As Nintendo’s dark horse sci-fi franchise turns 37 today, we take a look at some of Samus’ other legendary adventures aside from Super Metroid.
Thirty-seven years ago today, Samus Aran turned video games on their head by encouraging players to do the unthinkable: move to the left instead of the right. The original Metroid was a milestone for the Famicom/NES, thanks to little design choices like putting an essential item to the left of the starting position and forcing players not to simply charge headfirst in the usual direction.
A few years later came Super Metroid, one of the most highly-acclaimed games in Nintendo’s history of all-time greats, and between all the sequels that have followed and the Metroidvania genre it helped inspire, nothing has quite managed to seize its throne.
Super casts a super-sized shadow, and it’s rare that any other game in the series gets a chance to top a “best of” list. So, in honour of Samus’ 37th birthday, we’re going to take it off the table and see where the rest of the franchise falls when given a fair chance at the crown.
5) Metroid: Samus Returns
There was a Dark Time in the early aughts where we didn’t see a new entry in the Metroid franchise for years. After the divisive Other M on the Wii in 2010 (a separate topic all in itself), Nintendo offered 3DS players Metroid Prime: Federation Force in 2016, which was not exactly the revival fans were anticipating. But then came an unexpected ray of light in Metroid: Samus Returns.
Developed by Spanish developer MercuryStream, Samus Returns is a remake of the second game in the series, 1991’s Metroid II: Return of Samus. The success of the fanmade Another Metroid 2 Remake project proving the demand for a return to this twenty-year old story, Nintendo enlisted MercuryStream to handle an official adaptation on the 3DS. Naturally, it didn’t quite appease fans of the fan project, nor did it entirely preserve the original’s atmosphere and spirit, but it proved compelling proof that MercuryStream had the chops to handle the franchise.
Plus, after so long with a new title, it was a breath of fresh air just to get a new adventure, and a modern update to an aging Game Boy title with huge story implications. Our fingers are still crossed that a single-screen version can arrive on the Switch, as was speculated a while back.
4) Metroid Prime
Stay with me, here. I know putting Prime this low is controversial, but honestly the rest of this list is a quadruple dead heat, and the heart of Metroid is its 2D adventures.
Indeed, translating the series’ formula into a first-person shooter-adventure was a risky gambit, but Metroid Prime has stood the test of time as one of the Gamecube’s best titles, earning a port to the Wii alongside its sequel, and more recently, a stellar remaster on Switch. It could’ve been impossible, but Retro Studios beat the odds and translated a very 2D series into 3D nigh-seamlessly.
All the hallmarks of a great Metroid are here, just presented from a new perspective. A new web of mystery, power-ups, and exploration pulls us deeper into the planet Tallon IV’s biomes, delving deeper into the history of the Chozo race and a new sublimely atmospheric score in the process. The game maintains a finely-honed balance between Samus’ growing capabilties and the obstacles thrown at her, including the inevitable arrival of the titular jellyfish aliens from hell. Plus, you get to utilize the powers of her signature visor… to scan everything!
With any luck, Echoes and Corruption will soon follow their progenitor onto the Switch, and once again present the Metroid Prime in all of its splendor on one console. At least, that seems more feasible at the moment than our chances of seeing Prime 4 any time soon.
3) Metroid Fusion
Metroid fans have arguably never been more lucky than in 2002, when the double-header of Prime on Gamecube and Metroid Fusion on Game Boy Advance arrived. Two brand new games after eight years of silence, with optional connectivity via the link cable as a cherry on top.
Nintendo loves to make shadow/twisted versions of its protagonists, from Mario and Wario to Link and Dark Link, but arguably, Samus has the most impactful clone: the SA-X, a parasite that bonded with and nearly killed her in the prologue of Metroid Fusion. Much of the game is spent looking over your shoulder, watching for this evil version of Samus with all of her power, none of her responsibility, and an axe to grind—and fleeing its pursuit when your paths cross.
Outside of that struggle, Metroid Fusion is another classic adventure through dynamic and varied environments which change throughout the course of the game in response to Samus’ actions. The X parasites aren’t keen to go down without a fight, and they recreate some of the bounty hunter’s most infamous enemies to bar her quest, and the epic bosses are among the series’ best.
If not for its enforced linearity, Fusion might have cinched the top spot on this list. Either way, you can relive this GBA classic on the Switch now, via the Expansion Pass for Nintendo Switch Online.
2) Metroid Zero Mission
Like Samus Returns, Metroid: Zero Mission translated our heroine’s first adventure into a more modern style—this time on the GBA, as a successor to Fusion. This remake, however, made us question if we knew the whole story of Samus’ original battle against the Mother Brain.
The ability to cling to ledges was retained from Fusion via an upgrade, as well as other power-ups that were introduced after the NES original. Areas were expanded, with small diversions to keep experienced players on their toes, and there was a more typical level of freedom to explore after Fusion‘s linearity. Samus’ first outing really shines without the unique quirks of the NES hardware holding it back, and can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the giant that is Super Metroid.
The biggest twist, however, was the literal “Zero Mission” itself, a new epilogue chapter that showed the “true” outcome of her mission. Samus is forced to escape a Chozo temple with no Power Suit and only a weak pistol. This segment weaves stealth into the classic formula with relative ease, and further enriches the series’ storyline by delving into her formative years with the Chozo. It proved Samus had strength on her own, showing she’s more than the suit (but of course, it’s satisfying when you get the suit back and get retribution too).
For retelling Samus’ origin and making her actual appearance more than an objectifying post-game reward—and arguably earning her a separate identity in Super Smash Bros—Metroid: Zero Mission would’ve been the top of our list just a year and a half ago…
1) Metroid Dread
It’s rare that a prestige franchise can receive a brand new entry that proves worthy of its lineage and the weight of its ancestors, but once again, Samus defied the odds with 2021’s excellent Metroid Dread.
Once again, an unexpected surprise announcement yielded a superbly-crafted adventure, another chapter in the ongoing struggle between the Space Pirates, Chozo, and the rest of the universe. The spirit of the SA-X lives on in the EMMI droids which plague Samus in designated zones, each a unique challenge or puzzle in their own right, blending stealth, instinct, and just a pinch of massive death lasers.
Metroid Dread pulls a little piece from each of its predecessors, but also knows when it’s time to buck other overdone tropes. Samus Returns‘ melee powers are refined, and Samus’ past with the Chozo is explored, while the X parasites and the fact that her life was saved with a Metroid DNA vaccine in Fusion‘s intro bears some serious narrative fruit. Yet, there’s no forced appearance from Ridley (or his cloned or cyborg variants), and the Metroids themselves actually appear to be extinct for once… in the traditional sense, anyway. All of this was rendered in beautiful 3D, while retaining the 2D playstyle.
For knowing exactly how to apply the series’ tropes and when to shake them up, Metroid Dread earns the top spot of our list… and therefore, the silver medal, next to Super Metroid on the podium.
No matter how your own personal lists may vary, at least we can agree on one thing: most of the core Metroid games are available under the Switch’s umbrella, and for fans of the series, this is almost as close as we get to being spoiled by Nintendo. Happy birthday, Samus and Metroid—may Nintendo stop underestimating your potential at some point soon.