Why Nintendo Should Make a New Metroid Game
One of Nintendo’s finest franchises is ripe for a triumphant return.
30 years ago, Nintendo released the original Metroid on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). The sci-fi adventure mixed the Mario series’ expert platforming with The Legend of Zelda’s more open exploration. The result of this brilliant experiment was one of Nintendo’s most iconic, well-regarded, and influential franchises. Fans of games like Bioshock and 2016’s Inside owe much to Metroid‘s pioneering techniques related to environmental story telling and atmosphere.
Despite the large impact Metroid has made on fans, critics, and game developers, the road has never been easy for the franchise. Often less popular in Japan than in other territories, the Metroid series has failed to attain the more widespread commercial success that The Legend of Zelda and Mario franchises have enjoyed. Additionally, the franchise has suffered long droughts between entries, despite the overall critical success the majority of Metroid titles have received. Fans braved a long eight year drought between 1994 and 2002 where Metroid was nowhere to be seen. The last main line game in the series was Metroid: Other M, which was released on the Wii in 2010. Since then, fans have been waiting for a true successor to the franchise, with only one side-story to hold them over (Metroid Prime: Federation Forces).
Many fans are dying for a new Metroid game, but the future of the franchise is currently uncertain. With the launch of the Nintendo Switch, the time seems right for Nintendo to bring Metroid (and Samus!) back to the gaming spotlight in a big way. Here are the reasons Nintendo should make new Metroid games, both 3D and 2D.
Metroid is Innovative
Since its inception on the NES, the Metroid series has been pushing technical and gameplay boundaries in gaming. The first Metroid, though obtuse and archaic by modern gaming standards, was a breakthrough experience at its release in 1986. With its labyrinthine layout and design, the game required extensive exploration and backtracking to complete. While the game has not aged well, (one can argue that Metroid: Zero Mission has made it obsolete) it paved the way for more sophisticated games like Super Metroid and the overall structure and concept of the game would influence many games that followed it. Metroid’s design techniques would help form the beginnings of what would be known as the “Metroidvania” genre.
After a 8 year gap on consoles (Metroid II debuted on Gameboy in 1991), Nintendo released one of the most influential and critically praised games in the company’s long history: Super Metroid. When it was released on the Super Nintendo (SNES) in 1994, Super Metroid was included on a 24megabyte cartridge, which helped make it the largest game on the system at that time. The developers of the SNES classic used that then massive amount of space to create some of the most well-designed areas in video games. Super Metroid pioneered and arguably perfected what is known as “environmental storytelling”. Instead of overloading the gamer with exposition as they explore the world, Super Metroid used the environments and surroundings to give the gamer a sense of the world.
In an article detailing the best SNES games, Gamesradar asserted that Super Metroid tells its story using “subtle moments and music cues to accentuate events that other games would shout from the heavens. In this regard, its only real modern equivalent is Portal. Even BioShock, which literally states its purpose, is blunt by comparison” (Gamesradar.com). Super Metroid‘s influence has been felt in many areas of the video industry. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Donald Mustard, Mustard the co-founder and creative director of Chair Entertainment, asserted that the influence of Super Metroid‘s environmental storytelling can be seen in “everything from the classic Half-Life to Playdead’s Inside, released last month” (Baker, RollingStone.com).
After the success of Super Metroid, Nintendo struggled to develop the Metroid series. The series would ultimately skip the Nintendo 64 (the Console where Nintendo brought some of its best franchises to 3D gaming), but Metroid would once again become an innovative force on Nintendo’s next console: The Nintendo Game Cube. Retro Studios, an untested Texas developer, took the best things about 2D Metroid and brought them into the third dimension. Retro’s debut title, Metroid Prime, pushed the boundaries of what was possible for 3D First Person platforming and adventure games. Many gamers and critics were skeptical of the game when it was revealed, as a first person Metroid was heresy to many long time fans, but the game would end up becoming one of its most acclaimed and commercially successful adventures.
