3D adventures may come and go, but a good 2D side scroller is forever. At least that's what I thought when I first booted up Metroid Zero Mission for my Game Boy Advance. So enthralled was I with its utter playability and wonderful presentation, that I didn't notice its almost game-breaking flaw until it was far too late. And why would I? The lush, overhauled visuals, accompanied by the now-standard Metroid quality gameplay, were like digital catnip, drawing you into the action and tying you down. Never once during my time with Zero Mission did I ever shut it off in anger, frustration, or disappointment; almost until the very end. That's when I had my eyes opened, my mind cleared, and my high hopes dashed.
The thing was just too darn short.
I have to say it -- Super Metroid spoiled me. After bathing in the majesty that was the SNES' finest hour, I've come to expect good things from this franchise. I loved the Prime series to death (yes, even Echoes), and played through Fusion with an open mind and heart, but It was Zero Mission on which I pinned all my anticipation and excitement. Nintendo promised me a retelling of one the NES' all-time classics with a modern twist, and it was to appear on perhaps my favorite console of this generation. How could I not squeal with glee?
Ah, but there's the rub. All this candy goodness is supposed to have a chewy center, and mine was inexplicably missing. I beat Zero Mission in just over four hours, far too soon to feel the sugar rush that this franchise is supposed to provide. I was instead left with a slight buzz that quickly wore off, and let me tell you, the down was no fun at all. That timeless story, wrapped in those sexy cut scenes, kept me at the edge of my seat. The haunting soundtrack embraced the visuals like a protective lover, and the control was almost as intuitive as breathing. Exaggerated? I think not, for any Metroid fan worth his weight in salt knows that when done right, this series rolls as smooth as a '57 Chevy. Why then, would Nintendo not give it the length it deserves? Somewhere in heaven, Gunpei Yokoi is bowing his head in silent disappointment.
To be fair, a real attempt at innovation was made. For example, running around the Space Pirate base in my undies was fun for a while, but by the time I retrieved my beloved armor, the end was already upon me. There was so much potential here, and Nintendo R&D 1 made some great use of the GBA hardware, with awesome boss battles and a revamped level design. Instead of using the first GBA adventure as a template, they wisely decided to style Zero Mission after the SNES masterpiece (voted best game of all time by EGM, by the way). Even so, the new version suffers due to the very things we refer to as "progress." The auto map almost neuters exploration- something at the core of the very game this rendition is based upon- and adds a level of linearity that just wasn't there before. Thankfully, there's no computer telling you exactly where to go this time, but objectives and hidden items are still found far too quickly.
That's what makes me so mad about this game. I simply loved everything else, but the short length just left me wanting so much more. Another couple of hours of play would have made Zero Mission a contender for game of the year in my book, and would have truly shown how well the series has held up in the traditional 2D perspective.
So, what's a Metroid fan to do? Eat this up with a spoon and beg Nintendo for another helping, that's what. Short length and all, this is still one of the best games on the GBA, and dare I say it, of this generation. Samus Aran is still at the top of the gaming food chain, and the franchise maintains its overall level of quality. I only wish there had been more to enjoy.