Nintendo’s revolutionary debut of gaming’s first heroine
WATA 9.4 A+ Sealed • GAM-METRD
Nintendo’s revolutionary debut of gaming’s first heroine
Current market price
This graph was created using publicly available sales data from Heritage Auctions. Last updated February 2021. Past performance may not be indicative of future results.
Recent comparable sales for this WATA 9.4 A+ Sealed NES Metroid (Mid-production) include later production sealed copies graded between 8.5 and 9.6, with above average (A) to exceptional (A+) seal quality. Earlier production variants like this GAM-METRD command a price premium due to rarity, historical significance, and demand.Variants legend
SOQ - Nintendo Seal of Quality, may be round (early-mid production) or oval (later production) TM / R - The trademark symbol used on the box. Metroid’s trademark was filed in 1987 and officially registered in 1988.
For decades, Nintendo has been a name synonymous with video games, ever since Shigeru Miyamoto came out with a little number called Super Mario Bros. on the NES. And apart from Mario himself, there are few characters more synonymous with Nintendo than Metroid’s Samus Aran.
The first female character to star in her own game, Samus has been a role model, style icon and action hero across 35 years and 10 main-franchise Metroid games, plus remakes, cameos and every entry of the Super Smash Bros. series. The beautiful bounty hunter has become a bonafide household name, one whose presence all but guarantees game chart-topping sales.
But this game, the original Metroid, couldn’t benefit from that famous name to make its mark on history. It was released to western audiences in the second wave of “black box” NES games, Nintendo’s first big move to capture the home console market following the collapse of Atari and other US-based competition. Those manufacturers had cratered consumer trust with shoddy movie tie-ins and knock-off games, so Nintendo took the opposite approach.
Coming in as a fresh outsider, they tripled-down on transparency and let the products sell themselves. America’s first Nintendo games came in unpretentious black boxes showing real in-game graphics and functional titles that left no doubt about the experience you were about to buy. Ice Climbers. Excitebike. Kung Fu. Golf.
When Nintendo was preparing to follow up that original 1985 wave of “black box” game releases, the biggest issue was how to follow up their own success! Their quality-focused branding had been a tremendous success, largely thanks to Super Mario Bros. - the definitive must-have hit of its era, and among the most influential and brilliant games of all time. With this undeniable masterpiece to back up their big talk, Nintendo was poised to capture the US market for decades to come.
But they needed another big hit! There’s a reason none of the other initial black box titles had the lasting cultural cachet of Super Mario Bros. - those were more modest and simple games in concept, updates to the toy-like diversions of Nintendo’s Game-And-Watch days.
Nintendo’s legendary “Research & Development No. 1” team was tasked with crafting the next headline title for the NES, something which could become a new pillar of Nintendo’s gaming canon alongside Mario and Miyamoto-san’s new project, The Legend of Zelda. This game would need to carve out its own play style, atmosphere and appearance, as different from Super Mario Bros. as possible to show the limitless potential of the NES
Nintendo handed the job to an up-and-coming producer, Yoshio Sakamoto, who good-humoredly described his task as "come up with something very different from what Mr. Miyamoto is likely to do". But Sakamoto was a wise choice for this mission of reinvention; he idealized the creative ambition which had taken Nintendo from toy manufacturer to the cutting edge of video games, and the Metroid project would go on to innovate many aspects of game design which are now fundamental to the medium.
The departure from Super Mario Bros. is striking from the instant you power up the game. The darkened start screen and ominous, horror-movie overture from composer Hirokazu “Hip” Tanaka are nothing like the bright, simplistic execution of earlier NES games. There is a powerful mystique here that helped Metroid appeal to mature audiences, and one that only grows as you actually play the game.
Sakamoto and his team were heavily influenced by Ridley Scott’s Alien franchise, and especially the biomechanical monstrosities of H. R. Giger. While they refrained from outright copying the Xenomorph for Metroid, the idea of a dark sci-fi story set on a slimy, dangerous alien world was the perfect choice to adapt for video games.
The R&D1 artists used strange color palettes and black negative space to evoke the strange and hostile atmosphere of Alien in 8-bit graphics. The flashing, plasma-spitting mutants of Planet Zebes seemed all the more deadly against this pitch-dark backdrop - but players who reached the bullet-riddled boss fights would also be thankful for the visual clarity it provided.
As they battled, players were further unsettled by Hip Tanaka’s soundtrack, which deliberately avoided any stable melody in favor of a sinister buzzing and chirping. The audio which loops during the Mother Brain fight is only 30 seconds long, but perfectly demonstrates the ways music can enhance the emotional experience of a game.
It was up to writer Makoto Kano to make sense of these unearthly aesthetics. He produced a colorful scenario involving space pirates, stolen government research and a galactic bioweapons threat - one that only the player could stop. This was already a more complex and detailed plot than most games of the ‘80s, but its implementation was even more revolutionary - perhaps the single biggest breakthrough ever for storytelling in games.
