It’s time to don the Varia Suit, curl into a Morph Ball and take on some aggressive aliens as we check out the best Metroid games!
In a twist that is unlikely to be repeated ever again, the reveal of series protagonist Samus Aran as a woman at the end of the very first Metroid game was a surprise not just to players, but even to those translating game’s manual into English – as the game’s accompanying instructions ended up mis-gendering Samus throughout the explanatory text!
The Metroid series has been far more than a pioneer for female representation in games, too – with an entire genre using Metroid, in part, for its name.
If you’ve heard the term Metroidvania over the last ten years – a portmanteau of Metroid and Castlevania; countless games have used the descriptor – that’s due to the Metroid games using a 2D platform adventure style, an intricate map and a steady stream of unlockables (usually as rewards for defeating bosses) that allow ever greater access to the game’s world.
Not all Metroid games use the Metroidvania style, however. Pinball, first person co-op shooting and even a much more story-based adventure all feature in games bearing the Metroid name.
Without including the Wii collection Metroid Prime Trilogy – which of course simply collects the three Metroid Prime mainline games, albeit with Wii-specific controls for the first two games – which ones are the best?
Let’s find out, as we check out the best Metroid games!
Table of Contents
Though it’s true that there’s no such thing as a truly bad Metroid game, one has to kick off our list at the bottom – and it’s Metroid Prime: Federation Force.
This 2016 3DS title takes on a similar style to first person shooter Metroid Prime: Hunters, yet it’s a co-op focused experience, rather than competitive.
Set after Metroid Prime 3: Corruption – this title is the first in the series overall to not feature Samus Aran as a playable character, though she does feature in the story.
Players embody marines from the titular Galactic Federation, donning giant mech suits to take on the threat of Space Pirates in the Bermuda System.
The lack of Samus as a playable character, the absence of much-needed voice chat for its online co-op gameplay and its cartoonish design – clashing with the gritty, albeit often colourful, look that the series had long sported – all added up to make Metroid Prime: Federation Force a less than stellar experience.
The addition of a multiplayer, soccer-style mode called Blast Ball only served to irritate fans further, seeing as development time could instead have been spent in bringing fans a game that they actually wanted.
Far from a bad game, Metroid Prime: Federation Force’s biggest crime is that it just doesn’t feel like Metroid at all.
Weirdly, Metroid Prime Pinball – despite being, yes, a pinball game – has a much more authentic ambience for a Metroid game than Federation Force.
It’s full of clever touches too, such as the fact that the ball itself is Samus in her Morph Ball form!
The brilliantly moody, mechanical-feeling tables – with that authentic Metroid audiovisual ambience – are a joy to play.
What stops this from ranking higher is that, yes, it is ‘just’ a pinball game.
Albeit one that captures the Metroid feel rather well, with its bosses, industrial sci-fi design and superb sound.
The Rumble Pak also added extra immersion to the game; just as Pokemon Pinball did the same for the Game Boy Color, Metroid Prime Pinball’s rumble makes it feel as if there really is a ball being bounced around inside your handheld, as well as adding other physical feedback effects!
With a weird, simplistic control scheme and unskippable cut scenes, Metroid – Other M struggled to endear itself to players.
Though visually it’s genuinely nice (especially for a Wii game) and the actual structure of the game itself is decent, a disappointing story – which flashes back to an earlier time in Samus Aran’s life – and terribly clichéd script do sour the experience.
It doesn’t help that the events of the story have a negative impact on the character of Samus too, making her seem weak and powerless, in a huge contrast to how she’s portrayed elsewhere in the Metroid series.
It’s an admirable attempt to simplify the Metroid formula, but Metroid – Other M falls short in so many ways.
A similar style of first person shooter to the subsequent Metroid Prime: Federation Force, Metroid Prime: Hunters does have at least one ace up its sleeve in comparison to the latter title: you can play the game as Samus Aran!
Though the single player adventure feels like little more than a way to acclimatise players to the mechanics and features of the game, the competitive multiplayer mode is where Metroid Prime: Hunters truly shines.
Against all odds, this is a fun, fast paced competitive FPS that really works – despite a choice of two imperfect control methods, one of which makes aiming easier (using the touchscreen) and the other, non-stylus based method, which makes your character easier to manoeuvre – at a cost of aiming more accurately.
However, the option for playing against opponents online has been gone since Nintendo shut down online support in 2014, so it’s now a lot more difficult to get a fully populated competitive game going.
It all started here with Metroid!
Back in 1986, Metroid was a bit of a revelation.
Feeling a bit like a sci fi themed, side scrolling Zelda, the first game was remarkable in its day for the openness of its game world, allowing for a great deal of non-linear exploration.
For a mid-80s game, the size and scope of Metroid is genuinely impressive.
However, time has been less kind to the first Metroid than it has to many of the games that followed in its footsteps.
