It’s an exciting time to be a Metroid fan.
With the announcement of the October release of Metroid Dread, the fifth and reportedly final installment of the core Metroid saga, as well as confirmation that the long-awaited Metroid Prime 4 is currently in development and due next year, there is no better time to get into one of Nintendo’s oldest and most highly revered series.
However, while Metroid has long enjoyed critical acclaim and amassed a devoted following of fans, there is a reason broader mainstream success has eluded it. It ain’t Mario. And for a Nintendo IP, it’s a pretty inaccessible series relatively speaking. There’s a map. There are puzzles. Even the weaker enemies don’t just go away after a single bump on the old noggin. And the story is not straightforward.
So if you feel a bit lost trying to navigate the world that space bounty hunter Samus Aran inhabits, don’t sweat it – here are some of the key things you need to know that will help you enjoy your gaming experience to the fullest.
What better place to start when explaining the Metroid series than with the Metroids themselves? Just like many people aren’t aware that Link isn’t Zelda, there are many folks who don’t realize that, while Samus Aran is the heroine of the Metroid games, the Metroids are actually an alien species.
Metroids were created on a planet called SR388 by an advanced race of beings called Chozo (more on them later). The entire purpose behind creating and genetically engineering Metroids was for them to in turn annihilate deadly organisms known as X Parasites.
And the Metroids were a very effective form of pest control keeping the X Parasite situation under control for a while – but, much like a real life situation in Australia where Cane toads were imported to help reduce the local beetle population but ended up becoming an even worse and unstoppable problem in and of themselves – the Metroids, too, turned on their creators and began evolving into more dangerous forms. They’re extremely dangerous, completely predatory killing machines that will attack any living thing on sight.
Thus, Metroids ultimately played a major role in pretty much wiping out the Chozo civilization on SR388. Talk about counterproductive, eh? So effective were the Metroids and bringing death and destruction, that a ragtag gang of Space Pirates eventually planned to use them as a bioweapon in intergalactic irregular warfare.
The life cycle of Metroids is fairly impressive. They start out as eggs before hatching into gelatinous jellyfish-like infants. Their larval form looks nearly identical to their infant form, except much bigger. Then they grow into their Alpha Metroid form, which looks more like a floating pill bug with fangs. From there they grow into a Gamma Metroids, which can walk and look even more insect-like. After that, they take on their Zeta Metroid form which looks more like a deformed cross between a reptile and a canine. The Zeta form is actually the first stage of a Metroid’s adult life. Generally, the final stage of a Metroid’s life cycle is the Omega Metroid, which is just straight-up terrifying at that point. It looks like a not-so-distant cousin of Cthulhu.
There are other variants of Metroids too, like the Tallon Metroid, the Phazon Metroid – as well as a Queen Metroid. Heck, even Samus Aran becomes a Metroid hybrid after receiving an injection of Metroid DNA that combines with her genes. So, yeah, they’re kind of a big deal.
And while Metroids are generally at the top of the food chain in whatever space they inhabit (the Chozo didn’t call them “Ultimate Warriors” for nothing), there is evidence that they’re capable of having a soft side. And no, I don’t mean in their jelly form – I mean they’re seemingly capable of showing affection and caring for others. Kind of.
At the end of Metroid: Samus Returns (aka Metroid II), Samus exterminates all of the Metroids on SR388. Except for a hatchling, which imprints on Samus and sees her as its mother. The infant Metroid actually becomes kind of adorable as it follows Samus around like a little puppy – and it melts Samus’ heart enough for her to refer to it as a baby.
In fact, her calling it a baby has become something of a meme among the Metroid fanbase as it’s something she repeated ad nauseam in Metroid: Other M (The baby, the baby, the baby….). Of course, that could just be Samus humanizing a parasitic monster since she sees a bit of herself in it, considering her entire family was killed and she, too, was the sole survivor left behind in the aftermath of the massacre.
Still, later on when that same baby Metroid grows older and bigger it has a chance to leave Samus to die at the hands of the genetically engineered AI monster called Mother Brain, but instead decides to sacrifice itself and save her in the process. Which didn’t look instinctual at all – it looked like a cognitive decision. So, I guess you could say at the end of the day it really was a…. Super Metroid. (ba dum tss). Either way, it shows that Metroids are far more complex than may have originally been thought.
Oh, and while they’re pretty frikkin’ powerful, Metroids do have some vulnerabilities. They’re weak when exposed to freezing cold temperatures, so Ice Beams are a highly effective weapon against them. In the immortal words of Principal Skinner upon being rebuffed when suggesting to introducing snake-eating gorillas to Springfield, “That’s the beautiful part. When wintertime rolls around, the gorillas simply freeze to death.” If only the Chozo had known.
Despite mainly being presented through mere relics of their collapsed civilization, the Chozo are a staple of the Metroid series. And it makes sense for the series to frequently highlight them, the bird-like race of technologically advanced alien beings not only basically adopted Samus into their society, they also created Metroids – the namesake of the entire franchise. And you know the iconic Mother Brain boss you’ve seen dating back to the NES days? Yep, you guessed it, they created it (her?) too.
A Chozo even made a brief appearance in the launch trailer for Metroid Dread. Initially, there were rumors going around that it’s a parasitic clone rather than an actual Chozo, but a more recent trailer prominently featured the Chozo and it doesn’t seem like a clone. But no matter what it is, it seems to be taking on a more villainous role in the game.
