Visitors to Tokyo’s Nintendo store are treated to awe-inspiring art, sculptures, and collectibles from the company’s various successful franchises; however, nothing is more iconic or representative of Nintendo’s power than its four statues. Located in the center of its flagship store, these are monuments to what the gaming company clearly considers its greatest franchises: Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda, Animal Crossing, and Splatoon. These statues are so iconic that Nintendo has met demand by selling miniature versions for a hefty price.
These franchises are pillars in Nintendo’s Pantheon, icons of the company’s lasting success through multiple eras of gaming. While some might disagree, it’s now clear that Samus deserves a spot alongside Link, Mario, Isabelle, and the Inkling Girl. While sales numbers and public recognition certainly back these other characters and their respective games, there is growing evidence that a fifth pillar must be added to Nintendo’s Pantheon–Metroid.
When determining what makes a franchise truly great, there seems to be three major factors: impact, experience, and sales. A franchise like The Legend of Zelda demonstrates the impact criterion well; The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time literally set the standard for the gaming experience in a 3-D environment for a generation of gaming. The “Z-Targeting” system helped players focus their interactions with the game despite a plethora of variables presented by a three-dimensional game environment. The mechanism still persists across gaming today. In terms of experience, it’s all about the player. What does it feel like to play a game from the franchise in question? This covers music, art, story, and gameplay. When impact and experience are deeply felt, the sales numbers usually follow. If Metroid is to be counted among the Nintendo greats, it must also measure up against these criteria.
In terms of its merit based upon impact, Metroid crushes it. The side-scrolling action and adventure origins of the series have literally inspired an entire genre of gaming, one that is celebrated by dedicated fans: Metroidvania. The term is a combination of Metroid and Castlevania, two franchises that defined the sub-genre of gaming, with Super Metroid defining the core game mechanics of nonlinear platforming and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night adding in the RPG elements. Some of the most famous games within the Metroidvania genre are the Ori games, Hollow Knight, and Axiom Verge. The Metroidvania formula has also inspired a lot of 3-D games as well, such as Dark Souls and Alien: Isolation. The latter is most interesting given that Metroid itself drew heavy inspiration from the Alien films.
When comparing the impact of Metroid with that of Nintendo’s other iconic franchises, it’s clear that the games have influenced the industry with equivalent significance. Zelda and Mario have had an out-sized impact without a doubt, but in terms of science fiction storytelling and the unique gameplay mechanics inspired by the series, Metroid deserves recognition as one of the greats.
While this criterion is highly subjective, the player’s experience is typically some combination of the music, art, story, and gameplay. In this category, Metroid excels yet again. It goes without saying that the gameplay experience is top-tier given that it inspired an entire sub-genre of gaming. However it’s worth noting that spirit of exploration, the use of “items,” and the combat rival greats like The Legend of Zelda as some of the best available. In other words, it’s more than just platforming and backtracking that make the gameplay special.
In terms of its music, the Metroid franchise stands as equal to some of the very best and most iconic in gaming. While The Legend of Zelda does have its own touring symphony, the music of Metroid has been met with critical acclaim, particularly for its creative and unique ability to capture the aura of space. Writing for Paste Magazine, Dia Lacina examines the masterful nature of the music in Super Metroid, explaining:
It’s possible to go on for hours about Super Metroid. It’s a much longer soundtrack, a side-effect of the technological progress in games that pushes us ever towards longer, bigger, more. The need for unique themes for unique zones. Some gentle and eerie, others clearly on the offensive. Metroid used what it could to create a tone poem, a suggestion of space. Super Metroid takes those ideas and lets cinematic composition seep through, finding more complicated and direct ways to communicate place.
Much like the celebrated music of its peers (Castlevania, The Legend of Zelda, Mario), Metroid has also inspired fans to create top 10 lists and to rank the best songs in the franchise. By any metric, amateur or professional, the music in Metroid is among the best in gaming.
Finally, the lore and storytelling of Metroid are among the very best that Nintendo offers. In fact, one could make the argument that Metroid surpasses the narrative experience of other Nintendo giants because it escapes the episodic vortex that devours many of its peers. Mario, Zelda, and Animal Crossing simply don’t develop long, multi-game story arcs that allow players to dive deep into lore. Yes, it’s true that Zelda exists in a kind of timeline multiverse, which Nintendo reluctantly acknowledged, but no one new to the franchise should worry about confusion over the story; they may simply dive in at any entry point and enjoy the story being told.
On the other hand, Metroid tells a story that is gripping and compelling, one in which a player will be sorely missing out if they enter into a game later in the series. The journey of Samus from orphaned child to Chozo adopted warrior is the stuff of legends. The corrupting nature of power, the hubris of scientific exploration, the terror of bio-weapons like the Metroid are riveting narratives that reflect the human condition. In fact, the lore is so compelling that whole communities and podcasts have formed to plumb its depths.
When the unique art style, inspiring music, creative gameplay, and epic storytelling are considered holistically, Metroid stands among the elite of video games in terms of player experience.
Alas, it is here that Metroid falls short of greatness–at least for the moment. In spite of its critical acclaim, die-hard fan base, and fantastic in-game experience, no game in the franchise has ever sold more than 3 million copies. According to VGChartz, the best selling Metroid game of all time is Metroid Prime, coming in at a paltry 2.82 million copies. In fact, if the lifetime sales of all Metroid games were totaled together, it would equal roughly 17 million copies–that’s still 6 million less than the 23+ million sold by The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Brutal. It’s hard to make the case that Metroid should be a flagship franchise when it quite simply doesn’t sell. But that may soon change.
Recently, Game Stop tweeted out its list of top 5 pre-ordered games. What was sitting atop that list, outpacing industry giants like Pokémon and Mario? That’s right–Metroid: Dread. The reveal of the once-dead, decades old mystery game, Metroid: Dread, absolutely stole the show at E3 2021. If the excitement for the game holds (it certainly will), and if the pre-orders continue to maintain their sales numbers, there’s no reason to think that the game won’t smash sales records on the Nintendo Switch, a console that literally dominates the market.
If Metroid: Dread finally proves that the franchise can sell in significant numbers, there will simply be no excuse left to ignore one of Nintendo’s oldest franchises. Every indication available says that this game is going to sell like crazy.
Enduring over 35 years, with eleven games produced while spanning half a dozen consoles, Metroid has secured its place among the giants of gaming. Few franchises can boast the longevity, passionate fanbase, or critical impact of Metroid. Born from an experimental time in the infancy of gaming and inspired by one of the greatest science-fiction / horror franchises of all-time, Metroid has been a cultural force for Nintendo, capturing the imagination of generations of gamers. For now, it remains on the outside of the gaming Pantheon; the economic bottom line still gate-keeps the halls of greatness; but Metroid‘s fortunes may soon change with Dread. And if that happens–Nintendo must finally recognize its place alongside Zelda, Mario, Animal Crossing, and Splatoon. Give Samus her statue and let her stand like a mythic stone Chozo in the center of Nintendo’s Pantheon.
David Lasby is the Editor-in-Chief for Boss Rush Network. His favorite video games are The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, and the Aliens franchise. You can find him on Twitter to talk all things Nintendo, sci-fi / fantasy, and creative writing.