Not to make this about me or anything, but Samus is the closest thing I'll ever have to a girlfriend. And this month she turns 25 - on the 6th, actually, which makes this a bit of a happy belated birthday. If she really were my girlfriend, I guess I'd be in big trouble.
The first Metroid was a pretty big departure from the side-scrollers of the day. The ability to go up, down, left or right in an open world at that point was pretty revolutionary - but not as revolutionary as switching up the hero for a heroine. Yet Metroid did more than that...it started off one of those franchises: One with legs to last it decades, and surrounded by endless controversy. And more still than that, like the Bond films or Final Fantasy, even the lesser entries are still entertaining to series fans.
However, Metroid really does feel like the red-headed stepchild of the Nintendo stable (no offense to the gingers out there - it's just a tired old turn of phrase, and I'm too tired and old to think of a fresher one). It's darker, more personal, and more experimental than the other Big Nintendo Titles that have had big milestones recently. Mario turns 25 and there's a special edition. Zelda turns 25 and there are full-on concerts. Metroid turns 25 and...well, maybe Nintendo will have something to say about it. We'll see. (An aside: If Metroid is the dark sheep of the Nintendo fold, what does that make Earthbound?) But one thing is certain: Rabid fans of the Metroid series have often wondered why it isn't promoted more strongly by the folks at Nintendo HQ.
But most of Samus' games have been qualified by contradictory praise and criticism. Metroid II was an enormously innovative Game Boy title and introduced some of the series' most enduring elements - but it was (and often still is) compared unfavourably to the NES original. A little while later Super Metroid was released for the Super Nintendo, and while it is still roundly hailed as one of the greatest side-scrollers ever created, its sales arguably never matched the acclaim it received. And then...well then there was a long, lonely drought. It wasn't until after the GameCube and Game Boy Advance were on the way that the world heard of new entries to the series: Metroid Prime and Metroid Fusion. Fusion was both too innovative (with its more linear feel, which didn't sit well with some fans and critics), and not innovative enough (clearly modeling itself over Super Metroid's bones). Prime received a similar reaction, albeit on a larger scale. While those who warmed up to the first-person view recognized the brilliance of the game (full disclosure: the Prime series accounts for three of my favourite video games of the 3-D era), many just didn't feel it - and initial reactions were wildly varied. Metroid Prime 2: Echoes was, depending on whom you asked, too hard, too similar to its predecessor, or just plain brilliant. Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, meanwhile, is one of the Wii's most "hardcore" and beautiful games - the art direction behind Elysia's Skytown is singularly magnificent - and again received great critical acclaim...but like Super Metroid, never found the sales to match. ...And then came Other M. Made by much of the same crew that brought us Fusion, Other M was, depending on whom you ask, a disappointing game with a story line that "smacks of sexism", or a "brave" game from the future.
So what is to be made of Samus' legacy thus far? One of strong, but never amazing sales? One of incredible praise, yet near-constant criticism? Perhaps it's safe to say that, after 25 years, the old bear still has teeth. If it weren't for how amazing the series can be, and frequently is, it would have died years ago; and as with some of the most beloved franchises in video gaming, as with the Zeldas and Final Fantasies, people wouldn't react so strongly if they didn't care.
Metroid is, like I said above, one of those franchises. It's an iconic, long-lasting, genre-defining, genre-busting series that just happens to be headlined by a woman. A woman who just happens to have a freaking canon strapped on her arm, and the wickedest final smash of any character in Super Smash Bros: Brawl.
So, happy 25th to Samus and Metroid, and here's to many more years. And to fans of the series: Please do sound-off in the comments section below.