The date was August 6, 1986. Nintendo releases Metroid, featuring a space soldier named Samus Aran. Their mission is to infiltrate the planet Zebes and stop the Space Pirates from turning the Metroid creatures into weapons. It was pretty much a standard video game from the get go. Metroid was a game full of exploration and power-ups, bosses and bad guys. Beating it under five hours granted players with the plot twist of a lifetime.
Samus was a girl.
The era of badass women in video games had begun. Samus was one of the first examples of a leading lady doing every a man could do, and being just as good at it too. But the history of this iconic video game character is much more disjointed than you might expect. Nintendo seems to put this character away for six or seven years at a time before pulling it back out again for another go around. It’s a strange legacy, but nevertheless one still worth exploring.
The Classic Era of Metroid consists of three games from 1986 to 1994: Metroid, Metroid II: Return of Samus, and Super Metroid. Naturally, as explained above – what really set the first Metroid game in 1986 apart from the rest was the reveal that the protagonist was a woman. Not just in the fact itself, but the way that the game hid it from the player was also a secret. You could only see this reveal sequence if you beat Metroid fast enough. In the era before the internet, it took some time for this secret to spread via word of mouth and print magazines. But it certainly was something. In terms of plot, the game was about Samus stopping the Mother Brain, Kraid, and Ridley from exploiting the Metroid species. But then 1991’s Metroid II: Return of Samus takes a dark turn in terms of storylines. Our hero Samus is sent to the Metroid homeworld in order to exterminate the entire Metroid species, as the Galactic Federation thinks they’re too dangerous to exist. That’s one hell of an anti-hero we got there. Samus spends the game slaughtering the Metroids and ends up taking out the Queen herself, only to show mercy at the last second when a Metroid egg hatches and gravitates towards Samus as a mother figure. She ends up turning over the baby Metroid to Ceres Research Lab for studying, leading to the plot of the 1994 Super Metroid game for the SNES. This game starts with Samus receiving a distress call from Ceres, forcing her to turn around and return to the Space Station. She finds Ridley stealing the Metroid hatchling, and follows them back to Zebes where the Space Pirates are trying to clone the Metroid species and use them as weapons (again). After taking out a reborn Ridley, Kraid, and a host of new guardians, Samus is face to face with the Mother Brain again. Almost dying in battle, the Metroid hatchling gives it’s own life to save Samus at the last minute. She escapes the planet right before it explodes, putting a sad yet heroic end to the Metroid race once and for all.
The simplest way to define the 2002 – 2010 era of Metroid is by calling it the start of the 3D games. Although Metroid Fusion in 2002 was one of the last new chapters that had a 2D style on the Game Boy Advance. The story of Fusion takes place far off in the future of the Metroid timeline, with Samus helping researchers on planet SR388. After getting infected by the X Parasite (the prey of the Metroid species), Samus is cured via Metroid DNA, which allows her to then absorb X parasites as a source of energy. But then one of these parasites grows intelligent and takes over Samus’ old armor, and raises hell releasing more of the X creatures all over a research station. She encounters a secret Metroid breeding program while dealing with this threat, which appears to be the source of the havoc. Samus is able to reabsorb this sentient parasite that took over her armor to defeat an Omega Metroid, and escapes the space research station before it’s collision with SR388.
