Decades before Ellie was fighting off waves of the undead in The Last of Us and Heather Mason was carving her way through her own personal Hell in Silent Hill 3, Samus Aran proved that female playable characters could be just as competent and cool as their male counterparts in the NES classic Metroid. When she wasn’t blasting fist-sized holes through her alien foes or leaping over obstacles without the slightest struggle, everyone’s favorite galactic bounty hunter was taking on the monstrous Mother Brain and revolting Ridley as their unmatched equal.
Metroid introduced several innovations to NES era of gaming, namely the concept of permanent in-game upgrades. Its unique soundtrack, composed by the legendary Hirokazu Tanaka, also left a notable impact on the gaming world. For the first time in the history of gaming, we were presented with a soundtrack that recognized the importance of silence when building tension and atmosphere.
Rather paradoxically, the Metroid soundtrack reached its level of notoriety not because it would leave you whistling the same songs for days, as was the case with then-popular games such as Super Mario Bros. or The Legend of Zelda, but because it was mostly comprised of bouts of expertly placed quiet. That’s not to say it didn’t have its share of catchy and memorable tunes, but nothing relayed the feeling of entering a dark and hostile alien world quite like Tanaka’s sparse soundtrack, and that is certainly worth commemorating.
Of course, we can’t just point at a lack of sound and call it a soundtrack. Tanaka also composed several memorable pieces for Metroid that have since been remixed and reorchestrated by countless people across the globe. Say what you will about his use of silence, but when you hear these tunes, you hear Metroid.
The title theme is an undeniable classic. Punctuated by a series of sharp electronic chimes, the theme evokes feelings of the cold darkness of space. The Game Start theme, though only a few seconds long, has been burned into the memory of every gamer who lived in the 1980s. “Secret Area,” a mysterious piece similar to the title theme, paints a picture of the unexplored reaches of space. And who can forget Brinstar’s theme, a wailing and energetic tune that comes as close to a screaming electric guitar solo as you can get with NES technology?
Let’s face it: Metroid rocked. And this is thanks, in part, to Tanaka’s wonderful work. His ear for silence lent towards a beautifully crafted, oppressive atmosphere, and his ear for energetic music left listeners with a series of songs that made them want to go the edges of the universe, no matter what was hiding in the shadows.