Despite that, the avian-sapient species has often been cast in a fairly positive light over the series’ history – after all, they more or less raised Samus and even modified the Varia suit especially for her. Still, there have been clues all along that their “good guy” image has a few cracks in it and is more complicated than players may have been led to believe.
For one, you might be asking “if the Chozos are so good, why did they create Mother Brain? In fact, why did they create Metroids? Why are so many of their creations so destructive?”
The kindest interpretation is that, like humans, the Chozo try to use science and technology for the common good – but as we all know, things don’t alway go exactly as planned. Oddly enough, this game series that started in the mid-1980s has done a really good job of foreshadowing a lot of timely issues in the scientific world, whether it be the potential dark side of artificial intelligence, or the moral and ethical implications of engaging in gene editing and other DNA modification experiments.
So, they’re not so bad after all, right? Sure mistakes have been made, but come on. They didn’t mean it. They’re just a lovable bunch of well-meaning but sometimes clumsy bird people, right?…
Well, if things weren’t bad enough, there’s also the implication that they were pretty much ever-expanding, resource-sucking intergalactic colonizers. Aaaand throw in the fact that as of now at least one unnamed Chozo leader essentially committed genocide against his own people in Metroid: Samus Returns on the 3DS. So, yeah… it’s complicated.
In fact, at this point you’re probably wondering how the heck the Chozo ever had a good reputation to begin with. Which, let’s be fair – we can’t paint with a broad brush on either side here. As stated before, like humans, not all of them were bad. And in fact, not only do we see signs of an intellectually advanced and vibrant culture within the Chozo civilization, but we see genuine acts of compassion among their populace.
As previously mentioned, the Chozo took Samus in as a child when she had no one left. They adopted her as one of their own. One Chozo in particular, known simply as Old Bird, was her mentor and caretaker. Some cynics might suggest that this was all just an emotionally manipulative ploy in a larger agenda to gather information from Samus or somehow take advantage of her in the long run – but I disagree. I don’t think that was the motivation in saving and adopting Samus. Although, who knows – with Metroid Dread (aka Metroid 5) being marketed as the final chapter of this arc of the saga, we may finally have more light shed on the truth about the nature of Chozos.
SR388 has already been mentioned, but it’s worth repeating that the planet was the homeworld of the original Metroids and served as a base for a large Chozo colony. It sometimes gets confused with the planet Zebes, which was the setting of the first Metroid game. SR388, on the other hand, is the setting of Metroid: Samus Returns (aka Metroid II). SR388 also plays a small role in Metroid Fusion as that game mostly takes place in the Biologic Space Laboratories research station (B.L.S. for short) which orbits SR388.
Zebes is another planet the Chozos colonized, and while it is the setting of the first Metroid game, it’s not the homeworld of Metroids. Metroids were introduced to the planet by Space Pirates under directives given by Mother Brain.
Basically, after annihilating the Chozos, the Space Pirates transported Metroids from SR388 to Zebes because Mother Brain had plans to use them for experimentation and ultimately intergalactic domination.
It’s worth noting that Samus was raised on Zebes by Chozos after her family was killed Space Pirates led by Ridley on a nearby planet called K-2L.
Ridley is another mainstay of the Metroid series, and is often portrayed as something of an arch-nemesis of our spacefaring heroine. His name is likely inspired by the protagonist of the Alien films, but he’s the total opposite personality-wise.
He’s a sentient fire-breathing pterodactyl-like dragon beast that can fly in outer space. And he can talk. What more do you need to know?
Okay, a lot more actually. For one, he’s a leader of the nefarious Space Pirates. And according to a Japanese Metroid manga published in Magazine Z (which features mostly canon plot points outside of the creation of Metroids which is highly contested), Ridley is responsible for the deaths of Samus’ parents. He has the ability to heal himself and regenerate his own cells by eating other organisms, and even openly brags to Samus about devouring her mother before wondering out loud which part of his body her mother regenerated into. So… yyyyeaaaaaah, he’s a pretty sick f***.
And he has an undying hatred for Samus. No, seriously, the dude just won’t go away. No matter how many times Samus defeats Ridley, he always seems to come back. Sometimes as a clone. Sometimes as a cyborg. Sometimes as a mechanical robot (which is not the same thing as a cyborg). You get the idea. And every time he comes back, he seems to have retained at least one thing – his memory of Samus and his desire to destroy her.
The Aran Family
Little is known about Samus Aran’s family other than that they were not only humans but also earthlings. Her father and mother only briefly appear in one of the Child Mode endings of Metroid Fusion where they’re seen protecting Samus during an attack by Ridley. This artwork was also available in an unlockable art gallery in Metroid Zero Mission.
Beyond that, Samus is usually too busy handling the tasks at hand to reminisce about her parents in the games. Besides, there might not be much to reminisce about – Samus was only three years old when they were killed.
Still, according to the Metroid manga in Japan’s Monthly Magazine Z, her mother’s name was Virginia Aran while her father was Chief Rodney Aran. Virginia and Rodney Aran were part of a human colony living together on the planet K-2L. Their family’s colonization project appears to have been sponsored by the Galactic Federation, and Rodney himself was given the important role of mining for valuable crystals called afloraltite.
But of course all of that came to end when Ridley killed and devoured both Rodney and his wife in front of their three-year-old daughter Samus. And thus, our heroine’s first formative memories were created – which in turn established the kind of mental foundation necessary to create the space bounty hunter we all know and love today!
And we can’t wait to assume the role of Samus once again this October when we finally get our hands on Metroid Dread for the Nintendo Switch.