A Metroid Prime(r): What Games To Play Before Metroid Dread

Words cannot express how irrationally excited I am about Metroid Dread and the fervor around it! I seriously never thought I’d see the day. Obviously, my entire website is named after the Chozo, an integral part of the Metroid lore. Some of my best friends and I originally bonded over our love for the series, and it’s one of my favorites to this day. I constantly sing its praises, and I’m thrilled to see more people interested with the advent of Dread! And that’s who this “primer” is largely for. It’s a brief guide of what to know about Metroid and which games to play before Metroid Dread releases on October 8th of this year. And if you’re a longtime fan or veteran like me, consider this a nice “refresher” and/or nostalgic trip through Metroid history. I’m formatting this as a sort of FAQ, so hopefully it’s of some help!

Metroid in a capsule from Super Metroid guide
The baby Metroid!

What exactly is Metroid?

Metroid is one of Nintendo’s oldest series. The original game released back in 1986 on the NES, and was revolutionary for the time for its huge world and non-linear gameplay. Taking place on the planet Zebes, a bounty hunter named Samus Aran was tasked with taking down the “Space Pirates” (original, I know) who are using the alien creature known as Metroids for nefarious purposes. Metroids are small flying creatures that siphon energy from any living organisms to the point of death (see above picture). They’re usually encountered towards the end of each Metroid game as a tough final gauntlet.

Metroid NES box, cart, manual, and two Metroid figures
The original Metroid instruction manual has a lot of great lore and illustrations in it.

The ending to the first game also brought the revelation that Samus was a woman! Since then, several more games have been released, both as direct sequels and as spinoffs (you can read about each in my Metroid game rankings).

Samus Aran with half power suit on, half off from Super Metroid guide
I love this sketch of Samus from the Super Metroid guide.

How does the gameplay work?

If you’re interested in the series, you’ve at least heard of, if not completed several, 2D Metroidvanias. The core concept is Samus must acquire power ups to overcome new obstacles and progress through the map in each game. Often, this means returning to a previously explored area to do something you couldn’t before in order to move forward. The caverns and corridors within the planets of each game are maze-like, so most games have a map system to help. There’s a combination of platforming and action, especially in the epic boss battles Samus must face.

SR388 map from Metroid II manual
The Metroid’s “homeworld”. This map is from the Metroid II manual!

What is the basic story about?

Metroid follows the intergalactic bounty hunter Samus Aran (my favorite video game character of all time) in her battle against the Space Pirates, and often, the titular Metroids. Samus’ family was killed by Ridley (a recurring boss in the series) during a Space Pirate raid on her homeplanet when she was a little girl. She was then adopted and raised by the Chozo, a technologically advanced (and supposedly now extinct) bird-like race who were once warriors, but adopted a more peaceful and meditative philosophy in their later years. They infused her with Chozo DNA to help to her survive the harsh environments they raised her in, gave her the famous power suit that allows her to use Chozo weaponry and technology (often found in “Chozo statues” in gameplay), and taught her to fight.

Metroid II manual Samus pictures

Samus has officially worked for the “Galactic Federation” army but more recently flies solo as a lone bounty hunter. She is terrifyingly efficient in accomplishing her missions, and feared by the Space Pirates after defeating them in multiple encounters.

Why is everyone so excited for Metroid Dread?

It’s been a long, LONG wait for a “proper” Metroid sequel. Most of us fans had honestly long given up hope. The last true story installment (Metroid Fusion, AKA Metroid 4) released back in 2002 on the Game Boy Advance! We’ve gotten a few spinoffs and games taking place in between the main titles, but no proper chronological sequel until now.

Metroid Prime Pinball case, DS lite, GBA Rumble Pak, Metroid figure, and Morph Ball stress ball
Some of the spinoff games were pretty enjoyable, but it’s hard to beat a new story entry!

Metroid Dread was actually in production for the original DS but shelved due to hardware limitations. It appeared and vanished several times, only to resurrect during the trailer during E3 2021. It’s hard to express how big a deal it was to longtime fans. Go watch some YouTube reactions and you’ll see!

Do I need to play the other Metroid games before Dread?

According to producer Yoshio Sakamoto, no! Metroid Dread’s prologue should catch you up on the basic plot points and stakes present. I’m sure there will be numerous Easter eggs and nostalgic callbacks to previous entries, but Metroid (like Zelda) is a series where each game stands alone. The mythology is fairly extensive but not all necessary to understand before jumping in. You can really play any of the games at any time, and have a blast. There’s also a story summary (that does include spoilers) at the end of this post.

Collage of my favorite Metroid games: Prime, Metroid II, Samus Returns, Zero Mission, Fusion, and Super Metroid with two Metroid figures

Which Metroid games should I play before Dread?

If you DO want to catch up on the series, I’d recommend playing the four “main” games, in the best incarnations possible. So that’s Metroid: Zero Mission on GBA (1), Samus Returns on 3DS (2), Super Metroid on SNES (3), and Metroid Fusion on GBA (4). Again, it’s not necessary, and you don’t even need to play them in that order! But those are the main pieces of core story that also represent 2D Metroid at its best. They’re the games to play before Metroid Dread.

