Retrospective on Metroid: Nintendo’s Greatest Female Protagonist

Retrospective on Metroid: Nintendo’s Greatest Female Protagonist

With the impending release of Metroid: Dread, the first new entry into the series in over a decade, it is time to celebrate Samus Aran’s history. Metroid captured the hearts of many when it debuted in the late 1980s. Not only did it present exciting space exploration as a solo bounty hunter, but it introduced Nintendo’s first leading female protagonist. Not to be forgotten, Nintendo also introduced the terrifying Metroids to gamers across the world.

Unlike many of Nintendo’s other antagonists, the metroids held no malice toward other creatures. They were tools that Space Pirates weaponized due to their energy-draining capabilities. Later, the series showed that the metroids were an important part of their ecosystem. So, the series left moral questions about the actions of its leading lady, Samus Aran.

Meanwhile, Samus Aran proved to be a self-sufficient bounty hunter, capable of handling galaxy-ending events on her own. While she has received aid from time to time, she alone stood against the evils of the galaxy. Her abilities and Chozo background allowed her to handle any situation that headed her way.

Since Samus Aran’s debut, she has led a successful series of games, appearing on multiple consoles. Even when she did not have a game release for some generations, she prominently appeared in Nintendo’s other games, like Smash Brothers. Thus, no Nintendo fan should forget her importance.

So, let us hope to find that the galaxy is at peace and look back at the history of Metroid.

Join us on a retrospective look through the history of Metroid and Samus Aran

Metroid (1986)

Metroid (1986)

It all began in 1986, with the debut of Metroid for the Nintendo Entertainment System in both Japan and North America. Initially, the game appeared to be a simple action-adventure side-scroller. However, as the game opened up, powered up Samus, and challenged players with speed-based rewards, the open format of the game became apparent. Players began to explore every corner of the map to figure out the fastest routes through the game. Even to this day, speedrunners play the original NES game to challenge each other with the fastest run in the world.

Beyond the addicting gameplay, Metroid surprised the world with the reveal that Samus Aran was a woman. Even the instruction book misled players by referring Samus as a male. However, players that completed the game in under three hours earned the right so that Samus, without her suit, congratulated them. There was even a well-known password, Justin Bailey, which started the game with a suitless Samus.

The original Metroid game also introduced enemies that would become staples for the franchise. The Space Pirates threatened the peace of the galaxy by harvesting the parasitic metroids, creatures from SR388. They set up their operations on Zebes, where Samus took them on.

Ridley, who overtook all other Space Pirates in notoriety, challenged Samus with swift aerial strikes. Meanwhile, Kraid made his first appearance in this game, though he had yet to make his largest impact in this series. Finally, Mother Brain led the space pirates from her boss room. While she never directly attacked, her room provided a gauntlet for Samus.

Metroid II: Return of Samus (1991)

Metroid II: Return of Samus (1991)

After the success of her first game, Samus Aran moved on to the Game Boy for her sequel. Originally, the Return of Samus only had greyscale graphics. However, the Color Game Boy featured a special Metroid palette specifically for this game. Later, in 2017, Return of Samus received a complete overhaul as Nintendo remade it for the 3DS.

Unlike the original game, Space Pirates played no role in the threat present on SR388. Instead, the Galactic Federation had decided that they should preemptively remove any threat presented by the Metroid species. Unfortunately, their eradication teams mysteriously disappeared, so they called upon Samus to investigate and deal with the Metroids on the planet.

This game introduced the Metroid life cycle to the series. Where previously, gamers only thought of metroids as floating jellyfish-like parasites with four prominent teeth, Metroid II showed that was only their first stages of life.

Upon surviving their initial larval phase, metroids moved on to the alpha form, gaining a thick exoskeleton on their backs as well as legs. However, this form kept a soft underbelly. Next came the gamma metroids, who now had fully functioning legs and a complete exoskeleton. Later, these creatures moved onto the zeta stage, where they shifted into a much more reptilian structure. Most metroids ended their life cycle at the omega phase, where they trade size and thick body armor for maneuverability. However, some metroids evolved into a queen over an omega, becoming a massive reptilian creature who laid the eggs for future generations.

