Favorite Video Game Soundtracks Pt. 2: The Metroids

Nintendo’s popular, and long-running video game series, Metroid, is well-known for many things. Gameplay is certainly not a place where many, if any, entries in the series falter. The graphics, despite being a Nintendo game, are often impressive as well. In fact, most Metroid Prime games look decent for today’s gaming world, but were made as much as 20 years ago. But most of all, for me, the soundtracks are where most of the games separate themselves from others; as they combine with each of these previously-mentioned elements so effectively, to create amazing and unique environments for you to explore.

Throughout the collection of Metroid games, you play as Samus, an intergalactic bounty hunter. Whether it’s first person, side-scrolling, 2D or 3D; you’re dropped into her shoes, alone, on a variety of different planets, space-stations, etc. One of the big, and central themes of all of these games is the pure isolation you feel, as Samus. Being a bounty hunter, she ends up exploring an endless number of habitats, often without any help in the form of navigation. Because of this; you’re left without contact or dialogue from other characters for a majority of the time you’re playing these games. It’s not simply like Zelda, where your character rarely speaks; but in this case, Samus is rarely spoken to as well.

While Metroid is not the only series of games to feature this complete dissociation, it deals with it in one of the best ways. Although void of any vocal help from the main character, the emotions and feelings are brought through the help of the amazing atmosphere, created mostly through sound, as well as visuals. The different environments always have distinct and immersive themes, to help put you inside of the game and experience what Samus does. Each moment is filled with intense emotion; whether that’s confidence to fight this epic boss, or an unsettling, eeriness as to what is hiding behind the next door. Because of the influences drawn from Ridley Scott and Alien, the latter of those two is often the case. But no matter the situation, there’s never really a dull moment for Samus or her pilot.

So with all of that being said; here are my three favorite Metroid games, and their soundtracks: starting with everyone’s favorite, Super Metroid, and going forward to the much different, Metroid Primes. Each has their own unique set of tracks, and reasons for being good; and here are my opinions on those said tracks.

Super Metroid

Super Metroid is the 3rd game in the Metroid series, released for the SNES in 1994; 3 years after its predecessor, Metroid II: Return of Samus. It being made much later than the first two, meant it had significant jumps in technology, and therefore quality. One of these jumps was the ability to create 16-bit music, rather than 8, making it way more flexible sonicly. Not only that, but the soundtrack is about 4 or 5 times longer than the first’s; both due to the increased length of the game, and also the larger capacity to store memory. It’s easy to tell these technical advancements right off the bat, if you’ve heard anything from the previous games. There’s more layering within each track, and it sounds much crisper, as each individual piece splits itself from the others in a more clean manner. Before, the songs were kind of fuzzy, and melded together, but with the SNES, it was much easier to create actual separation for each individual part of each track. I believe it to be the first truly great Metroid Soundtrack.

While the technology added to the potential of the soundtrack, they still played heavily off of what was given to them. There was a new composer this time, but he tried to stay true to past themes, and expand into newer ones; something that has continued to happen through the creation of several Metroid games. For example, the item acquisition theme is the same, and similar little melodies were recreated from the previous installments. But, while there were these references from the past, a solid 95% of the tracks were entirely original. Despite reusing a couple of areas from Metroid, like Brinstar and Norfair, the themes were different this time; and of course, much more complex. And although it kept the already-established intensity, you’ll find that Super Metroid is definitely much more eerie, and reminiscent of those old-school horror movies, than anything before it.

So let’s get to that, then: the eeriness. If you were to grab your SNES right now, and pop in a Super Metroid cartridge, the first thing you’d hear is the soft, creepy blips of a computer monitor, followed by high-pitched strings, and loads of static. I personally can’t think of a more immediately-unsettling title theme. And this, of course, goes on for quite a while. The first environment you’re hit with is a desolate space station; that was just mauled by a group of Space Pirates. So naturally, a lot of what you hear is simple white noise; present, but not easily noticeable. Then, after your encounter with Ridley, and your landing on the planet Zebes, the Crateria theme; being the first of many overworld themes; is mostly just the passive sound of rain, and thunder, backed by some almost-ethereal hums. Once you get out of said rain, there is no change to anything; still maintaining those sinister howls in the background. In fact, you don’t quite get a break from the endless, disturbing themes, until you hit the second area, Brinstar, and are given a much more upbeat, jungley theme for a bit, before immediately delving back into the unnerving.

