Next Generation has an article up this week asking the immortal question "Can games make you cry?", as in can a video game elicit an emotional response during gameplay. The pivotal moment of Final Fantasy VII is cited in the article as one of gaming's most emotional moments, but I still remember the first game that made me cry. Well, made me shed a single tear stoically, 'cause I'm a man and am tough like that. 1994's Super Metroid for the Super NES is the tearjerker in question.
Some of you out there are laughing at me right now, but I bet that even more of you are nodding your heads in agreement before I even tell the story. As you'll recall, Super Metroid puts bounty hunter Samus Aran on the surface of Planet Zebes yet again as she explores the planet in order to recover the last surviving metroid before Mother Brain and the Space Pirates can exploit it for their own uses. The baby metroid hatching is kidnapped during the game's opening sequence and then the plot turns to facing Mother Brain.
Super Metroid was my first exposure to the Metroid series, and it took me several weeks to work my way through the game. It was on a late Friday night at the age of thirteen that I finally made it to Mother Brain's lair, Tourian. I've spent the entire game shooting at alien creatures and destroying them before they can destroy me. Now, in Tourian, I encounter the Space Pirate metroid-knockoffs, the mocktroids, which are easily frozen with my Ice Beam and blasted to bits with a missile. Before long the metroids appear; nasty facehuggers that drain Samus's life energy. More shots from the Ice Beam and five trusty missiles destroy them. I work my way through Tourian, freezing Rinkas and blasting Space Pirates, until I come to a room filled with enemies... except that these enemies are still, grayish brown in color, and crumble to dust when touched.
I continue through the passageway, dessicated enemies falling to bits as I pass. It's kind of neat to see them crumble without a fight. I come to the end of the hallway to a sealed door. As I stand there, pondering how to open it, the music turns sinister and a massive - and I mean massive - metroid zooms on to the screen and envelops Samus. Power bombs aren't enough to shake it off and my weapons are useless against it. The metroid drains Samus's energy - all twenty life meter blocks and four reserve tanks - and I am certain that my adventure ends here. Shock at the size of the beast turns to anguish as I realize that I'll have to pass through this way again and face the metroid before it can attach itself to Samus. I grip the controller tightly, waiting for Samus's inevitable death.
Then something curious happens. With only a single solitary energy unit left in Samus's energy tank, the metroid lets go and begins chirping and cooing. It hovers around Samus affectionately before whisking away to parts unknown. In an instant I flashback to the opening of the game in which Samus's maternal connection to the baby metroid is reestablished from Metroid II and I realize what the Space Pirates have done to the helpless lifesucker. Now my anger is redirected from my own inability to destroy the metroid towards the monster that harmed the baby and mutated it to this absurd size: Mother Brain.
The battle against Mother Brain is intense. Samus's energy replenished before the final fight, I fire missile after missile into the brain's tank, shattering it and exposing the living gray matter. I break out the super missiles now, recognizing this as a recreation of the climax from the original Metroid. Finally, in an explosion of sparks the brain goes down, dropping to the floor as the platforms in the room crumble away to reveal a simple featureless room. I had won the day.
The triumphant music fades away and the sinister tones strike up again. In a moment of horror I realize that the battle is not over and the lifeless brain comes back to life atop a giant skeletal body. My mouth hangs open in disbelief; this is the Mother Brain?! Energy beams fire from her pulsing skull and energy bombs rain down from her bony hands. I used all of my missiles in the opening battle, super missiles are in short supply, and there are only a few power bombs left in my inventory. Every contact with the Mother Brain's body knocks a full energy block off of the life meter. As they say, I'm going to need a bigger boat.
Samus's energy nearly depleted, I resign myself to having to repeat my current progress as Mother Brain charges up for one last energy blast when the cavalry arrives in the form of the giant baby metroid. The metroid latches on to the Mother Brain, sucking her energy out bit by bit. I cheer at the development, dropping the controller and pumping my fist into the air triumphantly. Mother Brain turns to gray dust as the metroid envelops Samus again. I'm apprehensive about its intentions, but as it begins to refill Samus's energy meter I smile. We're going to win the day.
As the metroid recharges Samus I see the Mother Brain returning to life. Furious at the metroid, she fires blast after blast of energy at the baby, fracturing its shell and causing it to squeal in pain. I grab the controller from the floor; the celebration had come too son. The metroid lets out a final painful whine as it explodes, and now my eyes water and my hands grip the controller even tighter. Samus Aran stands up from the ground, and I stand up from my bed; both of us want revenge against Mother Brain. That bitch is going to pay.
The metroid left us with one last gift before it died: the Hyper Beam. I fire rapidly at Mother Brain's head, and now she's the one squealing in pain. The battle is over, at last, in moments. Mother Brain turns to dust with a shocked gasp on her twisted face. I sit back on the bed and let out a breath. We won. The inevitable timed escape sequence comes next, but after the confrontation I am numb; no fear, no hesitation. Samus moves elegantly through the complex, blasting the last of the Space Pirates on her way to the surface. Her spaceship takes to the sky and leaves Zebes just before it explodes. Now I drop the controller again, and this time it stays on the floor. The credits roll, I wipe the thin layer of sweat from my brow, and bid Samus Aran farewell until her next mission.
Video games can certainly evoke an emotional response. It's a shame that a helpless metroid had to die in order to teach me that lesson.