The History of Metroid

Nintendo’s long-running Metroid series has always been a cornerstone in the world of video game equal rights. Now, I know what you’re thinking: what the hell does a popular science fiction game series have to do with equality?

When the original Metroid was released way back in 1986, NES fans were treated to a sprawling scifi platformer with labyrinthine passageways, dangerous enemies, weapon upgrades, and an infuriating password system. (Note: In Japan, Metroid was released on the Famicom Disk System, and thus had full save support. Lucky them.) Regardless, everyone thrilled to the adventures of the bounty hunter Samus Aran as they trekked deep within the planet Zebes, hunting down the villainous Space Pirates and their leader, the Mother Brain. The game’s title came from creatures known as Metroids; these jellyfish-esque things were energy vampires, sucking the life out of whatever came near them. Naturally, the Space Pirates are up to no good with these things, so Samus has been hired to stop them.

Beating the game explains where the equal rights thing comes in. After the credits sequence, Samus ditches the helmet and armor…and we discover that our battlesuit-clad hero is a woman. Gamers were floored by this, as video games were (and still are) a very male-dominated field as far as heroes are concerned. Metroid changed all that by casting a female as a badass bounty hunter, who definitely ranked up there with her male counterparts. Most gamers would likely tell you that Samus could beat the living hell out of most male video game heroes, and they’d be right!

Even though the Mother Brain was destroyed, Samus’ adventures weren’t over. We next saw her journey to the Metroids’ homeworld, SR388, in the Game Boy title Metroid II: The Return of Samus. No Space Pirates here, but there were plenty of indigenous lifeforms and mutated Metroids to deal with. By the end of the game, Samus had exterminated every Metroid on the planet, with the exception of a baby Metroid that she had "adopted." This leads right into what is arguably the finest Metroid game ever made…Super Metroid.

Appearing on the Super NES in 1994, Super Metroid still ranks as one of the best SNES titles made, period. The graphics, sound, and overall atmosphere of the title have really stood the test of time. This game picks up right where Metroid II left off, with Samus delivering the baby Metroid to the Ceres research station. As expected, trouble’s on the way, as Samus picks up a distress call the moment she leaves the station. By the time she gets back, the Space Pirates have ransacked the place and stolen the baby Metroid. Samus follows them back to Zebes, and she once again has to explore the subterranean caverns to stop the Pirates. A few classic enemies show up to make life difficult for our heroine, and the fate of the baby Metroid is decided during a climactic battle with a regenerated Mother Brain. In the aftermath of the battle, Zebes is destroyed.

Samus may be a busy girl, but one thing that had never been properly explained was her origins. Nintendo fixed that hole with the release of Metroid Prime on the Gamecube in 2002. This game is famous for giving us our first new Metroid game in eight years, but also for completely revamping the franchise. Rather than the typical platforming action, Metroid Prime was a first-person shooter, along the lines of Halo. This was done for a few reasons: a) Nintendo needed something radically different to really drum up interest; b) Halo‘s release and staggering sales drove FPS fans wild, and Nintendo naturally wanted a piece of the action; and c) there was no Metroid title for Nintendo’s previous console, the N64, so they wanted a mindblowing piece of software that would really push the Gamecube’s hardware while satisfying Metroid fans old and new.

Taking place between the original Metroid and Metroid II, Prime found Samus on the planet Tallon IV. The world was a former stronghold of the Chozo; they were a race of birdlike aliens, and their presence across the galaxy is one of legend. (Those item-holding statues found in just about every Metroid game represent the Chozo.) At some point in the past, a meteor smashed into the planet, infecting it with a mysterious substance known as Phazon. The Space Pirates jumped at the chance to harness the stuff, and they’ve been secretly strip-mining the place. Samus caught on to their plans, and infiltrated the joint to put a stop to the Pirates once more.

Prime also unveils a good portion of Samus’ past. She was orphaned at a young age on the planet K-2L due to a Space Pirate attack, and was actually raised by the Chozo! Recognizing the girl’s potential, the Chozo taught Samus to be a warrior and even infused her with their blood. Samus’ unique power suit? A gift from her Chozo benefactors. This heightened her abilities even further, and led to her reputation as the galaxy’s best bounty hunter.

To distance itself from competing FPS titles while simultaneously attracting fans of that genre, Nintendo’s fans touted Prime as a "first-person adventure." This is a bit of a misnomer, as most video game genres require a degree of exploration; as a result, you could say most games are "adventures" (technically, most games are also RPGs, since you’re playing the role of the main character or characters). More often than not, the FPA label is used by fans to separate Prime from Halo and friends, like some kind of black sheep. I really don’t see the point; FPS is FPS, and the genre a game is placed in doesn’t affect the quality of the game itself. True FPAs are games like Shadowgate or Uninvited, anyway…but let’s return to the task at hand. Strange labeling aside, Prime pleased Metroid fans of old, while creating plenty of new ones. The only thing it was really missing was a multiplayer deathmatch mode…

…which was naturally added to its sequel, Metroid Prime 2: Echoes. The latest addition to the Metroid saga sees Samus fighting a war on the planet Aether against dark creatures known as the Ing, and there’s an "evil twin" she needs to battle with as well! I won’t go into any more detail here, as the game came out rather recently and I don’t want to spoil it any further. Suffice it to say that it’s a perfect successor to the original Prime, and fans definitely won’t be let down.

