Super Metroid has been a favorite game for me since its release in 1994, and I have long been a proponent for it being one of the greatest games of all time. It has all the criteria for a wonderful game. Over the years, I have taken time to go back and play it again fully every so often, if only to re-immerse myself in it once more. The art style is stupendous and holds up well over the years. The gameplay is, of course, immaculate, and is not bogged down by story in any way. The controls are fluid, tight, and straight forward. On the surface it is a simple concept, but it excels at each thing it does in a wonderful way. Each area you venture to is enhanced by the incredible soundtrack. It is challenging without the difficulty feeling arbitrary or needlessly punishing. It is a work of art in gaming.
As an avid player, very familiar with the game but never replaying with the goal of speedrunning, my most recent completion was on the Nintendo Switch Online SNES version a year ago, and my final in-game time was 2:57. Throughout the run, I was aware of my time and tried to finish as fast as I could. It wasn’t a serious undertaking, simply a personal challenge since I complete the game out of my pure enjoyment for it. Years of experience playing Super Metroid gives me intimate knowledge of many different facets of the game, or at least a more-than-average understanding of all its aspects. When I watch a speedrunner, then, I am even more in awe of what they can accomplish. Where I stumble through a climbing section, they barely touch the floor. I hunt down extra health and ammo, and they barrel through with the least amount possible, in order to save time. The map guides me through as I meticulously complete the game in order, and they skip entire sections and sequence break with precise button presses, tricks, and movement techniques. Bosses are a struggle, my aim and movement sometimes allowing me to be punished, and runners have quick-kill setups and low-ammo strategies. Knowing my skill level and limitations, and then learning about the extreme skill and dedication it requires for these runners to beat it so quickly and make it look effortless is a humbling and awe-inspiring journey through the game. During AGDQ 2019, my admiration grew by several factors when I watched the Super Metroid Reverse Boss Order run by ShinyZeni. I legitimately couldn’t believe what I was watching. There are no mods or game-altering exploits. It was run on the hardware the game launched on, only he defeated Ridley first, and worked backwards through the bosses. This meant going through all of the heat damage sections without the Varia suit. It requires use of a mechanic called Crystal Flash to recover health in long and arduous sections. To see a game I knew in-and-out, loved and cherished all through my childhood, be so completely and thoroughly mastered in such a fashion completely eclipsed my expectations. On top of that, ShinyZeni completed that run in 1:06:02, a full 2 hours faster than I could complete the game normally. He currently holds the World Record in the category with a 58:37. That’s why I reached out to ShinyZeni and got some of his thoughts on the run, on Super Metroid, and his place in the community.
In the early 2000s, ShinyZeni stumbled across Speed Demos Archive, and was similarly blown away when he saw the Metroid Prime and Super Metroid 100% runs. They had videos available to watch on the sight, and he did just that. He also would frequent a Metroid fan site (Samus.co.uk), which had a wealth of videos about speedrunning, including DVDs with World Record speedruns of every Metroid game, which ShinyZeni still has today. “What I would do was watch the video, and then I would turn on my console and try to copy what they were doing,” he told me. “It worked for some things, but not for others. A lot of the tech it is not super obvious the nuances that go into it.” ShinyZeni would do this a few times a year, running only the 100% category, purely out of his love for the game. Around 2015 he set the goal for himself to get his time for that category to under an hour for in-game time, which he achieved that year. It wasn’t until 2017 that his speedrun journey really got its legs. “Ten minutes into the run, I died to the most ridiculous thing, Mini Kraid, and when I texted my friend about it he said ‘I don’t believe you,’” Zeni recalls. Afterwards he immediately set up his capture card and streamed it, so he would have actual proof for his friends in the future. During this streamed run, another friend and viewer suggested he should time his runs to see how fast he can really go. “Something about having the timer, and the immediate feedback on how I was doing, that’s what hooked me.”
The Reverse Boss Order (RBO) category originally came about as Tool-Assisted only run. It was a proof of concept that the game was no longer limited by having to do things in a certain order, but the strategies involved were too difficult for humans to execute. This first theory TAS was made by Dessyreqt, who also made the second TAS for this category and put a lot of work into making it viable for standard play. Zeni didn’t find out about it until later, and wasn’t planning on playing the category at all. “I remember seeing it on the schedule for AGDQ in 2016 and being upset that it wasn’t 100%,” he said with a laugh. “As the run went on I kept thinking it wasn’t as crazy as I thought it was going to be. Then I saw the Ridley fight, where he survived with 1 HP, and at that point I thought okay, this run is pretty cool.” The category was an afterthought for a long time still for Zeni. About a year later when he started streaming, he was mainly focused on the 100% run. After he hit his personal goals for times, he even considered stopping streaming. The same friend who suggested he start streaming then suggested he give Reverse Boss Order a shot. “I started putting in runs and it was fun, and then I began to identify ways that I could optimize it,” he told me, “items I could skip, or different routes I could take.” Eventually there came a point where he realized he was close to the top of the leaderboard. “When I realized that, I thought it was really weird that I could take the World Record. Then I took it, and I wanted to bring the time under one hour.” The more he ran it, the more he found himself loving the category. “As a gamer I really love difficult challenges and overcoming them, and Reverse Boss Order was that aspect combined with speedrunning.”
