As hype builds for the next main entry in the Metroid series, people looking to play some of the previous games are dusting off old Nintendo consoles or resorting to emulators.
During E3 2021, Nintendo announced Metroid Dread, the first 2D classic style Metroid game in nearly 20 years. As you might expect, lots of fans got excited. Many of them wanted to play the older Metroid games as they waited for Dread to release in October. However, if you go looking for old Metroid titles on the Switch, you’ll quickly discover that Nintendo has done a poor job of supporting the series and its catalog of beloved games. In fact, you’ll need to boot up a Wii U if you’re looking to enjoy games like Metroid Fusion or Metroid: Zero Mission.
A quick search for Metroid on Nintendo’s eShop returns a selection of classic titles. But after toggling on a filter to only show Switch content, you’ll quickly see that none of those games are currently available on Nintendo’s super-popular console/handheld hybrid. In fact, the only two items that show up for Switch are a pre-order page for Dread and for some reason a random game called Wunderling.
However, these search results don’t tell the full story. You can play two classic Metroid games on your Switch, Super Metroid and the original Metroid, but only if you are a Nintendo Online subscriber. On top of that, there is no way to buy them separately.
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So folks desperate for some Metroid action beyond those two titles have started booting up their old Wii Us. The current best-selling games charts on Nintendo’s older console show numerous Metroid games charting high, years and years after they were first ported to the Wii U. This makes sense because officially, the only way to play most classic Metroid games is via the Wii U eShop. (There are also a couple on the 3DS eShop too.) If you don’t own a Wii U or a 3DS, then legally and officially you’re screwed. No Metroid Fusion for you.
Meanwhile, fans and pirates have done the hard work and continue to be better than Nintendo at supporting old games. In the case of Metroid, this is incredibly useful for anyone looking to play the past games without relying on Nintendo’s official stores or consoles. You are, right now, a quick Google search and a few files away from having hundreds of NES and SNES games available to play on whatever device you are using to read these words. Many of these fan-created emulators rival anything Nintendo has officially created and often support more features, fan translations, and mods. These emulators and their communities have done incredible work preserving Nintendo’s history and have no doubt helped introduce folks to older games from the company.
Yet Nintendo continues to fight emulators and ROM sites while offering no real legal equivalents. Imagine an alternate universe where fans excited for Metroid Dread could head over to a giant online Nintendo store on their PC or phone, where nearly every classic Nintendo game was waiting for them. Nintendo would make a ton of money and would, in the process, help support classic games for decades to come. But instead, it’s just lawsuits and disappointment.
This whole situation encapsulates just how uninterested Nintendo seems to be in preserving their older games or making them easy to play for future generations. Classic Metroid games are incredibly easy to emulate and run on almost any piece of hardware released in the last 20 years, but they’ve barely been ported to the Switch. At times the company seems willing to invest in old games, with the launch of micro-consoles like NES Mini. Other times, it seems Nintendo couldn’t care less about its incredible catalog of beloved games, forcing people to rebuy games over and over with each new console. And that’s assuming it even releases the classic games you want on whatever new console it has.
Xbox and Microsoft are better at supporting older games than Nintendo these days. For example, I recently booted up the original Psychonauts for the Xbox on my fancy new Xbox Series X. It worked perfectly and let me get more hyped for the upcoming sequel. However, that’s just not how it works for most games over in the Nintendo ecosystem.