There is, however, an escape from this; where many of the themes are not quite as anxiety-inducing. And before analyzing this soundtrack to write about it, I had never quite noticed this. Before I talk about it though, there is another theme that all Metroid games share; and that’s the growing level of progress you feel throughout it. Starting off with almost nothing, you will slowly get more and more upgrades, making you more capable of going into other areas, and coming back to places you previously couldn’t access. And in this soundtrack, you can actually almost hear those themes as well. While the majority of the tracks in the first half of the game are more subtle, and curious, they pick up the further you get into the game, into more grandiose and confident ballads; less scary than before. And although some themes in places like Maridia still maintain this unknown quality, it’s easy to tell that they’re aware you feel stronger, and therefore may not be as scared as before. So as your strength increases, and you fears decrease, they play off of that, feeding into those emotions to make it less perplexing, and more intense.

Another strength that Metroid often has, and especially in this soundtrack, is its creation of urgency when you need it. There are a couple of instances where you need to escape from an area quickly; whether there’s a space station exploding, or just lava dealing significant damage over time. In each of these instances, the pace picks up, and you know you’re in danger, without even having to look at the screen. This can be seen in “Evacuate Immediately!,” whose song title should probably already give you a good idea of what it sounds like.

Overall, as said before, this is probably the first great Metroid soundtrack. Mostly due to the new tech, it uses its newly-found abilities the best it can; and creates a masterpiece. Heavy in ambiance, like other Metroid soundtracks, Super Metroid is able to constantly make you think, whether you’re conscious of it or not. And you’re always on your toes because of it. You might randomly realize after a playthrough of this, that your legs are sore from being tight in anxiety. But like in most horror movies; that probably just means it was a high quality product. This isn’t the best soundtrack of these three, but the other two would not even be close to existing without this one coming first.

Favorite Track(s): : “Title Theme,” “Crateria Theme (Exterior),” “Brinstar (Underground Depths),” “Ridley’s Hideout/Lower Norfair,” “Mother Brain”

Metroid Prime

Once again, there was a large gap between this and the last game; having 8 years span between Super Metroid, and Metroid Prime. Only this time, the tech advancements were even larger than previous, in my opinion. From 16-bit themes, to full-on electronic and orchestral epics, the jump made was enormous. However, that’s just about all there is in difference between the two. I’ll explain more later, but Metroid Prime reminds me of Super Metroid, only significantly higher quality in most, if not all ways. The ways they mirror each other are endless, and while I’m not saying this game isn’t unique; because it is; it’s very similar to the way A New Hope played the baseline for The Force Awakens (only this time, the predecessor isn’t as good).

To start off, when I said that I couldn’t think of a more unsettling theme than Super Metroid‘s, I was lying… Metroid Prime might take the cake. Because the gamecube basically let Kenji Yamamoto (same composer as before this time) do whatever he wanted, and create any sound; rather than a simple blip from a computer; this title theme begins with abstract, electronic sounds that burrow their way into your brain. Those, combined with the spooky synth-like chords, makes it immediately foreboding; and when you add on the deep drum beats, it becomes chilling.

The callbacks continue, with once again, the start being on a destroyed space station; recently mauled by pirates. There’s a bit more to it than white noise this time, but the echoey, subtle waves of sound are some of the more toned down of all of the themes. And surprise; Ridley shows up and you have to evacuate! Sound familiar? Past that, once you land on the planet, you find yourself in yet another rainy overworld! It’s almost as if they stole the first 15-20 minutes of Super Metroid to begin this game.

Anyways, back to the music itself. And while there are a lot of similarities between this game and the last, there are also a crap ton of differences that make Metroid Prime incredibly amazing in its own right. Firstly, as I mentioned earlier, Yamamoto was able to do just about whatever he pleased, so he did. And the result is stunning. The amount of different tools utilized in these tracks is astounding. From rock drumming, to religious chanting, to never-ending, abstract and distorted noises, he made an incredibly dynamic piece of art with each individual song. This allows each track to be even more special; including those that feature remixes of past tracks, which really just sound like evolved versions of their predecessors.

Secondly; while it took and maintained themes from past games, it approached them much differently. Rather than making the first part of the game incredibly creepy, but slowly progress to make it less-so, it had a bit of a balance everywhere. Most themes start off with an ambient theme, as an intro. In said ambient theme, it establishes the feel of the environment, and also adds a bit of curiosity to it as well; making each new entrance semi-unsettling to begin. However, the more grand songs find themselves all throughout the tracklist, and not just towards the back half of the game. This, to me, brings out all of these feelings in each and every part of the game, rather than changing the mood half way through. This isn’t necessarily a better thing, objectively, but I think I prefer it, as it allows for some wonder to be had, even towards the end. And epic boss fights are always fun, so having one towards the start of the game brings out that enjoyment much earlier on. In fact, minor bosses and Space Pirates have pretty alarming themes, which just means each few hours you get a bit of that urgent burst once again; whereas before, they were more concentrated toward the beginning and end.

