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History in Handheld: The best Metroid games for Samus's 25th Anniversary

The last Metroid is in captivity. The galaxy is at peace...

History in Handheld: The best Metroid games for Samus's 25th Anniversary
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DS + 3DS
| Metroid Prime: Hunters

This week marks the 25th anniversary of Nintendo's sci-fi heroine, the first lady of gaming and queen of the Metroids, Samus Aran.

In August 1986, intergalactic bounty hunter Samus kick-started her very first mission as she descended upon the frightful landscape of Zebes. There, the plucky hero charted the alien world, collected upgrades, and attempted to wipe every living species from the planet's crust.

Then, the credits rolled and Samus took off her suit to reveal her biggest secret yet. You hadn't been controlling a muscley dude with a six pack and a five o'clock shadow and testes this entire time - you'd been playing as a lady!

A sexy lady, no less, and one who's willing to reveal the colour of her knickers in exchange for speedy play and an impressive item-discovery percentage.

25 years later, Samus is still an icon of gaming. She's featured in 11 games, starred on almost every Nintendo console, done a brief spot of pinball, and killed more organisms than global warming. So here's her complete handheld gaming legacy, from Game Boy to Nintendo 3DS.

Metroid II: Return of Samus
Game Boy - 1991

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Samus's career started out on the NES, but the cosmic bounty huntress soon scaled down and repainted her Varia suit in black and white for her second mission.

Metroid II, the franchise's first handheld release, saw Samus head to the native world of the eponymous jelly-like Metroids on planet SR388. Her mission is pretty simple: kill them all, wipe out the entire species and rid the galaxy of their soul-sapping nastiness.

Sadly, the stoic hero can't bring herself to finish the mission. While she had no problem killing off 39-odd Metroids and systematically draining their planet of lava so she can move deeper into its core, she stumbles on the 40th alien-blob.

After traipsing through the tight and claustrophobic world of SR388 on a stamp-sized monochrome display, and scrambling about the planet's caves with the game's unique spider ball, Samus decides to let the last remaining Metroid live.

The full ramifications of her choice were to be explored in the SNES epic, Super Metroid...

Metroid Fusion
Game Boy Advance - 2002

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It's fitting, perhaps, that the second handheld Metroid game - and the first game to hit pocket consoles in more than a decade - starts out on the same planet as Metroid II. In Fusion, Samus and a team of boffins return to SR388 for a scientific mission.

It's not all study and observation, though. The team soon detects a vicious virus that latches onto our heroine, infects her with parasitic goo, knocks her unconscious, and creates an eery mimic that replicates her memories. She really should have got a jab from the NHS.

Anyhoo, it all sets the stage for one of Metroid's most terrifying enemies yet: an exact replica of Samus, with piercing green eyes and way more firepower than our hero. Standing up to this copycat proto-bitch is not on the cards - all you can do is run and hide.

That's not all Samus has to worry about. The space station is teeming with alien life and killer beasts, and our favourite species-killing chick will once again have to explore the area, collect a bunch of powers, and consider another round of mass-extinction.

If you missed out on Metroid Fusion, not to worry. All early-adopting Nintendo 3DS owners will get this classic Metroid entry as a free download later in the year.

Metroid: Zero Mission
Game Boy Advance - 2004

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Metroid: Zero Mission is so much more than a remake of Samus's first outing on NES. Not only has the entire game been redesigned and recreated for a new millennium, but Nintendo added new items, fresh areas, tough mini-bosses, and retro-fitted features.

Even if those tweaks aren't enough to get you to explore Zebes for a second time, Zero Mission introduces a full-on story to explain our hero's complex backstory (providing a little more info than a paragraph in the NES original's manual) and an epilogue in the land of Chozodia.

As a remake, Zero Mission might be a tad forgotten by the masses. But don't pass this one up - it's a masterpiece of game design and cements Metroid as one of Nintendo's most prestigious franchises, and perhaps its most consistently brilliant series. Until...

Metroid Prime Pinball
Nintendo DS - 2005

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Yes, you read that correctly. Pinball. A rare stumbling block in the otherwise golden history of Metroid games, Prime Pinball is a truly bizarre spin-off that turns our hero Samus into a bouncy metal ball.

The game comes from Cotswold-based Fuse Games, and designer of the abysmal Mario Pinball Land. For some mad reason Nintendo saw fit to give the company that made Active Health with Carol Vorderman another of its greatest franchises to mess around with.

The result is by no means catastrophic, it should be said. Metroid Prime Pinball is an expansive game that received fine reviews and is generally liked among Metroid fans. But seriously, pinball? When will we get Metroid Golf, Metroid Kart and Angry Metroids?

Metroid Prime Hunters
Nintendo DS - 2006

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Hunters does a rather stellar job of bringing a first-person shooter to the Nintendo DS. Through some unholy combination of buttons, shoulder bumpers, and a touchscreen, Samus's second stint on DS works well.

That's not the only surprise up its sleeve. Hunters drags the Metroid series kicking and screaming into the now with online multiplayer. Sure, it's a little laggy, the voice chat is tinny, and good luck getting a game going today, but it definitely does exist. And that, sir, is a fact.

To give Samus an actual opponent or two to fight online, Nintendo dreamed up a bunch of rival bounty hunters. They all ended up in the singleplayer game, too, as annoying bosses to fend off.

Metroid Prime Hunters got some good reviews at the time, but it hasn't aged particularly well. As a cut-down and claustrophobic take on the GameCube's Metroid Prime, Hunters just can't live up to the high-points of the series. Overall, it feels like a let down after three outstanding handheld entries.

Still, you've got to love the free Metroid Prime Hunters, "First Hunt" demo that came with the Nintendo DS. We can't have been the only ones to have ignored the DS's lacklustre launch games in favour of bettering our scores on that addictive Metroid teaser.

Dead or Alive: Dimensions
Nintendo 3DS - 2011

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Samus has had her fair share of cameos over the years. On handheld consoles she's shown up in F-1 Race, blasted puzzle blocks in her own stage on Tetris DS and Galactic Pinball for Virtual Boy had a whole Metroid-themed bonus stage.

But Tecmo's 3D brawler Dead or Alive: Dimensions offers up the biggest non-staring role for Miss Aran yet.

The risqué, once-banned fighter features series nasty Ridley as a stage hazard in a rather toasty lava-based stage, while Samus will appear to help the fighters deal with Metroid's signature alien-dragon.