In the recent Nintendo Direct, Nintendo announced SNES games for the N3DS would be available immediately with Super Mario World launching the service on the same day, and more to follow. In Australia, one of those early games was Super Metroid and I grabbed it ASAP with the dream of finally being able to play the US NTSC version of the game. That’s right, all SNES games on the EU / AU 3DS eShop are the 60hz American versions, making it the first time Super Metroid and Link to the Past have been available here in 60hz. Even though I’m pretty happy with the Wii U Virtual Console, for some reason we’re still stuck with the PAL versions of a few games. In my experience it’s not that big a deal for Zelda, but Super Metroid is a much more action-focused game, loaded with tons of precise tricks and wall jumps you can not afford to miss. So not only was I keen to experience SNES games on 3DS for the first time, but also discover Super Metroid in its original 60hz form.
The first thing I did was squint, because the game feels TINY on this screen. I’m using a Regular model N3DS, and this game really makes me wish I had an XL. I’m not sure how big a difference that would make, but I now lust for it. On the trailer during the Nintendo Direct the size did not look like an issue, but it feels much different in my hands. I can barely see the text and this immediately put me off buying EarthBound (plus, EarthBound on Wii U is already in glorious 60hz, one benefit of the game never being released in Europe). Not just the text, but platforms and enemies feel compressed to me. Obviously it’s going to look smaller than a TV on this screen, but I’ve never had this “small” feeling while playing NES games, the Sega 3D Classics, or N64 remakes. I have tried holding the screen directly in front of my eyeballs and it doesn’t help. I’ve also tried the stretched mode, and it just looks really ugly and unnatural. The text becomes “fat” and muddiness coats the background.
With my knee-jerk “it’s small” reaction out of the way, everything else about the appearance is fantastic. It’s quite simply the exact game translated perfectly. It looks smoother and more crisp than on the Wii U, and the slow throbbing background caught my attention at its original resolution with unexpected beauty. It might be a dark, drab game but I think it’s hauntingly beautiful and the N3DS successfully captures that. The only problem is what I stated in the previous paragraph, it feels too small to enjoy the actual gameplay. When you’re descending from Crateria it’s hard to even spot the purple platforms from the background. This is coming from someone who has beaten the game dozens of times. I just can’t see shit when I’m falling or jumping. So even though it “looks good” at this perfect resolution at 60hz, unintentionally falling through a gap does not look good at any framerate.
Controls are a big issue for me. Even though it has less frame hiccups than the PAL Wii U version, I find it harder to do wall jumps and keep my grip on the N3DS in general. There’s nothing really wrong with the buttons or game, I just find a floppy handheld really awkward for fast-paced gameplay, especially compared to the Wii U controller. Super Metroid gets the extreme end of this because you have to press every single button to play it well. It might be because my hands are too big, but those are the only impressions I can give. I have no problem with advanced touch-screen controls in games like Code Name STEAM and Kid Icarus Uprising, but Super Metroid’s control scheme cramps my hand up into a claw with everything being so close together. I want to tear the buttons off the 3DS and hold them further apart, but that’s just me. An issue I can blame on the N3DS, is that it doesn’t have custom button mapping like the Wii U. Luckily Super Metroid has it’s own custom button mapping in the main menu, because this game is perfection. However it’s not built into the emulator, and it just makes me think they did the bare minimum with these SNES games outside dumping the US version to say “here you go”. Save states exist and work just like Wii U, a good feature but nothing new.
Now as someone who’s played the hell out of the PAL version, I’ve found some differences while playing the US version on my 3DS. First is the movement, it just feels wonderful to have Samus at 60hz / 60fps without any stuttering or input lag. You guys seriously don’t know how lucky you had it for the last 20 years, 50hz PAL games are sloppy in a direct comparison with a slightly lower framerate and “adjustments” that usually make things worse. This next thing might just be the 3DS screen, but Samus looks taller on 3DS. She also falls a bit slower, and that made some gaps and zigzagging feel incredibly easy. It felt like I could breathe in some of these small passageways for the first time. Even though my overall consistency playing this game is lower on a handheld, the feel of regular moving and shooting in this version of the game is really good.
These two pictures are taken from the Miiverse screenshot capture function, directly from my N3DS and Wii U.
