Ranking the Metroid games

Between the release of Metroid Dread and the fact that my website is The Chozo Project, it’s high time for ranking the Metroid games! Metroid is my second favorite series, right behind The Legend of Zelda. And just like Zelda, most Metroid games are of the highest quality. It’s hard to beat the spectacularly realized atmosphere and elegant gameplay in Metroid games, and Samus remains my favorite video game hero(ine) of all time! As much as I love a good Metroidvania (like Shantae), the original games that inspired them have more than withstood the test of time.

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

Many of the Metroid games are very special to me personally for the memories of playing them with friends throughout my life. (my groomsmen and I even beat Super Metroid a few nights before my wedding!). I’ve finished my favorite games in the series an insane amount of times, and could write about them all day. But I’ll try to be as objective as I can and rank them based on how they hold up today! If you’re brand new to the Metroid series, check out my “Metroid Primer” post for an intro to the lore and my suggested games to play. (if you stick with this list, you can jump to #6, but you’ll need some eBay tips or a functioning Wii U to access all the titles cheaply) Okay, let’s get into ranking the Metroid games!

Game Informer Issue 300 Metroid Cover
Just had to include this sweet cover from my Issue 300 of Game Informer!

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14. Metroid Prime: Hunters (DS, 2006)

I honestly don’t think there’s such thing as a “bad” Metroid game. There are simply some that have some gameplay or story oddities, or haven’t aged well mechanically. Metroid Prime: Hunters sort of falls into all of these categories! Released between the first two mainline Prime titles, this first-person entry just doesn’t stand out anymore. The graphics and design (and thus the atmosphere) of the game are pretty crude on DS hardware. Controls are fiddly and difficult, especially when aiming (remember how Nintendo wanted us to use that thumb stylus?). And while the plot is serviceable, it’s a bit derivative of the first Prime game, and the Alimbic race too similar to the Chozo. It was neat to see the game running on the DS when it released, but Hunters isn’t much fun to play today.

Metroid Prime Hunters with DS Lite and two Metroid figures

13. Metroid Prime: Federation Force (3DS, 2016)

If you’re a Metroid fan, you remember the harsh sting in your soul when this game was announced at E3 2015. (it’s quite literally the opposite of what just happened when Metroid Dread was shown at E3 2021!) Federation Force had the unfortunate burden of not at all being the Metroid experience us fans wanted at the time. We had been in a “Metroid game drought” for years at that point. And then we got a multiplayer focused spinoff with Chibi-style graphics on the 3DS? Yikes. Thing is, this game can be pretty fun! The shooting mechanics work alright and boss encounters get pretty epic, especially when played with a few friends. But as a Metroid title? There’s very little in the way of classic Metroid gameplay, and Samus barely makes an (awkward and forced) appearance. Pretty rough!

Metroid Prime Federation Force with Samus New 3DS XL and two Metroid figures

12. Metroid: Other M (Wii, 2010)

Other M is a unique beast. It wasn’t handled directly by R&D1 (who developed the first four “main” games and had been reassigned at this point) but primarily by Team Ninja, who took things in a different direction. The game is 2D in its primary traversal, but 3D when aiming and in some other mechanics, which is the only time we’ve seen that gameplay. There’s some stuff to like here! The graphics are quite lovely, there are a few strong boss encounters, and parts of the story do work well despite it being a bit convoluted. But what really holds Other M back for me, and most Metroid fans, is Samus’ characterization.

Metroid Other M case, disc, Club Nintendo insert, Samus amiibo and two Metroid figures
I had to include that awesome Club Nintendo ad.

In every other game, she’s a confident, fairly stoic (but still introspective) lone adventurer who kicks ass and takes names all day, everyday. But here she’s insecure, timid, and oddly subordinate. The plot tries to portray these changes as a result of post traumatic stress from childhood and the events of Super Metroid, but doesn’t really pull it off convincingly. It’s a strange tonal shift that never quite works, and the voice acting doesn’t do the plot or Samus’ character any favors either. I don’t hate the game by any means, but I’m not a big fan of this largely polarizing title.

11. Metroid Prime Pinball (DS, 2005)

Should a pinball game even be on a list ranking the Metroid games? YES, because it’s fun! Obviously an offshoot of the main Prime series, this spinoff was developed by Fuse Games. I’m usually not the biggest pinball fan (I’m terrible at it and get very frustrated with timing the flippers), but had to pick this one up because you know, it’s Metroid. Luckily the game is a blast, largely because of the gorgeous boards drenched in Metroid atmosphere spread over two screens, and for the added mechanics like wall jumping, weapons, and bosses that add gameplay variety. I wouldn’t classify this one as a “must play”, as it’s mostly just a quick distraction. But what an enjoyable distraction, especially if you’re a pinball fan!

