I’ve been getting into Super Metroid more after the 3DS release and set myself a personal goal of beating the game in under an hour. I’ve already done this with Metroid: Zero Mission and had a great time finding the fastest route. With Super Metroid I had done what “felt” like a speedrun, but it’s a different kind of speedrun to Zero Mission. A lot of tricks and skips in this game are very difficult and non-traditional. This is due to Samus’s movement being more complex, and a lot of open environments that don’t stop you from doing crazy things. My current best time was 1 hour 19 minutes, and on 3DS I managed to get 1 hour 27 minutes on a refresher course through the game. My main motivation came when I realised there was still a lot about the game I didn’t know. How do you shortcharge? What other items can I skip? Are there better ways to fight the bosses? Can I do the Zebetite Skip?
It turns out that no, I can’t do the Zebetite Skip. I spent about 4-5 hours trying to glitch through this barrier, like so many speedrunners effortlessly do, but no dice. I managed to get Samus’s head stuck in the roof but it happened too quickly for me to take a screenshot. The idea is to freeze this Rinka, take damage, space jump onto it, then when you “stand” on it, you’re actually standing a pixel to the left because it centers you on the enemy. Then while taking damage you can use an invincibility frame to nudge through the wall, breaking it and also breaking every barrier in the room. Since I never got it to work, I’m obviously missing a step here. I just couldn’t find a site or video that described the process clearly. It might be possible if I try 1000 more times, but I just wasn’t having fun at this point and looked for better ways to improve my time. Even if I got it once, I’m not sure I’d be able to replicate it 50 minutes into a speedrun. I can always come back to it later.
The next trick I tried was the machball, or “mockball” as some people call it, but I like mach better. It just sounds faster, and this trick is fast. This was a breath of fresh air as it was something I could actually do. When you’re watching a speedrun, it’s hard to tell where the difficult stuff is sometimes because they do it so naturally after years of practice. I braced myself for a few hours of pain and actually got it on my first try. It’s so easy I did it on 3DS just while messing around.
A machball here allows you to roll faster than you normally would, which lets you roll under the gates here and grab an early Super Missile. This is HUGE, because it lets you skip an entire boss fight with Spore Spawn who normally has the Super behind him. To explain the trick itself, you basically start sprinting, jump, press down in the air (crouching), then down again to turn into a morphball AS you hit the ground. This allows you to keep rolling at the same speed. The reason I found this so easy is because I was already “soft-morphing”, which is morphing at the exact same time you hit the ground. It stops Samus from bouncing and saves time in a lot of areas. I’m used to instantly morphing into tunnels because it’s fun and feels badass.
I figured this would take a few minutes off my time but I still wouldn’t be close to an hour. So what else could I skip? Grapple Beam? No way. There’s no way I can get to the Wrecked Ship with one of those ridiculous Shine Sparks. Well it turns out there’s two ways. Instead of doing the pixel-perfect Shine Spark to skip the whole area, you can Shine Spark over the moat and then make it the rest of the way with a series of very scary and precise jumps. They looked hard but I’ve done jumps like that in other places before. I practiced the Shine Spark first and had my mind blown by how small the window is, and how many buttons you have to press. You also have to kill two enemies in the room and open the door on the right before you start, just to “prep” it. It only took me 15-20 tries to get it, and now I feel pretty consistent with it. The hardest part is getting in position after you’ve charged up, because you only get 2.8 seconds to position yourself perfectly up two ledges. Once you’re in position with a charge ready and the door open, BOOM! You shoot straight through the next room.
Soaring majestically over the sorrowful moat of missed grapples, I claim my missile and enjoy the item fanfare jingle. This is normally the most awkward item jingle in the game, because you can’t really see Samus, and when you land on that platform “normally” you’re usually in the middle of a grapple hook swing. I’ve got wings now though so I can’t fall. THUD, right into the door at the other end. That was part one of my Wrecked Ship entrance done.
Part two is a series of VERY difficult jumps that are so tight, you have to take off the high jump boots. Luckily Samus can do that, I guess she keeps her other boots in the suit somewhere. The reason for this is you have to get a lot of momentum without crashing your head into the roof. This means a light tap of the jump button at the very cliff. Absolutely terrifying. The risk is huge, because if you fall in the water you don’t have gravity suit yet, and you have to slowly wade through the water and get back to shore 30 seconds later. It’s possible to clear the entire gap and land safely, but if you fall short you can still save it with a wall jump up the side. This makes it more confusing in my opinion because it’s hard to tell if you’re gonna make it or not. To top things off, there’s 3 of these jumps in a row. I have about a 75% success rate with this after some practice, but it’s still scary.
So now I’m in the Wrecked Ship without Grapple Beam for the first time, what a great feeling. It’s like you walked up some tough stairs instead of taking the lift, a bit more effort but once you’re up there you have earned yourself a shit-eating grin. A lot has just been skipped; the whole Crocomire fight, a long trek around in a circle, and the awkward grapple bits you have to do after getting the item. As a result of this, I had one less Energy Tank and Phantoon was coming up. I already considered this one of the game’s hardest fights, and this was the first time my health would be this low.
