I happened to miss the Nintendo World Championships on the day they were streamed, which, at the time, was a disappointment. I knew I’d get another chance to check them out though, so the other day while I was waiting between E3 conferences, I fired up the recap video on YouTube and let it rip. It’s an interesting little competition really, set up with contestant eliminations, loser’s brackets, and all sorts of challenges in order to determine who out there is indeed the NINTENDO WORLD CHAMPION!
The basic set-up was as follows:
All 16 people compete in the first round (which happened to be Splatoon, in which I hear you can be a kid OR a squid), and the 4 people who do the worst were sent to the ‘Underground’ (loser’s bracket). The 4 Underground-dwellers went head to head in a timed challenge. These were generally retro-themed, and only the contestant that came out on top could progress to the next underground competition. The people still alive in the Winner’s bracket continued along, and the winner of the underground competitions overall (there were 3 of them) was allowed to return in the very final event, a showdown between two gamers.
I believe a very large mistake was committed in the underground challenges, and I freely admit that it may be because I am completely and totally biased towards one of the games that appeared in that scenario: Super Metroid.
Metroid is my favourite franchise, and Super Metroid is my absolute favourite game. I loved it when I first played it as a kid, with its dark, brooding atmosphere and dense sci-fi setting. I loved the crazy enemy variety and the epic boss battles, and I absolutely adored the soundtrack. Still, to this day, I love everything about that damn game, and as far as I’m concerned, no other side-scrolling adventure game has topped it.
So, you can bet your ass that my eyes lit up and I had a huge grin on my face when they announced that Super Metroid would be the second Underground challenge title. ‘I wonder what they’ll get the contestants to do?’, I thought to myself. ‘Maybe they’ll have to escape Ceres station as fast as they can, and whoever is the quickest will move on to the next round! OR, maybe instead of that, they’ll have to beat Kraid as fast as possible!’ In a game as expansive and intricate as Super Metroid, it’s admittedly pretty tough to choose a distinct ‘race-track’ for a bunch of people to compete head-to-head for a time score, but there are certainly some options I can think of off the top of my head.
Those damn idiots picked the stupidest part of the game to have contestants play through: the very fucking end.
On Super Metroid’s Story
I’m gonna do something Nintendo DIDN’T DO and warn you that there will be SPOILERS FROM HERE ON IN. Unless you’ve played through Super Metroid or just don’t care about spoilers, I’d advise against going any further.
Super Metroid is an incredibly impactful game for a number of reasons. It makes you use your head and really think about where you need to be going next. You have to remember where yellow doors are, and figure out that Power Bombs are what you need to open them. You need to be able to observe the environment for, in some cases, the tiniest visual cues to discover a lot of hidden passages to make significant progress throughout your space pirate genocide on Zebes. It’s a game where you take in what happens around you, as the only direct exposure to story you receive is a monologue by Samus Aran at the beginning of the game. After that, you’re on your own, and you have to piece things together yourself.
As you make your way through Zebes, you encounter little tidbits of story exposure through the environment, and rather than having it thrown in your face in some dialogue box or something similar, you experience it yourself. This story experience is one of the reasons why the finale of the game is so heavy the first time you play through it.
At the beginning of the game, Samus brings a baby Metroid (which is now quite well known as TEH BABEH thanks to Metroid: Other M) to the Ceres space colony from SR388, the Metroid homeworld, after eradicating the rest of the species. This hatchling emerged right before her eyes, and bonded with her as if she was its parental figure, even though she looks, and likely smells, nothing like a big fatass Queen Metroid.
Soon after she leaves the station, Ceres is raided by the nefariously badass space pirate leader, Ridley. He steals the Metroid hatchling and makes his way back to Zebes; Samus follows him to the planet and sets out to find the young Metroid. That is the LAST you see of the Metroid until you actually fight Ridley in Lower Norfair, which is roughly 90% of the way through the game. In the room just after what is widely considered the toughest encounter in the game, you find a cracked container which previously housed the Metroid hatchling. Where the heck did it go?
After some sleuthing, you find the entrance to Tourian, marked by a giant statue comprised of all four of the game’s main bosses. Once you’ve laid waste to each of them, the entrance to the final area opens up, and then you get to see Metroids in spades, flying all over Tourian and controlled by the evil Mother Brain. On the way to perform what may be the biggest lobotomy in galactic history, Samus finds some of the most haunting rooms in the game. Enemies in these rooms are frozen still and brown, crumbling into dust when they’re shot or even touched by Samus’ toe. The plantlife and walls are completely barren and grim. The only few enemies that show movement are gigantic Sidehoppers, and as you move through one particularly long room, you see one of these creatures coming towards you.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, a GIANT FUCKING METROID shows up and sucks the life out of the Sidehopper you were just getting ready to deal with yourself, turning it into a dried up pile of ash…and then it attacks you. You can’t do anything at this point except run around, jump feebly, and watch your health drain, and that’s one of the best parts of this entire game. You still have control over Samus; Super Metroid hasn’t taken the controller out of your hand and given you a shitload of dialogue or a cutscene to explain things to you. This is just happening, and you’re panicking like mad the first time you experience it.
