Top 100 NES/Famicom Games List: #5

NES & Famicom Games

Arguably the most beloved console of all time, the Nintendo Entertainment System, commonly abbreviated as NES, is now well over 25 years old. With over two thousand games produced worldwide for the legendary hardware, the NES, despite it’s age, has an eternal staying power. As retro gaming continues to grow in popularity, more and more gamers flock to Nintendo’s first home console to get their gaming fix.

Welcome to the final top 10 countdown for my personal picks of the greatest games to grace the NES and Famicom. I will be posting one update per day on my march towards the number one position. This has been a long time coming, and I want to thank you, my readers, for all of your support.

Now then, as before, I am ranking every game on its overall difficulty using a simple scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is brain dead easy and 10 is….well,  Battletoads. A 5 on this scale means it’s average difficulty with perhaps some challenging elements, but nothing the average gamer should get stuck on for too long.

I’m also including many links to videos and other online information sources. Links are indicated by orange words. Please open these links in a new tab/window so you don’t have to navigate away from this article.

Previous entries:

part 1, #100-90
part 2, #89-80
part 3, #79-70
part 4, #69-60
part 5, #59-50
part 6, #49-40
part 7, #39-30
part 8, #29-20
part 9, #19-11
Final top 10: #10
Final top 10: #9
Final top 10: #8
Final top 10: #7
Final top 10: #6

So without further ado, here is entry #5!

#5Metroid
1987
Nintendo R&D1
Action Platformer
Price range: $8-12
Difficulty: 8
Region: All

Welcom to Zebes. Population: EvilIn a far away galaxy in the future, the normally peaceful Galactic Federation and the pirates of planet Zebes are at war. The pirates have attacked a research vessel returning to the Federation after an exposition on the planet SR-388. Among the samples stolen were extremely powerful macro parasitic lifeforms the research team named “Metroids”.

The Space Pirates plan to mutate, replicate and ultimately unleash their bio-enhanced Metroids upon the Federation before conquering them. In a last ditch desperate effort, The Galactic Federation hires the galaxy’s most notorious bounty hunter, Samus Aran to single handedly eradicate all the space pirates and their stolen Metroids on planet the fortress planet Zebes, deep in the ruins of the Chozo Empire.

With the mission orders received, Aran heads for Zebes, not knowing the danger and mystery that lurks beneath the planet’s surface.

Where have I seen that before...?Why you should play it

The level designs are unlike anything else on the NESIn sharp contrast to nearly every other Nintendo franchise, Metroid is not a whimsical, child-friendly fairy tale with a princess to rescue and land to save. From the moment you boot the game until the final credits roll, Metroid offers a dark, broody world filled with vile creatures that must be utterly exterminated by the assassin in a cyborg space suit Samus Aran, whoever, or whatever that may be. See, back in the day, it wasn’t entirely clear if “Samus” was even a biological entity or some sort of cyborg. The fact that Samus was a woman was a closely guarded secret that only added the game’s mystique.

Metroid was unlike anything Nintendo had done before. To just look at Metroid you’ll see very familiar conventions. You run, jump and shoot like so many other action platformers.  Beneath the common concepts though, there’s much more to Metroid than simply shooting enemies and jumping on on platforms – Metroid was one of the first action games to put a great deal of emphasis on exploration.

There are many things that make Metroid unique. Chief among them is the massive open ended, seemingly non-linear world that you are thrust into without any sense of direction or hand-holding of any kind. You are completely isolated, alone on a massive planet without any guide. Metroid is a prime example of a game that just would not fly if it were released today rather than two decades ago. Everything you learn you discover yourself, and much of it defies common game design choices. For example, immediately when you start in Metroid, the correct path is to proceed is to the left in order t pick up game’s first power, the Maru-Mari. At the time, this was completely counter-intuitive to everything that other platformers such as Super Mario Bros. teach about game design.

From the offset, you’ve given your mission objective – find the Metroids and the bio-organism Mother Brain and kill them. The problem is at first, you’re so weak the cave dwelling insects pose a serious threat. Scattered throughout the world are power ups that once collected, permanently enhance your abilities. Some of these items are in plain sight, but others are well hidden. Among the many power ups hidden throughout Zebes are bombs, missiles, ice and wave beams, an armor upgrade and high jump boots, just to name a few.

