Sunday, January 27, 2008

Zelda vs Metroid vs Contra

A friend of mine asked me very politely to do a post on my blog. His first two topics were things that I'm just not inspired to write about and similarly am not really inspired to play their games (except maybe a brief rant on how can New York suck so much in Double Dribble). But the third is definitely deserving of a topic:

What is your favorite between Metroid, Zelda and Contra? And why.

This is a great question. Especially because the answer changes depending on exactly how you look at the question.

All three of the original games are great and all made my list of Top 50 NES games when I made it way back when. That list would change now. Contra might move ahead of Zelda or it might not. You see, if the question were which of these games (NES originals) has the best memories for me, the answer is hands down, Zelda. I received Zelda with my NES for Hanukah of 1987 and that game was my world for many months and filled me with such joy and excitement. I played Contra at a friend's house and enjoyed it, but didn't actually own it for myself and play it through until 1997. Metroid I played a few times at friends houses, but didn't actually own that cartridge until 2002. So of the three original games, Zelda has my favorite memories.

If, though, the question is which of the original games is my favorite to play, then the answer is easily Contra (I'm talking about the NES games here as the Contra arcade game wasn't as good). Contra is the game of the three that has aged the best and is still a lot of fun to play today.

Metroid and Zelda were both revolutionary when they were released. Indeed, they both pioneered open-ended exploration and tantalizing glimpses of areas inaccessible without possession of the proper equipment. But they both have what, by today's standards, would be considered horrible design flaws. Metroid has a huge, open world that is easy to get lost in. Games back then did have automaps so this is somewhat forgivable. But unlike Zelda which also didn't automap the overworld (and did automap the dungeons and come with a mostly complete map in the box), the rooms and corridors weren't on an exact grid so mapping the game with graph paper or the like was and is extremely tedious. Of course, today you can just get a map off the internet, but that takes away from the exploration aspect of the game. Another flaw both the original Metroid and Zelda share is that they have no easy way to end the game and save your progress without dying (Zelda did have an undocumented way to do this, but it was roughly equivalent to dying except it didn't increase your death count). Unfortunately, when you died in Metroid you started back at the beginning with very low health and low missiles. Since there was no easy way to recharge these, you had to waste a lot of time not only backtracking, but also getting your health and items back to their correct status. In Zelda, this problem was mitigated by only having to restart at the beginning of dungeons when you died and by having less total health and enemies more generously dropping it. Zelda did suffer more from one problem than Metroid did: having to bomb random areas. Bombs were a limited resource in Zelda and many vital resources were located behind rocks that needed bombing. There were no clues as to where these bombable areas were so a player would have to randomly bomb places and then restock their bombs and then try again. Burnable areas were almost as bad if all a player had was the blue candle.

Contra, being in some regards a simpler game than either of the above, doesn't possess such flaws. It wasn't really revolutionary. There were certainly other platformers were you ran, jumped, and shot at things. But none were quite as polished as Contra (including its sequel). It is difficult, but features few cheap deaths and can be beaten without memorization. It is amazing that few run and guns even through to today have matched its balance. The fact that two players can play simultaneously makes it even better.

Okay, so question answered right? Well, the wording is kind of vague so maybe he means which is my favorite series of Zelda, Metroid, or Contra?

Well, Metroid is the series that has my favorite game to play of all the games in those three series: Super Metroid. Despite coming out on the SNES in 1993, the game holds up today as being nearly perfect. And that's not hyperbole as I only played it for the first time last year. Super Metroid gets free form exploration with new areas begging to be explored when you acquire a new item absolutely correct. It takes place in a world that seems natural and organic. It gives you a map and save points, but doesn't hold you by the hand instead gently nudging you in the right direction with level design. It's an amazing game and I would recommend it to everyone.

The other series have had great games. The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening is my favorite in the series and there is a lot to recommend in Link to the Past as well. And I haven't even played any of the 3D Zeldas and I know many hold up Ocarina of Time to be one of the best games ever (of course they also tend to be at least five years younger than me). I'll get around to trying Ocarina at some point, but I highly doubt it can usurp Super Metroid. As to the Contra series, the first three games were all very good, but the original is probably still the best (granted, I haven't tried the recently released Contra 4) and I know it doesn't reach Super Metroid's level.

Finally, the question could be asking which series overall is my favorite?

There my answer once again goes to Zelda. With the exception of the CD-i games, every Zelda game has been good - at least at the time of its release. The first two Zeldas may not hold up, but every 2D Zelda since then has and Zelda made the transition to 3D very well. The series has always oozed quality and has what is probably the most quality and the most average quality of any series.

Metroid comes close to the Zelda series as all of its games are good except Metroid II which I think is only above average (though some think much less of it). Super Metroid is probably one of the best games of all time, but the original Metroid doesn't hold up, Metroid II barely does, and Fusion is fun, but flawed. Zero Mission is a great remake of the original game that is worth playing, but is also "merely" good. I have no experience with the 3D Metroids. All of them are supposed to be good, but not amazing and so while the Zelda series probably averages out to very good, the Metroid series only averages out to good.

The Contra series had three good to very good games and then unfortunately the PlayStation Contras came along which were awful. The PS2 Contras were good, though Shattered Soldier was ridiculously difficult and Neo Contra didn't feel like a Contra game. Contra 4 is by all accounts very good, but that still puts Contra at a notch below the other series.

So there you go, a very long-winded explanation of which among Zelda, Contra, and Metroid is my favorite and why.


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viagra online said...

Since my favorite kind of video games is RPG, of course that for me, the winner is Zelda, however, contra and Metroid are also superb games.