After Samus took down the metroids and queen of SR388, she saved one single egg to return to the Federation. This action led to the tragedy of the sequel.

Super Metroid (1994)

Super Metroid (1994)

In 1994, Nintendo released the masterpiece that many fans still consider as the greatest Metroid game ever. Super Metroid took the formula from the original game and fine-tuned it to near perfection. For instance, they added a small but particularly important feature, a map at the top right of the screen. This game also introduced gamers to their greatest tool for breaking progression paths, wall jumping. Beyond the gameplay improvements, Super Metroid took full advantage of the Super Nintendo’s technology.

The game begins by showing the last metroid in captivity surrounded by a slew of unconscious or deceased scientists. When Samus arrives to investigate the situation at the Ceres Space Colony, she discovers not only that Ridley is alive, but he had also abducted the infant metroid. Thus, Samus chased down the space pirates to the planet, Zebes. Not only did she aim to stop their plots, but she hoped to save the infant metroid as well.

As she explored Zebes, she met the improved Ridley in battle, who now towered over Samus. When she faced off against Kraid, the game first tricked gamers with a sprite that was around the same size as her. However, Kraid’s true form proved to be so massive that it took up two screens. Super Metroid also introduced a wealth of other sub-bosses and bosses that stood in Samus’ way. Eventually, she encountered the Mother Brain once more. This time, the Mother Brain broke free from her container to tower over Metroid in her monstrous form.

As for the infant, she finds that it had fully grown while the Space Pirates cloned the creature. While this metroid initially attacked Samus, it soon recognized her. It later sacrificed itself so Samus could defeat the Mother Brain, taking down the space pirates once again.

Metroid Prime (2002)

Metroid Prime (2002)

While Metroid did not make an appearance during the N64 era, it made a massive impact when it returned to both consoles and handhelds in 2002. For the GameCube, Nintendo turned to Retro Studios to create the first 3D entry in the Metroid franchise. This game also evolved the gameplay to now create the premiere first-person adventure game. So, gamers now saw the world from Samus’ perspective. One of the most subtle, yet greatest features of this game was the brief reflections of Samus’ face.

Set before the events of Super Metroid, Samus intercepted a distress signal from the Orpheon frigate, which orbited around Tallon IV. She soon discovered that the frigate was a space pirate science vessel that was under attack from a Parasite Queen. After she escaped the Orpheon’s destruction, she decided to follow Ridley down to Tallon IV.

As Samus investigated Ridley’s activities, she became aware of the experiments with phazon, which the Chozo referred to as a great poison. Where the space pirates experimented on phazon to produce elite and omega pirates, it created a massive mutation in the metroids.

Worse yet, a creature had lived on Tallon IV since a meteor originally brought phazon to this world, Metroid Prime. This creature could limitlessly absorb phazon. Samus eventually took the Metroid Prime down by catalyzing the phazon into a concentrated beam. Unfortunately, as Samus escaped the crater, this metroid absorbed her phazon suit and merged with it. This gave rise to Dark Samus.

Metroid Fusion (2002)

Metroid Fusion (2002)

Releasing alongside Metroid Prime, Nintendo also released a new 2D adventure for Samus, which occurred after Super Metroid’s events. Once again, Samus returned to the handheld format on the Gameboy Advance. Luckily, these systems produced graphics comparable to the Super Nintendo, so many of the elements from Super Metroid returned once more.

The game began with Samus accompanying a crew from the Biological Space Laboratories onto SR388. There, a new organism, designated the X parasite, entered Samus’ body, and brought her to the brink of death. While the scientists removed sizable portions of her power suit, the X infection made full removal impossible. Eventually, they created a vaccine from the cells of the deceased infant metroid, saving Samus’ life. However, this even merged her body not only with her power suit but with the metroid DNA as well.

