THE WEIRD HISTORY OF THE
By Matthew Byrd
The Metroid series isn't as famous as Mario or Zelda, but it is arguably the most fascinating franchise in Nintendo history.
Following the success of platformers like Super Mario Bros. and adventures like The Legend of Zelda, Nintendo decided that they wanted their next major game to be an action title.
The Metroid team was afforded incredible creative freedom with this game, starting with the project's strange name (which was a combination of "Metro" and "Android”).
That sense of freedom would later extend to the game itself which emphasized nonlinear level design. That very design helped kickoff what is now known as the Metroidvania genre.
The Metroid team looked to the Alien films for design inspiration. The game's nonlinear nature and sci-fi horror environments made it one of the earliest examples of atmosphere in gaming.
The decision to make Metroid protagonist Samus Aran a woman was made early on, but even Metroid's developers didn't anticipate how shocking that "reveal" would be.
Metroid was a critical and commercial hit, but its sales were certainly worse than Nintendo's other big games. Unfortunately, its slightly lower sales would be the start of a troubling trend.
1991's Metroid II: Return of Samus raised expectations for handheld gaming, but is remembered by many as the stepping stone for what came next.
1994's Super Metroid for Super Nintendo was considered to be an instant classic. To this day, it regularly ranks high on just about any list of the greatest games ever made.
Metroid's 2D adventures would continue with 2002's Fusion and 2004's Zero Mission. Both were highly acclaimed but each continued Metroid tradition by being great games with low sales.
On consoles, Nintendo asked developer Retro Studios to finally make a 3D Metroid game. Fans wondered whether or not such an ambitious project could actually work.
It turns out we had nothing to worry about. Metroid Prime and its two sequels turned out to be some of the best games of their era and the best Metroid games ever.
Nintendo also experimented with a few spin-offs. Some, like Metroid Prime Hunters, were pretty good. Others, like Metroid: Other M, were failures that nearly killed the franchise.
Bad sales eventually caused the franchise to go mostly dormant from 2010 to 2021. During that time, we only got the controversial Freedom Force and Metroid II remake Metroid: Samus Returns.
Thankfully, Metroid Dread looks to finish the storyline the original Metroid started and give 2D Metroid games the finale they deserve. It's incredible work that advances the series' legacy.
Of course, Dread won't be the last Metroid game. Metroid Prime 4 is still in development and is set to be one of the Nintendo Switch's biggest games.