Dreadline: A 2D Metroid Retrospective, Chapter 1

Updated: Aug 23

Chapter 2

(Chapter 2 Excursus)

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

My jaw nearly hit the floor during Nintendo's 2021 E3 presentation when I saw my screen flash the words "Metroid 5." It has been almost 20 years since Metroid 4, the lovely GBA gem Metroid Fusion. Not only is the upcoming October release the official continuation of the Metroid timeline, but the game's title Metroid Dread is the make-good on the infamously cancelled DS Fusion followup rumored as early as 2005. It's finally here. Metroid fans have waited a long time for this.

You might think I'm exagerrating a bit. Haven't there been other Metroid games released between Fusion and Dread? The answer is yes--Zero Mission, Prime 2 and 3, Samus Returns, the constantly-maligned Other M, and a slew of side-games and spinoffs like Prime Hunters and...*sigh*...Federation Force. Two things are important to note, though.

  1. This is the first brand new, non-remake installment of classic, Two-Dimensional Metroid. There's a reason that they're calling this Metroid 5, an epithet no game made since 2002 has received. As great as the Prime series is, and as awesome as the NES and Game Boy remakes have been, they're not Metroid 5. Dread is.

  2. This is the first real continuation of the Metroid storyline since Fusion. Every non-remake game released in the interim has been an interquel of some kind--in fact, the entire Prime trilogy nestles between Metroid and Metroid II. For 19 years, the story has been wrapped. No longer!

So yes, 19 years later, Metroid moves forward both narratively and two-dimensionally. What does that mean for you? Maybe you're a hardcore Metroid fan who plays a different game near-annually, like me. Maybe you're a more passive fan, playing the games as they come out and appreciating them at the time before they inevitably fade into the background of your gaming tapestry. Maybe you've never touched a 2D Metroid game before, or not a single game in the whole series. No matter who you are, if you've read this far, there will be something in this blog series for you as you continue.

My goals here are to 1. Play and reflect on the four games in the 2D Metroid series, 2. Recap the narrative of the series leading up to the release of Metroid Dread, and 3. Predict what I think may happen in Dread both mechanically and narratively.

Metroid 1: Metroid and Metroid: Zero Mission

I'm pretty sure I haven't touched Zero Mission since playing it near its launch in 2004, and I absolutely jumped at the opportunity to play it again when I set out to write Dreadline. This is the GBA remake of the original Metroid, a game that was desperately in need of a remake almost immediately after its original 1986 release. Metroid for NES was inventive, innovative, immersive, isolating, and probably some other words that start with the letter i, too. One of those words is not "immortal," though, because as groundbreaking as the game is, it is hard to go back to. For kids in the late 80's with seemingly infinite hours to play video games, Metroid was an opportunity to dive more deeply into a game world than perhaps ever before. The lack of map allowed--necessitated, even--you to make your own hand-crafted map on graph paper. The copious amount of secrets made for great sessions of note-comparison at the playground. Metroid is inscrutible, but that's a feature, not a flaw. However, it's a feature that has not aged well. More games are competing for our attention. Many gamers are adults with jobs and responsibilities. Very few people possess any longer the raw amount of time and energy that Metroid demands. That has been true for a long time, and it's especially true now.

This map in the manual is surprisingly accurate for what it is, but tons of supplemental work is required of the player.

The announcement of Zero Mission, built on the software groundwork of Fusion and the structural groundwork of Metroid, was therefore received with unanimous approval from the entire Metroid community. Well, except for Dai Grepher, an infamous and disturbingly sincere forum troll who posted across half-a-dozen or more video game forums to vociferously deny the idea that Zero Mission was somehow a remake of Metroid. His keystone argument was that certain elevators don't line up like they did in the original. Good times.

Narratively, the original Metroid was about as bare-bones as it could possibly be. The only text in the game is either on the menu or in the credits. Not even the items are explained in-game, neither their function nor how to control them. All of this information is found in the almost 50-page instruction manual. Remember those? They actually used to be pretty important! They were far more than just extra pieces of glossy paper that said to press SELECT to use your missiles,

featuring delightfully off-model art of misgendered Samus holding an NES controller. Though, don't get me wrong, they were certainly that, too. (The male pronouns for Samus are, I think, intentional. The final reveal of "Metroid is a girl?!?" was a deliberate shocker reserved for those elite enough to reach the credits. Go fast and you get to see her in an 8-bit bikini! Truly the greatest prize.)

If you're interested in the Metroid series or, honestly, gaming history at all, I think the original Metroid manual is great to read or skim. It's a window into this era of gaming and a case study in how game design has evolved. You mean you want all of the relevant information to actually be in the game? What do you mean people will somehow play this game and not have the manual on hand? Crazy, I know! The whole manual is officially scanned and posted in PDF format by Nintendo, in an uncharacteristic display of accessibility on their part.

At the very least, here is text for the 1986 inauguration of the Metroid canon, courtesy the wonderful Metroid-database.

In the year 2000 of the history of the cosmos, representatives from the many different planets in the galaxy established a congress called the Galactic Federation, and an age of prosperity began. A successful exchange of cultures and civilization resulted, and thousands of interstellar spaceships ferried back and forth between planets. But space pirates also appeared to attack the spaceships.

The Federation Bureau created the Galactic Federation Police, but the pirates' attacks were powerful and it was not easy to catch them in the vastness of space. The Federation Bureau and the Federation Police called together warriors known for their great courage and sent them to do battle with the pirates. These great warriors were called "space hunters." They received large rewards when they captured pirates, and made their living as space bounty hunters.

It is now year 20X5 of the history of the cosmos, and something terrible has happened. Space pirates have attacked a deep-space research spaceship and seized a capsule containing an unknown life-form that had just been discovered on Planet SR388. This life-form is in a state of suspended animation, but can be reactivated and will multiply when exposed to beta rays for 24 hours. It is suspected that the entire
civilization of Planet SR388 was destroyed by some unknown person or thing, and there is a strong possibility that the life-form just discovered was the cause of the planet's destruction. To carelessly let it multiply would be extremely dangerous. The Federation researchers had named it "Metroid" and were bringing it back to Earth--
when it was stolen by the space pirates!

If Metroid is multiplied by the space pirates and then used as a weapon, the entire galactic civilization will be destroyed. After a desperate search, the Federation Police have at last found the pirates' headquarters, the fortress planet Zebes, and launched a general attack. But the pirates' resistance is strong, and the Police have been unable to take the planet. Meanwhile, in a room hidden deep within the
center of the fortress, the preparations for multiplying the Metroid are progressing steadily.

As a last reso