Kano worked closely with the rest of the Metroid team to map out the story he had created over six interconnected areas. Players were able to freely move as they wished through this intricate labyrinth, experiencing the creepiness of Planet Zebes at their own pace.
The hunt for powerful hidden gadgets and named boss characters offered clear objectives for this exploration, each promising access to new areas. No in-game reward was ever so potent as finding you could now blast through that frustrating locked door or armored enemy type which had been blocking your journey. After defeating the final boss at the heart of Zebes, stunned players had to flee backwards out of the level as it exploded, a last triumphant assertion that the game world was real, regardless of whether you were finished with it!
There was no going back; from the moment Metroid was released, the idea of simple linear level progression felt outmoded, disappointing. Even the Mario franchise was forced to step up its game, leading to the over-map system in Super Mario Bros. 3!
It was as landmark a moment as the industry has ever seen. It ensured Metroid achieved its goal: proving games could be more than Mario. Today there are still thousands upon thousands of “Metroidvania” games developed every year which iterate directly on this style, and the ideas of Sakamoto, Kano and their team are echoed to some degree in almost any game with a storyline.
Created by character designer Hiroji Kiyotake, bounty hunter Samus Aran is an elite, power-armored mercenary summoned by the Galactic Federation for a critical black-ops mission. The combination of futuristic firepower and superhuman athleticism provided by the armor makes Samus a perfect action hero, and allows for cool tech-based power-ups like the Morph Ball and Ice Beam.
But the faceless suit also hides Metroid’s iconic secret; that Samus Aran, the galaxy’s fiercest warrior, is a woman.
Playable female characters were almost unheard of at this point in history, let alone in such a dark, masculine, gun-toting action game. Again taking inspiration from Alien and its female lead, R&D1 knew this would be a big deal and intentionally hid Samus’s gender until the final cutscene - referring to the player character as “he” in the manual and avoiding any feminine hints in the power-armor’s design.
The moment when Samus does finally remove her helmet and armor to reveal a pretty face and flowing ‘80s hair (modeled on Kim Basinger), left an indelible impression on games history, and has since transcended into wider pop culture. Players who had just piloted Samus through hours of fiery combat rarely even considered that their hero might be a heroine, and this potent realization instantly cemented Samus as one of gaming’s first and most beloved wonder women.
Fans who finished Metroid early rushed to tell their incredulous friends, spreading the secret like a saucy urban legend. This excitement was helped by the fact not everybody who finished Metroid learned the truth. In another pioneering move, the game had multiple ending scenes based on how quickly players finished the game. The faster your time, the more of “the real Samus” you got to see, down to just a bikini or sleek purple leotard. The latter was actually unlocked as a playable costume by clearing Metroid in under three hours - or more commonly by entering one of the most famous cheat codes in gaming history, “JUSTIN BAILEY”.
As the Metroid franchise has continued to flourish over the ensuing decades, Samus Aran remains a role model, an empowered woman and action hero whose portrayal acknowledges her femininity without being defined by it. Her outings on modern consoles continue to feature her as a laser-blasting, power armored bounty hunter, with a detailed backstory explaining her link to the deadly Metroids as well as the mysterious Chozo progenitor race.
Her fans admire as much as desire her, and she is quite possibly the most popular subject for cosplayers and fan artists in video game history. The Metroid and Metroid Prime series has continued pushing the envelope of game design with each new installment, never happy to rest on the laurels of its past success.
As Yoshio Sakamoto has declared, “I know that Metroid always has to grow - we've always been challenging with the Metroid games”.
All of this legacy - and future potential - would not exist without the creativity, ambition and effort that went into the original Metroid. Even in the prolific resumes of the Nintendo R&D1 team, this game stands as a likely career highlight. And as the investment profile of graded video games continues to grow, you can make Metroid a highlight of your portfolio as well.
This copy of Metroid bears the famous “Nintendo Seal of Quality” in its original circular form. This version of the seal was only used until March 1989, while the “REV-A” marking - added after Nintendo changed their cartridge design to use fewer screws - began to appear on boxes from January 1988.
In fact, this box tells collectors a lot about the history of our Metroid: it was manufactured in one of the first runs to use the new three-screw NES cartridge, then sent to America in one of the first shipments Nintendo could afford to shrink-wrap. It arrived Stateside in summer 1988 - and then sat, unsold and sealed in plastic, in the back of a K-Mart stockroom somewhere. It wasn’t until years later that this copy, along with 34 other sealed NES games, was rediscovered and returned to the public eye.
The games grading authority WATA now refers to these specimens as “the K-Mart Collection”, and thanks to the modern-day significance of Samus Aran’s first adventure, this 9.4-NM Metroid is considered its crown jewel. No higher-graded copy of its kind - bearing the original, round “Seal of Quality” - has ever been found.