Much like Super Metroid, Metroid Prime was a technical marvel, illustrating what could be achieved on current generation hardware. As part of IGN’s Top 100 Video Games, Sam Claiborn asserted that “When Metroid Prime hit the GameCube it was one of the prettiest, most technologically advanced games on any platform” (Claiborn, IGN.com). In 2002, Metroid Prime was a cutting edge, jaw dropping experience. The game was able to create an equally complex and labyrinthine world in 3D, effectively using doors and elevators to mask the need to load new areas. The developers use of physics allowed for new puzzle, including brilliant designed morph ball puzzles and half pipes.
The Nintendo Wii’s first Metroid title, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, was able to innovate with an intuitive and impressive new control scheme despite running on the under-powered Wii hardware. The game made incredible use of the Wii Remote, creating a nearly flawless control scheme which deepened the already considerable immersion that the Prime games already had. Using the Wii Remote’s pointer functionality, Metroid Prime 3 offered players a fluid and flexible control scheme that made aiming feel intuitive and responsive. The controls were so strong that Nintendo and Retro would eventually add this functionality to the previous two Prime games in the Metroid Prime Trilogy, one of the best video compilations ever made.
Fans Care About Samus Aran
Samus Aran holds a special place in video game history, regardless of how her portrayals in recent games like Metroid: Other M have been received by fans or critics. Samus was one of the first major female protagonists in gaming, preceding legendary characters like Lara Croft. The first Metroid was released in 1986, a time period where it was assumed that the main character of a video game would be male. Even the developers of the game hadn’t intended the character to be female until about halfway through development. Metroid‘s instruction manual even refered to Samus as a “He” ensuring that when Samus removed her helmet before the end credits gamers would be genuinely suprised. The reveal of Samus was a powerful moment in gaming history, one that was genuinely trend breaking for the time period.
In an article for Metroid‘s 25th Anniversary, IGN’s Audrey Drake reflected on the impact of Samus Aran in the gaming world. She praised the developers for not needing to justify why “a woman was so cool. She just was. It wasn’t the result of magic or some contrived scenario, and it wasn’t with the help of a man — it was all Samus” (Drake, IGN). Many critics have discussed the importance of Samus to the gaming world, and many are genuinely concerned about her absence from gaming. Eurogamer’s Martin Robinson wrote about absence of Samus by saying that while “Princess Peach and Zelda were up for being rescued each and every new financial year, Samus seemed locked away in another castle forever” (Robinson, Eurogamer). It is disconcerting to many critics and fans that Nintendo’s strongest female character has been on the sidelines so often.
No can claim that Nintendo is ignorant of Samus popularity or importance, quite the opposite in fact. When launching Amiibo, a line of figurines that had some in-game uses in various Nintendo titles, a Samus Amiibo was included in the first wave. This illustrates that Nintendo is aware of her popularity and place in their hallowed history. While not the highest selling Amiibo, Samus has performed well in the sales charts, which demonstrates her importance to the Nintendo brand and gaming history. If Nintendo is aware of the important place that Samus plays in their pantheon of heroes, then why haven’t they given gamers more chances to play as they iconic bounty hunter? It’s frustrating to say the least.
At E3 2o15, Nintendo revealed Metroid Prime: Federation Force, a spin-off title set in the Metroid Universe. After its reveal, the game was blasted on forums across the internet and received incredible hostility from many fans. I would argue that the game did not deserve as much criticism as it received but the fan reaction was a long time coming. After neglecting Samus and the Metroid series for years, it was understandable that announcing a Metroid title without Samus would receive criticism. In an article for Forbes, Paul Tassi perfectly summed up many fans’ opinions on the issue: “fans want a full-blown Metroid game, preferably on a console, and absolutely starring Samus Aran” (Tassi, Forbes). Please Nintendo, if you make another Metroid game, please include Samus Aran, she is the heart and soul of the franchise.
