Samus Aran’s adventures continue this fall with the release of the long-rumored Metroid Dread, the 5th in the mainline 2-D games returning after a 19-year absence and onto the Nintendo Switch. Given the sudden resurging interest in the franchise and with Retro Studios still developing Metroid Prime 4, we’ve decided to go back and reflect on every game in the Metroid franchise. So, if you’re curious where to start, what’s the best of the bunch, and where you can play them, here’s plenty of Metroid games for you to pick from. I’ve ranked them nice and neatly for you. For science.
13. Metroid Prime Federation Force – 3DS, 2016
Having shown their worth with Luigi’s Mansion Dark Moon on the Nintendo 3DS, BC based Nintendo subsidiary Next Level Games were handed the keys to the Metroid franchise to create the first entry in six years since 2010’s Other M. The result was Metroid Prime Federation Force, and a built-in bonus game, Blast Ball, which is basically a Rocket League clone with none of the charm. Unfortunately, this cooperative and simplified polygonal shooter was not what fans desired from the series. As one of the many Nintendo legacy titles out there that were built around its clunky multiplayer structure, it also pretends to function well enough as a single-player campaign, but instead a heavily limited afterthought. The lack of community to play the game in 2021 and the legacy of the game as a thinly veiled continuation in the series by putting a Metroid skin over a non-Metroid game places Federation Force at the bottom of our list.
12. Metroid – Famicom / NES, 1986
Playable on: Nintendo Switch NES Online
The original. The late Gunpei Yokoi, the mastermind behind the GameBoy, developed a title that combined the revolutionary side-scrolling features of Super Mario Bros. and the dense, labyrinthian world of The Legend of Zelda into the most atmospheric on Nintendo’s first console. This was the game for people who owned an NES that enjoyed hard sci-fi films and hard as heck gameplay and introduced players to gaming’s first human female protagonist, Samus Aran. However, the game now ranks lower on our list because it’s no longer a pure experience. Like the original Zelda, our modern era of walkthroughs, YouTube videos, and web forums tarnish the original intentions of the gameplay. That matters here, because the gameplay and the password system are so challenging compared to the games of today that nobody who didn’t grow up without save batteries and maps will have the time to play through this massive 8-bit version of Planet Zebes now. It’s still a great moment of gaming history and blueprinted a gameplay genre, but it’s showing its age.
11. Metroid II: Return of Samus – GameBoy, 1991
Playable on: Nintendo 3DS eShop
To have players travel through the steep tunnels of the Metroid homeworld, SR388, with the sole purpose of eliminating them forever created a type of intensity that is wholly different from the rest of the franchise. Due to its claustrophobic tight screen and use of negative space, Metroid II is often adored just for its minimalist nature. The music tracks use a lot of silent beats, the suit upgrades are clearly defined and have a direct impact on progression, and, despite playing on a tiny little 2 square inch GameBoy screen, the game visually feels like a massive planet with long dark tunnels. The game also features the introduction of how Metroids evolve, resulting in the very intimidating Queen Metroid as the game’s final boss. But even through eliminating every devious creature on the planet, Samus and the player encounter a Metroid hatchling, and once it imprints upon her the realization comes to you that even in the darkest corners of space, the circle of life, and of evolution, has meaning; an impressive amount of thematic depth for a portable action game in 1991.
10. Metroid: Other M – Wii 2010
In the ten-plus years since its release, Metroid fans still dread bringing up this title. While over time people have recognized it was not all that awful, it is still among the weakest in the series and missed the mark on what people liked about Samus as a character entirely. Team Ninja made something here that felt soulless, and even if it did have a soul, its story contents are nothing like Metroid, even if it looks like it. The gameplay style is an unequivocal mess as it tries to smash the platforming style of the 2-D games into a third dimension in isometric perspective, similar to Super Mario 3D World, and then force players to flip the Wii remote from its side and towards the screen/sensor bar in combat to throw them into a static Metroid Prime-style FPS mode. This ends up locking Samus’ footing into place as the sensor struggles to put the gun’s reticle in a place where people could actually defend themselves from bosses. The overlong story the game follows is even more of a mess and tears down the image of Samus Aran the company had inferred to the fanbase for 20 years by reducing her to a blubbering mess about her motherly attachment to a baby parasite, and decidedly doesn’t use her most powerful weapons unless the Commanding Officer she has a crush on demands her to. The game has no subtlety to the point that the acronym of its title is MOM. Needless to say, this is the most reviled entry in the series even if it isn’t necessarily the worst of them.
