(credit to reddit user u/thebloudymorder)
The Metroid series is one of Nintendo's (and gaming's) finest franchises. Spanning over 30 years and over a dozen games which include multiple classics, Metroid nevertheless has not achieved the commercial success that the more marketable Pokemon, Mario, or Zelda games have. Again, despite its lack of pronounced commercial success, Metroid has influenced innumerable designers and without this series we would be unlikely to have such great games as Ori and The Blind Forest, Axiom Verge, La Mulana, Cave Story, or Guacamelee (to name but a handful).
As a child, the original Metroid was always just as appealing as any other game that my big brothers had on the NES and I was drawn to the atmosphere and creepy feeling of isolation that the series consistently brought throughout its history. After some deeply dark times and cries of "Metroid is dead!" it has come back in a big way this year with Samus Returns on the horizon (as of this post) and Prime 4 perhaps only a year or so away. In the spirit of celebration, let's dive in and revisit the entire series!
The one that started it all! Metroid seemed larger than life approaching with the eyes of a child and I don't think there's any way that I could have finished it at the age of 4 or 5 when I first picked it up. It is repetitive, labyrinthine, claustrophobic, and unforgiving. Upon revisiting the game in my teenage years and several more times recently, I have deeply enjoyed just how much Nintendo was able to accomplish their first time in this wildly experimental series. There's no map. No handholding. No clear indications where you *should* go at any given time. Yet, Metroid is remarkable in many respects. The soundtrack is still iconic. Brinstar feels like the beginning of an adventure and never wears out its welcome. Norfair is dark, ominous, and oppressive. Kraid's lair is alien and creepy while still sounding melodic and beautiful.
The sprite work holds up nicely and evokes exactly what I think the developers were going for. The story is minimalistic but has some memorable and exciting moments including the final sequences of seeing Metroids for the first time in Tourian on the way to Mother Brain, the fight with Mother Brain herself, and of course the escape sequence and big reveal. While some aspects have not aged as well (it feels clunky to control Samus, why start me with only 30 energy when I have all these tanks), Metroid is still worth playing both as a historical marker as well as just for fun. More than all of that, it set a foundation for future games in the series and games as a whole.
Metroid II: Return of Samus (1991)
Return of Samus is yet another game that I had access to growing up, but I just found too obtuse to make any real progress in as a boy. This is despite the fact that it is in many ways an easier and more welcoming game thanks to slower and more manageable enemies as well as using a battery save instead of passwords as the North America version of the original Metroid unfortunately did. As an anecdote, I remember the first time I finished the game was my senior year of high school when I had to go to a dance because I was voted homecoming king and I couldn't wait to get the hell out of there and kill the queen metroid. I was a weird teenager...
Metroid II is an important game for the franchise in terms of developing the story and in terms of showing that Metroid could be more than just the same objectives over and over. While the first game had a very clear target and bosses (stop the space pirates and Mother Brain), RoS was about Samus needing to actually be a bounty hunter and destroy an entire species! It is a fairly dark concept that they handled surprisingly well for a Game Boy game as you meet
RoS has big, beautiful sprites that were definitely needed at the time on that grainy, yellowish screen but as a result the game feels scrunched in (like Mega Man & Bass on GBA or Mega Man 7 in general) and that makes navigation and combat perhaps more frustrating than they need to be. The lack of map is understandable, but makes the game a bit of a chore if you don't have one pulled up on your phone or laptop. Of course, there are dozens of people who love using graph paper to make their own maps and I hope those people all play Etrian Odyssey.
Of all the Metroid games, Metroid II is probably the most consistently overlooked and underappreciated and I am quite pleased that in the past year or two it has been the subject of a lot of positive talk and projects. I think it holds up well and is still very much worth playing.
Super Metroid (1994)
The game that took the world by storm. It can't really be overstated how magnificent and revolutionary Super Metroid is in the world of video games. While it's not my personal favorite in the series and I have less nostalgia for it than other Metroid fans do, I can't help but to love and respect the game. Sure, Samus does not feel as snappy or 'fun' to control as she does in later 2D incarnations, but that's my only serious gripe with the gameplay.
Plenty of long-form reviews already exist that speak to Super Metroid's brilliance and continued relevance in design, so I won't belabor my own views for too long, but the game is just full of ingenious decisions and immaculate world building. Zebes is a diverse and beautiful world that has much in common with earth and yet so much that is alien. The rainy and rocky surface gives way to dank caverns full of bizarre lifeforms and odd forms as well as somber tapestry. There is all sorts of destroyed technologies and atypical environments that all seem to flow into one another in a believable way even when you're fighting a ghost cephalopod on a ship!