Metroid Prime Pinball case, DS lite, GBA Rumble Pak, Metroid figure, and Morph Ball stress ball
I recommend playing on the original DS so you can take advantage of the GBA cart Rumble Pak!

10. Metroid (NES, 1987)

The one that started it all doesn’t fare too badly today! The graphics and music both hold up as nostalgic vintage Nintendo, and a lot of now classic power ups originate here. This is the introduction of the Space Pirates, Kraid, Ridley, Mother Brain, and the bombshell that Samus was a woman! But going back to it today without guidance can get frustrating. The map is ENORMOUS for an NES game, and navigating it can be brutal. Why? You’re often required to bomb the most random block to progress. Without any hints in the game whatsoever, this gets tedious.

Metroid NES box, cart, manual, and two Metroid figures

The game is also pretty punishingly difficult (like many NES games) and very stingy with its health pickups. But it’s worth experiencing once you get the hang of it. Overall, my thoughts on NES Metroid are very similar to the original Legend of Zelda: most enjoyable when played with a guide!

9. Metroid Prime 2: Echoes (GameCube, 2004)

Just about halfway through ranking the Metroid games, we’ve got another fairly polarizing game in the fandom. There was a lot of pressure on Echoes. Between the success of the first Prime, the struggling GameCube, and huge critically acclaimed releases for other consoles like Metal Gear Solid 3 and KOTOR II, it had high expectations. Did it deliver? Well, kind of.

Metroid Prime 2 Echoes case and disc, with Samus and Dark Samus amiibo and two Metroid figures

Metroid Prime 2 is a solid game that uses a lot of the same mechanics as the original game, but hits a bit of sophomore slump with its “new” ideas. It reuses the Light World/Dark World trope established by A Link to the Past, but a little less successfully. Gameplay is slower and more punishing than the first Prime (the Dark World of Aether slowly drains your health), and boss fights are tedious and overstay their welcome. But there’s still a lot of glory here! The graphics are lovely, the lore of the Luminoth in their war against the Ing is fascinating, Dark Samus is an awesome antagonist, and the Screw Attack returns! Worth a play through, if only just once.

8. Metroid II: Return of Samus (Game Boy, 1991)

This was my introduction to the series! I got my cart from a best friend who didn’t care for it (I still haven’t bothered to clean the marker off the back for the nostalgia) and was HOOKED. Samus was just so cool. She moved quickly, jumped high, found sick powerups, and had to take down forty terrifying and super evolved Metroids. It’s a pretty concise and fun experience, but like the original, going back today can be a bit rough. The Game Boy screen size was limiting, and Samus’ sprite was huge, so it could be tricky to see threats ahead (that did however, make surprise encounters with Metroids delightfully terrifying).

Metroid II Return of Samus case, cart, manual, and Metroid figure

The caverns of SR-388 also looked very similar. Between that, the monochrome screen, and lack of a map system it was tough to consistently get the “lay of the land”. But the game shines in its addictive simplicity, awesome new abilities like the Spider Ball, and epic Metroid battles. The final sequence where you encounter the 8 “early stage” Metroids before the last boss is especially well done. Return of Samus is still one of my favorite original Game Boy games! And it has the best “got an item” theme from any Metroid:

7. Metroid Prime 3: Corruption (Wii, 2007)

This third Prime game might hold the title for “best use of motion controls on the Wii”! (granted, the glorious Metroid Prime Trilogy release actually let’s you play Prime 1, 2, and 3 this way, but this one blazed the trail). Aiming Samus’ arm cannon with the Wii remote was much faster and felt natural, and using the nunchuk as the grappling lasso was satisfying in ways I can’t fully articulate. The story expanded quite a bit here to include the greater Metroid universe, which added a lot of nice lore and additional characters, even if it was a bit jarring to actually interact with people in a Metroid game.

Metroid Prime Trilogy for Wii, Metroid Prime 1 disc, 2 case, and 3 disc, with Metroid amiibo, Samus and Dark Samus amiibo

You could hop from planet to planet, which I actually very much enjoyed since it mixed things up. Each world really felt unique and came alive with its own atmosphere and background. The game also brought the whole “Phazon crisis” story to a satisfying conclusion, to such an extent that I’m not sure what Metroid Prime 4 is going to be about. Let’s hope it goes in an entirely new direction!