Samus then sets out to investigate an explosion at the facility that not only housed pieces of her infected power suit but also SR388 specimens, the Biological Space Laboratories research station. There, she meets the SA-X, a deadly duplicate of Samus that emerged from her power suit remnants. As Samus explores the facility, she discovered a Restricted Laboratory, where the Federation secretly worked on a metroid cloning and breeding program. Moreover, the X and SA-X had been increasing in numbers, even as Samus took on X-infested creatures. Thus, Samus decided to initiate the station’s self-destruct function, perishing in the process.

As Samus reached her ship, an Omega Metroid attacked her, standing in her path to freedom. Just before the Omega could finish her off, the SA-X fired an ice beam at the metroid, injuring it. While the SA-X perished in its attack, its core merged with Samus and gave her the energy to defeat the Omega and escape.

Metroid: Zero Mission (2004)

Metroid: Zero Mission (2004)

With the success of Metroid Fusion, Nintendo prepared another Gameboy Advance adventure as Retro Studios prepared the sequel to Metroid Prime. Thus, in 2004, Nintendo released the remake of the original Metroid game, Metroid: Zero Mission. In addition to updating the graphics and gameplay to match up with Super Metroid and Metroid Fusion, Nintendo added another adventure to the end of the game. Thus, this game stands as its own entry over just a remake of the original.

Upon leaving Zebes after the defeat of Mother Brain, Space Pirates attacked Samus’ ship. So, Samus crashed down near the Space Pirate Mother Ship without the aid of her power suit. Thus, she must transverse her way to safety through the ship while defenseless.

As she made her way to safety, Samus discovered an ancient Chozo temple, Chozodia, which challenged her to a test. Once she passed the temple’s tests, she gained a new, upgraded Power Suit.

Now armed, Samus returned to the Space Pirate ship, eventually encountering Mecha Ridley. By defeating Mecha Ridley, Samus cleared the last obstacle to her escape from Zebes.

Metroid Prime 2: Echoes (2004)

Metroid Prime 2: Echoes (2004)

After the resounding success of Metroid Prime, Samus returned to the GameCube in 2004’s Metroid Prime 2: Echoes. Once again, Nintendo turned to Retro Studios to create Samus’ next 3D adventure. Rather than create drastic changes to the formula, Retro Studios refined the gameplay from the first game.

This time, Samus received a mission to search for a missing squad on the planet Aether. As she descended on the planet, her gunship became damaged from when lightning from a purple storm cloud struck it. Thus, Samus not only needs to discover the fate of the Bravo squadron, but also the secrets of this planet and means to leave it.

No long after arriving on Aether, Samus discovers the planet’s other side, Dark Aether. Moreover, she meets a creature in a black and blue version of her power suit, Dark Samus. Sadly, Samus discovered that dark troops had perished when Dark Splinters attacked them.

As Samus explored the planet, she discovered the ancient conflict between the Ing and the Luminoth. The Ing formed when phazon from a leviathan affected Aether’s unique atmosphere, creating the dark Aether. Eventually, the luminoth task Samus with entering the Sky Temple, where she faced off against the Emperor Ing.

After Samus defeated the emperor, the Dark Aether began to collapse. However, Dark Samus stood in the way of her escape. Samus defeated Metroid Prime reincarnated by using its weakness, overloading it with Phazon. Upon Dark Samus’ defeat, it tried to absorb Samus’ power suit once more but deteriorated before it could reach her.

Upon escaping the Dark Aether, Samus returned the Aether technology to the revived luminoth. As Samus left the planet, Dark Samus reformed in Aether’s atmosphere, continuing the hunt.

Metroid Prime 3: Corruption (2007)

Metroid Prime 3: Corruption (2007)

Retro Studios returned to complete the Metroid Prime trilogy on the Wii in 2007 with Metroid Prime 3: Corruption. Once again, the series returned to a first-person adventure format; however, this time players could use the Wii’s motion controls to aid with aiming. In some ways, this control method gave users some of the accuracy that keyboard and mouse players find in computer first-person shooters.

