If the NES Metroid was a candy bar, this would be the miniature bite-sized version.
Independent game designer Tokinsom has released what may be the coolest fan game to date: a de-make of Metroid using simple 8-bit graphics, but modern gaming spirit and a charm that is all too often rarely seen.
Originally conceived as a remake of Metroid II, Minitroid puts Samus on a mysterious alien world where she is apparently searching for a Metroid (the introduction is vague, but enough to get you interested, ready to jump out of Samus' starship, and go, go, go!). Tokinsom takes us on a wild adventure through caverns that resemble SR388, the setting of Metroid II, with ghostly mines and a creepy jungle landscape that looks like a cross between Kraid's Hideout from the NES Metroid and 8-bit Mega Man, complete with searching eyeballs. This atmospheric charm is supported by an 8-bit soundtrack composed by Jamie Billings (with credits theme by Tokinsom). While some of the tracks could perhaps be a little longer, they capture the eerie atmosphere of Metroid quite well, particularly the menacing foggy ruins.
Minitroid's art style is reminiscent of what you might find on an old Nokia phone or Neo Geo Pocket Color: retro 8-bit pixel graphics (drawn by Betatronic). However, the gameplay is Absolut Metroid, feeling like a suped-up version of the original NES version. Though only 10 pixels tall, Samus has a toy-like charm through her wobbling moves and overbearing firepower reminiscent of Metal Slug, but with the grace and agile acrobatics we've come to expect from the First Lady of Gaming, reinforced by a simple power-up system and energy/missiles display.
This cute little gal blasts her way through three levels, with a solid arsenal of abilities that will be familiar to any Metroid fan: Morph ball, Missiles, and Bombs (with bomb climbing), as well as a new power-up, the SpeedCore, which grants Samus the ability to run and wall jump. In addition, Missiles and Energy Tank upgrades are hidden throughout the game world. You will tear out your hair at the mind-bending mazes that leave you lost and wishing for a map (first introduced in Super Metroid, but absent here, as in the 8-bit original) and testing the limits of your firepower against hordes of brutal monsters and spike pit traps, but you will be pleased at every step of the way. (Thankfully, the game restores your energy and missiles each time your load your save file - unlike the original Metroid, which left you with the bare minimum of 30 units of energy). Tokinsom has really gotten Metroid's classic gameplay down to the T and improved it for the modern era.
Minitroid was produced using Scirra Construct, a freeware game development program similar to Game Maker, only with seemingly more flexibility, bells, and whistles (the lead programmer even demonstrated how you can get platforming physics running in five minutes or less!). Tokinsom has taken the base system of Construct and added his own algorithms and mastered the Event Programming system to generate his own scripted events and unique abilities, such as wall jumping and fog effects. A newer, licensed version of Construct is scheduled for release and will feature even more powerful abilities, including integration with HTML5.
If there are any downsides to the game, they lie in balance issues, particularly at the beginning where Missiles take too long to replenish (I recommend conserving them until you bust in that first red door - if you don't have enough, the game thankfully saves the number of hits the door has taken!). I also felt the game lacked the tingling “Metroid sense” you feel when you think there's a hidden item nearby. Essentially, while the puzzles hiding power-ups are well-constructed, there are many places where an item would probably be stashed away in any other Metroid game that were left empty, making me feel I'd followed a red herring. Still, this seems like sour grapes to what is truly an astonishing fan creation. Finally, the code is not optimized, and so the game will run a bit choppy on older machines (it's playable on my Pentium 4 machine). The game is also PC only.
Note that Minitroid is not a complete Metroid adventure, but is certainly enough to give you, at the bare minimum, an hour or two of retro Metroid goodness. There is also some replay value present for those who want to zip through more than once. In this regard, Minitroid is far more robust than an earlier fan hit, Princess Quest, which featured Zelda-inspired quest (though reduced to a single action-packed level). Unfortunately, Tokinsom will not expand Minitroid further, but has presented it as a technical demo in order to demonstrate how you can build your own Metroid-style game using Construct.
Minitroid is free and available exclusively through the Metroid Database, which is the oldest and largest fan site for the series, providing top coverage since 1996. Be sure to check it out, as the game is absolutely worth the download!