Retrospective: 30 Years of Metroid

We celebrate three decades of the adventures of Samus Aran!

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 08/15/2016 12:00 Comment on this     ShareThis

“Pray for a true peace in space.”

Thank goodness those words spoken at the end of the first Metroid never came. For thirty years, players around the world have been enjoying the adventures of the bounty hunter Samus Aran and her endless war against the evil Space Pirates and the vampiric Metroids. Though Nintendo’s holy trinity of franchises tends to be listed as Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda, and Metroid, the latter has always been something of a distant third, at least in terms of attention paid. While Super Mario and Zelda are fairly prolific in their output of new games, Metroid has been sporadic at best, absent at worst, with Nintendo only publishing a grand total of eleven entries in the series so far, with large gaps of time passing between many of them. Yet, while many fans would love to see more of Samus and company, perhaps it’s this focus on quality over quantity that makes the franchise so special. Let’s take a look at the series over the past three decades and reminisce over where Metroid has been, where it’s going, and hopefully where it will be taking us in the future.

Subverting Expectations

Metroid (Famicom Disk System, 1986)

Left to Right and Right to Left

Linearity had been a hallmark of 2D platformers since their inception. Players moved from left to right to reach the goal at the end, and that was it. Metroid, however, came along and subverted those expectations right out of the gates. Centered right in the middle of the screen, Samus could be guided to the right, as was standard… or to the left! Those who headed left, incidentally, were treated to the first power-up in the game, Samus’s signature Morph Ball transformation, and would come to find that Metroid was all about traveling around the entirety of planet Zebes to uncover all of its secrets.

He’s a She

Metroid played a little game with players when it came to the gender of hero Samus Aran. Those who peeked at the manual before playing were told that Samus was a he, while those who dived into the adventure blind received no hint whatsoever about Samus’s gender. It was only upon completing the game that players would come to find out that Samus was, in fact, a woman! Female heroes like Lara Croft, Jill Valentine, Chun-Li, and many others are much more commonplace these days, but without that reveal of Samus Aran’s femininity at the end of Metroid, it might have taken a lot longer before ladies were given a chance to shine as the main characters of video games!

Tugging at Heartstrings

Super Metroid (SNES, 1994)

By the time players got to Super Metroid, they’d already experienced two previous adventures fighting the deadly nominal race of life-sucking aliens. In Super Metroid, however, fans were thrown for a loop with the appearance of a docile, friendly Metroid hatchling partway through the game. When the final battle with Mother Brain reached its climax, the hatchling returned, now fully grown and ready to lend a helping hand… to Samus! The baby Metroid turned on its maker, instead allying itself with the Hunter, herself. It was an oddly touching moment seeing a creature normally hellbent on Samus’s destruction acting to save her, instead.

The First-Person Plunge

Metroid Prime (GameCube, 2002)

Metroid Prime followed in the footsteps of the original by also subverting player expectations, this time by eschewing the typical “annihilate everything in sight” approach of most first-person shooters. While Prime certainly had plenty of action, it was equally cerebral, as well, mixing in plenty of puzzle-solving and exploring. Scanning was a huge addition to Samus’s repertoire of moves, as it revealed more information than ever about her enemies, as well as the lore of the Chozo, Space Pirates, and more. Plus, who could forget the sight of Meta Ridley swooping in for one of their most epic battles, well, ever?!

Moving Forward by Going Backwards

Metroid Zero Mission (Game Boy Advance, 2004)

It’s not hyperbole to assert that Metroid Zero Mission is one of the greatest video game remakes ever made. While Samus had moved to a first-person perspective for her home console adventures, her handheld releases were still being delivered with the beloved 2D perspective still intact. Fans of Super Metroid were treated to a retread of the original Metroid on GBA, but with the benefits of improved graphics and play control, effectively updating a classic for a modern audience. Plus, the addition of new areas to explore, enemies, and even the introduction of Samus’s Zero Suit in an incredibly tense finale, made Zero Mission a highlight of the series!

Samus the Baller

Metroid Prime Pinball (Nintendo DS, 2005)

Though players had spent years up to that point having grown accustomed to Samus rolling into a ball, it still didn’t seem likely that a pinball spin-off of the Prime series would work. Thankfully, Metroid Prime Pinball was an excellent adaptation of the series’ standard exploration and alien-blasting to the familiar mechanics of the old-school arcade staple. With authentic feeling ball physics, Metroid Prime Pinball was a one-off which demonstrated that the Metroid universe was more than ready to venture into other video game genres.

Beauty in Motion

Metroid Prime 3: Corruption (Wii, 2005)

Wii brought with it the revolution of motion controls, and no genre seemed better suited to the consoles style of input than the first-person shooter. Metroid Prime 3: Corruption was the first Metroid game to utilize motion controls, and it did so with ease. The shooting was fluid and precise, and additions like flicking the Wii Nunchuk to utilize Samus’s Grapple Beam were inspired. Although fans didn’t get to actually pilot Samus’s Gunship, being able to peer around its interior and initiate its thrusters was another highlight of the (for now!) finale to the Prime series.

Metroid Prime: Federation Force (which launches August 19) might not be the proper series installment that fans have been clamoring for, but at least it’s a sign that Nintendo hasn’t forgotten Samus and her unique world of enemies and allies. Metroid is one of the marquee video game franchises, inspiring countless players and developers across the span of its 30 year existence. Some of the greatest games ever made are counted among its ranks, and we can only hope that even more adventures await Samus Aran in the future!

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