clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile
Samus Aran in the cockpit of her spaceship in Metroid Dread

Filed under:

Everything you need to know before you play Metroid Dread

The life and times of bounty hunter Samus Aran

Image: Nintendo via Polygon
Maddy Myers has run Polygon’s games section since 2020 as deputy editor. She has worked in games journalism since 2007, at Kotaku, The Mary Sue, and the Boston Phoenix.

Metroid Dread is the first completely new 2D Metroid game to be released since Metroid Fusion in 2002, and since it’s a direct story sequel to Fusion, even the most diehard Metroid fans may need a refresher on the basics. Alternately, you might be a complete novice to Samus Aran’s world who’s planning to step into her power suit for the very first time. As a Metroid veteran who’s played every game, read all of the comic books, and watched way too many YouTube videos about Metroid lore, allow me to be your guide.

What is Metroid about?

Since this franchise title makes up one half of the inspiration for the genre term “metroidvania,” you probably already know what a typical 2D Metroid game looks like, but I’ll break it down anyway. These games involve exploring an area over and over again, discovering more and more passageways and upgrades that allow the power suit-wearing protagonist Samus Aran to unlock new areas and, of course, even more passageways to explore.

Almost every Metroid game has the same basic premise: Near the game’s beginning, Samus Aran will lose access to most of her power suit’s capabilities, but since her suit is made out of organic materials, she’s often able to find items on the planets she explores that she can use to upgrade herself back to full power. Along the way, she’ll face off against aggressive alien enemies and bosses, usually accompanied by haunting, beautiful soundtracks. Most of Samus Aran’s upgrades have carried over across multiple games; her morph ball mode, for example, is ubiquitous. It allows her to compress her body into a surprisingly small, spherical shape so that she can roll into the narrow pathways and once inspired a Metroid newcomer to ask, “[wh]y can’t metroid crawl?” As for why the series (and not the bounty hunter) is called “Metroid,” it’s named for a particularly dangerous life-sucking species of aliens whose only weakness is cold temperatures (an ice beam power-up for Samus’ arm cannon, for example, would do the trick).

Metroid is not necessarily a franchise in which the narrative matters a lot. I happen to love it; knowing Samus’ motivations for exploring planets and seeking out long-lost alien artifacts gives me some added enjoyment on top of the usual blast of dopamine I get upon finding, say, the speed boost upgrade that lets Samus smash through stone barriers at a gallop. If you’d like to know more about our heroine, read on.

Samus Aran in Metroid Dread Image: Nintendo via Polygon

Who is Samus Aran?

At first, players knew almost nothing about Samus. The very first Metroid game even kept Samus’ gender a secret until the very end. (The first game’s manual even lied about this fact on page 7.) If a player had beaten the game fast enough, they’d get to see Samus remove her helmet, or perhaps the rest of her suit, revealing a tiny red bikini. Subsequent Metroid games iterated on this premise, although Samus wore increasingly practical outfits as time went on. First she replaced the bikini with a sports bra and bike shorts, and eventually, the games depicted her underwear as the Zero Suit, a full-body blue jumpsuit. Also over that time period, the Metroid games revealed more and more about her life and motivations. She wasn’t just a hottie with a body in a power suit — she was a fully realized person with a tragic backstory and some seriously impressive career accolades. A dozen games later, there’s plenty I can tell you about who she is.

In the original Metroid, players could use a cheat code to put Samus in a one-piece red leotard rather than her full power suit Image: Nintendo

Samus is a female human who lives in a futuristic galaxy where interstellar travel is the norm and multiple intelligent alien races regularly interact with humans and with one another. The Metroid manga, which is of somewhat dubious canonical status but nonetheless inspired the plot of multiple canonical Metroid games, says that our heroine was born on K-2L, a planet with a small human colony where she lived with her parents until the tender age of three. Meanwhile, K-2L’s neighboring planet Zebes was home to a birdlike alien race called the Chozo; they had been around for an extremely long time and had developed powerful technology over the millennia. The humans on K-2L were mining Afloraltite, a fuel source that the Chozo also wanted access to. Because the Chozo did not reveal a reason for their request, the humans denied it, but apparently, the Chozo requested this fuel to aid in bioengineering Metroids.

