Tag Archives: A Theory of Fun

What Metroid teaches us

For my first blog post, I thought I’d explore our reading from A Theory of Fun as it applies to Nintendo’s groundbreaking Metroid, from 1986.

Metroid is most famous for being the first major video game with a female protagonist. Players assume they’re playing as a burly dude in manly armor until the very end of the game, when Samus removes her helmet to reveal her true nature–she’s a beautiful woman!

But the other major innovation with Metroid, and the one I’ll be addressing in this post,┬áis that it was one of the first non-linear platforming video games.

Raph Koster divides early video games into two paradigms: “get to the other side” games and “visit every location” games. Metroid combined the two. Producer Gunpei Yokoi wanted to mix the platforming of Super Mario Bros. with the exploration elements of The Legend of Zelda. While intrinsically, the goal of Metroid is to jump and shoot your way to the end of the game, multiple paths are presented to the player. Some are traversable from the beginning, and others require powerups to reach. So players, instead of only looking for the end of the “level,” must first search for said powerups to reach the end.

Before this point, platformers were seen as “go to the right of the screen, jump over obstacles, kill bad guys, win.” Metroid added another dimension, as it required *gasp* leftward movement, backtracking to reach new parts of old levels, and a higher level of critical thinking.

The Metroid series has continued to break new ground in adventure platforming, from 1994’s SNES masterpiece Super Metroid to 2002’s argument-for-games-as-art Metroid Prime on the GameCube. The gameplay style has changed other games as well, like Konami’s Castlevania series. But they’re all based on the concepts of the 1986 original: nonlinear gameplay derived from finding powerups to get to new areas.