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Isolation, fear and foreboding: how the original ‘Metroid’ turned out scarier than actual horror games

Horror games are plentiful in the gaming world, from Resident Evil to Silent Hill, it’s a fan favourite genre to be sure. But it’s only in the last few years that we’ve seen horror games back on form, with the release of Resident Evil 7 in 2017 really sparking the ‘return to terror’. Previous titles such as Resident Evil 6 and Silent Hill: Homecoming swapped a lot of the spooks for action, leaving many players underwhelmed and feeling like the genre was losing its way.

But what if I told you that there is one series out there that has consistently kept up the scares over the 36 years since it first graced our screens? Oh yeah, and it’s not even a horror game. I’m talking about Metroid, Nintendo’s answer to Alien and possibly the scariest non-horror game franchise out there. What the heck is he going on about, you ask? To understand that, you have to understand Metroid’s history first. Let’s take a look.

History of ‘Metroid’

Metroid was originally released in Japan on the Famicom—Japan’s version of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)—in 1986. Set on the planet Zebes, the story follows Samus Aran as she attempts to retrieve the parasitic Metroid organisms that were stolen by Space Pirates and their leader Mother Brain, who plans to replicate the Metroids by exposing them to beta rays and then use them as biological weapons to destroy Aran and all who oppose them.

From there, a story of galactic proportions was set into motion, with the sequel, Metroid II: Return of Samus releasing for the Gameboy in 1992, where Aran is tasked with travelling to the Metroid home world of SR388 to destroy them all, as they pose too great of a threat to the galaxy. While escaping the planet however, the hero witnesses the hatching of a baby Metroid, who imprints on her, believing Aran to be its mother. She then escapes with the baby and hands it over to the Galactic Federation for safe keeping.

In 1994, Super Metroid for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) was released and continued not long after the events of Metroid II. The research station where the baby Metroid was left is attacked by the Space Pirates and their leader, a giant pterodactyl-like monster known as Ridley, and the baby is stolen. Aran, who responded to the station’s distress signal, follows the Pirates back to their home world of Zebes and once again braves the depths of the planet to retrieve the baby Metroid.

At the stories’ culmination, Aran—who had been gravely injured by a rebuilt and more powerful Mother Brain—is saved by the baby Metroid, which sacrifices itself in order to bestow the Hyper Beam on the game’s hero, a powerful weapon that is strong enough to destroy Mother Brain once and for all. In a nail-biting escape sequence, Aran escapes the planet as it self-destructs.

It wasn’t until 2002 that we were able to witness the next instalment of Aran’s legacy. Metroid Fusion for the Gameboy Advance (GBA) was released and followed our main character, sometime after the events of Super Metroid. After being infected by an unknown organism on SR388, referred to as the X Parasites, Aran almost dies, but is saved by a vaccine made from the cells of the baby Metroid. As it turns out, the Metroids are the natural Predators of the X. She also gains the ability to absorb X Parasites, much like the Metroids.

Her infected suit parts are sent to the Biological Space Labs (BSL) for testing, but an unexplained explosion rocks the station and Aran is sent to investigate. The X are able to perfectly mimic any natural organism they infect, and due to her infected suit containing organic components, the X creates a powerful clone of Aran with all her strongest abilities known as the SA-X.

Throughout her adventure, Aran is stalked by the SA-X and it is discovered that BSL has been secretly cultivating Metroids. Our hero, not able to allow the Metroids to live, sets the station on a collision course with the nearby Metroid homeworld of SR388 and both are vaporised in the explosion, while she escapes in the nick of time.

19 years later, the fifth and final instalment of Aran’ story came out: Metroid Dread. Following the events of Metroid Fusion, the Galactic Federation receives a video showing surviving X Parasites on the planet ZDR. They send seven Extraplanetary Multitform Mobile Identifiers (EMMI) to investigate but shortly after lose contact. Aran is sent to investigate and discovers that some of the Chozo, an ancient, highly intelligent race are still alive, and that one of them, Raven Beak, wishes to resurrect the Metroids using the Metroid DNA implanted in her at the beginning of Metroid Fusion. Finally confronting Raven Beak aboard the floating fortress of Itorash, Aran’s Metroid DNA fully awakens and after defeating the villain, who becomes infected by an X Parasite, drains the life from him.

