of explorer as Samus delves deeper to find the baby Metroid. On first playthrough, everything is a new and eerie experience. It creates the inherent need for caution as you explore new rooms. The world is lonely and mysterious, so that when the boss battles come, you’re shocked out of isolation and given a feeling of being truly out of your element. A perfect compliment to the atmosphere already in play!
Most of the Metroid games achieve this feeling, but Super Metroid was just a perfect culmination of the world-building already in place. (It also claims the coveted title of being the penultimate speed game.) How did it all come together so perfectly? Simple – it knew what its genre needed: isolation, exploration, awe-inspiring scenes coupled with looming danger, and of course a killer soundtrack for ambiance.
It would’ve been a completely different experience if Samus had spent her adventure running into NPCs everywhere and discussing battle tactics. The quiet would be broken and the spell undone. There’s plenty of stories that need those elements, of course, but it would have ruined the story Super Metroid was trying to tell.
So, hey, thanks for keeping us on track with what’s important, Sebastian. We couldn’t do it without’cha.
Super Metroid is the property of Nintendo. You can purchase it to play via the Wii U virtual console.