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Ranking the 2D Metroid Games

The Metroid series, which plays host to one of my favorite video game characters, was one of the rare series that showed us how a 2D, side scrolling, action platformer could make the jump to three dimensions when Metroid Prime exploded onto the scene in 2002 to rave reviews.

The Metroid games helped form what has become a hotly contested genre of games known as Metroidvania, which encourages exploration, gathering, puzzle solving and platforming, often with some action thrown into the mix as well. Metroid played its part in establishing this genre by doing all of the above superbly well. With Metroid Prime 4 being sent back to the drawing board, I foresee a lot of people revisiting the classics to pass time or to try and beat their personal best time, so what better time is there to list the 2D games?

Naturally, what follows is my personal rankings. So if you disagree, I would love to see your own rankings in the comments section.

#6—Metroid II: Return of Samus

Metroid II: Return of Samus is one of the more recent games in the Metroid timeline, taking place before Super Metroid, the lamentable Other M, and Metroid Fusion.

Released in 1991 through to 1992 depending on your region, Metroid II: Return of Samus was released exclusively for the Nintendo Game Boy and it follows the now famous bounty hunter Samus Aran as she travels to the homeworld of the Metroid species, designated SR388, as she sets out on a mission to exterminate the entire species.

The game itself is fundamentally fine, but it was hampered by the limitations of the Game Boy, the dull screen and its lack of front or back light made the game a chore to play through when you were outside of anything less than optimal conditions, and aspect ratio of the screen made things worse by making environments feel cramped and overly narrow. As you proceed through the game, Samus encounters one last newborn Metroid that imprints itself upon her, viewing her as its mother. Rather than killing it, she takes it back to federation space where it is contained, leading us straight into Super Metroid’s opening, “The last Metroid is in captivity, the galaxy is at peace.”

Going back to the game today is jarring, but still enjoyable. The Spider Ball that lets you adhere freely to most vertical surfaces is as fun as ever; the close range battles are cheap but engaging and fighting your way through the entire evolutionary chain of the Metroids is still an enjoyable challenge. But it’s so old and so aged that it simply can’t climb any higher on this list.


Metroid is where it all began.

Released in 1986 through to 1988 depending on your region, Metroid released on the Nintendo Entertainment System and quickly made a name for itself as a must-play game. Now, in 2019, the game is still looked upon fondly as a seminal classic that has left its mark indelibly on gaming and game design. In the ongoing chronology of the series, Metroid marks the beginning of the franchise, and has yet to be predated.

Samus arrives on the planet Zebes following a Federation retreat and fights her way through the cavernous halls of the planet where she fights a number of alien creatures, and of course the titular Metroids. Along the way, Samus blasts apart targets with missiles, beam cannons and bombs as she makes her way towards Kraid and Ridley, both of who are prominent members of the Space Pirate army. Eventually making her way deeper into the planet, she locates and destroys Mother Brain before escaping the world.

Released on the NES, Metroid has none of the problems found in Metroid II: Return of Samus thanks to it being played on a television screen.

While antiquated when compared to most modern games in the Metroidvania genre, Metroid never tries to be more than it set out to be. It’s a simple exploratory adventure with a healthy helping of running and gunning, with collectable upgrades to be found and challenges to be overcome.

#4—Metroid: Samus Returns

Similar to what Zero Mission did with Metroid, Metroid: Samus Returns is a remake / re-imaging of the Game Boy game, Metroid II: Return of Samus.

Released in September of 2017 for the Nintendo 3DS, Metroid: Return of Samus is a 2D side scroller that uses 3D models for its environments, characters, and enemies which, for the first time in the history of Metroid side scrollers, has resulted in what can roundly be considered as a visually inferior experience. Gone are the crisp pixelated visuals of before, replaced with heavily aliased 3D models which, naturally look better when upscaled through a PC. It makes you wonder why it didn’t get switched from 3DS to Nintendo Switch.

Despite being a remake of Metroid II: Return of Samus, this 3DS title leans more heavily into the re-imagining side of things, introducing some new gameplay mechanics that include things like melee attacks which can lead into powerful counter-attacks, dealing a lot of damage if not flat out killing the opponent. Samus also has access to a new suite of powers called Aeion Abilities. This makes no sense in canon, because every game that follows takes place after Metroid: Samus Returns and Samus has none of these abilities. These abilities, Scan Pulse, Lightning Armour, Beam Burst and Phase Drift, fundamentally changed the nature of Metroid, giving Samus the ability to scan the area which removes the need for player exploration, or slow down time, increase the strength of her armor and boost the range of her counters and even powering up her iconic beam cannons.

