Super Metroid is considered one of the greatest games of all time for good reason. Not only did it introduce a huge number of concepts that remain more or less intact in the modern “Metroidvania” genre it helped spawn, it’s just a great game in and of itself.
The original Metroid feels like a rough draft for Super Metroid. The games are structurally quite different, but most of those differences exist to fix the rough edges of the original. While Super Metroid is very much an exploratory game, you are led along a fairly linear critical path from upgrade to upgrade. Your ability to progress is not based on which hidden areas you happened to stumble across, as in the NES version, but how far you’ve progressed in the basic gameplay sequence.
Super Metroid handles power-ups extremely well. Almost every one of them will open up new avenues of exploration while being useful and fun for general use as well. In addition to the traditional missiles, the game offers more powerful (and more limited) super missiles and power bombs that can turn tough tactical situations into easy wins. There are five beam types to collect, and you can activate and combine multiples of them at a time. You can even turn off the various upgrades you find at any time, if you want to experiment or just make things harder on yourself.
A large part of Super Metroid’s legacy is due to its natural affinity for speed running. The “best” ending is rewarded for finishing the game in under three hours, so the incentive to move fast is already present. It was also one of the first games to report a now-common “item collection percentage,” allowing for a universal definition of what a perfect run might be.
Super Metroid hits all the gameplay details you could want, but the game design is what keeps it being replayable several decades after release. This game just feels good. The enemies are tough but fair, the platforming is solid, and there are tons of outside-the-normal-toolkit tricks you can master to break the game wide open (or just give yourself an advantage in combat).
While it’s not why the game is so great, Super Metroid’s crowning achievement may be its ability to tell a great story with very little text. Outside of the prologue, there is no narrative text in the game, yet the game tells its story clearly with environmental cues and the like. The final areas in particular are emotionally charged and remain among the better ending sequences seen in video games.
In short, if you’ve never played Super Metroid, go out and do so. Right now! And if you have played it, play it again. It’s still as good as you remember. It may very well be the best of all time.