As Itorash crashes into ZDR and the planet begins to self-destruct, Aran finds herself unable to return to her ship due to her new abilities. Quiet Robe, a Chozo who is able to wield the X and aided Aran during her adventure appears and allows himself to be absorbed, quelling her Metroid abilities and allowing her to escape, thus bringing an end to her legacy.

What tricks does ‘Metroid’ employ to make it feel like a horror game?

With all the sci-fi elements present in Metroid, it’s not hard to see how it can easily utilise horror elements to its advantage. Let’s break these elements down, shall we?

Style

For a game from 1989, Metroid is absolutely dripping with style, from its fascinating environments to its detailed character designs. But it’s how it uses these elements to induce fear and a sense of isolation that is really incredible. From start to finish, the game employs a completely black background. As soon as you boot it up, the title screen is just black with only a little environment visible. Once you begin to explore, the only pops of colour you see are Aran, who is a vibrant orange, and the different terrain and enemies you encounter—but throughout your travels you will be actively destroying bits of the environment while looking for hidden items or passageways, only adding to ever encroaching blackness.

This use of colour is also the only way you can really know what part of the world you’re in, as there is no map system, really driving home that you are lost and on your own in the depths of an alien planet.

This use of, or rather lack of colour, brings about a sense of isolation and oppression. It follows you everywhere—there’s no escape from it. Additionally, all the shades used are of a darker hue, meaning when you enter an area like an item room which uses a bright grey/white colour scheme, it almost stands out like a beacon of hope. A little respite from the darkness of the rest of the game. It explains why the final area of the game, Tourian, has a similar colour scheme to the item rooms. You’re so close to the end of the game, to escaping, it’s like the light at the end of the tunnel.

Sound

Sound plays a huge part in any video game, and it’s one of the key components of creating true immersion. Metroid does this incredibly well, especially for an NES game from 1989. Its limited, 8-bit soundtrack, while simple, really adds to the creepy and foreboding atmosphere the game creates.

The title screen starts off with a rather unsettling mono bassline, which immediately lets you know that the adventure to come isn’t going to be a walk in the park. This leads into a much more upbeat theme as you start your adventure and make your first descent into the plant. It bravely sends you off on your quest and fills you with a sense of hope. Very quickly though, this optimism is replaced with an awkward, uneasy creepiness. The music in Norfair in particular, moves in such weird and unpredictable patterns that the pauses sound almost deafening and it does a very good job of putting you on edge.

Enemy sound effects have a sullen and dull moodiness to them, which directly opposes Aran’s crisp and bouncy sounds, cementing the fact that she is the hero and that she is agile and strong. One piece of music you will encounter frequently throughout the game is the item room theme, which is particularly unsettling due to its rising and falling, bumpy bassline and high-pitched melody that plays on top. For a room that, on the one hand, gives you some respite with its colour scheme, it pulls away from that with its uneasy music, letting you know that while you may be safe for now, there’s still much worse to come.

Substance

Metroid comes from an era when video games were still very hard to complete, and lives were employed as a way to keep players going as an incentive. But Metroid in particular broke the mould, and did away with lives. If you died, you died. You needed to use a password to return to vaguely where you were before. This feature, which now would seem archaic with our quick saves and auto-saves, added tremendously to the tension felt by players. One mistimed jump or missed shot from your arm cannon and it was game over, literally. You don’t even start the game at full health, and there are plenty of rooms with enemies whizzing about that could get you killed instantly, so picking your battles and the route you take was something you really had to think about.