Metroid: Samus Returns, Zero Mission, and Fusion complete in box

How do I play the other Metroid games?

This is where I sigh and shake my head at Nintendo. As much as I love the company, they don’t do great work with letting us play their beloved older games (at least legally). Let’s go easiest to hardest here. Super Metroid is widely available! One of the best games ever created can be picked up as a SNES cart, played on the SNES Classic, or via NSO Online on Switch (Super is also the title I’d most recommend trying out before Dread, both because it’s amazing and because it has a prologue summarizing the events of the first games).

Super Metroid box, cart, Nintendo Power Player's Guide, SNES controller, and two Metroid figures
Play this game at some point in your life. You won’t regret it.

Samus Returns is only on the 3DS, but can still be picked up cheaply second hand on eBay (or even brand new in some stores since it only released in 2017). The original Game Boy version is only $4 on the 3DS eShop, and holds up well today!

Metroid Samus Returns Special Edition box and soundtrack with Samus New 3DS XL and Metroid figure

Zero Mission and Fusion are much trickier. Two of the best Game Boy Advance games ever made must be played on the original cart or on the Wii U Virtual Console (downloadable for $8 each). That’s a tall order for folks that don’t own the console. I will say that it’s still worth playing the Wii U for a variety of reasons, even today. Check out why I think so in my Wii U Retrospective!

Metroid Zero Mission box, manual, insert and Zero Suit Samus amiibo with Metroid figure

Do I need to play the 3D Metroid games before Dread?

The “Metroid Prime” trilogy all take place between Metroid 1 and 2, chronologically. The games really do translate the 2D adventure of Metroid to the 3D space quite magnificently! They’re not first-person shooters but rather first-person adventure games that are very unique. Each Metroid Prime is a pretty stellar title (particularly the first, which is regarded as one of the best games ever made) but definitely not necessary to play before Dread. The Prime games are also quite a bit lengthier and more involved than the 2D games, just FYI!

Metroid Prime Trilogy for Wii, Metroid Prime 1 disc, 2 case, and 3 disc, with Metroid amiibo, Samus and Dark Samus amiibo
You can pick up the whole trilogy cheaply digitally on the Wii U. Let’s keep hoping Nintendo releases an HD remaster on Switch!

What’s the deal with Metroid Prime 4?

Metroid Prime 4 was announced back during E3 2017 with nothing more than a logo tease (we all still lost our minds). Radio silence followed until development was completely restarted in 2019 since it wasn’t “up to Nintendo standards”. It’s now in the hands of Retro Studios, who developed the original Prime games. We haven’t gotten any new details, updates, or trailers since. We’re pretty in the dark as to what’s going on with it. I personally believe it’ll be years before it releases, but who knows? At least we have Metroid Dread!

What’s a more in-depth plot summary of the games so far?

Alright, now we’ll be getting into spoilers! The Metroid stories don’t have big plot twists akin to The Empire Strikes Back or anything. But I really enjoy the lore and individual stories! So if you want to play the original games without anything being spoiled, turn back now. I’ll quickly summarize each main “numbered” game, skipping the spinoffs to keep things concise.

Last pages of story from NES Metroid manual
Notice that the text from the NES manual misled us into thinking Samus was a man!

Metroid: Zero Mission (1)

Samus is hired by the Galactic Federation to eliminate the Space Pirate threat on planet Zebes when no one else can. She infiltrates the base, defeats leaders Kraid and Ridley, battles through numerous Metroids in Tourian (the most secure area), then destroys the “Mother Brain” controlling all operations. She escapes as the base self-destructs in a countdown sequence (a recurring gameplay trope).

Mother Brain from Super Metroid guide
The Mother Brain. I always found her unnerving!

In the Zero Mission remake, additional story is revealed. As Samus tries to flee Zebes airspace, she is shot down by Space Pirate ships. Crash landing without her power suit, she must infiltrate the Space Pirate mother ship and regain her abilities from Chozo Ruins she visited as a child. With newfound power, she eliminates the remaining Space Pirates and destroys a “Ridley Robot” that self-destructs afterwards, blowing up the mothership.

Metroid II: Return of Samus/Samus Returns (2)

Samus is now sent to the Metroid “homeplanet” of SR-388 to eliminate every single Metroid since they are deemed a threat to the galaxy. No Space Pirates this time! Exploring the labyrinthian caverns full of Chozo ruins, she slowly but surely kills every last Metroid (many of which are in a more powerful “evolved” state-see picture below) until encountering the Queen Metroid, whom she takes down in a terrifying battle.

Metroid II Metroid evolutions from manual
Look at this glory! I can’t be the only one who misses instruction manuals.

Afterwards, a lone baby Metroid hatches out of the single remaining egg and follows Samus “like a confused child”, as she later puts it. Unable and unwilling to dispatch it, she lets it follow her back to her ship. In the Samus Returns remake, she is ambushed by a revived Ridley who attempts to take the hatchling. She defends the baby Metroid and takes down Ridley, escaping in her ship to the Galactic Federation.