Suddenly, it stops. The music goes completely quiet, and the Metroid lifts off of Samus, leaving her with 1 unit of energy. You think to yourself ‘What the FUCK?!’ Then the Metroid makes adorable apologetic noises, floats around a little bit, and Samus (brought to her knees because hey, her very life essence was rapidly being drained from her body) gets back on her feet. The Metroid flies off, and it hits you that that was the Metroid Samus saved from SR388, all grown up into the titular Super Metroid. That’s the entire reason you’re exploring this planet.
Onward you march, finding a very lovely energy refill station, a save point, and finally the filthy bitch herself, Mother Brain. You start taking her down by firing missiles at her life support tank, and then pumping them into her dirty brain folds, and she blows up. It feels pretty damn good seeing her lifeless head (which I guess is just…her) fall to the ground! At least, until a monstrous body resembling a tyrannosaur comes out of the ground underneath her, and the real battle begins. Lasers and missiles fly all over the place, and eventually after you deal enough damage to her, Mother Brain unleashes her ace in the hole: the Hyper Beam. This attack pins Samus against the wall and takes huge chunks of her energy away, and as long as you’re not within around 2 energy tanks remaining, you can still get up and fight…but she’ll just keep hammering you with the same attack over and over until Samus is, once again, severely weakened and immobile.
Mother Brain roars a weird brain roar, clearly pretty pleased with herself, and then gets ready to finish you off with a final beam…until the Metroid hatchling rushes in and takes the hit for you, sucking out all of Mother Brain’s life energy AND simultaneously absorbing the energy from the weapon. Once the bitch is a grey, stinking heap crumpled in the corner, the Metroid attaches to you and refills all your energy…but Mother Brain isn’t finished yet, and is also pretty pissed off that she didn’t get to murder you. She starts blasting your Metroid friend, and after the Metroid lifts off of Samus and goes back for a second attack…it’s shot down by Mother Brain. The screen goes black as the Metroid announces its final squee, and it explodes, slowly falling towards the ground.
Your best friend on this planet is now dead.
The rest of the battle plays out pretty quickly, as Samus uses the transferred Hyper Beam to completely obliterate Mother Brain and then escape the condemned planet before a 3-minute time bomb turns it into space dust.
(Don’t forget to save the animals.)
Why the NWCs are Stupid
Back to the actual Nintendo World Championships. The contestants began directly in front of Mother Brain’s life support tank, and they were tasked with killing her and escaping the planet. Whoever managed to do this the fastest would win and progress to the next round, while the rest of the participating contestants stuck in the Underground would be eliminated. Some of them start trying to take her down with beams, at which point it’s clear that some of these contestants hadn’t played the game before, which is understandable because all of the chosen events had not been previously revealed. They all witness the Metroid hatchling come in and save Samus’ life, but there’s no damn context. Three out of 5 people on stage have no idea what’s going on, and I imagine that ratio could be extrapolated into the audience members as well.
What ticks me off about this set up is that a lot of people, all at once, were potentially unknowingly being robbed of that story experience that is so prevalent at the end of Super Metroid. They hadn’t played through the game and understood WHY a giant Metroid was coming in to save your ass in the final battle, or why it’s so damn important to Samus to begin with. They’re not legitimately angry at the final boss for destroying your weird pseudo-family member. For a game that really doesn’t say much, the organizers of the Nintendo World Championships happened to pick the exact area of the game where everything comes together in one gigantic, well-crafted finale. I understand the appeal in having it, since it’s an epic and tense conclusion and a great way to build hype in those observing the contest, but it irritated me that an auditorium full of people (plus those watching online, although they had more control over their exposure) were potentially denied their first experience with an amazing moment in 16-bit history that I believe you really have to play yourself to appreciate to its fullest.
Anyone in direct attendance of the NWCs who had never played Super Metroid would now never have the same feeling you’re SUPPOSED to have when you reach its epic, haunting conclusion. Yeah, they may play through the game for their first time now that they’ve seen how fucking cool it is, but it will never have the impact it should have.
Yes, I realize that Super Metroid is now over 20 years old, and that maybe to some it’s not spoiler material anymore. I understand that people speed run Super Metroid all the time, but if you seek out a Super Metroid speed run, that’s completely on you. All I’m saying is that rather than pick a less important point in the game, Nintendo chose to expose thousands of people to the intense climax of one of the best games ever created that, sadly, many people in this day and age have not gotten to play. To me, that’s a bit of a travesty.