9. Metroid Prime: Hunters – Nintendo DS, 2006
Playable on: Wii U eShop
Hunters had a lot of hype behind it when the Nintendo DS launched with a demo pack-in cartridge that showed tons of promise in a portable adaptation of the mega-popular first-person spin-off series. The resulting game was pretty good, but after a long series of delays felt like a letdown for the fandom. While it was really cool to see world-building in Metroid by having Samus race for an ancient artifact against the galaxy’s other most powerful bounty hunters that are not only shown off in a CG sizzle reel but are actually playable in the game, the campaign fell short with unfocused art direction and clunky controls that nearly gave players arthritis with the DS’ tiny little touch screen stylus to aim and jump and shoot. Hunters‘ multiplayer, however, was an absolute blast, and the experience is doubly memorable for being one of the first-ever Nintendo titles with built-in voice chat over wi-fi multiplayer.
8. Metroid Prime Pinball – Nintendo DS, 2005
As one of the only games to support a rumble feature on the Nintendo DS and one of very few to seamlessly transition gameplay between the consoles’ top and bottom screen in real-time, Metroid Prime Pinball made for an awesome arcade game to while away traveling for Metroid fans. It incorporated enemies, environments and music from the first Metroid Prime game so well that we still believe Fuse Games (now Silverback Studios) should be the ones to give every Nintendo franchise a quality pinball treatment. Their other noteworthy adaptation was Mario Pinball Land on the GameBoy Advance.
7. Metroid Samus Returns – 2017, 3DS
At E3 2017, when Nintendo decidedly announced Metroid Prime 4’s development far too early, it was also quickly followed by a more understated game due out on 3DS that fall, MercurySteam’s Metroid: Samus Returns. It was a remake of the GameBoy title Metroid II, which was in serious need of an update. The Castlevania: Lords of Shadow developer made the first 2-D Metroid experience since 2004 by designing it as a 3-D build and adding several new mechanics to give the legacy franchise needed. The game added Aeon abilities, one of which was a scan function to keep secret pathways much less frustrating to find. The game also introduces a counter mechanic to change up the flow of combat, and it also turns the later evolutions of the Metroids into actual boss fights, as well as new creatures and machines and thrilling chase sequences.
6. Metroid Prime 3: Corruption – Wii, 2007
Playable on: Metroid Prime Trilogy on Wii U eShop
Corruption has one of the most thrilling opening chapters to a Nintendo game available as it shows all out war breaking out between Space Pirates and the Federation on a world thought safe from threat. Samus and her bounty hunter peers help each other through a collapsing base, and before the game even gets into full swing, the stakes are set up with action packed encounters with Dark Samus and Ridley. With fully rendered cutscenes and voice actors throughout, but with Samus still decidedly being a character of few words, this entry in the series brought Metroid’s lore into a place that made it feel like it was a living and breathing galaxy full of conflict. Here, Samus has peers, conflicts of interest, and a struggle to keep herself mentally stable as she’s progressively seduced by the power of a Phazon infection (similar to Spider-Man’s symbiote suit), the latter of which depends entirely on your choice to use it or not in combat. Additionally, this game features the first use of the Wii motion in the franchise, before the first two Primes were remastered in the 2009 Trilogy Collection, and it’s some of the most flawless use of motion control seen in any video game. The user interface is seamless, the pointer and the lock on system calibrate well, and the incorporation of a grapple mechanic using the Wii Nunchuck on enemies adds some good flair to a fight.
5. Metroid Prime 2: Echoes – GameCube, 2004
Playable on: Metroid Prime Trilogy on Wii U eShop
Metroid Prime was revolutionary and also a miracle. It nailed the ideal atmosphere, adapted the series’ traditional gameplay into a third dimension, and got all the critical and fan-base praise you could imagine. By 2004 shooters like Halo were taking over everything, but over on the lesser-used GameCube Metroid Prime 2 impressed players with even more expansive maps on the planet of Aether. The decidedly unique art direction, and the first inclusion of in-engine cutscenes throughout to give context to the game’s plot pale in the game’s core innovation to its gameplay: a Dark World. At the time, taking a note from Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past was a point of criticism, as several games since then had used weaving puzzles and navigation between two mirroring worlds. However, now that we’re nearing 20 years of this game being around many have reflected on it as a positive. Echoes introduced Samus’ traveling between a light dimension and a dark dimension, but in such a way that expands on Prime’s mechanical complexity. While it did result in more backtracking, the world structure made for some incredible puzzles, and the tension added by having Samus being actively damaged by Dark Aether’s atmosphere and terrifying enemies was what this sequel needed to keep from being too monotonous and similar to the first game.