6. Metroid: Samus Returns (3DS, 2017)

From this point on, ranking the Metroid games becomes ludicrously difficult for me. If you’re new to the series, these are the games I recommend trying! Samus Returns is a remake of Metroid II that came out of nowhere E3 2017. I was delighted, especially since there was also an amiibo release and Samus-themed New 3DS XL, which are some of my favorite items in my collection:

Samus 3DS XL with Metroid and Samus amiibo
Hope I can find the Metroid Dread amiibo!

Mercury Steam did spectacular work with this game. It’s a reimagining that adds quality of life improvements, brand new mechanics like the melee counter, and much longer gameplay that’s more puzzle-like than the other 2D games. All while retaining the spirit of the original! There’s more lore present between the enhanced backgrounds and “Chozo memories” unlocked by finding all the items in each area. The graphics are stellar for being a 3DS title. Samus is very expressive, and all of the areas of SR-388 jam packed with interesting flora and fauna!

Samus Returns Special Edition box, soundtrack, two Metroid figures, Samus edition New 3DS XL

The soundtrack rocks and is full of throwbacks to the series (and the special edition came with a CD!). As I mentioned in my 3DS nostalgia post, this might be the best use of 3D of any game for the console. The gameplay can be a bit sluggish with the frequent use of the melee counter early in the game, but once you get used to it, it’s addictive. If you’ve never played Samus Returns, find yourself a copy (they’re still pretty cheap), crank the 3D slider, plug in headphones, and get ready to have your mind blown.

5. Metroid Dread (Switch, 2021)

Let me start by saying this is a tentative spot since I’ve only completed the game once and it just released! I really enjoyed Metroid Dread, especially after the absurdly long wait it took for it to get here. Mercury Steam took what they learned making Samus Returns and fine tuned the gameplay to near perfection. Samus moves and controls like a dream. The graphics and animation are breathtaking (I could just watch Samus walk into the save point again and again, all day). All of the abilities are fun, and combat is a blast from the first moments to the last. Boss fights are generally awe-inspiring and challenging, particularly the final boss. And perhaps most importantly, the story feels like the perfect conclusion to the “Metroid arc” from the four main games that preceded it.  This just FEELS like Samus and the Metroid series again.

Metroid Dread steelbook, Samus and EMMI amiibo, Metroid Dread Switch Player magazine
I do really love that steelbook!

So why doesn’t Dread rank higher?

First, the game is much more linear than it appears.  You’re often gated from exploring the world for big chunks of time.  I wouldn’t mind this if the narrative and atmosphere were stronger (like in Metroid Fusion) but I found myself a bit frustrated that I couldn’t just explore the entire map whenever I wanted to. Speaking of atmosphere, although the graphics are stellar, I was a little underwhelmed by the art design itself of each area.  Aside from the Chozo ruins, none of them really stood out to me. This might be a result of so much of each area being the fairly sterile E.M.M.I. corridors, or potentially because the soundtrack is largely forgettable.  Music plays a big role creating atmosphere (especially in Metroid) and it just didn’t resonate or stand out in this game. I’d say the OST is Dread’s biggest flaw.

Last, the E.M.M.I. sections were a fun thrill at first, but became a bit tedious and pace-breaking as time went on.  They’re honestly the biggest reason I didn’t immediately jump into a replay of the game. We’ll see where Metroid Dread lands as time goes on, but for now it’s a solid #5 on my list!

4. Metroid: Zero Mission (Game Boy Advance, 2004)

You’ll notice that both Metroid games on the Game Boy Advance nearly always make a list of best GBA games. And with good cause! Many a Metroid fan say this re-imagining of the original Metroid is the best title in the series, and I can see why. This was the last 2D Metroid made by R&D1 at Nintendo themselves, and they really applied all the lessons they learned up to this point. Zero Mission should be used as the textbook example for how to remake a game. The graphics have been beautifully recreated (and with gorgeous cutscenes!), there are additional items and gameplay mechanics, multiple quality of life improvements, and meaningful new story and lore! I was seriously blown away the first time I played through the game-I didn’t expect this large an improvement.

Metroid Zero Mission box, manual, insert and Zero Suit Samus amiibo with Metroid figure
Zero Mission was also the introduction of “Zero Suit Samus”!