The boss battles in Super Metroid are subversive and unforgettable from the fake-out Kraid (which gives way to giant amazing Kraid) to the return of Ridley to the haunting Crocomire to the final battle with Mother Brain. Every fight has a conceit to make it stand out as something special whether it's how you fight the boss or just the grand scale of it all.
Anybody who is reading this has a strong opinion on Super Metroid so I don't think any minds will be changed, but it's an awesome game and it feels at home on the New 3DS for those who have yet to try it and it will be on that SNES Mini Classic that Reggie promises won't have shortage issues.
Metroid Prime (2001)
This is the moment I fell helplessly in love with the Metroid series. I was excited and not at all skeptical of Prime at its first reveal and despite the dizzying hype Retro Studios managed to deliver 100% on what I wanted. They took a big gamble by translating Super Metroid into 3D and knocked it out of the park on their first swing.
Talon IV is to this day a gorgeous landscape. It is made all the more special by how immersive the moment to moment gameplay is thanks to Retro's attention to detail. The beads of water on Samus's visor, the reflection of her face when a bright flash goes off, and the way her hands go up sometimes to block or protect herself all add to feeling as though you are really in Varia suit.
While some prefer the motion controls, I have always loved how Prime feels on the Gamecube controller. Not to be a purist like those Melee folks, but it feels like the controller was designed for this game. I didn't need twin sticks to look around, I felt perfectly at home with the tight design for lock-on and strafing and changing weapons on the C-nub. Switching in and out of the morph ball from 1st to 3rd person and enjoying the physics of the ball while engaging in exploration and minor ball-based puzzles was a total blast.
Again, we saw some of the best boss fights of the series in Prime and beyond that incredible music and scenery. I doubt anybody can forget their time in the cold phendrana drifts--one of my favorite areas in all of video games. Prime feels less like an action game than ever compared to its forebears but that's because there's so much emphasis placed on being in the world and being inquisitive. The story comes to you as you want it through scanning (which I never grew tired of) and there's basically as much or as little as the player wants--much like say the Dark Souls series.
The 3D map looks extremely cool, even if it's not always ideal for navigation, and shows just how well thought out every part of the world is. Amazingly, Retro managed to make platforming in a 3D game not just possible, but enjoyable! The way that the camera dips down a bit to help make sure you land your jumps and the fact that it's a bit forgiving makes traversing areas light and painless--as it should be. Many modern classics owe a lot to the original Metroid Prime game in terms of combat, exploration and world building including last year's DOOM and this year's Prey. Any time I can play a first person game and say "this reminds me of Metroid Prime" I know I have a GOTY candidate on my hands.
Metroid Fusion (2001)
Released on the same day as Metroid Prime, Fusion is direct sequel to Super Metroid and continues the "main canon" of the Metroid series. I think history has been extremely kind to Fusion and deservedly so. While it gets some flack for being overly linear and for the abundance of expository dumps during elevator rides, I actually prefer Fusion to most video games in general and I may even like it more than I do Super!
While it is fun to get lost in Super, I like how little I get lost in Fusion. I like the boss fights and the story a great deal. The environments have a good degree of variety and its at its best when things go off the beaten path a bit like when say SA-X destroys the elevator and you have to play a terrifying game of cat and mouse. Ultimately, it's feeling like you're being stalked throughout the game that creates palpable dread because--until the very end--there's nothing you can do but run and hide from SA-X. It's like a 2D Resident Evil 3 where you will get ambushed at times that you don't expect and the panic it creates is unforgettable and impressive for a 2002 Game Boy Advance game.
At the time of release, I think the way Samus controls in Fusion was far and away my favorite. The animations of the sprite are so good and the color scheme is like this funky tropical blue and yellow with a pink helmet that sounds so goofy but just looks cool as hell. Finally Samus feels snappy, can grab ledges and roll into a morphball from a ledge grab and the jumps and movement are fast and lack the floatiness that takes Super down a notch in my book.
While in past Metroids I would argue that the difficulty came from keeping calm and paying attention to the environment to survive, Fusion's comes from the combat. For once, we have a game that is more tipped towards action than exploration and in this regard it actually succeeds while still retaining the core essence of Metroid. Bosses like the SA-X, Serris, and Nightmare gave you upgrades after defeating them that made sense thematically and of course gave you fights that were achingly difficult while never feeling unfair. I hope that some day we see where the series goes after Fusion because it ends with some thrilling story developments.