You’ll also discover Energy tanks, which add 100 units of energy to your life reserve With so many power ups hidden throughout the game, the more you explore, searching for power ups the more you get out of the game. Once you find a good number of power ups, you might think Samus would become completely overpowered and thus render the game a cakewalk but in actuality, Metroid is a rather difficult game. Just getting to the bosses can be a huge challenge – surviving against them is another.

Though the visuals are sparse even for an NES game, Metroid is one of the few NES games that could be described as atmospheric, as the game successfully conveys each of the dark underground areas you explore as completely alien and hostile. You don’t fight against humanoid enemies, but rather strange cave dwelling creatures like inhabit the abyss of Zebes. While everything is simple and blocky, the game does manage to impress with some interesting effects. For example, once you get the ice beam you can freeze enemies dead in their tracks and even safely stand on them as if they were platforms. Frozen enemies turn a deep shade of blue letting you know at a moment’s glace which are frozen and which are not.

Another element that propels Metroid so high is it’s highly district, memorable music, particularly the titlescreen theme. When you see the blue title appear above the barren surface of the planet Zebes, you’re greeted by one of the moodiest, foreboding tunes out there. Metroid’s theme music is downright haunting. I legitimately got chills the first time I heard it. The rest of the tracks aren’t nearly as haunting, but each are memorable, catchy, and instantly recognizable – all the things you’d want in an NES soundtrack.

For all its many strengths, Metroid does have a few noticeable flaws that are hard to ignore. Much like Legacy of the Wizard, the game is a little TOO open-ended. Just like that game, you’re completely on your own when it comes to not only trying to figure out where to go next, but also how to even get there. There are segments that are force you to try to bomb every single block in search of a hidden passageway through a wall or a floor. This kind of level design makes the game needlessly obtuse.

Nevertheless, Metroid has all of the makings of a true classic. To play through Metroid is to experience a part of what forever will be the giant impact the NES had on gaming culture. It is thanks to this one game that dared think outside the box we would be treated to some of the best games ever made that closely emulate it such as Super Metroid, Castlevania Symphony of the Night and Cave Story, just to name a few. Not too shabby, Metroid. Not too shabby at all.

For readers who have never played Metroid before and may now want to give it a shot, I urge you not to just jump on the internet and look up a map – much like Legacy of the Wizard, this game is designed from the ground up for you to create your own map. Simply looking up a map on the internet is like skipping to the last few pages of a detective novel – it completely ruins the experience.

Fun fact

Originally released alongside its sister game Kid Icarus, Metroid was one of the first titles to appear on the Famicom Disk System attachment in Japan. The Disk version allowed the player to save their progress to the disk’s three save slots. It used the enhanced FM Synthesis audio of the Famicom Disk System hardware for certain tracks including the amazing titlescreen theme, weapon acquisition jingle and a few others.

If you’ve never heard the FDS Metroid’s title theme, I’ll toss it in here for your listening pleasure.

Metroid was one of the first Nintendo developed games to feature multiple endings. Each of Metroid’s endings were based on how quickly the game was completed. If you could manage to clear the entire game in under an hour, you would be treated to a bizarre scene where Samus would not only reveal she was a woman, but a woman wearing a skimpy Bikini under her Power Suit. Hey, I guess it gets hot in their or something? Obviously, this fact enticed a whole generation of young boys to try and beat the game as quickly as they could.

When it came time to release Metroid in the US, it was decided not to retain the save function to battery-backed SRAM even though the PCB board selected for the game had the capability. In fact, Metroid’s circuit board even has traces for a battery in the top left corner! It’s possible that Nintendo had planned on Metroid being a battery-backed game, but decided against it at the last minute. Instead of a built-in save function, the North American release ended up using an extensive password system.

In the process of creating the password system, Nintendo also implemented a new Samus sprite. With special passwords, US gamers would be able to play Samus not in her Chozo Power Suit, but in a skimpy skin-tight one piece bikini. This was not the case in the Japanese build, despite how pervy they usually are with stuff like that.

Although Metroid was very popular in North America, Europe and moderately successful in Japan, it wouldn’t be until several years after Metroid that the series would see a sequel, and even then, it was on the GameBoy, not the NES. Nevertheless, in 1992, SunSoft released a game called Hebereke in Japan, and localized it in Europe as Ufouria: The Saga. Ufouria copies much of Metroid’s gameplay, though at an accelerated pace across four playable characters. It’s not nearly as good as Metroid, but it is worth a look nevertheless.

