1986 was a huge year for gaming, particularly Nintendo. After dominating Japan, the Nintendo Entertainment System was restarting console gaming in North America. Super Mario Bros. was getting its first sequel, while The Legend of Zelda introduced an entire generation to a fantastical adventure they’d never forget. And starting with its launch in Japan on Aug. 6, 1986, Metroid took NES players into outer space for the first (but hardly the last) time.
It would be another year before the United States would get its hands on Metroid, and many gamers were pulled into its stripped down, more quiet approach to 2D exploration. The Metroid series’ anniversary can get overshadowed by Zelda’s but that doesn’t make Samus Aran’s birthday any less special. Even when the series has had its slow periods, Metroid has never stopped influencing gaming even three decades later.
The Original Metroid Changed Platforming Forever
The colorful side-scrolling of Super Mario Bros. was revolutionary back in 1985, showing gamers and developers you could build an entire world for heroes to explore from left to right. But at Nintendo’s R&D1 dev team, Satoru Okada and Yoshio Sakamoto imagined something even more. They wanted to create a nonlinear experience, a platformer where a cybernetically enhanced hero would battle aliens and space pirates through the caves and tunnels of the planet Zebes. The star’s name would be Samus Aran and the NES game would be called Metroid.
Compared to its early NES colleagues, Metroid has a stripped down quality, dropping players onto Zebes with little direction, meaning players had to find their own way, mapping out this strange world. Metroid also pioneered using weapon unlocks to direct action, introducing doors that would only open with a specific weapon, meaning players needed to remember that and backtrack once they discovered missiles or bombs. And of course, Metroid introduced the world to Nintendo’s first leading lady with Samus, though that wouldn’t be revealed until the end of the game. If you’d like to experience Metroid now, you’d definitely enjoy the Game Boy Advance remake/update, Metroid: Zero Mission.
Super Metroid Changed Gaming Again
After Metroid II kept the story going on Game Boy, the franchise reached a new level of prominence with Super Metroid in spring of 1994. Like other classic NES franchises that graduated onto the Super NES, many original team members (including Yoshio Sakamoto) reinvented and redefined the first game for the 16-bit generation. The title ended up being Super Metroid, which many still call the best game of its generation.
Though it took eight years to get a console-based sequel, it was more than worth the wait. Without a single line of dialog past the opening, Super Metroid tells a rich story that didn’t need words to be full of pathos and tension. Samus returned to Zebes once more to battle Mother Brain, Ridley, and all the rest, only, this time, the environment was more colorful, the music more lovely, and the world more dangerous. Super Metroid is compelling from the prolog on Ceres all the way to the return of the baby Metroid at the very end.
Incredible Influence on Great Games
In the years since Metroid and Super Metroid, the trailblazing action-adventure series has influenced many developers and game makers. The most famous game influenced by Metroid has to be 1997’s Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. As most games moved into polygons, Symphony of the Night expanded in 2D, taking clear inspiration from the Metroid series and making Dracula’s castle a massive maze akin to Zebes. Symphony of the Night was the first of many Metroid-influenced entries in the series, with the games creating the Metroidvania genre.
But the genre is hardly limited to Castlevania games. Indie hits like Guacamelee, Axiom Verge, and Rogue Legacy all began as tributes to Metroid’s best qualities. Not to mention games starring the likes of Batman and Spider-Man have been bona fide Metroidvanias. Even though currently there are no new 2D Metroid or Castlevania games planned, there’s certainly no shortage of games influenced by this specific brand of platforming.
Metroid Prime Took it Into First Person
Aside from being playable in Super Smash Bros., Samus almost skipped the N64 entirely and wouldn't star in a game until 2002's Metroid Prime. Many people had their doubts that the revered series could translate to 3D, especially when a new second party studio called Retro was developing it. And yet the game exceeded all expectations, proving 3D exploration in Metroid could be just as engrossing as it is in 2D.
Set between the first and second Metroid entries, Metroid Prime had all the usual abilities and attacks for Samus' journey through Tallon IV. The classic moves translated well, as did the slick action and deep exploration that even made scanning plants fun. Metroid Prime was followed by a pair of fantastic sequels, all of which are worth revisiting on the Wii U eShop right now.
What is Metroid's Future?
And now, 30 years later, where does that leave Metroid? While the series' best games are available on Nintendo's current platforms, it has been too long since a new Metroid game. Nintendo looks to change that this August with the multiplayer-focused Metroid Prime: Federation Force, but that doesn't feel like enough for such a major anniversary. Where's a new solo Samus adventure when you need one? 2D or 3D, it doesn't matter, the fans will take what they can get.
Well, until Nintendo greenlights a new, full-fledged Metroid adventure, there's still 30 years of great games worth exploring, either for the first time or the 30th. And with so many titles being made under Metroid's influence, the series isn't in any danger of being forgotten. So happy birthday Metroid, here's to another three great decades!