It may feel like sacrilege to have the 1986 original placed so low on the list of the best Metroid games, but if you revisit Metroid now – and look past the immediate nostalgia hit of the music and visuals – you’ll find yourself wishing quite often that Samus was more fully equipped with basic abilities and a less weedy weapon right from the beginning of the game.
It’s definitely not a bad game by any means – and it did lay the groundwork very well for the rest of the series – but many of the subsequent entries mproved on the original Metroid so well that they have stood much stronger against the test of time.
A slightly easier – though still pretty challenging – experience in comparison to the first game, Metroid II: Return of Samus deals with the limitations of the original Game Boy pretty well.
Though naturally the lack of colour does necessitate a few changes to the visual design, Metroid II: Return of Samus does a great job with its gameplay improvements over the first game – including ammo and health stations is incredibly helpful, for example.
Being able to crouch and fire, as well as having increased range with your weapons right from the start also makes a big difference to the game’s playability.
The sound is definitely a weak point – with the music being inconsistent in terms of its quality, but the green pixel art visuals look surprisingly good for an early Game Boy title, despite a bit of repetitiveness to environment design.
Also, the lack of a map can genuinely make progressing a chore at times – but the moment to moment gameplay really shines.
With Metroid II being part of the first selection of Game Boy and Game Boy Advance games now available on Nintendo Switch Online, it’s really easy to pick up and play it right now – with the benefit of save states and rewind options too.
It’s also worth pointing out that the story sets the series up well for Super Metroid and even beyond!
The final part of the Metroid Prime trilogy, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, was very well received in its day. Back in 2007, fans of the series had been waiting three whole years for the next part in the saga!
It didn’t disappoint.
Though arguably the weakest of the three Metroid Prime games – it relies a little too heavily on what now feel like gimmicky motion control elements – Metroid Prime 3: Corruption is still a superb closing chapter to the Prime trilogy.
Featuring the familiar Metroid structure – which was superbly translated over to first person, 3D gameplay by Retro Studios in the original Metroid Prime – there are a few new additions in Metroid Prime 3.
Most notably, there’s Hypermode – which allows temporary invincibility and stronger attacks, albeit at the cost of health draining while it’s in use.
The Command Visor is also a welcome addition to the game, giving Samus the ability to summon her ship remotely.
This initially allows for saving and fast travel, but later also provides new ways to attack – or even transport objects too heavy for Samus to carry herself!
As mentioned above, Metroid II: Return of Samus would have been so much better with a map to aid traversal around the rather large and labyrinthine game world.
Clearly, Nintendo realised this – because in this belated remake of Metroid II, Samus does indeed have clear and constant access to a map!
That’s not the only new addition to Metroid II that Metroid: Samus Returns features.
This 2.5D update also had features entirely new to the 2D Metroid series in general, including a melee counterattack!
Fast travel stations are also present, which is a real boon considering the game world’s size and design.
It’s a superb and highly recommended title overall; we here at Retro Dodo would have no hesitation in recommending that you play Metroid: Samus Returns instead of Metroid II: The Return of Samus if you have the option to do so!
With Metroid: Samus Returns in 2017 being a remake of Metroid II and 2004’s Metroid: Zero Mission updating and expanding the original Metroid, 2002’s Metroid Fusion was the last fully original 2D Metroid before the arrival of Metroid Dread in 2021.
The mathematicians among you will see that, yes, that’s a wait of almost two decades for a new 2D Metroid title!
Selling nearly three million copies since release, it’s also the highest selling Metroid game in history.
Metroid Dread features numerous stealth based elements – and being pursued by the EMMI robots can even bring a touch of survival horror style panic to the game too!
It’s a beautiful game that brings Metroid into the modern era masterfully, but in our opinion it doesn’t quite reach the heights of several prior Metroid games – but which ones?
Read on, as we check out which titles made it into the top five of our best Metroid games list!
Though Metroid Prime came out of nowhere and impressed just about everyone – even the many sceptics who didn’t believe that the Metroid formula would work in 3D – by the time Metroid Prime 2: Echoes came around, Retro Studios had a lot less to prove.
This follow up to the first Metroid Prime, while not quite matching the brilliance of the first game, was a worthy successor, however.
There’s a larger focus on the story, with more cut scenes featured this time around.
Some elements from the 2D Metroid games make their first appearance in 3D here too, such as the screw attack and wall jumping abilities.
Another aspect of Metroid Prime 2 that’s brilliantly done is the usage of light and dark elements, with one major antagonist being an evil mirror image of our protagonist: Dark Samus.
Splitscreen multiplayer for up to four players was also an excellent bonus.
Undoubtedly an absolutely stunning game, the fact that Metroid Prime 2 ‘only’ occupies the number five slot on our list of the best Metroid games is a testament to just how good the rest of the games in the series are!
Despite being billed as a remake of the very first Metroid game, GBA title Metroid: Zero Mission is much more than that.
For one thing, as Metroid: Zero Mission is on the GBA, the gorgeous pixel art visuals hold up to this day.
For another, there’s an awful lot more added to the overall gameplay and even story of Metroid: Zero Mission than is found in the original NES game it’s based on.
