I love Metroid. Ever since I played Super Metroid decades ago, I’ve been entranced by the series’ atmosphere and classic story of a woman being raised by bird people to become a genetically enhanced space warrior who has to blow up a giant brain.
But being a Metroid fan isn’t always easy. From the saga of the lost Metroid Dread to the recent announcement that development on Prime 4 was starting over from scratch, we Friends of Samus are frequently left out in the cold while Nintendo focuses on other franchises about soul-stealing plumbers or mischievous elf boys.
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When we are disappointed, we reach for stories to explain our circumstances. We wonder whether there is some kind of anti-Metroid conspiracy going all the way to the top. But loving something means seeing it as it is, rather than as you wish it were. And friends, I’ve done just that. In taking a long, hard look at the series I love, I’ve discerned five reasons why Metroid is fated to remain the awkward sibling of the Nintendo family of intellectual property for the foreseeable future.
It’s Primarily About Shooting Things
“Actually Metroid is about exploring and solving puzzles!” Sure, sure. But how do you open doors while you’re doing that? I can’t think of another video game character who traverses portals by blasting the hell out of them. Sure, it’s elegant design — stripping away unnecessary verbs — but even Mega Man was able to just walk through doors like a normal dude.
Samus is basically a walking tank whose main means of interacting with the world is by shooting at it or dropping bombs on it. You could argue that Star Fox is also a shooting-heavy franchise — to which I would say, Star Fox isn’t exactly on Nintendo’s A-list right now either. Shooters just aren’t Nintendo’s cup of tea. Even Splatoon, the company’s first big multiplayer shooter franchise, is as much about covering territory with paint as it is about blasting your enemies.
Metroid Can’t Play Tennis
The Mario sports and kart games work because the Mushroom Kingdom crew are cute and goofy — even the villains. We can buy that Bowser would try to take over the world by rigging the Olympics, or that Wario would take time out of his busy schedule of being a total creep to play a few sets of tennis with a lizard that shoots eggs out of its face. And Link is believable in Mario Kart (not to mention in a rhythm-based roguelike).
But can you picture Samus Aran playing golf? A Metroid breeding and collecting simulator? A racing game where Samus rides a hoverboard and grinds on rails in space and there’s a cool talking bird? Of course these would all be dope, but they don’t fit with the world and character at all.
Nobody Wants a Zoomer Amiibo
Metroid is the odd bird of the first-party NES pantheon compared to Mario and Zelda. The latter two games feature simple, cute protagonists who face off against a wide range of colorful and instantly recognizable enemies. Metroid features a faceless, armored warrior who battles hordes of — let’s be honest — mostly-forgettable aliens.
I mean, yeah. The Metroids themselves are iconic, but there are only so many floating jellyfish Amiibos you can make. If you asked me to name non-boss, non-Metroid Metroid enemies, I could come up with Space Pirates and something called “Zoomers,” unattached to any particular creature. And listen: Space Pirates are no Moblins.
This isn’t a failing of the series! In fact, it’s what makes Metroid so special. And it’s not that surprising, considering the original game draws inspiration from Alien. The whole point is that it’s Samus against a dark, threatening, alien world. There are no palette-swapped siblings or fairies to help her out. But that does mean that, when it’s time to sell branded lunchboxes or t-shirts or vape pens, there’s a limited pool of characters to draw from.
It took until Super Smash Bros. Ultimate to get additional Metroid characters into Nintendo’s flagship crossover series — which features such bottom-of-the-barrel characters as “Duck Hunt.” Just… “Duck Hunt.” And one of those new characters is just a clone of Samus! An evil clone made of living sin, but mechanically identical nonetheless.
Yes, there are other bounty hunters, Federation troopers, and so on, but that just raises another problem…
When You Try To Make It More Marketable, It’s Terrible
Remember the aborted Operation: Alien? It was Fox’s attempt to create a Saturday morning cartoon based on the Aliens franchise. It was the 90s and Kenner was making action figures of everything, so why not try and sell kids H.R. Giger’s threateningly phallic nightmare creatures?
Well, it turns out that You Can’t Do That on Television. The show never aired — likely because it’s impossible to craft a story about the horror of eusocial rapist monsters to the 6-12 year old set. Kenner still made the toys, though, selling a line of Aliens based on different animals as well as marines based on the characters from Aliens.
Metroid has its own intergalactic meatheads — the Federation. These guys debuted in-person in Metroid Prime: Echoes, but they appear most prominently in Corruption. In this title, we see Samus working with the Federation in person for the first time. There are space marines everywhere, marking a tone change as significant as the leap from Alien to Aliens. So hey, why not give them their own game?
The resulting title, Federation Force, was a cooperative multiplayer shooter featuring chibi characters operating brightly-colored robotic armor similar to Samus’s Power Suit. Objectively speaking, it’s an okay example of the genre — but the game’s marketing as a Metroid title galled fans, who hoped for a traditional Metroid title for the Wii U.
Accounts differ as to whether or not Nintendo saw the backlash coming, but regardless, they eventually addressed it. Then-president of Nintendo of America Reggie Fils-Aimé said: “We believe that in order to propel the franchises forward, we have to be the ones to constantly challenge the paradigms, challenge the conventional wisdom, challenge what we thought was the essence of the particular franchise, and a particular form of gameplay.”
To me, this speaks less to a gross misstep than a calculated gamble that happened to fail. Nintendo could have released Federation Force as an original IP, or even as a Mario title, and it might have done just fine. But they wanted to bring Metroid into line with their other big franchises, in this case by adding more characters and focusing on a multiplayer experience. Unfortunately, Federation Force went on to become the lowest-scoring Metroid game of all time on Metacritic, even beating out the hated Other M. The experiment failed, and for now it seems like Metroid will remain out in the badlands of Nintendo IP with Star Fox and F-Zero.
Someone at Nintendo Just Hates Samus Aran
Other M. Zero Suit Samus. Rocket heels. I rest my case.