This is Phantoon, but take away one Energy Tank from the top and add a Reserve Tank for the actual speedrun. Forgive the inconsistent screenshots, I was practicing on 3DS and doing the actual speedrun on Wii U. I also wasn’t planning a writeup of this until the last minute. Anyway it turns out this fight isn’t too difficult if you take it slow. The blue flames he produces can be shot to restore your health so I did this often. I also avoided using Super Missiles just so he would not go into his “circle of rage” attack animation. The fight is not too difficult now, and another hurdle had been conquered.
Another boss that was different was Draygon. I’m used to shooting electricity with my Grapple Beam to drain her health, but I didn’t have that option anymore. As a result I was reminded how difficult it is to fight this beast normally. She swoops a random amount of times from the left, right, left, right but luckily the pattern itself is predictable. She’ll always start from the left, and if she’s doing a different attack she’ll take a bit longer to come on screen. You can also dodge every single one of her swoops simply by curling into a ball really fast after you shoot. So while this fight took a bit longer now, I figured out how to survive it pretty easily and it’s quite fun. Despite these two boss fights being slower, I still carried a huge time-gain overall by skipping Grapple Beam. Felt good.
After practicing all these things above, I strung together a speedrun and everything after Draygon went normally. I got Plasma Beam, Screw Attack, fought Ridley, went to Tourian, fought Mother Brain, made the escape. I got both Shine Sparks in the escape and it felt pretty awesome. I was really curious about my time because I’d never done a route like this before.
Hmmm. Damn it. I had mixed feelings about this because I’d just beaten my best time by 12 minutes. Amazing right? Sure, but there was still much more to go and I thought the Grapple Beam skip was going to make a bigger dent. I lay on the floor exhausted for about an hour just thinking about it. I put some Xenoblade X music on to calm myself down and chill and reflect a bit. The run was far from perfect and I could probably shave off a minute or two with better execution, but I knew I had to learn more tricks to get rid of that chunky 7 minutes. So that’s what I did!
I wanted to try something a bit harder so the next thing I focused on was the Screw Attack skip. This one scared the crap out of me because it introduces Power Bomb management, meaning if you find yourself with no Power Bombs in certain places, you can’t progress. A lot of rooms would also become much scarier without the fail-safe Screw Attack to destroy everything in my path. I had to try it because it would gain me HUGE time, since you get to skip another whole boss fight and take a much quicker path through lower Norfair.
Drowning in regret, Samus thinks about every item she skipped with burning nostalgia. These pillars I just broke would normally be crushed with Screw Attack quite easily. However, without the Screw Attack I had to drop Power Bombs in the air and wait for them to explode. This inevitably means taking damage in the ever-rising lava and is quite scary if you get stuck or miss a jump or something. Nonetheless, it’s a consistent room with no random elements and I feel okay with it now.
The next few rooms are all loaded with Space Pirates, who I’d NORMALLY kill with the Screw Attack and barely think twice about. Now I had to use charged Ice Beam shots, which surprisingly was a lot of fun because it felt like a real fight. It’s a bit slower and introduces some tricky platforming, because you can’t land inside an enemy without Screw Attack and expect to get away with it. Luckily it’s not too difficult. I made it all the way to Ridley and realised that skipping the Screw Attack was not hard at all, I just had this scary idea in my mind that wasn’t real.
The Ridley fight stayed the same, just lay about 20 charged beam shots into him and he dies. I really enjoy this fight because Ridley’s movement is CRAZY and there’s a lot of skill in avoiding his attacks. It’s really fun jumping up high. Anyway I had plenty of practice with this fight before and I had just slowly become better at it. It used to kill me a lot, but I just love it now. I don’t know any real speed tech here, you just have to fight him well. Embrace your inner bounty hunter. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still difficult, just NOT one of the hardest parts of the game for me like it used to be.
Before starting another speedrun, I sat down and watched some videos of other people doing speedruns of the game just to chill. I really enjoy watching Metroid speedruns in general, but this was different as I was watching more closely to find some new things I could attempt myself. I noticed that getting up “bubble mountain” only took a simple wall jump and it didn’t seem so hard. I tried it, and of course fell straight down as the spiky enemy exploded on me. However you only lose a few seconds here by trying again, and it saves going the long way underneath. This saves at least a minute (probably more) and is quite fun to do. I learned a ton of smaller things by re-watching speedruns, like bombing platforms I didn’t know you could destroy, and convenient places to farm for health.
Now I felt ready to do another run but was full of nerves. It’s weird to say that with nobody watching, and nothing at stake, but I just really wanted to get a time representative of everything I’d learned. If I made too many mistakes I wouldn’t really get an accurate picture. Shine Sparking in small places was new to me and still felt “weird” even though I’d done it multiple times now. The boss fights can always kill you, no matter how prepared you are. There’s a ton of things that can go wrong.