Obviously the displays are different, but you can still see the crispness on N3DS. Apart from the visual fidelity, some random environment details have also been changed. You’ll notice in this screenshot there’s an enemy on the left I don’t normally see on the Wii U, he’s a bit further across the room and doesn’t really bother you when you roll by. However in the US 3DS version above, I discovered this enemy is VIGILANT in tracking you down. This is something I’ve always seen happen in speedruns and I wondered why I couldn’t trigger the enemy to follow me. I thought he didn’t love me. Due to PAL’s slower framerate, Samus’s movement is “sped up” in PAL to try and match overall movement time with the US one. As a result this enemy is slower in PAL, because Samus was sped up and some other things weren’t. So if somebody is not being your friend, they might just have PAL physics in a NTSC environment.
Another environmental difference is one lava room that rises much quicker in the PAL version. In the US 3DS version, I was able to roll under some platforms without even taking damage, because the lava hadn’t risen yet. Felt great.
Weeeeee! I’m well into the room here, and at this point in the PAL version there is lava drowning the platforms. This is an example of something they manually changed, but I have no idea why. Potentially because Samus could get to the door too fast, so they just said “add more lava” and called it a day. Perhaps they are making a social statement about America and Japan offering freedom in tight spaces. Perhaps Europe will burn in hell-fire, 5 seconds sooner than America and Japan. I don’t know much about the history of the PAL / US release of this game, or whether it was rushed. It took 3 months to come to Europe after America, but back then that was very quick and impressive. It’s a very solid game so I doubt there were any sacrifices made. Apart from the fact that 50hz exists, the PAL release of this game does nothing wrong.
Documentation on Super Metroid in general is pretty rare, and it has a very mysterious development history. Maybe some of you can shed some wisdom in the comments, but I’ve hit a lot of dead ends trying to read about the team behind this game. An unfortunate fact is one of the few men on this small team, Gunpei Yokoi, died in a car crash in 1997. He’s the creator of the Game Boy, and also the engineer that allowed NES games to scroll back to the left, leading to the birth of Metroid which he produced. It’s not known who created Metroid, but a lot of people say he did. My stance on these grey areas, is that I don’t believe anything not said by the creators themselves. The Super Metroid team as a whole went by the name Deer Force and only produced one other game, Teleroboxer on the Virtual Boy. This is getting way off topic, but you can read some interviews on the great Gunpei Yokoi here.
Now back to the actual N3DS machine, because there’s still one more thing to talk about. A huge part of the Super Metroid experience is the sound. The eeriness of space and liveliness of these organisms drive your curiosity and soothe your sanity. There’s nothing quite like the thud of a missile impact echoing through a closed room, or the frosty crunch of your Ice Beam freezing an enemy you’re about to stand on. Unfortunately on N3DS the sound is too low to really appreciate. I’ve got it turned up to max and it just doesn’t seem as loud as other 3DS games, and in my opinion the sound on 3DS is already too low. This is a bit of a shame because I love having the ambience of Super Metroid grace my surroundings with purpose. I suppose you can wear headphones and duck under your blanket, or sit on the bus and pretend it’s a spaceship. If I’m taking one controller to bed though, it’s going to be the Wii U GamePad.
I still prefer the 50hz version on my Wii U? Yep that’s right, even though I have the sloppy PAL version in 50hz, it’s just more fun and enjoyable on that machine for me. I’ve done an entire playthrough of the 3DS version and enjoyed it, but it’s difficult to play with precision for reasons listed above. N3DS is quite clearly the best version of the game if you discount my ergonomic displeasures, and maybe if I had a N3DS XL my opinion would be different. I’m very curious to play it on an XL. Despite the negatives I’m really happy to have Super Metroid on a handheld. Even though I can’t really speedrun it or play with intensity, that’s far from the only reason I like the game. The atmosphere is unlike anything else, and I’ve played the game so much at this point that I feel a certain calmness just by booting the game up. Yeah sure I’m on a planet full of hostiles all by myself… but it’s fun here. Even though I’ve brought up speedrunning several times, I want to stress that it’s not an important part of the game for most people. My first playthrough of this game took 18 hours and I still really enjoy getting lost in it. Samus’s movement is really fun and there’s a lot to discover. I can see myself playing through this on 3DS again and maybe going for 100% at a relaxed pace.
You can never have too many ways to play Super Metroid, and this marks the first portable version of the game which is a huge deal. Despite my personal discomfort with 3DS controls and the small screen, hopefully I presented my experience in a fair way that gives you a good idea what to expect. I’m well aware that people have different tastes for ergonomics and different sized hands, and this might be the best version of the game for some. If you like how 3DS controls and have an XL then it’s going to be a great experience. The bottom line is that everyone should play Super Metroid by any means necessary. It’s an absolute masterpiece and we are never going to see anything like it again.