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"I called this place home once, in peaceful times, long before evil haunted the caverns below. Now I shall finally tell the tale of my first battle here, my so-called 'Zero Mission'." - Samus Aran, Metroid: Zero Mission

Samus Aran returned to the Game Boy Advance in February 2004 in a retelling/reimagining of the game that put her on the map. Told in flashback form, Nintendo's Metroid: Zero Mission recounts the bounty hunter's campaign against the Space Pirates, their leader Mother Brain, and the biological weapon known as the Metroid. Zero Mission borrows from every game in the Metroid series, creating a blend of new and old that will keep nostalgic gamers happy as well as those who were first introduced to Samus in 2002's Metroid Prime. First and foremost the game is a retelling of the original Metroid for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Approximately 75% of Zero Mission comes from the first game in the series, and the familiar locales of Brinstar, Norfair, and Tourian are yours to explore all over again. The graphics have been upgraded, of course, bringing the appearance of the planet Zebes into line with the last portable Metroid adventure, Metroid Fusion. Items and powerups have more in common with the 1993 classic Super Metroid, as the various ice, charge, and wave beams can be combined into a single shot. Missiles, super missiles, and power bombs are also scattered around the planet. The majority of power ups are earned by finding the hidden Chozo statues, another element borrowed from the third Metroid adventure. Despite all the familar elements, there's some newness to be found on planet Zebes in relation to the original game. Unlike the original Metroid, this rendition of the game keeps an automap for you much like the other recent games in the series. Samus can also fire at angles like she's been able to since Super Metroid. The game also retains saving capabilities, so Samus can stop and recharge at any of the game's many save points.

So what's new about the game? About 25% of the adventure is fresh material. After the defeat of bosses Kraid and Ridley (who, I should add, are taken right from Super Metroid. If you've battled the gruesome twosome before, there's no new surprises or tricks to destroying them yet again) the route to Mother Brain's headquarters in Tourian opens up. Along the way you might be tempted to take a side trip to collect some items on Crateria, a region that was not featured in Metroid but was a crucial location in Super Metroid. After the defeat of Mother Brain there's a thrilling escape sequence, after which Samus is blown out of orbit by Space Pirates. Her ship and power suit destroyed, she must sneak through the Space Pirate mothership (which will soon depart for Tallon IV and the events seen in Metroid Prime) in order to recover a backup power suit locked away in the Chozo Ruins. In this sequence of the game our heroine is armed only with a stun gun; all of her missiles and morph balls and blasters are gone. The focus of the game switches from head-on assults to stealthy sneakery, requiring Samus to slip through the mothership undetected by the Space Pirates. If she is detected then the pirates will swarm upon her and blast her to bits. If she survives to reach her new power suit, then she'll have to face another mighty boss, a unique character that will also go on to Tallon IV.

Metroid: Zero Mission is a vast improvement over Metroid Fusion in many respects. While Fusion was horribly linear in some respects, Zero Mission pretty much leaves you to explore Zebes on your own (that is, if you need to explore. This is Samus's third trip to Zebes and the place hasn't changed much. If you've been with Samus since 1986, then you know where you're going without much of a problem). Chozo statues give general pointers about where to proceed next, but there are no arbitrary barriers to prevent you from moving from region to region. Expect to do lots of backtracking, of course, as is required in any Metroid game. Nintendo has included three difficulty modes in the game, with Easy and Normal being available from the start and a Hard mode that unlocks when the Normal mode is cleared. Increased difficulty inflicts more damage on Samus and also disables certain save points. Completing the game also unlocks the original NES version of Metroid, 8-bit graphics and all. Passwords or games saves are available in this classic game, the second appearance this generation. A further unlockable secret involves linking the game pak up with Metroid Fusion to open up a gallery of character artwork. Thank goodness for all the extras, because to veteran bounty hunters this game is woefully short. If you're familar with the classic Metroid style of gameplay, then there's little new here to discover, I'm sorry to say. If you know your way around Zebes and know the secrets to defeating the bosses, then you'll blast through the entire game in around three hours.

Metroid games are something special: they don't come around very often (this is the sixth game in the series in nearly twenty years), they require hours upon hours of searching and exploring, and they provide a suspense-filled atmosphere of fright and wonder. Metroid: Zero Mission lives up to the Metroid name, and it's a great ride while it lasts. The central problem is that it's over far too quickly. The game is another portable upgrade to a classic Nintendo title, much like the Super Mario Advance series or The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past's recent Game Boy Advance appearance, but it's trying to be something more. The new material and plot points in the game aim to bring the original Metroid into line with the story elements depicted in Metroid II: The Return of Samus and beyond. Samus is vastly overpowered for the main portion of the game, almost as if she were destined to battle massive enemies that were never included in the game. Samus Aran is at her best when she's doing something worthy of her talents. Please, Nintendo, give her something to do.


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