When Samus was only three years old, K-2L got attacked by aggressive aliens called Space Pirates. (That sounds like a job title and not the name of an alien race; it’s actually both.) The Space Pirates, led by their commander Ridley, attempted to steal the Afloraltite. The ensuing battle resulted in the death of Samus’ parents, as well as the rest of the human colony aside from Samus. The Chozo responded to the humans’ distress call, albeit too late to do much other than rescue the 3-year-old Samus and bring her home with them.

Artwork of Samus in and out of her Power Suit from Metroid: Other M Image: Nintendo

The Chozo raised Samus and trained her to be a warrior; this aspect of her backstory is not just in the manga but elaborated upon in several Metroid games’ instruction manuals. The Chozo infused her with their own DNA and built her a special power suit that allowed her to use the wide variety of weaponry and technology that they had developed. That’s why Samus is able to fight in a power suit that no other human can use, as well as use upgrades that aren’t available to anyone else in the galaxy.

The Metroid games take place during Samus’ adult life, when she worked as both an independent bounty hunter and as an officer for the Galactic Federation, a military force that often combatted Space Pirate attacks on other planets. Samus’ personal history with the Space Pirates and her access to powerful Chozo technology has made her a uniquely well-suited military asset who often got deployed on missions that others couldn’t handle.

What are the Metroids?

Metroids were actually bioengineered by the Chozo. According to some game instruction manuals and the Metroid manga, they were created on the advice of the Chozo-developed AI called Mother Brain. It turns out that the Chozo should not have trusted Mother Brain to make any decisions (more on that later). For now, all you need to know is that all of the following information is just backstory; these are historical events that unfolded before the very first Metroid.

Metroid: Samus Returns - Samus counters a Metroid MercurySteam/Nintendo

Metroid Fusion was the game that provided the reason why the Chozo created the Metroids. They served as a predator of a different dangerous parasite called “X,” which has the ability to destroy entire ecosystems. The X was first found on planet SR388, a planet that was briefly colonized by the Chozo, and which Samus revisits in Fusion. When the Chozo first found the X parasite on that planet, they basically created another dangerous parasite in order to fight against it. And it worked! Metroids are still the only known life form with the capability to destroy the parasite X, but Metroids are also similarly capable of destroying entire galaxies if they’re let loose.

After the first-ever bioengineered Metroids did their job fighting the X parasite on planet SR388, they began to mutate further, becoming increasingly difficult for the Chozo to control. SR388’s Chozo colony got destroyed, thanks to those Metroids, and unfortunately, the Zebes colony did not survive either. The Metroid manga depicts Mother Brain as having betrayed the Chozo; she colluded with the Space Pirates and aided them in taking over Zebes.

After the Space Pirates learned about Metroids from Mother Brain, they hoped to weaponize the creatures to take over the galaxy. Now operating out of their own Zebes base, the Space Pirates had officially overtaken the second of Samus’ homes, solidifying their mortal enemy status in her heart. At the outset of the very first Metroid, all Chozo life and civilizations across Zebes and SR388 has been destroyed — except for a few lucky escapees whose circumstances remain mysterious. In Metroid (and its remake Zero Mission), Samus returns to her former home Zebes to challenge the Space Pirates and Mother Brain, as well as destroy the Metroids they stole and weaponized. After the events of Metroid, we have the Metroid Prime trilogy, which is largely a side story, but nonetheless features Samus continuing to take out various threats across the galaxy, including Metroids.

Samus aims her arm cannon at Ridley, who has stolen the baby Metroid in Super Metroid Image: Nintendo

The final step of Samus’ Metroid annihilation took place on SR388 (specifically during Metroid 2 and its remake, Metroid: Samus Returns), with Samus marching from room to room wrecking shop. Eventually, Samus discovered the final Metroid, but it was still in its infancy and so it imprinted itself upon her, believing Samus to be its mother. Samus captured it rather than destroying it, providing it to Federation scientists for study. In Super Metroid, Ridley stole that baby Metroid from captivity, prompting Samus to follow him and attempt to recapture the Metroid. That meant going back to Zebes and once again taking on Ridley, the rest of the Space Pirates, and the betrayer Mother Brain. Surprisingly, the baby Metroid showed up to aid Samus at the end of Super Metroid, sacrificing itself during her final showdown against Mother Brain.