Occurring six months after the defeat of Dark Aether, Samus and a team of bounty hunters, Gandrayda, Ghor, and Rundas, receive the mission to eradicate a space pirate virus from the Aurora Unit network. Before the bounty hunters could depart, Space Pirates attack a nearby planet, Norian. While Samus took down Mecha Ridley, she almost met her end if not for Rundas’ rescue.

Soon after, they discover a phazon meteor heading to the planet, so they tried to restore the defense cannon. Unfortunately, Dark Samus struck down the other bounty hunters. Samus only barely managed to activate the defenses while gravely injured. Unfortunately, none of them escaped corruption from phazon. While the others had left on missions to deal with Leviathan seeds, the Federation lost contact with them. So, Samus must travel to different planets to deal with both the seeds and the corrupted bounty hunters.

Samus traveled to Bryyo, Elysia, and the Space Pirate homeworld, dealing with the various leviathan eggs. As Samus takes down the seeds, she became increasingly corrupted by the phazon herself. Finally, the Aurora Unit 217 discovered the planet Phaze. As she explores this planet, Dark Samus merged with a stolen Aurora Unit, 313. Samus destroyed the phazon in her body with the defeat of Dark Samus, though Phaze also entered a self-destruct phase.

Metroid: Other M (2010)

Metroid: Other M (2010)

Rather than following up on the successful Metroid Prime series, Nintendo decided to take the series in another direction with 2010’s Other M. Most of the game plays in a 2.5D adventure format, with occasional first-person aiming moments. A single Wii remote layout controlled the entire game, flipping from holding the remote sideways to pointing to the screen. For some players, the controls alone alienating them. However, most complaints originate from the storyline that this game heavily focused on.

Once again, Nintendo set up a game to follow up on the events of Super Metroid. Upon following a distress signal from a decommissioned space facility, the BOTTLE SHIP, Samus meets up with old friends from her Federation days. After meeting up with Anthony Higgs and Commander Adam Malkovich, they discover strange purple insects onboard the ship. Then, Samus and the platoon learn that the BOTTLE SHIP was the site for bioweapon research, an illegal practice in the Federation.

Later, the existence of a traitor within the platoon became obvious, the “Deleter”. Worse than the game’s focus on the platoon members, Samus suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress when she comes face-to-face with her nemesis, Ridley. Luckily, she overcame her issues with her anger over the death of one of her colleagues.

Samus later discovered that the scientist cloned Metroids from the remains of the baby that had remained on her Power Suit. Somehow, traces of Ridley’s DNA also existed on her suit, which lead to his revival. Later, Adam revealed that he agreed with Samus and ventured off to set off the vessel’s self-destruct.

As Samus searched for survivors, she encountered a queen metroid and the android that controlled the metroids. Later, Samus questioned whether this android was evil or not.

The future of Metroid: Dread

This week, Metroid: Dread is heading onto Nintendo switch consoles. Thus, the future of Metroid is looking bright once again. This game looks to be taking notes from one of the most successful entries, Metroid Fusion, once again adding a hunter to the mix.

Are you looking forward to Metroid: Dread? Do you have any special memories of your time with the Metroid franchise? Let us know in the comments.

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Made in collaboration with:

Chris Ingledue 


Bio: I am the founder and owner of Wheeljack’s Lab pop Culture and Toy Shop. My vision has always been to reunite customers with their favorite childhood toys and pop culture, triggering fond memories, and reigniting their imaginations. Every day, I work in the “lab” where it’s Christmas 365 days a year. I scour the internet, like when we had the Sears Catalog of yesteryear, for the next great treasure. Then, I await the arrival of the postman as if he were Santa Claus himself and helping collectors worldwide with their own versions of Christmas. Every day as a vintage toy buyer is an absolute joy!

Retrospective on Metroid: Nintendo’s Greatest Female Protagonist
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Retrospective on Metroid: Nintendo’s Greatest Female Protagonist
Join us on a retrospective look back on the Metroid video games, where Samus Aran rose to prominence as Nintendo's greatest bounty hunter.
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Wheeljack's Lab
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