On many occasions, the focus is always on the hero (or in this case heroine), but too often are villains neglected for the contribution they bring to overall experience the gamer has. There is no denying that Metroid is the only Nintendo franchise that still distinguishes itself from the rest by having a dark/grittier but unique atmosphere where our heroine is always put in abandoned, isolated and hostile environments. Obviously, that is nothing once Samus Aran starts to face the monstrous and hostile individuals that rule these areas. My first encounter with the Metroid franchise was with Super Metroid, but the game that quickly made me a fan was Metroid Fusion. Albeit having a very similar style as its predecessor, the title screen already promised a darker tone to it, and what way to keep that promise by introducing you to Samus Aran’s dopplegänger, the SA-X? Who can forget the now infamous creepy steps you heard the very first time with the unsettling ambient music playing in the background? Or the sinister alien stare it gave us right before it blew up the portal in front of it?
Other entities that made an impression on me were Nightmare and Serris, the first being an illegal experimental biomechanical weapon created by The Galactic Federation, the second a large biological entity capable of moving at ultra-high speeds. Both exterminated and mimicked by one of the most hostile lifeforms in the galaxy, the X-Parasites. As my mind became more open and sucked into the world of Metroid, I progressively learned that most of these powerful lifeforms were often subjects influenced in some way by sinister intelligent forces which had the means and power to gain control of the galaxy if they succeeded.
I have always been drawn to the unknown lurking in darkness and with the years passing by, the more I identified with villains, and none more so than the Ing in Metroid Prime 2 Echoes. From my point of view, I would consider them to be the greatest threat to any life throughout the galaxy or dimension for that matter. Sharing similar characteristics as the X-Parasites, however, instead they corrupted, blended with and mutated their hosts to be better in every way while still having absolute control. Even mechanoids like Quadraxis (My favourite boss) and Metroids were not safe against the Ing. If not for the restrictive dual-dimensional conditions that kept their pure form at bay, eventually they would start to spread throughout other potentially accessible dimensions by corrupting biological and mechanical life-forms alike since they cannot survive in purity outside their own dimension. Despite that, I’d presume that the Ing would in due time have found a way to refine other dimensions for themselves. Although many would argue that they are pure evil, seeing it from a different angle, I’d say that they were also desperate for survival. The planetary core of Aether was shattered into four and they knew that obtaining all of them would establish Dark Aether as the only valid version of the two while Aether would collapse and face oblivion. In a sense, the Ing were the literal embodiment of the worst nightmares anyone could have, and this nightmare could control and kill you.
The Space Pirates, probably the most persistent and ruthless group of aliens I’ve ever encountered in any game or movie for that matter, really is a force to be reckoned with whether it is Samus Aran or entire armies facing them. Metroid Prime was the first Metroid game in which I got a clearer picture about who or what they were. Being highly technologically advanced while still having an extremely barbaric yet strategic behaviour during confrontations adds a horrifying contrast. I’ve always enjoyed reading all their logbooks and other information you could gather within the games, explaining their agendas, experiments and even just general thoughts some individuals had at some point. Space Pirates represent persistence if expressed in one word. They constantly tried new ways of conquering the galaxy, every time they failed, they tried again and again. It became clear that this group of aliens, although unclear if consisted by different alien species or if it is only one species that over time altered themselves (I’d like to think it is the latter one), have an almost total disregard for any life they deem lower, disposable and even including their own. This is perhaps most evident in Metroid Prime 3: Corruption where the Phazon faction of the pirates, which can also be seen as traitors due to their submission to Dark Samus, use the lowest caste members as throwing projectiles and even eat them. These attributes make them ideal to pursue any agenda they want without fear.
There are of course other great threats out there for Samus to deal with like Phantoon, the Kriken Empire, Sylux and since the events of Metroid Fusion, at the least a significant branch of the Galactic Federation. Despite these overwhelming forces that she has to deal with, every hero has its arch-nemesis and in this case, it is Ridley. Killing her parents right in front of her when she was only 4 years old, destroying her entire colony, almost killing one of her closest friends, Anthony, conducted countless known and unknown atrocities throughout the years. Furthermore, engaging Samus himself numerous times in which each time he was defeated, she thought he was dead, only to come back stronger than before, and finally even remerging as a clone (Metroid: Other M) and a copy of the clone (Metroid Fusion). Ridley is not only Samus’ most important enemy, but also the most important villain in the Metroid series. He represents every defining moment in the games, the boss that decides whether you will or not reach your main goal, such as facing Mother Brain.
The bosses in the Metroid games are scary challenges the player has to overcome, some easier like Arachnus and others much harder like Mogenar or Dark Samus. The Ing collapsed under their own dimension because they feared the Light and did not find a way to survive outside darkness, the Space Pirates fell for the reason that although persistent, they never changed their mindset. Ridley rises and falls constantly, the constant struggle Samus experiences when she least expects it, just like life at some point throws at anyone. I personally admire the relentlessness of the Space Pirates and how far they are willing to go with their plans. The dark purity of the Ing makes me feel calm and relaxed while looking at Ridley’s steadfast nature serves as some sort of paradoxical inspiration just like Samus does. To put it simple, for most people, heroes are equal to selflessness and villains to selfishness but now, adding a common ground. Playing the games, I doubt that any of us, including myself, really give any thought about the villains other than being cool bosses you face, but digging a bit deeper, you can perhaps draw your own conclusions to what each of them can ultimately mean for you.