In 2004, Metroid saw a rather incredible remake on the GameBoy Advance called Metroid: Zero Mission. Zero Mission took many ideas introduced in Super Metroid and fixed many of the problems with the original version. After completing Zero Mission, players are even treated to the full original NES version ported to the GBA! Zero Mission is one of the best remakes ever made in my view. Expect a full review in the near-ish future.

Finally, it is also worth mentioning that Metroid has a few truly excellent ROM-hacks. First there’s MDBtroid, from the Metroid Database. This hack improves Samus’s sprites and makes the font more readable. It also includes a completely revamped bikini Samus sprite, which just looks awesome.You can even pile on a mini auto-map to this hack!

The other noteworthy hack is called Metroid X, which completely revamps the entire map to present a completely new game. The sprites aren’t any different, but it tosses everything you know about Metroid‘s level layouts out the window, and forces you to experience the game fresh, like it’s 1987 all over again. What more can you ask for?

Original Japanese commercial for Metroid

Again, feel free to drop your comments and memories regarding Metroid below. Stay turned tomorrow for entry #4!  Remember to subscribe to get notice of the moment when I post updates!

12 Responses to “Top 100 NES/Famicom Games List: #5”

  1. I was hoping to resist commenting until you’d given us your top 100 and then add some of my own retrospectives but you’ve stuck Metroid at No5 so I thought i’d chip in :)

    Metroid would be my own personal No1. For me it was a genius game and it was the level of freedom that was provided that propelled Metroid beyond anything i’d played on the NES. I enjoyed the exploration and trying to hunt down all the hidden stuff and I never did track everything down.

    Great level design, nasty suprises, tricky bosses and a fantastic soundtrack, I loved every second of it.

    It will be interesting to see your No1!!

  2. Great choice! This is in my top 5 as well. I remember when we got this game way back when. The music on the title screen is definitely creepy, but also really cool. If you’re interested, you can check out my top 5 here

    http://jasonvorhees.wordpress.com/2010/06/14/my-5-favorite-nes-games/

    Although not as in-depth as your reviews, I think it’s a decent read.

  3. Hey there, this is Infinity’s End, the maker of MDbtroid. Glad you enjoyed the hack, and thanks for the plug! It’d be nice if you linked directly to it in your article, but still, thanks all the same.

    • satoshimatrix Says:

      Hey thanks for reading this post! Sorry about not including a link – I had intended to but I guess I must have forgotten. I’ve added it now.

  4. Ufouria would have been in my top three, but I’m glad to see it mentioned here at least!

    Also, man, that’s an awesome commercial.

    • satoshimatrix Says:

      Hebereke/Uforia is clumsy compared to Metroid. It’s surreal and I like the characters, I’ll give it that, but it’s one of Sunsoft’s weaker NES efforts. It gets an honorable mention, but I do feel justifed that it isn’t on the top 100.

  5. […] top 10: #10 Final top 10: #9 Final top 10: #8 Final top 10: #7 Final top 10: #6 Final top 10: #5 Final top 10: #4 Final top 10: #3 Final top 10: […]

  6. Greatest plot twist ever.

    • satoshimatrix Says:

      Are you referring to the fact that Samus is a woman? Yeah, it sure blew my mind as child when I first heard about it on the school playground.

      • Same here. When we heard from a friend who had managed to beat it, we couldn’t believe Samus was a girl. It sounds crazy now, but this was major stuff back in the day.

  7. Metroid was my very first Nintendo game. I played it a bit over a buddy’s house and liked it so much that I actually bought it about 3 months before I got my actual NES! When I finally did buy the system- and I remember this so vividly- I started playing it on a Saturday at 6pm and played straight through to a bit past 6am that next morning. A 12 hours straight playthrough! It’d be tough to find a game that would hold my interest like that now I’d think.

    • satoshimatrix Says:

      Brofist dude. Metroid was one of those games that solidified the NES as the powerhouse videogame machine back in the day. I had a C64 and a 2600, but nothing even came close to the vastness of Metroid. Silly me at the time, I kept wondering when Metroid would get ported to the Commodore, because I wanted to hear the music in SID. Years and years later when Zero Mission came out, I was so excited I could hardly contain myself. Metroid may be #5, but it’s probably #1 in terms of the sheer impact it had on me as a child.

      That damn titlescreen music is still creepy as fuck, especially the FDS version.

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