I tried about 4-5 runs and died at different points in all of them. It’s just extremely difficult to manage your health over the course of the entire game, when you intentionally take damage and skip Energy Tanks. A different room can surprise you with death if you have low health. It’s fucking hard, man. The nerves were gone because I was just angry and focused now. Then I started the run that would go much further.
Everything was going decent until I was approaching the Wrecked Ship. I landed the machballs early on, took down enemies easily, had pretty clean movement and miraculously nailed the first Shine Spark to get across the moat. Now for those tricky 3 jumps I talked about earlier. I was really, REALLY into the run at this point and missed the first jump. I yelled “FUUUUAARK” so loud. I just really wanted a good time. I climbed back up and tried not to get too upset, in fact I let the thought go and focused on how the water sounded. Samus’s space jump makes a little whoosh sound, quite pleasant. The background in this part is also quite tranquil with calming water and foggy mountains in the distance. Now I’m back up to try again, and I’ve just got 3 simple little jumps to do right? Weee. One down. Weee that’s the second. Look at Samus’s little feet go. And we’re through! Yay. I could see rainbows sprouting in the background and fairies dancing. What a jolly series of jumps. That was so easy and FUCK THAT SECTION FOREVER.
After that recovery the Phantoon fight went really well and I actually had a reserve tank left, which would make the Ridley fight much easier a bit later. Instead of explaining every single little thing I’ll just skip to the end. Tourian went pretty well, there’s not much to talk about here because it’s straight forward. Freeze the Metroids then hit them with 5 missiles. It’s a little tricky having to switch beams constantly, but not hard if you stay composed. I shot through the barriers (still no Zebetite Glitch) then killed Mother Brain with JUST enough missiles, ending with zero. My total count was 60 Missiles and 15 Super Missiles which I worked out was just enough to break through the glass and kill Mother Brain in the cage. The Mother Brain fight after that is fairly simple in my opinion, I had 6 Energy Tanks so all I had to do was spam my charge beam and not get hit too much.
The last escape section made me a bit nervous because I knew I had a better time than 01:07, just not by how much. I actually fell down from a wall by jumping into a Space Pirate. Why the hell did I do that? Screw Attack would normally have killed that enemy, but I didn’t have it anymore. Bad habit. I climbed back up and made my way to execute the final Shine Spark up the shaft. Damn, missed that too. I didn’t really know a backup for this and didn’t want to risk running back and dying, so I just started climbing up slowly. One platform, two platforms, three platforms. It felt like forever. At this point the intense music and flashing just disappeared out of my mind somehow, I heard complete silence and just landed the jumps calmly. I got up to the surface, ran right, jumped into my ship. Oops, missed it. Bit to the left. BAM! There we go.
Thank fucking god. Even with its ups and downs, this new route was fast enough to beat the game in under an hour. I felt really good knowing that, and knowing I can probably bring that down to 52-55 with better execution alone. My item total was 35%. I achieved my goal of getting sub-hour and learned a lot more about the game and myself.
Now I want to talk about the “skill” of speedrunning, and how much respect I have for it. It’s constant stress on almost every sense you have. Sound, vision, muscles, memory all at their peak. A game like Super Metroid is more demanding than most because you’re thinking about the next room while you’re in the current one. Many times even in my amateur speedrun, I’m jumping halfway through a door to set up a ball roll or make sure I don’t fall in a pit in the next room. You also have to be conscious of your ammo and health so you don’t walk into a dead end or kill yourself.
Obviously any skill is demanding at the highest level, but this is almost like multiple skills working at once. With music your eyes aren’t that important. While running you’ve got blood flowing through your legs and you’re trying not to think about anything. With speedrunning it’s like there are 5 people inside your head and you have to make sure they are all happy and working together. If you mess up a jump you have to work up the will to get over a small mistake. You have to DECIDE if you’re going back for that health drop that just appeared. You have to stop thinking about this room instantly because the next room is coming up. For this reason, I feel a healthy sense of discipline after completing a speedrun no matter how good the time was at the end.
Lesson: speed running is hard, but like everything it gets easier the more you confront it. Sometimes you have to try things before you even know if you can do them or not. Machball looks like some advanced fighting game combo but it feels really natural, in fact I feel like the developers intended for it to be in the game. The shutter doors close in JUST enough time to allow you to get through two areas, in both the PAL and NTSC versions of the game. Not a coincidence at all, just awesome gameplay. All the boss fights got easier when I practiced them. Every jump got easier when I practiced it. This kind of thing I would have deemed “impossible” a few years ago but now I can do it whenever I want. I’m not done with this game, but I’m not going to obsess over my time too much. I just really like playing it and talking about it. Hopefully you enjoyed reading this and it wasn’t too confusing. Some great resources if you want to learn more about Super Metroid speedrunning are http://deanyd.net and Metroid 2002.
See you next mission!