Metroid does a really good job of providing a good selection of enemies and long, obstacle-filled corridors for you to navigate, but as mentioned earlier, don’t expect any help. Without the use of the internet to aid you, you had to rely on memory—or if you were lucky, a paper map provided in an issue of Nintendo Power, Nintendo’s gaming magazine, but those who had one of those were few and far between. You really were left on your own in a dark, alien world, and it was all up to you whether you succeeded or failed in your quest. Your only respite was the design loops and backtracks built into the game to make exploration easier. Other than that, there was nothing else that could help you.

Well, there you have it. A game all the way from 1989 where characters were only a few pixels high, 8-bit music was considered the pinnacle of gaming and one that wasn’t even created as a horror game can still leave you feeling unsettled and on edge. While there are those out there who much prefer a good gory horror game, or a spooky, spine-chilling film for that matter, the way Metroid uses colour, sound and design to create isolation, fear and foreboding is undeniable. So the next time you go to pick up the latest horror game, just think to yourself: is it scarier than Metroid?

The Arcade Vol. 2: your one-stop-shop for this week’s quirkiest gaming news

Good to see you again, fellow netizens! And if you’re new here, then let me bid you a warm welcome to the Arcade: a space for you to soak in all the quirkiness and intrigue the world of video games has to offer. Why don’t you take a seat, save your progress, and download the latest gaming news with us? Oh, and enjoy your stay while you’re at it!

1. ’Stray’, the game where you play as a cat, has taken the world by storm

Unless you’ve been living under a rock over the last week, you’d have undoubtedly come across the indie game Stray which has captured the hearts of literally every gamer out there. Set in a dystopian, cyberpunk world, you play as a cat as it tries to get back to its family after falling into the depths of a world ruled by robots.

If that’s not enough to tempt you, then take a look at this:

Modders—people who create custom content for games—have managed to change the playable ginger cat to look like their own felines and the results are far too cute. Some of these experts are even taking requests to mod your cat into the game. So if you want to go on an adventure with your own furry friend, you know what to do!

Set in a dystopian world, there are plenty of mysteries to uncover and secrets to find in Stray. But one such riddle is well on its way to being solved. While wandering around the city, you are more than likely to encounter signs or graffiti with completely illegible text, with only snippets being translated for you by B-12, your robot buddy. Stray fans, however, have taken it upon themselves to decipher this strange language—with one such Redditor, @studiotheque, having worked out a majority of it already.

According to the user, the language seen in Stray uses three different ciphers, each with their own unique alphabets. So far, they have decoded the ciphers used in the video game’s chapter titles, which is known as Cipher 1. It has one letter for each of the 26 letters in the English alphabet and an additional ‘P’ for a total of 27 unique characters. Only eight letters of Cypher 2 have been decoded to date, and for its hand-written text, Stray seems to use a completely different language altogether. This is something @studiotheque has yet to make any significant progress on.

trying to translate all the in game text…some of it makes more sense than others from stray

On a slightly different note, does anyone remember the game, Elden Ring? No? Well, that’s probably because Stray now has a higher user score rating than the former. Yep, you heard that right.

On Metacritic, both the PC and Playstation 5 (PS5) versions of Stray sport a higher user score. The PS5 version of the game has a rating of 8.8, while Elden Ring only had 8.0. Its PC score is even worse, with Stray once again clocking in at 8.8, leaving Elden Ring at a low 7.0.

It’s worth noting that Elden Ring’s PC port did have some pretty bad issues at launch which would have dragged the score down. Plus, it has far more user reviews than Stray does, but it’s still a very interesting comparison to see nonetheless.

2. ‘Elden Ring’ player overcomes PC stutter to beat Malenia after 30 hours of failing

Talking of Elden Ring, we all know by now that FromSoftware’s latest creation is a hard-as-nails game, with some of the bosses (yes, Malenia, we’re looking at you) causing many players to rage harder than ever before. But for one gamer, Redditor @Toushi138, beating Malenia, Blade of Miquella, nearly cost them their sanity.