The Metroid Prime trilogy for the Gamecube and Wii is the main pillar of the 3D Metroid era. Officially it takes place after the original Metroid game, but before Metroid II. In Metroid Prime (2002), Samus goes to Tallon IV in order to stop Space Pirates from harnessing a resource called Phazon for malicious purposes. She collects a series of Chozo artifacts and defeats Ridley only to find a Metroid Prime, a Metroid corrupted by Phazon. The Metroid rips Samus from her suit, and she narrowly escapes. On to Metroid Prime 2: Echoes (2004) – Samus goes to Aether to try and rescue a Marine squad. Unfortunately she was too late, they all died at the hands of a creature called Ing. She meets with the people of Luminoth, who the Ing see as a threat, and learns Aether suffered strange circumstances as Tallon IV did after a meteor crash landed. Here, it split the planet into light and dark dimensions. Samus travels to Dark Aether in order to harness energy to send to Light Aether, destroying the Ing in the process. The game ends with a showdown between the Ing Emperor and Dark Samus vs. Samus. She wins, but Dark Samus is shown to still be lurking in outer space. In 2007’s finale of Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, the Space Pirates attack the Galactic Federation using the Phazon they acquired from the first game. Leviathan ships infect planets with Phazon, and Samus spends the course of the game purging it away. The game concludes at the Phazon source on planet Phaaze, with Samus facing off against Dark Samus and ending up victorious.
There were two Nintendo DS games for Metroid. The first one was Metroid Prime: Pinball (2005), which presented the game in a Pinball style format, with enemies that wander around the table. You have to collect 12 artifacts and defeat Meta Ridley in the Artifact Temple, and then slay the Metroid Prime creature at the Impact Crater. Metroid Prime: Hunters came out in 2006, and was much more of a straightforward Metroid series experience. Playing as Samus, you use the touchscreen controls on the DS to help you navigate the environment. She’s tasked by the Galactic Federation to recieve an Ultimate Power from the Alimbic solar system. Samus learns about the history of the Alimbic race and their demise at the hands of Gorea. The original Metroid got a 2004 remake called Zero Mission for the GBA, to bring the game to a whole new generation of gamers. Along with that, the Metroid Prime Trilogy that came out for the Wii in 2009 had all three of the Prime games in one package.
There was one last main Metroid game in this Modern Era. Metroid: Other M came out in August 2010, taking place between Super Metroid and Metroid Fusion. Samus travels to a space facility known as the Bottle Ship, where she meets old military friends Adam Malkovich, Anthony Higgs, and their marine squad. Initially giving her a cold shoulder reaction, the Marines team up with Samus after she saves them from a monster attack. They learn that the Bottle Ship was used to research bio-weapons for the Federation, shortly after that they’re attacked by a reptile monster that’s similar in appearance to Ridley. While going after the beast, Samus discovers that a traitor is among the Marine platoon, someone she names “Deleter”. A mysterious woman that’s in the middle of all this turns out to be a Madeline Bergman A.I. based on the Mother Brain, and is controlling Metroids in Sector Zero. Adam sacrifices himself to blow the Metroids up, and Samus slays the remnants of Ridley while finally meeting the real Madeline Bergman. The A.I. was initially designed to only befriend the Metroids, but eventually grew sentient. A group of Federation Marine reinforcements arrive and shoot the A.I. dead, leaving Samus, Madeline, and Anthony to regroup back at the Galactic Federation HQ.
Metroid: Other M was considered a disappointment with character and plot development, but a success when it came to gameplay, graphics, and atmosphere. The poor sales reception of the title seemed to be the cause of Nintendo shelving the Metroid series for five-plus years.
So where does that leave our female hero in the year 2016? The answer to that is nowhere. Alas, the upcoming Metroid Prime: Federation Force coming out for the Nintendo 3DS does not have Samus in the leading role. Instead, the game has you take control with a Marine of the Galactic Federation instead of Samus. As a soldier in a platoon, you and your friends go on missions from planet to planet, facing off against enemies previously seen in the Metroid series, taking place between Metroid and Metroid II on the overall timeline.
The trailer was negatively received during it’s debut at E3 last year, due to the departure from the formula this new game is taking. We’ll have to wait and see what may come of it when the game finally releases this month.
However there is still hope for classic Metroid fans, with the release of an HD remake for Metroid II. It debuted on August 6th to coincide with the anniversary of the Metroid series. The game, officially titled Another Metroid 2 Remake, has been in development for around ten years.
According to the blog post from the developer announcing the game’s release:
It was a long journey. I grew up both as a person and as a developer along this project. Today I can start sharing with you the rest of the game.