Metroid: Zero Mission (2004)
This is my favorite Metroid game and easily in my top 5 games of all time.I can't even count how many times I have played through Zero Mission but it seemed like my senior year of high school I was running through it every week. Zero Mission is a remake of the original Metroid and is so perfect it hurts. The graphics, the soundtrack, and the QOL improvements over the original make it the definitive remake in my eyes. Granted, it's not an especially challenging game and it can be finished in a matter of hours, but the core gameplay is so tight and fun that I can't see anybody rushing through and dumping it.
Zero Mission is full of secrets that require precision and poring over each area to get 100% completion and at the same time it has a fervent speedrunning community (not up to Super standards but still impressive for an old game) so there's something for everybody here. I recently replayed it on Wii U and found that it was just as charming and beautiful as ever--even the final section that is totally unique to Zero Mission!
Metroid Prime 2: Echoes (2004)
Echoes is strangely enough a game I've only played through one time, but what a playthrough it was! Rather than make a more accessible sequel after the success of the original Prime, I think of Echoes as the brooding and impenetrable follow-up for the hardcore only. It is a much meaner and darker world on Aether that brings us to unfamiliar locales for a Metroid game that feel so idiosyncratic and help differentiate it from the first game.
The light world/dark world thing has been done before in Nintendo games, some would say to death, but it's pulled off very well in Echoes and has good reasoning behind it. The game has more direct story than Prime does as you're actually interacting with NPCs like the Luminoth who are almost as cool as the iconic Chozo as you're tasked with wiping out the Ing instead of Metroids.
Many people complain of the difficulty of certain bosses in Prime 2, but I don't recall having too much trouble with any of them (even that Spider Guardian!). I think a bigger problem is the major fetchquest at the end that also plagued Wind Waker. As such, this Echoes is a game that I both want to revisit because I loved basking in the dreary world so much but I am also reluctant to since there's unfortunate padding.
Having said that, I don't feel as strongly about Echoes due to it being 13 years since I last played it. However, I remember the game fondly and I think revisiting it if it ever gets released on a modern console (hopefully with standard non-motion controls) would be totally in order. I love areas like the Torvus Bog and the design on Samus's suits is some of my favorite ever (especially the Light Suit--magnificent).
Metroid Prime Pinball (2005)
It's fun! So many Nintendo franchises have had a pinball game without any real justification and while this one is also flimsy and silly it is so fun to play. Morph ball as a pinball is aesthetically pleasing and the little nods to fans make the whole thing really enjoyable. You can see the whole thing in about an hour and it is full of cute references to the original Metroid Prime and minigames that sometimes work and sometimes fall flat. Overall it's worth checking out for the most diehard Metroid and/or pinball fans but for everybody else know that you're not missing a ton if you skip out on the pinball timeline.
Metroid Prime Hunters (2006)
I only played through Prime Hunters all the way about a year ago. There is a lot to like about the game, but I would unquestionably put it at the bottom of the pile. The game itself looks really good for DS and is probably what an N64 Metroid would have looked like. The Hunters themselves are actually kinda cool and I bet for people who were into the multiplayer aspect (which I never touched and I know was the main draw) it was nice having more variety in deathmatches than what the multiplayer in Echoes offered.
The single-player campaign however is bad. Quite bad.
Hunters feels more like a proof of concept than a fully featured single player Metroid game and it reeks of being a slap-dash job instead of the full experience I was accustomed to. Many people loved the controls with the touch screen, but I could never get really comfortable as I am profoundly left handed and it just didn't feel good despite its responsiveness. There are two bosses that are gross to look at and a miserable chore to fight FOUR TIMES EACH. It has its moments where it feels like a portable version of a Prime game, but it never reaches the highs that any Metroid game before it did and due to the repetition and discomfort it reaches some new lows. Not recommended these days.
Metroid Prime 3: Corruption (2007)
And finally after three years we are back to Metroid being back on top instead of doing the Zelda thing of pumping out too many useless DS games. To a lot of people on this board, this is the last Metroid that has come out in a decade. To me, it's just another great game in the Prime series. I was very excited to see what Nintendo could do with motion controls at the time and I remember finding it far more immersive and enjoyable than any other experiment they did on the Wii. The Galaxy games were amazing, but motion added nothing but waggle. Twilight Princess was better on Gamecube and Skyward Sword will hopefully get a drastic remake that not only eliminates motion controls but like...1/3 of the game.
