The Metroid franchise is one of the most important video game series in the history of the industry.
From its earliest days on the original Nintendo gaming console to Samus's latest adventures on the Nintendo Switch, Metroid has always been groundbreaking in its approach to level design.
So much so, in fact, that it spawned an entire genre of video games called Metroidvanias (with help from another classic franchise in Castlevania). Metroid also stands out for its heroine protagonist, who continues to be one of the most enduring female characters in gaming history.
As with any video game series, the Metroid series has had its highs and lows. Here are my picks for the all-time greatest Metroid video games and why they stand out in this shining franchise.
5. Metroid: Zero Mission
While it certainly has an important place in gaming history, the original Metroid suffered greatly from the limitations of its time. The controls were clunky and the jumps made Samus feel weightless.
Fortunately, Metroid: Zero Mission—a near-perfect remake of Metroid for the Game Boy Advance—fixed nearly everything about the original game. The visuals are still sharp, the music is improved, and Samus feels more powerful but without reducing the game's challenge in any way.
It's been almost 20 years since this game was first released, and it still feels fresh. If you're looking for a good entry point to the Metroid series, this is the best place to get started.
4. Metroid Prime
The Metroid series pioneered the exploration-heavy style of 2D platforming, so fans were skeptical when Metroid Prime was announced as a first-person take on Metroid in a 3D world.
Around this time, first-person shooters were largely known as mindless run-and-gun experiences where you mowed down enemies around every corner. Metroid Prime took those mechanics and mixed them with the isolated, exploratory nature that Metroid is known for.
Clever puzzles abound in Metroid Prime, which force you to utilize Samus's iconic powers and abilities in various ways, resulting in an engaging experience that keeps you hooked.
The fact that the developers were able to make the Morph Ball look cool in 3D is an accomplishment all its own. Plus, the soundtrack is incredible, always adding to the tension in the best possible ways.
Metroid Prime—and the newly announced remastered edition for the Nintendo Switch—bucked expectations and proved that changing the genre of a series doesn't have to mean losing its heart.
3. Metroid: Samus Returns
When Metroid II was released on the Game Boy, it suffered a great deal in having to strain against its hardware limitations. Despite its compelling and fun story, it's impossible to recommend Metroid II to any but the most diehard Metroid fans.
But then came Metroid: Samus Returns, released in 2017 for the Nintendo 3DS, which remade Metroid II and fixed nearly everything that was wrong with the original without abandoning its core.
All the items, power-ups, and sense of exploration are still there, but everything runs so much smoother. The combat is vastly improved and the visuals are more in line with what modern gamers expect.
Metroid: Samus Returns took one of the worst games in the series and turned it into one of the greatest Metroid games of all time.
2. Super Metroid
For many years, Super Metroid was the gold standard for the franchise. The beautiful pixel graphics looked great on the Super Nintendo, while the music was absolutely stunning.
In Super Metroid, Samus feels powerful without being overwhelmingly so, and the way the game drip-feeds you new powers from the outset is an example of near-perfect pacing that hooks.
Despite being more than two decades old, Super Metroid still feels modern and fresh. That's partly because so many aspects of this game are still at the heart of most Metroidvania games released these days. It's also because so little of this game needs to be updated.
Even playing Super Metroid via the Nintendo Switch Online emulator is satisfying, a testament to how ahead of its time it was back in 1997.
1. Metroid Dread
There was a lot of pressure on MercurySteam to deliver on the promise of a proper 2D Metroid game for the Nintendo Switch.
After years of hype and then delays and then more hype, fans braced themselves for disappointment but hoped for greatness. What they ended up getting was the best Metroid video game of all time.
Released for the Nintendo Switch in 2021, Metroid Dread captures all the isolation of the best Metroid games, while the level design and combat are brilliantly updated for modern players.
The boss fights are difficult but never impossible, demanding a smart mixture of strategy and skill, all while teaching you those very skills that you'll need from the first minutes.
You can see the influence of previous Metroid games as you play through Metroid Dread, particularly the exploratory aspects of Super Metroid and the use of melee counters from Metroid: Samus Returns.
Metroid Dread's visuals are a perfect implementation of 3D graphics in a 2D plane of view, shifting to an over-the-shoulder view when Samus uses her energy beam against her relentless robot pursuers.
Even if you've never played a Metroid game before, Metroid Dread is worth picking up. It's that good, and it's the pinnacle of the franchise.