The pacing is just perfect, and being only a few hours long, it’s such a joy that you’ll immediately want to play it again once the credits roll. If I have any complaint, it’s that you don’t gain the final abilities until an epic sequence at the very end of the game, right by the final boss. At that point it seems a bit anti-climatic to go all the way back through Zebes to comb for remaining items. But that’s really just a matter of preference. Zero Mission is a spectacular re-imagining that’s very hard to put down once you start it!

3. Metroid: Fusion (Game Boy Advance, 2002)

Why is Fusion *ever so slightly* better than Zero Mission when ranking the Metroid games? First, I really appreciate that it was a bold “Metroid 4” that finally continued Samus’ story after Super Metroid. We get a lot more introspection from Samus that fits her character, and thus stronger connection to her and the greater mythology. Second, the horror atmosphere is done so well. For such simple hardware (by modern standards) the game manages to be utterly terrifying in the way it creates fear in the player.  Enemy design and sound effects are peak creepy! The SA-X hunting sequences and the fight with Nightmare also my heart race even after countless playthroughs. 

Metroid Fusion box and insert, white Game Boy Advance, and two Metroid figures
The inserts that came with the GBA Metroid games are so nostalgic.

Third, not only is gameplay and movement polished to a sheen, but it’s all brilliantly paced. I know a lot of folks have trouble with how linear Fusion starts since many areas are gated off. But I feel that actually contributed to the atmosphere and plot, allowing a sense of tension to build as threats reveal themselves (remember seeing the Frozen Ridley early in the game, just out of reach?). And last, the final sequences and ending are absolutely perfect in the way they tie the previous games together in a satisfying way while nicely setting up Metroid Dread.

2. Metroid Prime (GameCube, 2002)

Metroid Prime is still considered one of the best games ever created, for good reason. To this day I cannot believe Retro Studios managed to convert all that makes Metroid spectacular and atmospheric from 2D to 3Dseamlessly, on their first try. I’m usually not a huge first-person shooter kind of gamer, so I certainly had reservations. But Metroid Prime invented its own genre of “first-person ADVENTURE”. The exploration in this game just felt so right from the moment you take control of Samus. 3D first-person platforming is an insanely difficult thing to pull off, and Metroid Prime nailed it!

Metroid Prime case, manual, disc, and Metroid figure

All of the new gameplay additions fit in perfectly. The morph ball transition and controls. The new arm cannon combinations. New visors options that changed your field of view! I especially appreciated the scanner. I loved the ability to scan objects in the environment to learn about them, particularly the Chozo Lore detailing what happened on Tallon IV prior to your arrival (that was the inspiration for my website name, in case you were wondering!). Scans really made the Metroid universe come alive and feel that much deeper.

And then there’s the hundreds of smaller details. Rain droplets on Samus’ visor. The smallest of references to the other Metroid games found in lore entries. Beams bouncing off of doors when you try to open them with the wrong weapon. Let’s not even get started with how epic the battles with the Omega Pirate, Meta Ridley, and the titular Metroid Prime itself are. Put together, Metroid Prime is an atmospheric masterpiece of a game that holds up magnificently today.

1. Super Metroid (Super Nintendo, 1994)

One of my top 3 games of all time, forever and always. I feel like I’ve written way too much across other posts about this triumph, but it’s never enough! This game is where the “Metroid” part of Metroidvania came from, folks. Released on the Super Nintendo in 1994 to surprisingly little fanfare, Super Metroid is a near-perfect blueprint for this style of gameplay that has been emulated countless times since. I’ve beaten the game literally dozens of times, often with best friends by my side, making it all the more memorable for me personally.

Super Metroid cart with big Metroid figure, two small Metroid figures, and Samus amiibo
I am obsessed with that big squishy Metroid.

Everything about Super Metroid works. The graphics are stunning to this day and insanely detailed. Music and sound design are simply perfection (tracks from the game have been endlessly remixed into the newer Metroids since). Each power up and weapon is perfectly spaced, and feels amazing to use (the weight of Super Missiles are so satisfying!). You truly feel empowered as you progress. And all of these wonderful qualities ultimately come together beautifully to create unrivaled atmosphere. It literally starts within seconds of turning on the game and does not let up until the final seconds. The tense prologue. The eerily quiet Wrecked Ship. Beautiful but threatening and maze-like Maridia. And the hellish lower Norfair, with its “things are about to get serious” theme. You don’t ever forget visiting these areas.

Super Metroid box, cart, Nintendo Power Player's Guide, SNES controller, and two Metroid figures
The Nintendo Power Player’s Guide has some spectacular art in it!

