The map is still pretty useful in Ganon's Tower, I think, but the compass is a joke, of course the boss is on the seventh floor. It also doesn't tell you that you're going to run into the Armos Knights, the Desert Palace snakes and Moldorm the giant worm again, but by then those guys are pud. PUD!!!! I tell you pud!!! Really the only time the compass is useful is for figuring out where to take the girl in the Village of Outcasts dungeon so she'll turn into Blind.
The Ice Rod-Hammer magic-decanter thing is pretty sweet and makes up for the item's general uselessness later on. I guess you need it for the Turtle Rock boss too. Of course, even at its worst the Ice Rod is still more useful than OOT's Ice Arrows which were completely worthless.
I love how Moldorm makes "googly eyes" when you hit his tail.
It took me a long time to beat the Palace of Darkness as a kid and during that time I spent quite a lot of buildup hitting X and looking at the map and salivating over what might be in every Dark World location. I, uh, didn't know you could Hookshot across the river (and boy do I feel dumb NOW.)
Good lord was I stoked for Super Metroid in 1994. My favorite game of the year would turn out to be Final Fantasy VI but in retrospect it's very funny how I was most stoked at the time for Donkey Kong Country because of those graphics...and that game probably doesn't hold up terribly well nowadays. I wouldn't know, I haven't played it in probably over 25 years.
When I fought Ganon this time I mentally thought of Robert Downey Jr. reading Zodiac's letter in Zodiac: "hey blue pig does it rile you up to have your nose rubbed in your booboos."
I blew through Levels 5, 6 and 7 in about the course of an hour and 45 minutes altogether and I think I had Link in Blue Mail for less than a day. I'm not even sure what I would do to observe the Red Mail causing him to take less damage.
Total playtime was probably about 9-12 hours or so, longer than Super Mario Bros. 3 (probably 6 hours?) but not THAT much longer. Youtube playthroughs are 4-7 hours but I sort of took my time obsessively exploring every single screen, trying to suck the life out of the game.
I guess I could see what your friend's talking about with the programming.