4. Metroid Fusion – GameBoy Advance, 2002
Playable on: Wii U eShop
There were few things in video games in 2002 that gave players chills as much as sitting in a dark corridor aboard the Biological Space Laboratories and hearing Samus’ parasite clone, the S-AX, marching just inches away accompanied by ominous music, knowing that even the slightest movement could mean certain doom. Some veterans of the franchise will fault Fusion for being the first of the franchise to force linearity onto a player’s experience, but as many player’s first Metroid experiences those kinds of criticisms didn’t keep me from admiring the bizarre creature design, the spine chilling music and an actually well-built story that allows Samus to express emotion without seeming overly clingy to a dead superior, and expressing a moral standing on the use of the galaxy’s biology as weaponry.
3. Metroid: Zero Mission – GameBoy Advance, 2004
Playable on: Wii U eShop
This is how you do a remake. By 2004’s standards, the NES original Metroid was practically unplayable, and even more so when played today. Nintendo R&D1’s final project, Metroid: Zero Mission for the GameBoy Advance, is a breathtaking remaster of the original 1986 game. It is nothing but faithful to that entry while also understanding what kind of game it needs to be in order to create an enjoyable experience for new and old players by applying innovations from Super Metroid and Metroid Fusion. Plus, just when you think you’ve completed the game by wiping out Mother Brain and the Metroids, an added epilogue is put in for good measure, as Samus’ ship is struck down by space pirates and you’re forced to escape their occupation of the Chozo Ruins with only her Zero Suit and a stun gun. Few games could ever replicate the God-tier powerful playing a videogame other than the final sequence of Zero Mission escaping Zebes and the Space Pirate ship.
2. Metroid Prime – GameCube 2002
Playable on: Metroid Prime Trilogy on Wii U eShop
The fact that Retro Studios was able to pull off this game after a very rocky development is one of the most famous game development miracles of the 21st century. To take one of Nintendo’s most prestigious titles like Super Metroid and follow up to it a decade later with a first-person 3-D title in a high-pressure scenario was already a high order, but despite all of that, Metroid Prime delivered and it still does nearly 20 years later. Prime is a perfect study in adapting Search-Action/Metroidvania gameplay into a 3-D environment, and the game accomplishes this through Samus’ visor to the incredible effect: filter effects like water, steam, static, and light glares make the helmet an immersive environment to live in, and the hud of her arsenal and vitals are some of the most impressive in any accomplishment of UI in a video game. It translates everything great about its predecessors into a first-person perspective from claustrophobic hallways, beautiful but unsettling art direction, and a music score that feels like the planet itself is a breathing organism.
1. Super Metroid – Super Nintendo, 1994
Playable on: Nintendo Switch SNES Online, New 3DS eShop, Wii U eShop
There isn’t much that hasn’t already been said about Super Metroid. It is a game from 1994 that was critically lauded as one of the all-timers and is so well designed it will likely never need a remaster. It was one of the first games to provide custom button mapping, sequence breaking, and the genesis of speedrunning as its own medium of competitive entertainment, except now is done for charity and fundraising through programs like Games Done Quick and Extra Life. The most revolutionary and reviled Metroid game ever secures its #1 spot by also being the one that saves lives as a byproduct of its existence. Super Metroid was the pinnacle of in-house,16-bit game development, admittedly also a contributor to the modern standard of unhealthy crunch in the games industry. The visionary game is a sequel that brought Metroid’s overworld to life, made bosses feel larger than life, and cemented Samus Aran on the map as one of the most powerful gaming characters we’ve ever seen.
Bonus Entry: Another Metroid 2 Remake (AM2R) – 2016, PC (2.0 patch as of 2021)
While putting it on a list among all other official games in the Metroid series seems unfair, we’d be remiss to ignore Another Metroid 2 Remake, a one man project by Milton Guasti AKA DoctorM64. His on and off work over the last 10 years was out of a desire to give the series a spiritual successor to Metroid Zero Mission, as Samus Returns had yet to be revealed, and Metroid II for GameBoy was rapidly showing its age. AM2R expresses faithful love to the level design and game structure to that game’s tone and style, but also recognizes the things about the series that needed quality of life updates. This version of SR388 is in pixel perfect HD and widescreen and 60 frames per second. The game’s circular map that once looked the same now has visually distinct and functional sections that breathe life to the dead Chozo research planet: water pump systems, reactor cores and dark writhing hives in the underbelly of the world’s surface. Samus herself controls better than in any other 2-D Metroid as she inherits the speed she had in Zero Mission and the power she had in Super, and small changes like having a trigger button mapped just to spring in and out of morph ball, or smooth transitions to spider ball and missile variants all feel so clean on an Xbox One controller.
If Nintendo took all the notes from this incredible fan-made remake and stole it for their own use, even DoctorM64 would be happy, but as it stands, the franchise has yet to accomplish this kind of quality of life update.
We’ll see if it does with the release of Metroid Dread this October.