Despite Metroid arguably being Nintendo’s third major pillar, they’ve never given the franchise the same attention they do both Super Mario and The Legend of Zelda, even ignoring the series’ 25th anniversary. Considering just how influential Metroid is, it’s disappointing Nintendo doesn’t take care of the series as well as it should.
It does make some degree of sense, though. For as good as Metroid is as its very best, the series has enough not-so-stellar entries to the point where its catalog is stained in a way neither Mario nor Zelda are. Game quality also varies drastically. For every Super Metroid, there’s an Other M right around the corner.
12 Federation Force
When a franchise lies dormant for so long, a non-traditional entry can be frustrating to see. At the same time, it’s important to consider that spin-offs do happen and don’t signal a death-knell. On the other hand, however, context does matter, and, when fans were hungry for Metroid, Nintendo gave them Federation Force.
Far and away one of the worst first-party titles Nintendo has ever developed, Federation Force is Metroid in name only. It does away with the series’ signature tone, atmosphere, and gameplay so it can be a generic team shooter. Federation Force is the game nobody wanted, and Nintendo should have known better.
11 Other M
It’s hard to believe nowadays, but Other M did actually have a considerable amount of hype behind. It was not only following the critically acclaimed Prime trilogy, but it was being helmed by the series’ creator. Traditional Metroid was back, and it was supposed to be better than ever. Unfortunately, that’s not how things played out.
Samus Aran became an overwritten character who actually lost depth, the series’ emphasis on exploration was railroaded by hard linearity, and the story, which should have been the highlight, ended up taking priority over the actual gameplay, cannibalizing Other M inside out. Federation Force is the worst Metroid game, but Other M is the most disappointing.
The original Metroid certainly isn’t a bad game, but it is a convoluted game. It’s a Metroidvania with just the bare essentials, which means there's no saving, no map, and no real overworld cohesion. Veteran players will know where they are at all times, but newcomers will likely find themselves incredibly overwhelmed sooner rather than later.
It’s still a game worth playing at least once in full, but it’s very much reflective of its era. Good game design is good forever, but Metroid really is just the bare necessities for better and for worse. If nothing else, the NES Metroid makes for a very interesting time capsule.
9 Return Of Samus
The second Metroid game, the Game Boy title chose to take the series in a different direction. More open-ended than most games in the series, Return of Samus sees the titular bounty hunter hunting down rogue Metroids. Interestingly, despite being a Game Boy title, it’s actually incredibly important to understanding Metroid’s overall plot.
It’s also just a fairly decent game, even if it can get a bit tedious at times. Short, simple to understand, and generally fun, Return of Samus is a good enough sequel to the original. It doesn’t take things as far as Super Metroid, but it’s admirable for a Game Boy follow-up nonetheless.
Metroid Prime Hunters is as “mixed bag” as games come. A very early Nintendo DS title, Metroid Prime Hunters’ main goal was showing off the DS’ wifi and potential for multiplayer. Surprisingly, it actually did an incredible job and ended up being one of the best multiplayer games on the handheld.
Unfortunately, everything ended up suffering a bit. While the core gameplay loop is very addicting, the single-player campaign leaves a lot to be desired. Areas aren’t all that well designed, and fighting against bosses isn’t nearly as fun as fighting against a player. It’s just a shame the online servers are permanently down now.
7 Prime 3
Metroid Prime 3 isn’t a bad game by any means, but it’s not on the same level as its predecessors, especially not Prime 1. Atmospherically and tonally, it’s a bit off, placing too much emphasis on the grand story of the Prime trilogy—something that was very much left in the background in the first game.
That said, Prime 3 does make good use out of the Wiimote and features some great level design. It never meshes as well as Prime 1 or Prime 2, but it isn’t too much of a dip in quality either. Disappointing? Definitely. Still a good game? Of course.
6 Samus Returns
A remake of Metroid II: Return of Samus for the Nintendo 3DS, Samus Returns isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s one of the best Metroid games in recent memory. Taking Return of Samus’ core concept and fleshing out the combat, Samus Returns makes for a very interesting remake.
The remake adds in full on melee combat, and it’s surprisingly fluid, all things considered. While the 2.5D visuals are a bit on the bland side, the game uses color extremely well, and, in motion, the action feels right at home with the GBA entries. Hopefully, Nintendo gives fans Metroid 5 sooner rather than later.
5 Prime 2
Metroid Prime 2: Echoes is a clear step down from its predecessor, but it’s still an excellent game. While there’s a bit too much padding, hurting the pacing in some areas, Metroid 2 is dark, dreary, and atmospheric. It arguably does a better job at establishing a tone than the original Metroid Prime.
If nothing else, the actual combat is improved, and Metroid 2 makes use of some very creative visuals. If Metroid Prime is Ocarina of Time, Metroid Prime 2 is the wildly creative Majora’s Mask, building off its predecessor in a very unique way so not to be derivative. That’s what a sequel should be.
The most linear of the traditional 2D Metroid games, Metroid Fusion shouldn’t be nearly as good as it is. In many respects, it shares the exact same flaws as Other M. There is one key difference, though: Metroid Fusion is reserved. It knows when to give the player gameplay and when to give them story.
More importantly, Metroid Fusion knows how to build a mood. It’s the only entry in the franchise that could be described as full-blown survival horror, and it does an amazing job establishing a mood. It’s very reminiscent of Alien in that regard. Any Metroid fan looking to get their blood pumping owes it to themselves to play Fusion.
3 Zero Mission
So they can immediately play the much improved Metroid: Zero Mission, a remake of the original NES Metroid. Not only does it accurately bring the game to life, it actually adds new content without stepping on the original’s toes. Zero Mission feels like the fully realized vision of the original Metroid.
Great level design, great bosses, great atmosphere, and a great ending, Zero Mission is one of the most balanced games in the entire franchise. It doesn’t excel in any one area, but that’s what makes it so great—Zero Mission is a consistently strong game from start to finish.
One of the most important first-person shooters of all time, Metroid Prime is a beacon of quality in a generation that wasn’t hurting for great games. Masterful level design, slick controls, and a second-to-none atmosphere, Metroid Prime is one of the best transitions from 2D to 3D a Nintendo franchise has ever seen.
It’s so vastly different from what came before but similar enough where playing Prime after Super Metroid only makes sense. It’s a game that understands its limitations only to intentionally break them. It’s a game that ensured Metroid could survive disasters like Other M and Federation Force.
1 Super Metroid
All that said, Prime has very little on Super Metroid, a game so well designed that it ended up leading to the invention of an entire genre. All modern Metroidvanias link back to Super Metroid in some way, and, honestly, most are actually worse than the Super Nintendo classic. Super Metroid is easily one of the greatest games of all time.
It’s basically a greatest hits version of three Metroid games in. Not only does it improve every single feature the first two games established, but it brings plenty of its own, giving the franchise a layer of mechanical depth it didn’t previously have. Everyone owes it to themselves to play Super Metroid at least once.