I’m reluctant to say that you should play the Game Boy original, but I’m also hesitant to suggest that you play this game instead. I certainly wouldn’t advise you *cough* download the vastly superior fan project, AM2R, that puts Metroid: Samus Returns to shame. *cough*  

#3—Metroid Zero Mission

Metroid Zero Missions, much like 2017’s Metroid: Samus Returns, is a strange point in the Metroid canon and continuity.

Released in 2007 and exclusively for Nintendo’s Game Boy Advance, Metroid Zero Mission is a remake / re-imagining of the original Metroid for NES. What you find inside is a very similar experience, but presented in a far more advanced graphical style and a 3:2 aspect Ratio, giving it a somewhat more quasi-widescreen experience. Of course, the Game Boy Advance is similar to its Game Boy predecessors in that it’s not backlit, meaning you were once again forced to play the game under specific lighting conditions unless you smashed open the good ol’ piggy bank the year before and picked up the Game Boy Advance SP which came with a frontlight built in. Or, if you got your hands on the Game Boy Advance SP Model AGS-101, you were treated to a full backlit experience.

Given that the game is a remake / re-imagining of the original, the experience can feel very similar on the surface, but it does have a number of noteworthy differences, such as new items, the ability to crouch, a new original environment called Chozodia, and an entirely new gameplay section in which players take control of Samus in her Zero Suit. And should you be so inclined to want to play the original Metroid as it was presented on NES, you can unlock it in its entirety by simply completing Zero Mission.

Generally speaking, Zero Mission takes an already fine, albeit old, game and brings it into the modern day. If you haven’t played the Metroid series yet, it’s better to start here than it is to start with the NES original unless you’re specifically seeking the original experience which is, in my eyes, inferior.

#2—Metroid Fusion

Metroid Fusion is, to many people’s surprise, the most recent entry into the series chronology, being set after the events of both Other M and Super Metroid.

Released through 2002-2003 exclusively for Nintendo’s Game Boy Advance, Metroid Fusion was released one day before the earliest release for Metroid Prime. This resulted in the game being a little bit overlooked at the time of its release, but the reception from fans and critics alike was glowing, and the fans who picked up Prime first were able to come back to a game that was being recommended by all series veterans.

An unconventional approach in this 2D Metroid title, Fusion puts a little bit more of an emphasis on Samus, giving her moments of dialogue conveyed through scrolling text where she speaks about her old commander/comrade Adam Malkovich. Insofar as the chronological releases are concerned, this was an unprecedented piece of character development which Samus has yet to receive, with most of her primary characterization being drawn from extended universe content.

Presented in a similar artstyle to Zero Mission, Fusion took Samus into uncharted territory. She’s infected, and that is cured, as luck would have it, with a treatment derived from the Metroid that she rescued in Metroid II: Return of Samus. Due to the strange nature of the infection, however, portions of her suit have become too integrated with her body to be surgically removed and the cure has also left her with a natural weakness to the cold which was brought over from the Metroids themselves. It’s revealed that the parasite that once took hold of her can replicate the host, and as luck would have it, the parasite replicated Samus when she was at full power. Known as the SA-X, this Samus-like being stalks the player through the space station you’ll find yourself in and leads to some genuinely tense moments and tough battles.

Fusion is a mechanically flawless game that, like those that came before it, found a home for itself in the hearts of all Metroid fans and many a speedrunner.

#1—Super Metroid

It’s a fairly obvious choice which game should top a list of 2D Metroid games, when someone chooses another title to top their list, they typically need to explain their reasoning with alacrity, lest they be raked over the coals by lunatics like myself.

So why is Super Metroid at number one? Well it’s as close to mechanically perfect, in my opinion, as a 2D Metroid game can be. It has everything needed for the formula to turn out an instant classic. Upgrades? You’ve got them. A variety of weapons? You’ve got them. Varia and Gravity suits? You’ve got them. Tight mechanical controls? Yep. A thumping good soundtrack? Yep. I could go on, but you get the point.

Released for the SNES in 1994, Super Metroid has never been recognized as anything less than a classic, the moment it arrived on the scene, Samus immediately planted her feet and has remained at the top of video game lists, recommendations, and inspirations. There’s quite possibly nothing that I could tell you about the game that you haven’t heard before.

So Super Metroid is number one. Why? Because it is, and likely always will be.

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