After replaying them all in the span of a month, Justin weighs in on the 2D Metroid debate.
Over the last month I’ve played through the entire 2D Metroid series in preparation for the release of Metroid Dread. I’ve been a Metroid fan for most of my life and remember when there was only one game in the Metroid franchise. Metroid has always seemed like a very special Nintendo series to me because the games are all pretty good and, for some reason, seem to be somewhat niche in their global popularity. When there is new Metroid merchandise I usually take notice because it just feels special.
But none of that really matters. You’re here to see how I rank the entire 2D Metroid series after having played them all over the past few weeks. And maybe when I’m done with Dread I’ll come back and add that to the list too.
However, to be clear, I don’t think any game on the list is bad, so if your favorite wasn’t ranked highly enough just know I still enjoy all of these.
#6 Metroid: Samus Returns
Samus Returns is a remake of Metroid II, but heavily expanded in terms of scope. It may have nods to the source material but it’s largely a completely new game. It also introduces a Melee Counter and Aeion abilities to Samus’s arsenal.
That said, I feel like Samus Returns is a bit of a slog. The Melee Counter is too heavily relied upon. Nearly every enemy in the game is hyper aggressive, takes way too many hits to defeat, and the best way to annihilate them is waiting for their counterable charge attack. This makes traversing the world slower and annoying.
The Aeion Abilities could be fun, but it adds some confusion to the combat. Throughout Metroid games players can collect missiles to have more ammo to use for special attacks. But during boss fights in Samus Returns I still have no idea if it’s best to use missiles or to go for the Beam Burst (rapid fire) Aeion Ability.
Speaking of Bosses, Samus Returns has some of the hardest bosses in the Metroid series. This is both good and bad. More experienced players will likely manage, but I can see new players bouncing off certain bosses hard since some are quite involved. Players also have ways to do extra damage to bosses by using the Melee Counter at certain points, but the window on some of these is very small and the tells could be better.
I’m also not so sure about the Aeion Scan Pulse ability. This is the power that reveals large chunks of map around the player when used. It, like the constant aggressive general enemies, seems to slow down gameplay due to players looking for it all having to constantly use it. It would have been nice if there was a way for it to slowly drain Aeion Energy when new areas are hit instead of having to be constantly used by the player.
The different areas also largely look similar, hurting the sense of discovery a bit. Additionally, there is an overuse of fans around morph ball and bomb puzzles that just comes off as lazy and uninspired, overuse of switching items on the touch screen, baffling button controls that could have been mapped better especially for New 3DS users, a map that requires an electron microscope to see the details of, and an annoying special ability/mobility option that isn’t even hinted at in game that’s needed to collect all the items. It also uses several music tracks from the Metroid Prime series instead of a wider selection of updated tracks from the source material.
Yeah, I may have said a lot of negative things about Samus Returns, but it’s still an enjoyable experience. It should be praised for its addition to the 2D Metroid lore, for connecting the 2D series to the Metroid Prime games, and introducing warp points across the map which makes re-traversal easier. Some of what Mercury Steam, the team behind the game, was going for could be refined to make a great Metroid game, but this first attempt left a lot to be desired.
#5 Metroid Fusion
Metroid Fusion is probably the hardest game for me to place on this list because it’s so different from all the other Metroid titles. The look is fantastic and the colors really pop if you’re playing on a modern display. Really, Fusion looks great and makes me wish for another sprite based Metroid game.
Samus feels amazing to control and I think the twist to gameplay with the X Parasite is very fun. It’s cool seeing enemies turn into different things and having to hunt them down after being destroyed instead of getting generic power-up drops. The addition to the overall Metroid lore is also interesting and gave players a ton to talk about over the years.
That said, Metroid Fusion is the most linear Metroid experience out there and you’ll either love or hate it. This is probably very good for beginners to the series as it’s an extremely guided experience that does reward players for a moderate sense of trying things and exploring. The bosses are also fun and there are several of them to experience.
My problem with the exploration is that, like in many Metroid games, you may want to go back to previous areas to collect items with your newly gained abilities. However, players will often find themselves unable to if they try, but only after making it close to some of these places. You see, the terrain often changes in Fusion. Destroyed doors and areas will block the player's path to a previously reachable destination. The frustrating part is none of this is ever indicated on the map so if you do try to go back you will quickly find out you’re wasting your time. Therefore it’s best to explore only after completing the main game but by then you’ll likely lose interest.
On the positive side of things I must say the SA-X is a great foe in Fusion creating tension when encountered which really jives well with the sense of isolation found in most Metroid games. Sure, you’re not as alone in Metroid Fusion, but there are several forces working against Samus that makes everything happening feel more desperate. I only wish the final two bosses of the game were more of a challenge because it does feel a little off, but maybe Samus just gets that strong by the end.
#4 Metroid II: Return of Samus
I know many claim Return of Samus to be a bad game, but they are wrong. Sure, it’s a bit dated, but it did a lot to advance the Metroid formula and is still a ton of fun. Metroid II introduces saves (for those outside of Japan), the ability to shoot down, crouching, Varia Suit, Spider Ball, and more! It even included ways to fully restore health and ammo which wasn’t present in the first game.
Return of Samus doesn’t have a map, but that’s much less of a problem this time around since the game is more linear. Each area that opens up has a set amount of Metroids to hunt down before the next place opens up. Each zone is pretty segmented and there isn’t much of a reason to go back to previous ones unless you’re looking for all the optional power ups. One negative is that trying to find everything is really a daunting task in this game, but the good news is nothing is tied to it.
