a yelling skull presents: 90 SECOND MANIFESTO


Super Metroid is an art experience and the most perfect videogame ever created.

A screencap from the game Super Metroid. Samus Aran lands her spaceship on the surface of the planet Zebes. It is gray and raining. There is no one and nothing else around.

Is it possible for anything to be perfect?

If you are human, and you are reading this, you know that we are all tragically flawed beings. We live in an unjust and arbitrary world, where good things happen to bad people, and awful things happen to good people. The best we can hope for in our earthly lifetime is to strive for perfection, like a dog chasing after a car, never actually catching up to it. And what would it look like, even if we could? We can't get our teeth around the damn thing.

Perfection is godly. We are but mortal.

Or so you might think.

Super Metroid, released in 1994 for the Super Nintendo, is a godly creation.

A screencap from the game Super Metroid. Samus Aran stands alone in the rain on the surface of the planet Zebes. Lightning flashes. There are mountains faintly visible in the distance.

Other people have written plenty of blog posts and articles and thinkpieces about why this game endures in our collective memories even now, over twenty-five years after its release. It routinely shows up at or near the top of GOAT lists.

I think it's perfect. Here's why.

You play as Samus Aran, an armored and mostly faceless space mercenary sent to a distant unexplored planet to retrieve a kidnapped alien. The rest of the plot doesn't really matter. There is backstory and lore and worldbuilding and old grudges and a couple twists and turns and a surprisingly emotional climax, but all of it is only as important as you want it to be. This isn't the perfect part. This game is not about the story.

It's not about the running around and shooting things, either, although that part is pretty dang fun; it's not about the treasure hunting, or the cool combo attacks, or the speedrun bonus endings, though these things are fun too.

To be clear: this is a very good game. The environments and their challenges are perfect. I dare you to find a single flaw in the level design or engineering. But this is not why I'm writing about it.

A screencap from the game Super Metroid. Samus Aran encounters the kidnapped alien— a baby metroid trapped in a specimen jar. The room is empty and dark. There is no one else around.

At its core, this game is about immersion and isolation. It is about being a small singular creature in a strange vast world. It is about architecture and landscape, and how we interact with our environment. This game makes it clear that the planet you're standing on doesn't care all that much about you.

It is a game about loneliness. It is a game about being lost.

You wander through the earth, alone in your armor, getting hurt, making mistakes, trying things that don't work, trying things that do. You make discoveries, uncover secrets. You carve your way forward, breaking into new terrain, then pick your way back to where you began to do it all over again with fresh eyes and new knowledge. Bit by bit, you, the stranger, map out the contours of this huge alien landscape and make it your own.

The in-game map of the planet Zebes in Super Metroid, which gets filled out as you explore. It's a tangled mess, but it's YOUR tangled mess.

This is a game about learning and changing over time. It is a game that forefronts you, the player, and your unique experience of playing. It is also a game that teaches you how to play it, in a sublimely efficient and understated way.

A screencap from the game Super Metroid. Samus Aran stands at the bottom of an empty elevator shaft, deep underground. Her visor glows in the darkness. There is nothing and no one else around.

It is a game about the experience of being alive. It is a game about being human, imperfect, unprepared. It is a game about being alone on this strange and terrible planet. It is a game about muddling through and figuring things out as you go along. It is a game about how sometimes progress looks an awful lot like going backwards.

It's also really beautiful.

It is a perfectly constructed piece of art. Please play it.