Not wanting Game Boy Advance fans to be left out, Samus made her way to the handheld system with Metroid Fusion and Metroid: Zero Mission.

Fusion is a sequel to Super Metroid; even the intro screens bill it as “Metroid 4.” In Fusion, Samus was infected by a parasite from the planet SR388 known as X. This is a classic example of past good deeds coming back to bite you in the ass; X’s only natural predator was the Metroids, but Samus wiped those out in Metroid II; now, X parasites run rampant, infecting everything on the planet, and using their cloning ability to lure in even more victims. Samus’ infection very nearly killed her, and sections of her power suit had to be surgically removed as doctors frantically worked to save her life. As a last-dtich effort, she was given an experimental injection of Metroid DNA. The process healed Samus, and it also gave her with a natural resistance to X, making her the perfect choice to hunt the parasites down. Her newly regrown power suit, however, was now bonded to her flesh…now known as the Fusion Suit! During the course of her travels around a massive space station, Samus hunts down the parasites and also has to deal with the SA-X, a clone of herself created by the X. For a while, you don’t even fight the thing; it’s so overpowered that it can obliterate you with minimal effort. As time goes on, more about the SA-X is explained, as well as a government conspiracy dealing with the Metroids themselves and some dangerous secret experiments. Fusion also links up to the first Prime title; you can unlock the original NES Metroid game within Prime, as well as run around in the Fusion Suit in Prime. Definitely a nice extra.

Zero Mission is a remake of the original Metroid game (picture Metroid and Super Metroid doing the nasty and having a child, and you’ve got Zero Mission). While many Metroid purists (including myself) were annoyed that Nintendo was shelling out yet another rehash (as they’ve done with other series like Super Mario Bros.), Zero Mission could really be considered “Metroid 1.5.” It’s the original quest, right down to the enemies and bosses…but now you’ve got access to better weapons and abilities like the Charge Beam, Speed Booster, and more. The enemies’ behavior has been tweaked accordingly; the game would be too easy if you were fighting the same old enemies with newer, more powerful weapons. There’s plenty of new areas to explore, and as expected, the graphics and sound have been completely overhauled. There’s even a new ending and additional quest! Plus, once you complete Zero Mission, the original Metroid is unlocked to satisfy your retro needs (in case you don’t have Prime and Fusion).

With Nintendo’s latest gaming system, the DS, buyers were treated to a rare treat in this day and age: a pack-in game. Well, that’s not entirely accurate…the game was just a demo. But what a demo it was for Metroid fans…see, the DS includes Metroid Prime Hunters: First Hunt. For a simple demo, First Hunt is surprisingly robust. It includes three "training missions" to prepare you for the full Metroid Prime Hunters game, due out in May of 2005. There’s a standard run ‘n’ gun mission, a morph ball mission, and a survival mission. All three of them are quite good, and First Hunt even has three multiplayer maps so you can to frag your friends back to the Stone Age. First Hunt‘s use of the DS’ touch screen is especially noteworthy; since most FPS fans are used to the ol’ keyboard-and-mouse combo on their home computers, the touch screen lets you approximate mouse control with one hand while using the other hand to hit the L and R triggers to fire. This control scheme is especially responsive, and gives a clear indication of how impressive the final product will be. Let’s hope Nintendo throws a decent single-player quest into the final game; as it stands right now, the primary focus seems to be on the multiplayer aspect.

Just in case you weren’t sick of the original Metroid yet, Nintendo recently reissued the game again as part of their "Classic NES Series" of GBA ports. It’s like a Metroid overload! Why Nintendo did this is questionable, though, as Zero Mission includes the original game plus the remake for only a few dollars more. Some people will buy anything, I suppose.

Like many other video game characters (especially in the Nintendo fold), Samus has strutted her armored stuff in plenty of non-Metroid titles. Along with top Nintendo characters Mario and Link, Samus proved her combat mettle in both Super Smash Bros. games, but she’s also appeared randomly in other titles. She appeared after a credits sequence in Tetris; she was on a special table in Galactic Pinball; there’s a Samus statue in Kirby Super Star; there’s a Samus toy and the bounty hunter herself asleep in a bed in Super Mario RPG; and you get to bring her a Metroid in Kirby’s Dream Land 3. She certainly does get around…but if you said that to her face, she’d likely blast it off with a charge shot. Oh, the Metroids themselves appear in the classic NES title Kid Icarus as well.

What’s next? With the success of the Prime titles and the GBA titles, Samus will have jobs lined up left and right for the foreseeable future. Hey, bounty hunting is a sweet career choice! Unless your last name is Fett…

Game List (release order)

Metroid (NES/GBA, 1986/2004)
Metroid II: The Return of Samus (Game Boy, 1992)
Super Metroid (SNES, 1994)
Metroid Prime (Gamecube, 2002)
Metroid Fusion (GBA, 2002)
Metroid: Zero Mission (GBA, 2004)
Metroid Prime 2: Echoes (Gamecube, 2004)
Metroid Prime: Hunters (DS, 2005)

Cameo Appearances

Kid Icarus (NES, 1987)
Tetris (NES, 1989)
Galactic Pinball (Virtual Boy, 1995)
Kirby Super Star (SNES, 1996)
Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (SNES, 1996)
Kirby’s Dream Land 3 (SNES, 1998)
Super Smash Bros. (N64, 1999)
Super Smash Bros. Melee (Gamecube, 2001)