And now, unfortunately, we have reached the most-maligned but still technically canonical game in the Metroid series: Metroid: Other M.

Wait, do I have to play Other M? That’s the bad one, right?

Nah, you don’t need to play it. I can just tell you what happens in it.

Although it’s got a bad reputation now, Other M’s reputation upon release was only slightly less glowing than other games in the series. The main complaints players had were of its uncharacteristically linear design and Samus’ stilted lines, deadpan delivery, and childlike obsession with her former commanding officer Adam Malkovich. Samus’ most-quoted and most-mocked line from the game also happens to sum up what it’s all about: “Confession time: Because I was so young when I lost both of my parents, there’s no question I saw Adam as a father figure.” (Every Metroid fan I know likes to make fun of the phrase “confession time,” while also using it in earnest on occasion.) Metroid: Other M also depicts Samus as having debilitating PTSD because of Ridley killing her parents; upon seeing a clone of Ridley, Samus freezes and is unable to take action, which seems unusual given her lack of any similar symptoms in previous Metroid games.

Other M is also around when the amount of cloning in Samus’ story got a bit out of hand. The Galactic Federation analyzed all of the DNA that had gotten on Samus’ suit after the events of Super Metroid, which includes Ridley and the baby Metroid’s DNA. They created a Ridley clone as well as new Metroids, and even a new version of Mother Brain (called simply “MB”) to serve as the leader of the new Metroids. What could possibly go wrong, other than absolutely everything, obviously???

In Other M, Samus has to fight against the reanimated versions of all of the enemies she has defeated previously: Ridley, Mother Brain, and the Metroids. That would be trite enough, except she also has to do it while deferring to a male commanding officer who initially hesitates to give her authorization to use her full suite of power suit upgrades. Adam ends up sacrificing himself to destroy MB and the Metroids, while Samus defeats Ridley. And so, once again, all the Metroids have been destroyed, and the galaxy is at peace.

Except it’s not. Remember why the Chozo created the Metroids in the first place? Yeah.

Samus Aran looks at an X Parasite hovering in the air in front of her Image: Nintendo via Polygon

What’s up with the X parasite?

In Metroid Fusion, the last chunk of Metroid story before Metroid Dread, Samus returns to SR388 at the Federation’s behest. Not a great idea, for obvious reasons! With no Metroids remaining in the galaxy, the X parasite has once again propagated itself and has become a major threat. An X parasite infects Samus, nearly killing her.

Federation doctors and scientists perform surgery on Samus to save her life. They also use the baby Metroid’s DNA once again to create a vaccine that immunizes Samus against the X parasite. Thank goodness somebody held onto that DNA. I hope nobody uses it to clone another Metroid! I’m joking, I would never even bother to hope that. Naturally, the Federation did use that DNA to clone yet another Metroid, which Samus fights at the end of Metroid Fusion. But we’re not there yet.

Samus Aran wearing her Fusion Suit after emergency surgery Image: Nintendo via Polygon

During Samus’ surgery, Federation researchers sent the amputated pieces of her power suit, as well as other stuff they found on SR388, to a nearby research station. Naturally, this ended badly for the research station, which was beset by an unknown explosion. Rejuvenated by her vaccine, Samus investigates.

Although Metroid Fusion came out before Other M, it actually includes the first iteration of a more emotionally expressive Samus Aran. In Fusion, she writes diary entries about her doubts and concerns, and she also opens up to a ship AI that she decides to name after her commanding officer Adam, since the AI’s personality reminds her of his gruff, businesslike tone. In the game’s finale, she learns this was not just a coincidence; the AI was actually designed to be modeled after Adam’s personality. This AI returns in Metroid Dread, guiding Samus and calling her by the same nickname that Adam did, “Lady.” (It’s as irritating in Dread as it was in Fusion and Other M, but Samus apparently likes it, writing in Fusion that it sounds “dignified.”)