Zeni came to this position as a speedrun fan and viewer, with Zoast being his favorite. “I had been watching him loyally for a number of years at that point,” he said. Zeni would keep up with many different runs this way, though never taking particular interest in anything other than the 100% run. The 100% run seems overwhelming from an outside perspective. A lot of memorization, trial-and-error, and learning different techniques seems like it could take a toll on someone’s psyche. Zeni excels in that regard. “As far as speedrunning being daunting or tedious, I actually thrive on repetition,” Zeni explains. “I like to see improvement in myself and my abilities, and speedrunning fits really well into my character.”
Something about speedrunning that keeps me watching is how grassroots it feels. Games that I grew up with, play and know consummately, are being played expertly on display. The accessibility of the pursuit is inherent. Most people who decide to speedrun are already familiar with the game and typically good at it or long invested in it. The decision to speedrun is less of a leap and more of a logical next step. There are no tryouts, no gatekeeping. If you have the game, you can speedrun it. The communities surrounding them band together to compile strategies, tutorials, expert advice, and videos of their attempts. Everyone benefits from this, because you still need to put it into practical effect to succeed. ShinyZeni is the exemplification of this idea. A speedrun and video game fan turned speedrunner, who now dominates parts of the leaderboard. An interest as a passive viewer turned into a hobby, spurred on by an inviting and helpful community.
While being near or at the top of several Super Metroid speedrun categories, Zeni remains quite modest. In fact, Zeni contests that Zoast is “definitively the top runner of Super Metroid across the widest breadth of categories,” and Zoast’s results reflect that. Zoast averages 2nd place across the top 7 main Super Metroid speedrun categories, with four 1st place runs. Zeni also has two 1st place finishes of his own, and a 2nd place in 100%, beating Zoast’s time in those three categories. Zeni didn’t intend to get himself to this spot; first watching and looking up to Zoast and his skills, and now competing with and sometimes eclipsing those skills. “I never thought that I would reach the top of the leaderboards,” Zeni tells me. He has always had reverence and respect for the skill displayed by the members of this speedrun community. “Something about how difficult and complex Metroid as a speedgame is, made me feel like I wouldn’t be able to get near those people like Zoast, Behemoth, and Oatsngoats.” Much like myself, marveling at the skill that ShinyZeni displays, he viewed the top-tier players in the same regard. “Back in the day it was Hotarubi, Red Scarlet, Smokey. I always felt they were all playing the game at a level that, for whatever reason, I couldn’t reach.”
Speedrunning communities have always intrigued me with their inclusivity, and the Super Metroid community is similar in most ways. The ideas and hard work of the collective come together in the form of talented and dedicated players. Zeni has certainly carved out his spot at the top of the leaderboards and made a lasting impression on the Super Metroid speedrunning circle. From a viewer and more casual point, Zeni stands out as an elite and highly regarded runner. Even still, the esteem with which I credit him, he grants to others. “Zoast and Behemoth are at a level that nobody else is at.” He attributes this to starting from the perspective of a fan and viewer. “It’s interesting to be able to remember seeing it from one side, and being on the other side, and realizing just how little there is in the way of someone being able to bridge that gap.”
“One of the great things about the community is how welcoming the people are, and how ready to help each other we are,” Zeni said. This seems to hold true with most speedrunning communities, and it is nice to see it be told to me again about Super Metroid. Along with being a streamer of the game and speedrunner, Zeni helps the community by creating his own tutorials. When he was watching those old speedrun DVDs, there weren’t very many resources available. “There were people talking about doing a mockball to get super missiles early, but nobody actually talked about how to do the mockball.” More recently, and especially at GDQ events, most runners have people with them that can explain these tricks as they are being performed. It is another great reason why GDQ is so popular and fun. It wasn’t always the case. Zeni hopes to bring even more people into the community this way. “Me doing tutorials is my way of saying if you want to get into this game, we are ready to help you.” Presently there is a lot of helpful information, across Youtube, Discord, and Twitch. “We want to bring as many people into it as we can, because we love this game, and the more people running it, the better off we all are.”
ShinyZeni is able to pursue his streaming of speedrunning as a hobby, apart from his dayjob. This allows him flexibility in branching out where it might hamper others. He has personal goals for the 100%, RBO, and Any% categories, as well as side categories he would like to pursue. His streaming success doesn’t impact what he decides to do, it is more of a natural evolution of his desire to get better and reach those goals. Be sure to check out this talented and versatile runner; his skill and dedication mean he could get a new World Record at any time, and you don’t want to miss it.
You can find ShinyZeni’s Super Metroid tutorial videos, his stream, and his twitter feed at the links below: