It has been 11 years since the last main series Metroid title has graced our screens. Just to put that into context, we’ve seen the end of the main series “Potter” films, built lovable snowmen with a strange attraction to all things warm and even witnessed the rise and fall of a console generation. The top games released in the same year were Super Mario Galaxy 2, Red Dead Redemption and Mass Effect 2! We hadn’t even lived through the trauma of red, blue or green!
When we consider the title in question is one of the… less favourable…. in Metroid history. It’s hard for some gamers to understand the excitement at Dread’s release. Let alone the sheer joy at the announcement of a fourth title in the “Prime” series (and no it doesn’t give you unlimited free shipping…)
The confusion is justified however. The franchise has been a black sheep of Nintendo IPs for so long. Some even worried it would go the way of F-Zero. Thankfully, there is light at the end of the tunnel for Samus Aran at least. Sorry Chibi Robo, but there’s always Zip L… nope, can’t do it.
So you’re saying there’s going to be new fans?
Absolutely! Anyone who has even glanced at the hype train surrounding Metroid Dread is bound to be curious. That’s before looking at the huge swathes of marketing thrown at the title. Action packed cinematics, detailed introductory pieces from Nintendo Treehouse and so many trailers. The sheer volume of content has made some fans question if there is anything left to spoil in game! The big N is taking a huge roll of the dice on Metroid at the moment. Clearly they want to make sure they’re heard and no one can blame lack of exposure.
The fact of the matter is, Dread would be less likely had the Switch not sold as well. Nintendo knows that if Metroid is to have it’s “fairest” shot at impressing, then it’s now or never. The 3DS Remake Samus Returns was an absolute tour de force. But came far to late in the consoles cycle to have any real impact on sales. Competing with an already strong Switch Library that was rapidly increasing. The fact that second hand copies have been selling online for more than MSRP show how many missed out.
Speaking of the Spanish studio. They have certainly developed a track record for reviving the two franchises responsible for the naming of an entire genre. Indeed, many hate the term. But you can’t deny that using the phrase “Metroidvania” to describe exploration-like platformers wouldn’t be brought up in reviews across the world if it wasn’t for the love people have for these games!
So what’s the problem?
The problem dear reader, is that no amount of media hype and gamer excitement is going to get over one of the biggest obstacles of the gaming world. Do you play game 5 in a series when you’ve barely experienced the previous 4 games? Do we dare sink our toes into the water of a new lore when so much has come to pass? Well if you’ve gotten this far down the article (thank you by the way…) then hopefully what I propose is right up your alley!
Like so many other sites, I decided a great piece would be to give an introduction to the franchise. The story, the games and whether or not they actually need playing before picking up Dread. But the truth is, none of them NEED playing before today’s release. Nintendo and Sakamoto-San have both stated that a “story so far” will precede Dread so those worried about missing gaps need not worry. But a knowledge of the games that came before, I feel, would help to enhance the enjoyment of a franchise that has such a loyal and protective fanbase.
So for your pleasure, may I present….
A Dreadful Introduction to Metroid
Metroid Volume 1 / 2 – Best Enjoyed on – The Metroid Mangas!
OK so technically this isn’t a game, but it does give us the starting point for the franchise. Much like the bigger IPs, Nintendo eventually had to provide a literary supplement to their franchise, but unlike the Legend of Zelda a Metroid almanac wasn’t required. Instead a collection of Mangas gives us a backstory that would make Commander Shepard weep!
Originally a child colonist of planet K-2L, Samus Aran witnesses the death of both of her parents at a young age by the Dragon-esque space pirate “Ridley.” She finds herself adopted by a race of avian beings called the Chozo who, over time, train her and alter her DNA to the point she is the bounty hunter we come to know by the first game….
Metroid / Metroid Zero Mission
Our first game, both canonically and in terms of release, has Samus exploring her adoptive home of Zebes (“Zeh-Beh-s”). As she explores the cavernous home of her foster race, she has one goal in mind, “find the metroids”. Finally the titular characters of the series are revealed! These jellyfish like creatures are the focus of the same space pirates responsible for Samus being orphaned. Find the metroids, stop them being weaponised and maybe a little revenge.
We are introduced to a number of key players in Samus’ life here. Ridley and Kraid are both members of the space pirates. With Ridley obviously being the high ranking antagonist of a number of later games. These guys are exactly as they sound, pirates…. in space….. Because of their nature of travelling and taking over worlds, their appearance is quite varied over the games, but usually fits the same formula.
We are also introduced to Mother Brain, who we encounter in the Manga, but again, we’re focussing on the games really. Mother Brain can best be described as the inspiration for GLaDOS for the portal series, but with more autonomy. A now rogue AI who turned against the Chozo when the space pirates arrived, Mother Brain wiped out the bird race and instilled herself as defacto pirate queen! (I dare you to not go “Yaaaar” when you see her next…)
Best Played on the GBA / WiiU Virtual Console
In terms of the gameplay, Metroid (1986) is a vastly dated game. There is no doubt it is a classic, but frankly, a new player needs to avoid playing the original game if they want to develop a love of the series. Thankfully, Nintendo saw this as a problem moving forward and released a quality of life upgrade in “Zero Mission” for the GBA. Added content and upgraded gameplay mean that the definitive version has its home on the GBA.
The biggest issue this provides is that the game is hard to get hold of. With the title last being released on the GBA, second hand copies can become pricey. The last quick search I made put the cheapest official copies at £90. Bootlegs exist clearly, but the other option is the WiiU virtual console. Copies are less than 1/10 of the secondhand price, but requires you to hold onto outdated hardware.
Metroid II Return of Samus / Metroid: Samus Returns
Hardcore Metroid fans who have gotten this far will notice that there is a huge section of games missing here. The Prime series of games spanned the Gamecube and Wii era of Metroid. But the games themselves have a side quest feel, with a few additional story items. Because of that, I will save these for our Prime 4 introduction (insert plug for future article here)
So we come to Samus Returns: The Return of Samus. After the events of Metroid / Zero Mission, the galactic federation (imagine every “space federation” from almost every sci-fi) have decided that the Metroids are too dangerous to be allowed to live. Fortunately for them, Samus Aran is not only available, but is willing to go in and clean up the attempts the Federation made. She travels to the Metroid homeworld of SR388 with the new objective of… well yeah.
Samus goes in and, like a bad ass, removes the entirety of the metroid race from existence. Except…. She takes on a newly hatched metroid that imprints on her at birth, treating her like a mother. Instead she hands the baby over to scientists to prod, poke and hopefully understand more fully.
Best played on the Nintendo 3DS
I will never stop singing the praises of Mercury Steam. In fairness, comparing a 3DS title to an original Game Boy isn’t entirely fair. But what Mercury Steam added to the title to make it feel like a new title while keeping to the original materials. With some additional functionality and mechanics alongside the quality of life perks (I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to see a map!). There’s again no contest between the two.
However, if there were only one title to play before picking up dread. Then this would certainly compete for that accolade. while it doesn’t give you all the story it DOES gives you the atmosphere and the gameplay “lore” that is going to be prevalent in dread.
It’s also possibly one of the easiest, while not the cheapest, to pick up. Available on the 3DS eShop, which is again a cheaper alternative to rising physical demand, you’re looking at a full MSRP, which is the only negative point going against it when some of the other titles are available for free on the Switch.
Probably the yardstick by which most metroid games are measured. Super Metroid continues on from the plot of Samus Returns. Ridley makes a comeback, following you from your mission on SR388 he kidnaps the adorable baby metroid and takes it back to the Chozo world of Zebes. This time its personal…. Well I mean he killed her family so it was kind of already personal I guess.
Lots of shooting and explosions later and Samus is at the mercy of Mother Brain. But who should dive in to save you but the baby metroid. More emotional chaos ensues and Samus escapes the planet Zebes just before it is blown to smithereens.
There’s a fairly deep ending to Super Metroid which helps add to the various accolades this game still garners. The universe is saved from the metroid threat, but humanity can’t benefit from their biology any more. The threat of weaponsiation too great to run the risk. Samus also has to deal with yet more loss in her life. This causes her to fall into a, justified, depressive state. “We won, but at what cost,” certainly rings through.
Best Played on – Literally ANY Nintendo Hardware
This game has been recreated so many times it is almost impossible to not have a copy of it lying around somewhere. I’ve literally just gone to make a cup of tea and passed three devices that I have Super Metroid installed on. Nintendo want you to enjoy this masterpiece, to the point they are less bothered if you miss out on the others.
Whether it’s on the Nintendo Switch Online service, where the game is available for free. Or by purchasing the game on the WiiU / New 3DS eShop (DO NOT try to buy this on the original 3DS, apparently it can’t cope with SNES games…) the availability of Super Metroid is better than every other title bar the original.
However, for those of you who have a SNES Classic console tucked away in a drawer somewhere, remember them?The tiny little box that could also contains the title bundled in with it! There really is no way you can avoid Super Metroid, which makes it another contender for the one game to play before starting dread.
Metroid: Other M
If Super Metroid is considered the Zenith, Other M is well…. it’s not for everyone, least of all hardcore Metroid fans. Following on from Super Metroid, those bloody scientists just can’t let things die. Samus is rehabilitated from her trauma and the baby somehow extracted from her Powersuit and used to genetically rebirth the metroid race. As was once said by the great Dr. Ian Malcolm, “Life finds a way.”
While travelling the cosmos, you come across a distress signal from a “Bottleship.” While traversing the ship, a variety of mysteries unfold that causes Samus and the accompanying Federation grunts to investigate. Oh and Samus is joined by her former commanding officer from her time in the Federation.
The investigation uncovers a perfect storm of scientific malpractice. I mean seriously, these experiments were clearly conducted without the knowledge of an ethics panel! Not only have the leaders of the Bottleship cloned Ridley, they have recreated metroids without their one known weakness. Ice! I mean, metroids must have originally have been flying type? Suffice to say Samus wipes out all life on board. Including a new Queen Metroid!
Best Played on – the only one it was released on (If you really have to)
Other M was only released on the Wii, with no WiiU port. So aside from owning the Wii copy and a console to play it on you’re kind of stuck. But this is one game where it’s probably not a huge loss if you can’t access it.
The gameplay moves away drastically from the original Metroid titles. Mechanically it tries to bridge the styles between the main titles and the Prime series of games. But it struggles to emulate either to a degree. Combined with what is best described as horrible controls and a switching between first and third person modes to incorporate *shudders* motion controls. It’s a game that most CAN play, but few WANT to.
And this is doesn’t even bring into account the story of Other M. A hugely criticised bloated corpse of a lore bomb. So many issues surrounding Samus’ character. Her relationships with others and in turn their interactions through the story have been huge issues of contention for a number of years. With Samus coming across as “wooden” and “whiney” and at times feeling a bit dependent on her former CO. Not the badass bounty hunter we love.
The final game canonically, is Metroid Fusion. Here is where we find Samus after the events of Other M and before our newest outing, Metroid Dread.
While acting as a bodyguard to yet more pesky scientists, Samus is attacked by what was the predatory species to the metroids. Called the X-Parasites, these creatures kill and assimilate their prey in order to feed and continue the species. Thankfully, the scientists have the ability to save Samus because they’ve been tinkering with metroid genetics for a while now. This metroid vaccine causes her to fuse her abilities with some of the metroid, hence the name.
A big problem is that the power suit has been sent back to the researchers to study. Unbeknownst to the scientists that this suit is being assimilated as we speak. The suit becomes a parasitic version of Samus, the SA-X. During the course of the game you find yet more metroids. Eradicate them and then decide the best bet is to destroy the research station, all the x-parasites on board and, hopefully, any x-parasites on the planet. Only time will tell if you were successful.
Best Played on – GBA / WiiU Virtual Console
Another hard one to get hold of, the best bet is the WiiU virtual console for those who want to ensure they have an official copy. If physical is your jam then it’s a similar issue to Zero Mission. Expect high prices and lots of forgeries.
Gameplay wise this is the closest to Dread in terms of the feeling instilled. A combination of eerie soundtrack, including some basic horror tropes and finally including the SA-X. The tension builds throughout the game and combines this with the impending enemy arrival to create a game where even the linear story and objective based missions can’t detract from the Metroid feel.
So there we have it. A quick whistle stop tour of the Metroid franchise to date. But I guess I’ve tried to sidestep my own personal choice for what to pick up. Emphasis on tried as even I clearly have my favorites! The Metroid series has a number of key aspects that tend to permeate through all the games, with each individual title having it’s own themes and focus to stress its individuality.
For this reason, it’s difficult to pick one example to create a must play title. If you want to experience something as close to Dread as possible before you pick it up, then Samus Returns or Fusion are probably your best choice. If however, you want to dip your toe into the story and lore then Zero Mission is possibly your go to title. But if you just want to see what the fuss is about then playing through your (probably free) copy of Super Metroid is definetly your way to go.
Whichever title you choose though, I genuinely hope you have an enjoyable experience. The franchise, while popular enough to warrant revisiting, will only thrive with fresh fans. So dive in, and have a great time exploring the galaxy with Samus Aran!