Metroid was first released on August 6, 1986 for the Famicom Disk System. The series found its way to America in 1987 on the Nintendo Entertainment System, and has continued to be one of Nintendo’s most beloved franchises. In its now thirty year history, the Metroid series, unlike other Nintendo properties, has endured long gaps in its story with a few games released once every half-decade or so.
Pulling its influence from Ridley Scott’s Alien franchise, Metroid features Samus Aran in the role of series’ protagonist. Samus is on her adventure to stop the Space Pirates from using the power of the eponymous Metroids. The character Samus was designed by Hiroji Kiyotake, who would later direct Metroid II: Return of Samus for the Nintendo Game Boy.
The games in the series are known for their open exploration and lack of a traditional means of progress confirmation. The player must earn upgrades to Samus’ suit and weapons in order to advance to new areas and complete the game, with most of the map appearing as available from the start. Players are required in many instances to revisit already explored areas of the map once upgrading weapons or Samus’ suit in order to find new secrets and areas.
To celebrate the 30th anniversary of Metroid, we are spending the month of August highlighting the series on The Free Cheese. Every Wednesday, we will post a new Retro Spotlight for one of the 2D games in the series. Every Friday will see a new Question of the Week surrounding Metroid. We will discuss the series and its games on the weekly podcast and we will be playing one of the games for this month’s Game Club.
Additionally, we will be posting articles that feature either Metroid as a series, or topics that are influenced by the series and its games. This cover story will be updated and changed throughout the month to act as a table of contents of sorts, pointing you in the direction of the latest articles for our month of Metroid.
The first game, Metroid, was developed by Nintendo R&D1 alongside Intelligent Systems. Defined by Nintendo as a scrolling shooter, Metroid created the template for open exploration adventure games that other games in the series have used over the last three decades.
Metroid was one of the first video games to use powerups as a requirement for game completion, as the game could not be completed without acquiring certain items. Additionally, the game was one of the first to incorporate multiple endings, five to be exact. The final three, all revealed that Samus was indeed a female character, as the first two and the game manual referred to Samus as “he.” Each ending was dependent upon the amount of time that the player took to complete the game.
Many of the series mainstays originated in this title, from the Metroids to the Space Pirates and some major bosses, such as Kraid and Ridley. The game too defined a strong atmosphere of emptiness and intrigue. A well-established setting in combination with its score solidified what we would forever know as Metroid.
Metroid II: Return of Samus
The game is quite simple when compared to the others in the series, but it really holds an impressive amount of weight in the history of the franchise. Unlike other early Game Boy games, Metroid II is a core part of the entire story. It bridges two games, yes, but it adds a new layer to Samus’ character.
Perhaps it took eight years to follow up Super Metroid because it was so difficult to follow up a masterpiece. I’ve now played through the game many times on several different platforms and it continues to feel great. Nintendo perfectly weighted Samus, and find balance between the platforming of Mario and the exploration and wonder of The Legend of Zelda once again. Unlike its NES predecessor, Super Metroid varies its locations with a bit more contrast, giving weight to the world that Samus has found herself exploring.
Samus now has Metroid DNA, making her weak to the same weaknesses that the Metroids had. The X Parasite that were living inside of Samus now inhabit Samus’ old suit. So, with Samus running around with a new fancy suit, she is being hunted by a ghost of herself that carries the exact weapons needed to kill her quickly. It adds a new sense of dread to the player.
Metroid: Zero Mission
For the first time, Zero Mission makes the classic Metroid playable for me. I have always struggled with Metroid on NES. Something about it just pushes me away after a period of time. It doesn’t quite make sense to me, as it is the most basic form of something I adore and it is the exact game that I can always revert to when I have nothing else to play. It inspired all of my favorite games and it is perfectly shrouded in mystery and suspense. Yet, I still can’t get much further than the beginning.