Metroid in a capsule from Super Metroid guide
The Metroid hatchling is very iconic in the lore.

An additional scene revealed with 100% item collection shows a group of still war-like Chozo that arrived in SR388’s past and annihilated the original group that built the ruins. Did they take any Metroids with them? Could these “evil” Chozo make an appearance in Dread? (I think so)

Super Metroid (3)

Samus leaves the Metroid hatchling with Federation scientists, who begin to study its energy harvesting abilities. They soon realize its power could potentially be harnessed for the good of mankind! Thinking all is well, Samus eventually departs for a new bounty to hunt. But she is soon called back to the research station because of a distress signal. Returning, she finds all the scientists dead and the baby Metroid missing. Ridley reveals himself as being responsible, and flies away with the Metroid to a reconstructed Zebes while initiating the station’s self destruct sequence.

Super Metroid map of Zebes from manual

Landing again on Zebes, Samus finds the Space Pirate base vastly improved from the original game (see above map from the SM manual). She battles her way through the complex labyrinth, defeating Kraid and newcoming bosses Phantoon and Draygon, as well as Ridley in an epic rematch. Descending to a new and more secure Tourian, she dispatches a ton of Metroid clones before encountering an enormous, fully grown Metroid hatchling. Attacking and nearly killing Samus, it realizes who she is moments before her death. It flies away confused.

Ridley from Super Metroid guide
The confrontation with Ridley is EPIC.

Samus battles to Mother Brain, destroying her enclosure in a battle similar to the first game. But afterwards, a massive organic body rises with Mother Brain atop, attacking Samus viciously. Using an insanely powerful “hyper beam”, Mother Brain is about to kill Samus when the baby Metroid flies in to defend her, but is killed doing so. A revived Samus deals the final blow to Mother Brain, and again escapes as the planet is destroyed in a cataclysmic explosion.

Metroid Fusion (4)

Metroids are deemed extinct, but close watch is kept on SR388 to ensure no more Metroids arise. Samus escorts Federation soldiers on their patrols often. During a routine sweep, Samus is attacked by an unknown parasitic lifeform. This parasite clings to Samus’ powersuit, spreads, and is unable to be removed as it slowly takes over her functions. Desperate Federation scientists craft a vaccine from Metroid DNA left from Samus’ suit after Super Metroid. This manages to slow the spread of the “X” parasite. It is revealed Metroids were actually created by the Chozo to eliminate the X on SR388 long ago. Samus is left without much of her powersuit after the ordeal:

Different suits of Samus in Metroid Fusion

Samus is called to investigate the Federation Biological Space Laboratories (map below) floating above SR388 after a strange explosion. Landing, she finds things have gone horribly awry. The X have overrun the ship and created all sorts of twisted lifeforms. Using her new ship’s computer as guidance, she slowly obtains new power ups compatible with her new suit and destroys the grotesque organisms. All the while, an “X” version of Samus (the SA-X) hunts her relentlessly. Samus finds the Federation has secretly begun a Metroid cloning program without her knowledge. She eliminates the SA-X, merges with it to regain her “original suit” and defeats an Omega Metroid, then crashes the BSL into SR-388. Once again the Metroid threat is eliminated. Or is it?…

Map of BSL from Metroid Fusion manual

Is the galaxy at peace?

I’m very curious to see where the Metroid Dread story takes us. It’s supposed to be a “finale” of sorts to Samus’ arc with the Metroids, which is very intriguing! Samus is now also a sort of fugitive from the Federation for disobeying orders at the end of Fusion, so we’ll see where that goes.

If you’re new to the series, I hope this was of some guidance. Welcome to the fandom and enjoy!

Do you have any additional questions? If you’ve been a fan for some time, what do you think are the best games to play before Metroid Dread? How hyped for Dread are you on a scale of 10 to Samus escaping a self-destruct sequence with the speed booster??

4 thoughts on “A Metroid Prime(r): What Games To Play Before Metroid Dread”

  1. I appreciate how the post is split into non-spoilers, spoilers.

    What a time to be a Metroid fan. Feels good. Definitely appreciate the attention and new mainline series entry after such a long break. And now being an adult I appreciate it even more.

    Nintendo really needs to read the room and release a Metroid 1-4 collection or at least make 1-4 available on Switch for purchase separately. Otherwise WiiU or emulation are the only viable alternatives as mentioned.

    Agreed that Super Metroid is the “one” to play before Dread is released. Hard to argue against an all time classic.

    1. Zach Lindemann

      Thanks Kamal! 100% agreed on how glorious a time it is to be a Metroid fan. I seriously never thought I’d see Metroid 5 happen. Not only that, but there’s so much hype around it from both fans and newcomers, and Nintendo is releasing a new Switch model on the same day! Shows a lot of faith in the series that the Big N seems to have been lacking the last decade or so.

      I sincerely hope the interest in the 2D Metroid games is the wake up call Nintendo needs to make the earlier titles more easily available. LET US PLAY THE CLASSICS ON SWITCH, NINTENDO!!! The people have spoken!

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