After finishing Samus' latest journey, Neal ponders where it might fit in the 2D Metroid hierarchy.
As I’m writing this, I finished Metroid: Samus Returns several days ago and have messed around with harder difficulties while trying my best to 100% my initial save file. As you can read in my review, I adored Samus Returns and I think it’s a brilliant game and remake that is a worthy entry in the 2D Metroid pantheon. But where does it fit in that enduring series legacy? I’m still trying to figure it out and don’t expect to personally come to a full conclusion until more time passes, but here’s my first stab at reassessing my personal Metroid ranking after Samus Returns.
Right off the bat, Samus Returns is way better than Metroid and Metroid II. Yes, both of those games were genre-defining in a lot of ways, but they just don’t hold up as well. I’d also say that Samus Returns is better than Metroid Fusion. I enjoy Fusion, but Samus Returns, thanks to its more open-ended design, is something I’m more likely to revisit than Fusion. That 2002 GBA game does a lot right, but the rigid structure and focus on narrative generally halts any replay I attempt, even if the SA-X stuff is super awesome. Out of the six 2D Metroids from Nintendo, I’d rank Fusion, Metroid, and Metroid II fourth, fifth, sixth respectively.
The top three spots are ones I’m not as sure about the order right now. Before Samus Returns, I’ve long held the belief that while Super Metroid is a masterpiece, Zero Mission is the better game. I don’t think it’s a big divide, but Super Metroid shows its age (though not really to much detriment) and Zero Mission is a modern marvel. In a lot of ways, though, Samus Returns takes the great strides Zero Mission made to make the series more palpable to a bigger audience and runs with it. The simple reality of Samus Returns’ lessened and optional hand-holding gives it more difficulty variance. I absolutely adore Zero Mission, but having the game essentially dictate the critical path to you, while very nice, does take away a tiny bit from the sense of isolation and exploration.
In a lot of ways, I feel like Samus Returns takes a lot of the best elements of Super Metroid and Zero Mission and fuses them into a killer remake that pays homage to the past and looks to the future. Super Metroid damn near perfected the explorative foundation of the NES original, and then Zero Mission refined that into a magnificent and focused adventure that’s basically all killer and no filler. Samus Returns is a much longer game than Zero Mission. While my initial Zero Mission run was somewhere around four hours, my first Samus Returns play totalled 13 hours. The new 3DS game isn’t quite as narrowly focused and pure as the its GBA predecessor, it does a lot more to drive the series forward in my opinion. Only time will tell if that’s totally true, just like how only time will tell if I’m still this over the moon about Samus Returns in a year or three. As it stands right now, I think Zero Mission is still my favorite Metroid game and Super Metroid is probably my second favorite, but I expect I’ll want to replay Samus Returns in a few months. When I do, it’s highly possible that my fuzzy nostalgia for older Metroid games might give way to my newfound adoration of the new hotness that Nintendo and MercurySteam have crafted.