The E3 announcement of an ACTUAL NEW GAME in the form of Metroid Dread gave us the original idea of ranking all 2D Metroid games. How original! Seriously though, we turned to Rudy as our resident Metroid nut to finally burst open his fanboy love sack all over our website. If you saw E3 and want to pretend that you actually like the series and have played the games, feel free to copy and paste the below and make it sound like you know what you are talking about. Actually want to play any of these titles? Then use this as a handy guide on where to start.
The Metroid series, particularly its 2D iterations is one of the founding fathers of the titular ‘Metroidvania’ genre. Unfamiliar? Well, in Metroid terms it means you start off as Bounty Hunter Samus Aran. You go to a sprawling, intricate world and are weak as a newborn baby. At the start, your options and exploration are limited. As you get further into the game, you acquire new abilities and weapons that open up the world for further exploration. Exploration, problem solving (and a healthy dose of backtracking) are all part of the joy. Oh, and boss fights. It wouldn’t be Metroid without some very large bosses.
Before we begin though, let’s set some ground rules. Firstly, these are 2D Metroid games. So none of the Prime titles, Metroid: Other M (because, c’mon, why would we?) or the daft Hunters or Federation Force. The rankings are based on personal opinion and countdown to numero uno (i.e. the best of the bunch). So let’s get stuck into this list of treats
7. Metroid (Nintendo Entertainment System – 1986)
Full disclosure, we have never actually played this on the NES but instead, on the Gameboy Advance copy of Metroid: Zero Mission that had it as a completion bonus! It seems a little harsh to rank this last given that it birthed the series, but as is the case with a lot of gaming series, this one gets a little harder to love with each passing iteration.
For its day, and particularly NES hardware, the game is ambitious and still playable. The gameplay has a lot of the hallmarks of the later games and the graphics, while basic, does a lot to enforce atmosphere. The music/sound effects aren’t bad too. It’s just that it doesn’t feel as good as later games. Not only that but with the Zero Mission remake, there is less incentive to go back and try this game.
6. Metroid II – Return of Samus (Game Boy – 1991)
Many critics would place this title last on the list but we are still really impressed at the breadth of the sequel given the limitations of the original Game Boy hardware. Still, in many ways, it is the odd one out. From a story perspective, it is possibly one of the most important titles in the series but it really deviates from the previous exploration heavy theme of the original and subsequent titles. Instead, you literally descend down a map and fight a lot of repetitive Metroid ‘bosses’. The small screen means you can’t see much further ahead and it makes traversal slightly more painful.
We won’t deny, it is a hard one to go back to and play now but if you have some nostalgic love for the OG Game Boy, we recommend a go. At least it is useful to compare to the next game on our list.
5. Metroid – Samus Returns (Nintendo 3DS – 2017)
This is the newest entry and we really liked this latter day remake of the Game Boy original. If you have a 3DS with the 3d feature, we really recommend this is how you play. The game is just gorgeous and a lot of attention was spent making this spring out using the unique 3DS screen. Even without though, you are getting an extended remake that combines the overall game experience of the original with many of the tweaks that latter day titles brought to it – plus a few of its own.
This game is longer and, in some ways, harder. There are some pretty tough boss fights in the game that demand your time and attention. After one particular boss, we found our hands aching from tension and tiny handheld controls. Put it this way, we’ve earned the nickname ‘Lobster Hands’. Samus has a nifty little deflect shot, as well as new Aion abilities that give another dimension to enemies and puzzle solving. Movement is tight, the weapons meaty and the world design stands up to its descendants. It is also a decent length – you might be looking at around 10-11 hours for a straight playthrough but to get to 100% collection will take a good few hours more.
Still, it isn’t perfect. The enemy variety is limited and the deflect used too much for it not to grate. Also, the Metroid boss fights can be drawn out and repetitive. This is more to do with the DNA of the original but a bit more variety would have helped. That said, getting a new 2D remake in 2017 was great and it did enough right for us to be exciting by the same team moving on to Metroid Dread.
4. Metroid Fusion (Game Boy Advance – 2002)
This game is a lot of people’s favourite in the series and we expect some flak for not placing higher. In theory, the last canonical entry in the series, this serves as a direct sequel to Super Metroid. It attempts to change things up somewhat. Rather than be a planet based affair, you are tasked with taking down a new enemy on a space station, the X parasite a lifeform found back on SR388, home world of the Metroid species. This parasite can take on the form of anything, thus resurrecting many enemies from Samus’ past and even (shock horror), herself.