Not so with Metroid Prime 3: Corruption! I gladly played through this game a couple of times and delighted in scouring the planets for all of the power-ups. The motion controls were well executed and its hard to imagine the game without them (even if sometimes it does remind you too hard that you're playing a Wii game by making you twist and remove cylinders so frequently).
I would say that the added emphasis on story was not very well handled. In fact, while I can remember the appearance of your fellow bounty hunters who get corrupted and you have to fight, I can't say I remember anything distinctive about their personalities which is never a good thing. I'm not a purist who thinks that Metroid should totally eschew traditional story telling (although after the next game on the list I understand why you would be), but it felt clumsy and B-tier when Nintendo and other developers have done much better before and since.
Metroid: Other M (2010)
Was there a more exciting reveal? Could I have been more hyped at launch?! No!
Other M was destined to be a hit! Finally Samus would be in third person on a modern console! What could possibly go wrong?
Well... a lot.
I guess I'm supposed to hate this game, but I don't. There are many questionable design choices that involve not only the controls using a single Wiimote to do 2D, 3D, and first person but also the story reasons for not having your upgrades available is baffling and a little offensive. The linear bottlenecking on the bottle ship is not done nearly as well as it is in Fusion nor is the relationship between Samus and Adam.
The story and portrayal of Samus are unfortunate, but I do not think it's a total disaster. Other M is a game I actually wonder if I would like more if it were any other IP or if I simply don't hate it because of my blind allegiance to the Metroid brand. I actually had fun with it and think it's a decent game!
The graphics are nice and the finishing moves that Samus does are so, so cool even a decade later. That's one aspect I'm glad MercurySteam grabbed from Other M for sure. I like a lot of the environments and think some of the boss fights (Phantoon, Ridley, and Goyagma) are well done, imposing, and a delight.
Could have done without the pixel hunts. Desperately needed for the game to have music at all, let alone that matched the pedigree of the series. Would have loved for the game to have been better so it would have sold better so us fans wouldn't have to wait interminably for new Metroid. Having said all of that, the game was a solid 7/10 for me at launch and I don't hate it. In fact, I replayed it a couple times but I don't see Nintendo remaking this one anytime soon. It will be left to dust. Sad.
Metroid Prime: Federation Force (2016)
This was the first Metroid game I hated on sight. It felt like a total slap in the face after such a long wait to get this weird, chibi squad shooter that I am confident nobody asked for. Well the sales indicated that and it made me worry that Metroid really was dead after this despite the teaser in the secret ending.
I'm probably one of a few people that not only bought Federation Force, but played through the whole thing. Sometimes alone, sometimes with randoms, and sometimes with one of my dearest friends who hated it so much he couldn't bear to continue.
If we knew that more Metroid was on the way, Federation Force would have felt harmless instead of egregious. Looking back on the game one year later, I can say I had some good times with it and enjoyed a lot of what was done. Sure, there were stock levels that were bland and uninspired, but there were also some really cool boss fights and actively interesting gimmicks among the dreck. The gameplay felt like Prime on 3DS and it worked wonderfully, which makes me wonder why we never got a port of any Prime games on New 3DS (would have been awesome)!
Federation Force is a harmless and decent little title that maybe shouldn't have been a Metroid game (chibi cuteness, almost no Samus AT ALL, squad-based shooter, no power-ups...how is this "Metroid" still?), but again it is innocuous and fun with friends. Recommended to some, not all.
EDIT: Oh and the Blast Ball diversion sucks. Did you want a slow version of Rocket League with no cars? Neither did I.
THIS was the big Metroid game of 2016. An unbelievable achievement that I'm so glad Dr. M64 was able to get out before the C&Ds dropped. Any of you who have played this know how much work and time must have gone into this glorious and much needed remake of Return of Samus. Not only did it have the perfect physics of Zero Mission and beautiful assets, but the music and exposition was exactly what it would have been like if Nintendo made this during the GBA era. The new environments and QOL improvements were astounding and it needs to be played to be believed. I adore AM2R and will sing its praises forever. Love it love it love it.
Metroid: Samus Returns (2017)
Right now I am just eagerly awaiting this. I bought a New 3DS again after this was announced as I never expected I would need a 3DS system again and in the meantime I played all the DS Castlevanias and some other good stuff to tide me over. This is the game I have been waiting for and I'm thrilled it exists. MercurySteam has a poor track record, but I will be shocked if Samus Returns doesn't deliver. Friday can't get here fast enough!!