After 30 hours of fighting Malenia trying to defeat her for the first time, my PC decided to stutter in the WORST moment possible... from Eldenring

With many players getting stuck on this optional boss, @Toushi138 was no different—but after 30 hours of trying, you’d think they would catch a break. It’s at that point they should have probably enlisted the help of legendary Elden Ring player, Let Me Solo Her. But finally, they were on a roll—Malenia had barely any health left and the end was in sight. But at that moment, disaster struck. @Toushi138’s PC stuttered, just as Malenia had jumped into the air for a powerful attack. Unable to dodge, the gamer was hit with four of Malenia’s Scarlet Rot projections (a status effect that causes you to lose health overtime) and left with what’s known as the ‘magic pixel’, a sliver of health so low that it can barely be seen.

Miraculously, they managed to keep their composure and dodge a follow-up attack and back away to heal. With that ordeal out of the way, they got the final hit in and Malenia was eventually vanquished. @Toushi138, you’re our hero.

3. UFC fighter teabags opponent like in ‘Halo’ and ‘Modern Warfare 2’

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) fighter Paddy Pimblett has been doing the rounds lately due to a post-fight speech he gave about men’s mental health. But in that same fight, just moments after winning, Pimblett performed a move known as ‘teabagging’ which has its roots in a couple of old online games.

Teabagging was originally seen in games like Halo and Call of Duty during online multiplayer matches and is performed by repeatedly crouching over a freshly-killed enemy’s head, effectively dunking your nether regions onto the opponent’s face. In the pre-fight interview, Pimblett retaliated to opponent Jordan Leavitt’s remark on how he would approach the fight by saying that he would teabag him like its Modern Warfare 2.”

Without missing a beat after defeating Leavitt, Pimblett proceeded to teabag his opponent, as seen in the video from Barstool Sports. While this act looks funny and is kind of awkward, recent reports have claimed that this kind of behaviour, even in video games, should be considered as a form of sexual assault.

4. Geralt visits McDonald’s with the help of AI

Everyone’s favourite Witcher, Geralt of Rivia, is known for his fascinating adventures throughout the video game, books and TV series. But thanks to Redditor @Ravenholic and the use of AI, they have sent the White Wolf on a brand new adventure: McDonald’s.

That’s right, folks! It seems that on his way to track down the Wild Hunt, Geralt got a bit peckish, and what better way to curb hunger than a Big Mac from the world’s most iconic fast food restaurant?

Not only has @Ravenholic sent him to McDonald’s, but the post also contains AI-generated images of Geralt at a metal concert, in a car, and at the grocery store to name  a few. Let’s be honest here, seeing the famously gruff and grumpy Witcher in such mundane settings makes for some pretty hilarious viewing.

Some Geralt related pictures generated with AI from witcher

5. Female developers at ‘League of Legends’ creator, Riot Games, disciplined for having bikini pics on personal social media accounts

Current and ex-employees at Riot Games have called out the company for allegedly disciplining female staff for having bikini pictures on their personal social media accounts and subsequently asking to delete them. It has also been stated that Riot has a policy that prevents developers from complaining about male employees “walking around in t-shirts emblazoned with bikini models.”

This information was first brought to light by @SNazerine—a software engineer on Valorant—through their personal Twitter account.

https://twitter.com/SNazerine/status/1550533671601377280

Other employees have replied to the initial tweet and seem to confirm the statement, with Twitter user @swampyhag, associate producer for gameplay on Valorant, writing: “sad but true!”

Many have also pointed out the clear hypocrisy on Riot’s part. Quite a few of the skins they have created for their female champions in titles such as League of Legends feature them in bikinis, yet they are allegedly forcing female staff to remove similar pictures from their personal accounts. Something doesn’t add up here, and once again, Riot is in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.

6. ‘Minecraft’ players once again prove they have the best imaginations in the gaming sphere

Everyone remembers sitting down on a Saturday morning to watch cartoons and singing at the top of their lungs when Spongebob Squarepants came on. Well, one particular Minecraft player—Redditor @someonewhowa—has taken their love for the show to the next level.

