If you listen to any Metroid fan talk passionately about the consistent quality of this franchise as well as the many ways it has changed gaming over the years, you may start to wonder why we really only got one “proper” Metroid game (Metroid II remake Metroid: Samus Returns) between 2007 and 2021. Well, the answer has to do with the one word you won’t hear a lot of hardcore Metroid fans say when they talk about this franchise: “sales.”
Nintendo has historically never been very open in terms of sales figures, but between the official sales figures that have been released over the years and most educated guesses regarding Metroid‘s historic sales figures, we can safely say that Metroid is not one of Nintendo’s best-selling franchises. Not only do most estimates suggest that Metroid barely cracks a list of the top twenty best-selling Nintendo franchises ever, but there’s a possibility that no Metroid game has ever sold more than 4 million units.
Why has the Metroid franchise sold so poorly over the years relative to other Nintendo series? Well, there’s no definitive answer to that question, but everyone has theories. Some say it has to do with Nintendo’s poor marketing of the franchise, some blame bad timing, some blame the genre, and some simply say that the games just weren’t meant to appeal to wider audiences.
Whatever the reason for the disconnect, perhaps it’s more important to acknowledge that there is a disconnect. Despite all the acclaim, despite the fact that other Metroidvania games have sold well, and despite the fact that the much more successful Legend of Zelda franchise is arguably as complicated as any Metroid game, there’s just something about this series that has helped ensure that it has historically been a sales disappointment.
That’s a big part of the reason why Metroid Dread‘s early sales success is such a pleasant surprise.
We don’t know Metroid Dread‘s exact sales figures so far, but what few early figures we do have access to are nothing but positive. Not only is Metroid Dread reportedly already the highest-grossing Metroid game in UK history, but it has reportedly already outsold nearly every other Metroid game to date in Japan as well. What’s even more impressive is that the release of Metroid Dread has seemingly inspired gamers to go back and buy older games in the Metroid franchise.
Much like Metroid‘s historic sales struggles, all I have are theories regarding why Dread is performing so well. Yes, it’s a great game, but being great has never been this series’ problem. Maybe it has something to do with the incredible success of the Switch, the rise in Metroid-like experiences on the indie scene over the years, absence making the heart grow fonder, or even the relatively slow 2021 release schedule (in terms of Triple-A releases, that is). Even with those theories, the success of Metroid Dread compared to its predecessors has to be considered something of a surprise.
What’s more important (and more surprising) than the fact Dread is selling well is the fact that it’s a Metroid game that’s selling well that stays true to the series’ classic formula. Nintendo has tried to let people play with the Metroid formula over the years to…less than incredible success (looking at you Other M), but it’s still easy to imagine Nintendo executives informing the Dread team that it’s time to reconsider the very foundation of this franchise that has historically sold so poorly. Nintendo doesn’t strictly need Dread to be a sales success, but the Metroid franchise’s long time away from the spotlight reminds you that they’re very much aware of this series’ struggles and aren’t above withholding new Metroid experiences due, in part, to those struggles.
Instead, the Dread team went out and made just about the purest Metroid experience you can imagine. If you’re a gamer who has never played a Metroid game until you started Metroid Dread, you can rest assured that this title features nearly everything that has made the franchise’s passionate fanbase fall in love with this series over the years. That’s not to say that it’s the best Metroid game ever made (that’s a discussion for another day), but rather that it simply perfectly represents everything that has made this franchise great.
In fact, I’d go so far as to say that Dread almost rubs the hallmarks of the Metroid franchise in the face of this series’ doubters. It’s not just intimidating; it’s genuinely scary in ways that will catch you off-guard. It’s not just complicated; it will often leave you scratching your head wondering what to do and where to go. It’s not just difficult; it is challenging in ways that will force even franchise veterans to learn new tricks.
At a time when we’ve almost become accustomed to franchises offering diminishing returns over a long enough period of time (especially when they’ve been away for years), it is truly remarkable that Dread not only embraces the fundamentals of the Metroid franchise but expands upon them in ways that could have (maybe should have) been dangerous given that it’s highly likely some of those conventions have historically chased people away.
Ultimately, it’s that “no compromise” approach that truly makes Metroid Dread special and reveals how impactful this game’s success could be.
I think back to when John Carpenter made The Thing and watched its critical and box office failures reshape the trajectory of his career. While he seems grateful that so many people now recognize that The Thing is one of the greatest horror movies ever made, he also sometimes seems at least a tad bitter that people at the time didn’t recognize that he had made something great so that he could have reaped the more immediate benefits of his accomplishments.
With Dread, the team got to say “To hell with it. We know this is a great franchise built on incredible core elements, and we’re not going to pretend that the people who’ve made these games haven’t been making great games all along. If anything, we’re going to double down on what they’ve done.”
Sales success and revenue aren’t necessarily indicative of quality (the opposite is often true), but there’s a reason we all keep an eye on ratings, award shows, and box office returns. On some level, we want people to love the things we love, and on some level, we want to know that other people recognize the greatness of the things we love, especially when we believe they artistically deserve it. Some of that can be traced back to vindication, but some of that is based on the idea that we just want people to give this thing a chance because we know they would love it if they did.
If Metroid Dread proves to be a true blockbuster, it will have helped vindicate over 35 years of Metroid love by proving (in its own way) that the 35 years fans have spent praising this franchise have been in service of helping bring us to this point when Nintendo finally decided to give the series another chance to shine. Fans have fought tooth and nail for a game like Dread to come along, and they now get to enjoy the fruits of their efforts through not just the quality of the game itself but its success so far.
Even better, Dread‘s sales success may just help ensure that the future of the Metroid franchise is brighter than ever and that we can all live in a world where Metroid isn’t just the “should have been” franchise that never sold as well as it should have but one of the clear leaders of an exciting new era for gaming.