As ambitious as the 8-bit NES Metroid game was, it was limited by the technology and design philosophies of the time.
Brilliantly blending the map and structure of the original with the newer elements found in later games such as Super Metroid and Metroid Fusion, Metroid: Zero Mission is a stunning experience, with new items, areas and bosses added – so even veterans of the original Metroid will find something new here!
Metroid: Zero Mission even features an extended sequence in which Samus must progress without her power suit; that’s right, for the first time in the Metroid series, players must take control of a Samus who has no special abilities, no armour and just a stun pistol as a weapon.
Oh – and when you complete the game, the entire, original version of NES Metroid becomes available to play from the Main Menu!
If you have never played a Metroid game before, start here – and you’ll soon see not only why the Metroid games are so beloved, but also why the Metroidvania genre thrives to this day!
Two years before Metroid: Zero Mission, Metroid Fusion was released on the GBA, bringing the series back to gamers for the first new entry since Super Metroid in 1994.
Metroid Fusion takes a more story based approach than previous 2D entries, with specific missions for Samus to undertake as she progresses.
Though more linear in its structure than the prior titles, Metroid Fusion is just as satisfying, thanks to its focus on a strong narrative.
The Fusion of the title refers to the fact that, at the beginning of the game – and after a near-fatal accident – Samus is fused with cells from the alien Metroids that the series is named after.
Metroid Fusion also features connectivity with Metroid Prime – with the ability to unlock the Fusion Suit in the GameCube title when connecting the two games (albeit after completing Metroid Fusion – you definitely have to earn that unlockable bonus!).
The gorgeous visuals, superb gameplay and the story itself easily make Metroid Fusion one of the very best entries in the series – more than earning its spot in the top three of the best Metroid games list!
The best year to be a Metroid fan was unquestionably 2002; not only did Metroid Fusion release for the Game Boy Advance, but Metroid Prime was released just one day later!
That’s right: two of the very best games in the franchise were released just one day apart!
Nintendo themselves weren’t sure how to continue the series on consoles in the 3D era, leading US developer Retro Studios to pitch a first person Metroid to the Japanese platform holder.
Many – press and fans alike – were sceptical that the structure, gameplay and even the unique ambience of Metroid would translate into 3D, let alone into a first person game whereby you wouldn’t even see Samus during normal gameplay.
Yet Retro Studios created an absolutely stunning game in Metroid Prime; retaining the classic exploration feel of the 2D games – as well as the steady stream of new abilities and items that characterised the series at that point.
Neat graphical touches such as seeing the face of Samus reflected in the glow of her visor were added, along with environment and enemy scanning to add extensive lore and background to the game’s wonderful alien planet.
Huge boss battles also made the game feel like a proper shifting of 2D Metroid into 3D; Retro Studios really did nail this game from beginning to end – and it still stands, in our opinion, as not only the best of the Metroid Prime games, but also one of the very best Metroid games overall.
There’s also now a Switch version – Metroid Prime Remastered – featuring updated control and high definition visuals, so now is the best time to become acquainted (or re-acquainted, as the case may be) with this absolute masterpiece!
Yet only one title can take the crown as the overall best Metroid game – and the honour for the top spot on our best Metroid games list is Super Metroid!
Super Metroid – as the first 16-bit game in the series – was able to use the improvements in technology over its 8-bit predecessors to create a title that still stands as an absolute masterpiece of video game design to this day.
Despite being close to thirty years old, you’ll still see so many indie titles – labelled as Metroidvania games, such as Hollow Knight, which you’ll find on our list of the best 2D video games – taking inspiration, direct or otherwise, from the masterful structure and presentation of Super Metroid.
Even big budget titles use the Metroidvania formula to a degree – such as the phenomenal Batman: Arkham Asylum, which you can check out on our list of all Batman games!
Its visuals, sound design and even its ambience grab the player from the moment the game starts, with a thrilling opening sequence and boss battle that uses every trick up the sleeve of the SNES hardware.
The massive, non-linear structure of the game – with a very useful map, a first for the series – allows for a great deal of exploration that felt incredibly open in the mid-90s.
It’s a clear choice for the very top of the best Metroid games list – and perhaps even a contender for the best SNES game overall, though of course it’s up against very stiff competition on Nintendo’s 16-bit console!
You can now play Super Metroid on the Switch, thanks to Nintendo Switch Online – check out where Super Metroid appears on our list of the best SNES games on Switch for more details!
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Jason – who lives in the UK – has had a lifelong interest in video games, which all started when he discovered Space Invaders in the early 80s. The first game he ever completed was Wonder Boy in Monster Land on the Sega Master System – which remains one of his proudest gaming achievements. Jason is a passionate writer – and has been writing about gaming since the late 90s. He currently runs pop culture blog midlifegamergeek.com, which he updates on a daily basis (and has written more than 700 articles on the blog alone!).
Outside of video games, Jason is a keen tabletop gamer, film buff and comic book fan.