The first thing to note is that Fusion is more narrative heavy than previous instalments. Samus interacts with an AI that hints at her past and it helps to deliver plot points. It also serves up some intrigue and mystery to the affair. At its heart, Fusion builds tension in an Alien style environment. Samus is too weak at the start to take on her doppelganger so must evade whenever they are near, and the baddie is always one step ahead. Secondly, exploration takes a slight backseat here. The AI will give directions on objectives and where to go. Each area of the map is segregated so they aren’t fully integrated. In many ways, it feels less Metroid than other instalments and this is why we have placed it where we have.
Not that this is makes it bad of course. The gameplay and slight tweak to controls work very well and there are some epic boss encounters. The game is also gorgeous throughout with a very distinct art style and great environmental storytelling. For fans of the series and gamers in general, you can’t go wrong with this. Since Metroid Dread will be a direct sequel, it sounds like the tension of Fusion is going to continue.
3. AM2R (Unofficially on PC – 2016)
Say whaaaat? You guys are putting a fan made game in this list AND placing it high? Well yeah, suck on it Nintendo. The story of AM2R is worthy of its own entry but suffice to say that this is a fan developed sequel to Metroid II – Samus Returns on the Game Boy. The title stands for Another Metroid 2 Remake, a joke regarding how many fan made projects there were floating about. This game actually made it and blimey is it a doozy. The game perfectly combines the aesthetic and gameplay of the 16-bit Super Metroid with a dose of the later Metroid Fusion. Play this before Super Metroid and it is the perfect entree. The format of the Game Boy original is kept intact but there is some great detail and a whole lot of love for the source material.
The controls are tight, it does a good job with story and if Nintendo had released this, fans would be lapping it up. Which makes it more of a shame that Nintendo slapped the fan makers with a DMCA takedown request preventing further development work. Typical Nintendo but the game is readily available online and even has an Android port. We can’t lie, the ranking of this entry is based in part of our love of the 16-bit era but to see such hard work put into a game made for pure love is something that warms our salty cockles.
2. Metroid: Zero Mission (Game Boy Advance – 2004)
Hard to believe that 2D Metroid fans had to wait from this entry to 2017 to get an ‘official’ Nintendo sequel. This Game boy Advance title is a remake of the first Metroid story. It feels like a perfect remake in many ways. The game is gorgeous, possibly the best looking of this era of Metroid games. Again, it looks both to Super Metroid and Metroid Fusion for some of its gameplay. It even has an extended ending with a very unique gameplay twist that ties nicely into the lore of the Metroid franchise. A little bit of retconning, maybe, but it is a sweet section. If you know, you know.
The game is a little bit short and we can’t disagree with accusations that the game is the easiest in the franchise (it is). Still, as a remake it really does mean you can get the full experience of the original but with the knowledge of subsequent entries and design ideas. We love this game and it is high on the replay list.
1. Super Metroid (Super Nintendo – 1994).
We have to be clear, for anyone that has engaged with this author on the site, Super Metroid is the GOAT. Period. Still, if we take this inherent favouritism aside, there is a strong argument that this is still the best 2D Metroid game. As a piece of gaming history, this game really brought together all the elements for the modern Metroidvania genre. As a gameplay experience in 2021, it is still rock solid. Landing on the same world of Zebes as the first Metroid, you explore a sprawling world map that opens up as you powerup. There is back tracking, arguably a lot of it but, it feels earned as every return to an old area is with a different powerup that makes you look at the environment (and enemies) differently.
What else? Well, the graphics and environmental storytelling are wonderfully evocative and create the pitch perfect atmosphere for an alien world. The soundtrack is almost pure perfection, matching each locale and evolution of the story. The story was a rarity for one of the 16-bit era, telling a simple but well told story that felt closer to a movie than many of its contemporaries. The game itself is rightly regarded as a classic and is amongst the easiest games to get hold of today – having been released on the Wii, Wii U, 3DS, SNES Classic and currently on the Nintendo Switch Online service.
Unlike many retro titles, where the novelty is that you can replay and see what all the fuss was about THEN, this is a game that you can play and still hold up alongside modern Metroidvania classics, such as Hollow Knight, Guacamelee, and Axiom Verge (which, let’s face it, is Super Metroid through and through).
Seriously, go play it and then come back to agree with us.
Ranking all 2D Metroid Games – Conclusion
So there you have it, Any Button Gaming’s ranking of all 2D Metroid titles. Ultimately, if you like the genre then you can’t really go wrong with any of these. Want to dip your toe? We suggest Super Metroid as the place to start as many of the best iterations riff on that title so it makes gameplay sense to start there.
What are your opinions? Disagree? Wish people would stop banging on about Metroid? Let us know in the comments below!
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Rudy Manchego has been gaming since the days of the BBC Micro Computer and spreads himself thin with a love of retro, indie and mainstream gaming. He’s one half of the Jambags Comedy Gaming podcast and likes nothing better than kicking back with a nice pot of lapsang souchong, a good game and a background podcast on the intricacies of Spanish cheese making.