The music and tone in Metroid II is also special. Tons of creepy sound effects and atmospheric yet catchy synth tunes add to the atmosphere and have stuck with me for years. It’s a real shame more of these weren’t updated in the remake.
Return of Samus is a short and sweet linear Metroid experience that doesn’t really have much BS thrown in. It’s the game that really made me fall in love with the Metroid franchise and it even has a specially selected default color scheme if played on a Super Game Boy, and specially added color if played on Game Boy Color.
The game that started it all. Some people will think I’m crazy for placing the original so highly when some of the previous entries have advanced the formula so much, but there is a lot to be said about the first Metroid title.
For starters, there are many ways to tackle Metroid. Metroid, as a series, is often thought of for it’s non-linear gameplay and that is present right from the start. There are ways to bust this game open like none other, especially if you start using glitches to really mess with it.
Metroid is a very challenging experience since there is no map, but I think that’s part of the charm. It’s easy to get lost in these caverns and each time you figure something out it feels like an accomplishment. The dark backgrounds also add to the crazy sense of isolation and the game’s overall tone in this sense is really only matched by its direct sequel, Metroid II: Return of Samus. However, I can understand how the lack of a map can be frustrating at times but I think many of the game’s original players would share fond memories of graphing it all out as they played.
The biggest problem I have with the NES classic is that death is far too punishing. When Samus is revived she comes back with a measly 30 health. This makes it so the player is likely going to spend a ton of time grinding their health back. It would be great if Nintendo added a SP release on the Nintendo Entertainment System - Nintendo Switch Online app that gives Samus full, or even half of her health back upon death. I feel this would instantly make the game better for newer players. For more experienced individuals they probably know where to look to get more E-Tanks, which fills up all health upon collecting.
Maybe it’s my personal nostalgia, but it’s one of the Metroid games I’d like to drop more time into. As stated there are many ways to tackle it and fun options to break the game. The music is also unforgettable and the characters introduced will stick with me forever.
#2 Super Metroid
Super Metroid is a masterpiece and could easily take the top spot on this list depending on my mood for the day. The third Metroid title really solidified and shaped the genre like none other and holds up incredibly well today. It’s also the most replayable Metroid in existence and the one best suited for expert players.
Samus goes back to Zebes in this Metroid and bumps into old foes, as well as many new ones. There are a ton of fun new upgrades and many ways to sequence break making the game extremely nonlinear for those who can really push Samus and her abilities to the max. And yes, there are a number of cool glitches that allow players to push the game further too.
There are several fun bosses, amazing music, and secrets, so many secrets, to be discovered. The overall level design is great and the game is filled with a bunch of unforgettable moments which I don’t want to spoil here for new players. Though, if you haven’t played this game you really should as it’s one of the most accessible Metroid games ever made.
I love Super Metroid, but it does have some minor flaws. Yeah hate me for saying that, but it’s the truth. The map isn’t the best, though in its defense it was the first in the series. Samus feels a bit janky in this game as well but you can, and will, adjust to it. Though wall jumping can be a hard skill for newer players to master. And finally, that stupid final save point locks players out from returning to other areas to get all the items. Just don’t save in the final area and you’ll be fine.
Super Metroid is one of the best games on the Super Nintendo and every gamer should really give it a shot. It’s a true classic and its game design should be studied by game developers.
#1 Metroid: Zero Mission
Picking between Zero Mission and Super Metroid was a very daunting task, but in the end I think Zero Mission is, overall, the best built Metroid game. Maybe not necessarily for pros, as I said that award goes to Super Metroid. However, Zero Mission gets a lot of things right and is well deserving at the top spot as far as I’m concerned.
First off, Zero Mission is a remake of the original game and is one of the best video game remakes ever. It takes the first title and updates it greatly. When players of the original bump into familiar areas they may know what to expect, but the gameplay is fresh and at times there is even more added to it.
Beginners to the Metroid experience will also be pleased to know the game offers a more guided experience by placing markers on the map the player should try and reach. Experts will also quickly learn they can largely ignore these at times to sequence break and do things their own way. It’s really the best of both worlds.
Samus controls wonderfully in Zero Mission with the only gripe I have being the wall jump is a little hard to master, but in a completely different way than in Super Metroid. The graphics are great, there are new bosses to mix with the old, abilities and powers from other Metroid games are added, and a new section at the end of the game that helps expand the Metroid lore and connects it to the official manga that was released in Japan. The map is also probably the best out of all the Metroid games, though maybe that will change once Dread releases.
I only have a few minor complaints about Zero Mission. The Ridley and Kraid boss fights just seem a bit too easy. Luckily there is a Hard Mode players can unlock, but this could just be a personal preference. Also the final area of Zero Mission, which is a completely new addition, can be hard to re-navigate if you wish to go back for all the items. Speaking of going for 100% completion, it will take some skill as a few will require players to push Samus’s abilities to the max. It’s a challenge that beginners will probably dislike, but for me it’s pretty cool. Opinions will vary on this but none of those mega advanced skills are required to complete the game.
Minor complaints aside, Zero Mission is the best Metroid game and it’s a damn shame it’s not easily accessible on any current gaming platform. It was released on Game Boy Advance and as a Virtual Console title on Wii U. It would be great if this game could be brought to a platform like Switch for more people to experience because it’s really that good.