Hello and welcome back to P-Vock's Music Box. We kicked off the spooky month with the first franchise that comes to mind whenever I think of this time of year. So, it is fitting that I now feel like covering the next series that comes to mind, that is intrinsically linked to Castlevania.
Castlevania Symphony of the Night helped popularize the Metroidvania genre (2D platforming action games with a focus on exploration and often, environmental storytelling) when it took the series from linear level-based games to an open zone that the player explores at their leisure. It accomplished this by ripping off Metroid.
So, I think it's high time we show some love to Metroid.
Warm up the gunship, get your Varia Suit on, and let's journey to a terrifyingly lonely planet.
Within the constraints of the NES console, Metroid managed to deliver an unmatched sense of dread and isolation the second you turn the game on. That droning hum. Those sporadic and initially random seeming notes. The sudden shift after 30 seconds to a more melodic piece. It all combines to create an unmatched level of loneliness and isolation that no other game on the console could ever hope to achieve.
After a couple of hours, Metroid games transform from lonely experiences where you fear every enemy's ability to ruin your day, to power fantasies where you blast away alien scum with confidence and vigor. The way this theme gradually increases its pitch absolutely foreshadows this kind of journey, and that is why this theme has stood the test of time and been remixed and alluded to countless times over the decades since Samus first landed on Zebes.
The player may not feel confident, but Samus sure as shit does. The intergalactic bounty hunter knows no fear, never wavers, and shows no mercy. With a bass line that almost mimics a 4/4 military cadence, Brinstar's theme evokes an aggressive sense of self-assuredness immediately. That backing may give the player some confidence, but what comes next shoots them in the face with it.
That melody is one of the most iconic beats in all of gaming for a reason. It comes in by slamming open the door with enough force to knock it off its hinges. Those high-pitched notes are instantly memorable, infectiously catchy, and set the player's mind at ease if the menu theme gives them a bit of uneasiness. A perfect way to make the intro gameplay sequence memorable and fun.
That being said, this is still an alien world in which everything wants Samus dead.
Ah, Kraid. Probably the second most iconic baddie from the series, next to ole Xenomorph-wannabe Ridley.
When you reach his lair, you're greeted with what sounds like a cursed waltz that quickly transitions into a downright ominous string of repetitious notes that almost mimics the heartbeat of any kid hearing this for the first time with no idea what was coming.
Good music in video games often delivers a message to the player, and the message of Kraid's theme is just "whatever lies behind this door is going to destroy you, kid."
There is no reason the NES should be able to deliver such an atmospheric piece of music, but composer Hirokazu Tanaka laughs in the face of sound limitations.
Metroid is certainly a game that has not aged the best. But, for every wonky design decision, frustrating enemy placement, or annoyingly designed platforming challenge, there lies a beat that transcends the console from which it came and remains as incredible over 30 years later. Despite a limited soundfont and very few actual options to work with, Tanaka managed to create an absolutely phenomenal piece that helped catapult Metroid into the beloved series it is today.
Metroid is absolutely incredible and I cannot recommend it enough if you've got an afternoon to kill.
Just, get a walkthrough so it takes you like an hour to finish and not a whole day.
Thanks so much, as always, for checking out my content and I hope to catch you back here next time with another suggestion from my Music Box.
PS. You know I had to give a remix of that title theme.