Metroid: Zero Mission contains many rooms that the player must approach uniquely. This distinguishes it from the first three Metroid games: Metroid, Metroid II, and Super Metroid.
Note that this does not necessarily mean that the rooms in early Metroid games are all the same; rather, this means that they tend to play similarly. No two rooms in Super Metroid have the same layout, yet the player travels through almost all of them by running, jumping, and shooting straight ahead. Zero Mission, on the other hand, contains a number of rooms which are played distinctly as a result of their puzzles. While early Metroid games teach players to look for generic suspicious locations to investigate, Zero Mission directly confronts players with puzzles that stand out as unique from one another.
In short, this means that the rooms in Zero Mission contain character, while the rooms in the first three Metroid games are generic.
A personal note before I move on. I know that sounds bad for the first three Metroid games, but consider this: I play Metroid games because they work as one cohesive whole. These aren’t games that are divided up into stages, these are games where rooms should constantly interact with one another. To make a room unique distracts the player from the overall structure of the game’s world—and, in my opinion, this should only be done to highlight important moments. For instance, this makes boss fights all that much more important. When a game constantly draws the player’s attention away from the overall structure, the experience is dulled.
Also, this is a long one. This article is divided up into pages. Each page contains a unique idea, but all of the pages work together as a part of this article. It may be wise to take breaks between pages. (Especially since I’m told my writing is not lucid, to put it lightly.) Anyway, let’s get back to the reason you’re reading this web page thing.
Sometimes, Zero Mission will introduce a mechanism to halt Samus. This is perhaps the most obvious method of making a room distinct. Such a mechanism is a fixture of a room—it belongs to the room, not to Samus. In that sense, the room itself gains character and distinction.
This is a room within Kraid’s lair. Throughout Kraid’s lair are several tracks similar to the one boxed in yellow here. Samus must travel across them in order to access all of Kraid’s lair, including Kraid himself. In order to travel across them, though, Samus must first locate this individual room. Here, the player must activate the slot circled in red by dropping into it as a morph ball. Samus does not gain any ability herself for doing this; she cannot travel across the ceiling everywhere, but rather, only along the blue and purple tracks in Kraid’s lair.
This highlights two aspects of Zero Mission’s unique room design.
First, the ceiling tracks themselves speak to the way in which mechanisms can characterize a room. They are 1.) a unique method of transportation and 2.) a fixture of certain rooms in Kraid’s lair. They are external to Samus, meaning they characterize the rooms. Also, they are unique to certain rooms of Kraid’s lair, making those rooms distinct amongst others.
Second, the slot circled in red speaks to the way in which puzzles characterize a room. This slot is a fixture of this room alone, making this room distinct. The slot also halts Samus; until it is activated, Samus cannot proceed. The player will have to carry out the solution to this puzzle in order to proceed. The solution to this puzzle is local to this device, and by extension, this room.
(The solution to the puzzle is simple: drop into the slot as a morph ball. Solutions to other puzzles in Metroid: Zero Mission tend to be similarly simple, and the same goes for puzzles in the Metroid Prime games and Other M. But that’s a matter for another time.)
In a sense, this is similar to the Grapple Beam from Super Metroid. The Grapple Beam is only truly useful if grapple points are present; otherwise, the Grapple Beam serves only as a weak weapon. This is comparable to the fact that Samus can only travel along certain ceilings in Kraid’s lair—in specific, those ceilings which contain the blue-and-purple tracks. However, the Grapple Beam is not entirely similar, since it is a weapon that Samus can use at any time, even if it is a weak one. Also, it provides an alternate way of killing Draygon, regardless of grapple points. At the very least, the Grapple Beam is in Samus’ arsenal, while the ceiling tracks are a fixture in Kraid’s lair.
Compared to Zero Mission, the original three Metroid titles do not have a strong focus on individual rooms. Consider the room pictured above; a comparable room in any of the three original games would have had no operable mechanism external to Samus. Rather, in the original three Metroid titles, there are only static barriers: different doors, blocks, and gates which may be opened or destroyed with an appropriate weapon or ability. Most of the time, these abilities are local to Samus; on rare occasions, though, in Super Metroid, a static door may only be opened after clearing an arbitrary event. For instance, the door leading to the Plasma Beam may only be opened once Draygon has been defeated, regardless of what items Samus may possess.
Samus interacts with the ceiling tracks of Kraid’s lair in a unique way; she grabs on and is shuttled across the track to the other side. This is different from the static barriers of the first three Metroid games; as static barriers, they are either present or not present. Samus never uses a device external to herself to progress forward; if something is in her way, she either destroys it or uses her own abilities to bypass it.
There are a few exceptions to this found in Super Metroid. For instance, Samus can activate some Chozo statues by resting in their hands in morph ball mode.
This is not to say Samus always relies on external mechanisms to make progress in Zero Mission. The game also contains a number of obstacles which would fit in any of the first three Metroid games. For instance, the ice beam allows the player to exit Zero Mission’s Norfair just as it allowed the player to move upward in Super Metroid’s red Brinstar. Similar moments can be found in the upper east corner of Metroid’s Brinstar, as well as in Metroid II.
However, the mechanisms work to make all rooms distinct. First, the mechanisms add character to the rooms they inhabit; the mechanisms belong to the room, not to Samus. Second, the mechanisms are distinct from one another; there are various devices that Samus must operate in Zero Mission, and these devices distinguish themselves from one another. Third, the rooms with mechanisms are distinguished from the rooms without mechanisms; both kinds of rooms become distinct in their opposition with one another.