Samus Aran in front of her ship in Metroid Fusion Image: Nintendo

Fusion includes other elements that directly influenced Metroid Dread, such as the SA-X enemy that Samus faces in the game’s climax. The SA-X is the product of the X parasite infecting the amputated pieces of Samus’ power suit, forming a duplicate of Samus that fights her with her own abilities and strength. It’s a terrifying adversary, and its ability to stalk Samus throughout a level was what inspired the EMMI robots in Metroid Dread.

Metroid Fusion ends with a familiar scene to Super Metroid, where an enemy becomes an ally: SA-X aids Samus in her final battle against the cloned Metroid, just as the baby Metroid had once helped Samus fight Mother Brain. The Metroid at the end of Fusion, being the natural predator of the X, is able to defeat it — but the defeat of SA-X also allows Samus to recapture its pieces of her power suit and attain her full power. She destroys the Metroid, the research station, and SR388. You’d think that would be the end, but of course it’s not.

The X Parasite clone of Samus, SA-X Image: Nintendo via Polygon

In Dread, Samus learns that the X parasite still persists on a planet called ZDR, and Samus may be the only one who can eradicate it. After all, the only living being with Metroid DNA is Samus herself (on top of her human and Chozo DNA, of course).

What about the Chozo survivors?

Remember how a few of the Chozo managed to escape from their various destroyed colonies? MercurySteam’s remake of Metroid 2, titled Metroid: Samus Returns, included some additional details about the circumstances of those Chozo, and Metroid fans can expect even more to come up in Metroid Dread.

Players who unlocked all power-ups and expansions in Samus Returns got to look at a series of images called “Chozo Memories.” They depict the Chozo coming across creatures on SR388 who had been infected by the X parasite, as well as the Chozo bioengineering the Metroids in order to fight back. At first, the Metroids do a great job under the command of Chozo overseers, but eventually they mutate and attack their masters. In the penultimate image, some of the Chozo overseers are communicating with a Chozo general, and in the final image, that general is shown standing amid a pile of Chozo corpses, while many nearby Chozo soldiers stand at attention. The implication is that the Chozo general commanded that all of the Chozo who developed the Metroids be killed, although the circumstances of this image have yet to be revealed in full.

The mysterious Choco general who appears at the beginning of Metroid Dread Image: Nintendo via Polygon

At the beginning of Metroid Dread, Samus lands on the planet ZDR and is almost immediately confronted by that same Chozo general, who proves to be a powerful enemy. The general demolishes Samus’ power suit and traps her underground, thereby providing the excuse for why she lacks all of her abilities and has to explore and attempt to escape a hostile planet. The planet bears a lot of similarity to SR388 and was apparently also a Chozo colony at one time, since it is covered with Chozo tech and old research stations.

Wait, doesn’t Metroid Dread have robots in it?

Usually Metroid games are about fighting aliens, not robots, although it’s not uncommon for Samus to face off against various androids, automated turrets, and ancient automatons in these games. Then there’s Samus herself, who is arguably some sort of cyborg, especially after the events of Fusion. Anyway, Metroid Dread puts even more emphasis on killer robots.

Samus Aran takes aim at an EMMI in Metroid Dread Image: Nintendo / MercurySteam

The scariest and most notable robot enemies in the game are the Extraplanetary Multiform Mobile Identifiers, or EMMIs. These were apparently sent by the Galactic Federation to investigate and collect data (including DNA). The EMMI robots fail to return, though, so the Federation sends Samus in to investigate. The robots see Samus as a threat, perhaps because of her Metroid DNA. Let’s hope no one at the Federation is trying to steal that so they can clone yet another Metroid, am I right? … Yeah, they’re going to do that, aren’t they. Damn it. Damn it!

Well, that’s everything you need to know before picking up Metroid Dread. You’re ready now to learn more about what happened to the Chozo. Above all, you’re now aware that Samus is the coolest bad-ass in the entire galaxy. But you didn’t need to read all of this to know that. I mean, just look at her. She’s the best.