And that’s not all…

Let’s not skip over the terrifying and intimidating bosses. I’ll never forget the first time my close childhood friend and I fought Kraid. Or set eyes upon the horror that is Crocomire. We had never seen anything so epic in games! I still get nervous facing each boss today even though I’ve taken them down countless times. Their design alone makes them worth experiencing!

And last but not least is the story. While the plot is understated and largely wordless past the prologue, it’s very powerful and emotive. The finale is seriously one of the best ever created in the gaming landscape. Put this all together, and Super Metroid is so brilliantly crafted that each new playthrough is simultaneously thrilling, beautiful, and comforting. The game easily sits at the top of my ranking of the Metroid games. It’s a timeless masterpiece.

Are you new to the Metroid series? Have you played a few games, or are you a veteran like me? Let me know how you’d go about ranking the Metroid games, or at least your top 3 or so!

9 thoughts on “Ranking the Metroid games”

  1. I’m going:
    5. Returns
    4. Super
    3. Zero
    2. Dread
    1. Fusion

    Fusion was my introduction and as a result I’ve never been satisfied with the level of plot development in the other games. Dread especially let me down here as I was hoping and expecting it to follow up more on the results of Fusion and Samus’ decision to defy federation orders. The story was cool (especially the ending with her transformation, wow!) but pretty minimal, with just a story dump when you meet quiet robe and again at the beginning and end. The elevator sequences look like they were designed to be monologues like in fusion but then Nintendo reacted to OtherM feedback and decided to strip Samus of her voice to make her seem “strong and silent,” which is a real shame imo. I want more plot-driven Metroid!
    That said, Dread had great combat and movement and it was so cool that they finally made Metroid 5.

    For whatever reason, SNES games often just don’t click with me. I realize I’m in the minority there but oh well!

    1. I totally understand your logic here! I do really love the story-driven nature of Fusion, and it really made me connect with Samus too. I agree there were missed opportunities in Dread there! Hopefully we’ll see it make a return in Metroid Prime 4 (should that EVER release). I definitely need to go back and replay Dread since time and has passed and see how it stacks up in the “best of” list too.

  2. Super Metroid forever. What an incredible experience. It’s still pretty much peerless, even with the deluge of amazing Metroid-likes over the last 6 years or so.

  3. Metroid lives!!

    I think this list is fair. I really appreciated Metroid II for being on the GameBoy. I never had a US NES but I _did_ have a US GameBoy so I got to see what all the fuss was about. I still remember the how cool the game looked from the commercial: https://youtu.be/a9EfFlf7qU8

    Could have sworn there was lightening at the end of the commercial because Metroid was _that cool_

    There’s only one Metroid Prime in my book and it is the first one 😃

    Nintendo should do the right thing and make Metroid 1-4 available on Switch to help fans new and old (especially new) enjoy this series.

    Metroid makes life better. That is all.

    1. Zach Lindemann

      Thanks Kamal! I’m literally replaying Metroid II for Game Boy right now and am pretty pleasantly surprised with how much fun I’m having. It’s especially nice on the GBA SP with enhanced colors, which makes SR388 come alive all the more. That commercial is FANTASTIC by the way. They just don’t make ’em like that anymore!

      And seriously, a “Metroid collection” on Switch would kill in sales, especially with Dread hype through the roof right now. Maybe it’ll happen eventually! For the time being we just have to bask in the glory of Metroid being back-it does indeed make life better by a pretty substantial margin 🙂

      1. I definitely plan to play Metroid II on the ‘ol SP at some point. I never got a Super GameBoy (maybe one day) but seeing it in color will be fun.

        Anyone remember the “tips and tricks” for GameBoy games on the back of Kraft macaroni and cheese boxes? I want to say _maybe_ Metroid II was featured once. I definitely remember Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins being on a box.

        Fresh Mac and cheese AND fresh tips for your awesome GameBoy game? Sign me up!

        1. Zach Lindemann

          I just read that Dan Owsen has said R&D1 put a special “Metroid palette” into the Game Boy Color hardware, so it makes the game look pretty impressive compared to other original GB titles! I can attest that it looks quite lovely.

          Why do I not remember the Kraft mac and cheese box tips?? What a cool 90s artifact. Tried a Google search and didn’t find much, so I think it’s high time they’re brought back!

          1. You know it’s old and obscure if Google doesn’t know about it. Who has those Kraft boxes??

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