Finally, there are simply more tracks, once again. The game became longer, and so did the soundtrack; as the unique environments probably doubled, giving us a more well-rounded experience altogether. Places like Phendrana Drifts give us a much different look, and sound, as Magmoor Caverns, or Chozo Ruins.

Overall, the Metroid Prime OST is filled with amazing music. Calling back to the previous games, it features old themes in places such as Magmoor Caverns, but continues to evolve them with better instrumentals, better production, and just more uniqueness. Playing off of the themes and environments from Super Metroid, it simply evolves the sound that stuck with the series from the beginning, consistently making everything better. On top of that, it’s hard to describe, but the different electronic work that Yamamoto did makes it, I would say, one of the more special and distinct soundtracks ever; but especially from that time period.

Favorite Track(s): “Title Theme,” “Tallon Overworld Main Theme,” “Magmoor Caverns Main Theme,” “Sunken Frigate Main Theme”

Metroid Prime 2: Echoes

As it’s the first, and one of the only, quickly-produced Metroid sequels, Metroid Prime II: Echoes is the first of the soundtracks mentioned to not have an incredible tech upgrade. This makes it less unique in terms of comparing it to its prequel, however easier to compare, because they’re working on a somewhat-even playing field.

The second in the Prime series definitely took its own approach at things, from both a design and compositional standpoint. First, it is the only Metroid game to feature the dark world/dark Aether; which, if you’ve seen Stranger Things, is basically just the upside down, but before it was cool. It is also by far the most original soundtrack of the ones mentioned here, and maybe of all Metroid games. The others are all very original, for the most part, but I find Echoes to have the least amount of references to old themes. There are a few here and there, and Yamamoto once again composed for this game, so he pays homage to some past works, but it’s much less relevant as it is in other games. This, I think, means it’s less recognizable and Metroid-esque; but it certainly still evidently belongs in the series, and in many ways it makes it more impressive this way.

Now, generally speaking, Echoes is very very similar to the first Prime game, in that it uses very similar tools (if not the exact same), so the instrumentals are incredibly relatable to each other. And, as said with every other game, it continues a lot of the same themes and feelings over from everything that came before it. It’s still creepy, still intense, and it does this all without much help from any outside source. Also, it’s once again spread out in its different aesthetics, and isn’t like Super Metroid in that way, but more like Prime.

Where it differs (besides all of the overworld and room themes being different, of course) is mainly just due to the one large gameplay difference: dark Aether. Because there exists a dark version of most habitats within the game, there are almost two versions of the same track multiple times. The dark one; perhaps, counter-intuitively; being much more subtle, and echoey, as if you’re in some sort of void. Now, from an outside perspective, looking at it just while listening to the tracklist, it makes the soundtrack seem a little bloated, because it adds on extra ones that are simply less interesting. But they do often make for good ambiance, and within the game itself, they’re a really nice contrast that’s very effective in creating an unnerving silence that pairs well aesthetically.

Despite being more original, and featuring an interesting idea in the form of dark themes, I personally don’t find it quite as enjoyable as the first Metroid Prime, although it’s just as high quality. I don’t know if it’s because I spent more time in the first Prime (which I don’t even know if that’s true, but…) or if it’s due to the lack of familiar melodies, but I would put it slightly below the one it followed. I think part of it might be due to the slight lack of more individual, and different themes. Besides Torvus Bog and Sanctuary Fortress, I feel like a lot of areas don’t have a well-established sound to go along with the visuals in the game, so a lot of the tracks cloud together. Whereas in Prime I, there are definite aesthetics that go with places like Phendrana Drifts. Because of this, I may not even put Echoes above Super Metroid; however, it’s still fantastic nonetheless.

Favorite Track(s): “Title Theme,” “Torvus Bog Subterranean Theme,” “Sanctuary Fortress”

Final Thoughts

Metroid is one of the few game series that has it all. And while the soundtracks don’t “carry” it, they do a fantastic job of accompanying the other wonderful parts of the games. The worlds they create are bewildering; causing endless curiosity, and maybe just a bit of anxiety, always forcing you to wonder what’s coming next. Starting with Super Metroid, and continuing with each advancement in technology, the soundtracks get arguably better and better (at least through the Prime series), showing it’s not just a one or two game fluke, from the same composer; but a trend throughout. Without this consistent success, compositionally, I don’t think the games would have the same emotional effect, and ambiance; which both make them so legendary. The lack of dialogue means there’s a need for world-building elsewhere, and it picks this up and runs with it. And while they are very similar, each game comes with its own unique feel, and set of tracks.

While I’m slightly biased due to my long history with the game series, I would recommend anyone take a listen to some of these tracks, at the very least as some decent background music while studying or something. It might not have the exact same effect without the context of the game, but they’re still some pretty good experiences.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s