@someonewhowa has given the Warden, a new Minecraft enemy, the makeover treatment and recreated it to look like Squidward Tentacles, Spongebob’s grumpy, clarinet-playing neighbour and work colleague.

squidwarden from Minecraft

Not only have they captured Squidwards’s likeness extremely well, but they have paid homage to his job working at the Krusty Krab by replacing the Warden’s antlers with spatulas. A nice little detail, I have to say.

The inhabitants of Reddit continue to amaze, with user @Frost_Beer creating a hyper realistic panther in Minecraft—with a little help from additional software.

So I made a Realistic Panther {Free Download} from Minecraft

Mojang’s extremely popular sandbox IP is able to be modded with special texture packs that can be downloaded and applied to the game which change the overall look of it. Increasing the size of the construction can help alleviate the trademark angular look Minecraft is known for and make things look more rounded. Combined with ray tracing, you get epic creations like the one @Frost_Beer has made.

Moving away from the digital world and into the real one, Redditor @nobodyaskeddotc0m has created an adorable Minecraft bee—first introduced in the Buzzy Bee update in 2019—out of LEGO.

I made a Minecraft bee out of Lego this morning! (sorry I didn't know what to tag as) from Minecraft

@nobodyaskeddotc0m has nailed the details, including eye reflections which you can see if you get close to a bee in the game and the antenna placement. They have, however, opted not to add wings to the blocky critter, something that perhaps would have been more of a hassle than it was worth. All in all though, it’s a fantastic bit of creativity and shows just how good the imaginations of Minecraft players are.

7. PC gamer orders Nvidia RTX 3090 Ti from Amazon, gets sand instead

For those of you who know, graphics cards are pretty expensive at the moment. Without a decent one, however, many high end games won’t run as smoothly or at a higher graphics setting. So when TikTok user Mauricio Takeda, who goes by @MauriSousa_, saw the new Nvidia RTX 3090 Ti graphics card on Amazon during Prime Day, they had to purchase it.

Having paid the equivalent of $2,637 for the item, you can imagine their disbelief and anger when they received the product—only to find it was filled with jars of sand. Not a trace of the graphics card was in sight.

Takeda contacted customer services about the matter, and the only response they got was a link to delete their Amazon account. It wasn’t until their story made its way to the news and Takeda filed a lawsuit against the company in a small claims court that they were offered options to resolve the problem.

https://www.tiktok.com/@maurisousa_/video/7121324447608360198

8. ‘Sims 4’ update accidentally adds incest

The Sims 4 has recently received a large, free update that included curved walls, body hair and new wants and fears. Oh, and incest apparently. Sims also seem to be ageing a lot quicker too. What on earth is going on?

A bug within the new update has made the Sims harbour a new desire to have incestial relationships with family members. Players have shared images online of their Sims wanting to start relationships with their sons, twin sisters, even a daughter wanting one with her father. Yuck!

Fortunately, this bizarre occurrence was made known to the development team, as noted by @SimGuruNick on Twitter, who told fans “we are looking to get it fixed ASAP.”

This also comes after news that sexual orientation options are being added to the Sims in a free update.

9. Roblox’s ‘Oof’ sound is no more

Roblox, a game simultaneously known by many yet remains a mystery to all, has announced that it is removing its iconic ‘oof’ sound.

According to the company, the removal of the sound was majorly due to licensing issues. As of today, they have created a default sound to replace the same.

The iconic sound, which plays when one dies and the game resets, is something even non-gamers will know, having been used in countless meme compilations and as a sound effect in thousands, if not millions, of YouTube videos. As reported by Kotaku, the “oof” sound was created by former game composer and Intellivision CEO, Tommy Tallarico, and it’s not the first time Roblox has run into licensing issues around it.

It truly is the end of an era in gaming. RIP ‘Oof’. You will be sorely missed.