It has a more mature tone
While Zelda and other Nintendo franchises have their share of dark moments, Metroid touts the most mature and often the darkest tone of any Nintendo franchise. This mature tone has often make Metroid the black sheep of Nintendo’s franchises, as this tone seems to clash with their family friendly image. However, I would argue that Metroid’s dark tone and the distinct differences in art direction is a valuable asset to Nintendo.
One striking example of Metroid‘s dark tone is the opening scene of Super Metroid. Samus enters a space station which has been attacked by Space Pirates. In this sequence, the player music maneuver Samus through hallways with dead scientists littering the floor. Another moment occurs in Metroid Prime 3: Corruption when you move through the Halls of the G.H.S. Valhalla, a ghost ship riddled with corpses. In the Metroid Prime series you can even scan corpses to determine how they died, a grisly reminder of danger’s Samus faces at every turn. Even the Metroids themselves, grotesque and viscous aliens that latched on to their host, illustrate a stark departure from the friendly face of Kirby and Mario. There are very few NPC (nonplayable characters) to interact with in the Metroid series, which helps further heighten the feeling of isolation and danger that you as you play the games. Metroid‘s music, primarily organized and overseen by composer Kenji Yamamoto also stands out compared to other Nintendo offerings. Ambient and discordant, the music often reflects the dangerous and alien atmosphere that Samus finds herself in. Listening to any of the music from Metroid games will give the distinct feeling that you are about to embark on a dark and dangerous hostile world.
In an article on Destructoid.com, Jonathan Holmes asserts that “semi-realistic Sci-Fi has never been the company’s [Nintendo’s] strong suit. It’s a genre that tends to appeal to nerds aged 15-35 — a demographic that Nintendo often struggles with these days” (Holmes, Destructoid). This quote illustrates why Nintendo should pursue the Metroid series. The Metroid franchise highlights a different side of Nintendo. Gamers hungry for a more mature atmosphere and serious tone are at home with the Metroid franchise than the Mario Franchise.
A New 3D Metroid could illustrate the power of the Switch
One lingering issue many consumers and critics have with the Switch is the relative uncertainty of what power different developers can squeeze out of the machine, regardless of whether it is less powerful than the other consoles on the market. With games like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Splatoon 2, and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild being similar or nearly identical to their Wii-U counterparts, Nintendo hasn’t yet shown off the true potential of their machine and Metroid is a prime candidate to display the power of the Switch. It would be a visual treat to see the exotic alien creatures and worlds of Metroid translated into a modern gaming experience.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way. Yes, the Switch is an under-powered system when you compare it to the PS4 and Xbox One. Nintendo proved long ago that they were not going to chase Microsoft and Sony by trying to create the console with the most sheer horsepower. Despite the differences in power between the Switch and its competitors, there is no reason the console/handheld hybrid cannot have technically impressive gaming experiences.
With the right art direction to aid it and Nintendo’s legendary ability to squeeze every ounce of power out of their hardware, the gaming giant (or one of its second party studios) could create a truly stunning 3D Metroid on the Switch. The last 3D Metroid game was a measly 480P on the Wii. The jump to a full 1080P experience on the TV and a 720P in handheld mode would feel like night and day compared to the Metroid series’ 2010 and 2007 counterparts. The result would be an impressive experience and a title Nintendo could use to show the performance developers can get out of the Switch.
A New 2D Metroid would please long time fans and retro gamers
For years, a variety of developers have been making games inspired by Metroid and Castlevania. Unfortunately, both Nintendo and Konami seem to have forgotten that they both helped give birth to the “Metroidvania” genre, which remains popular. If you are looking for some evidence of the genre’s continued staying power, look not further than former Castlevainia producer Koji Igarashi ‘s massively successful kickstarter campaign. Nintendo could capitalize on the desire for Metroidvania games as well general gamer nostalgia by releasing a game in the same vein as Metroid Fusion and Super Metroid.
In 2016, there was a ton of buzz around the fan made Another Metroid 2 Remake (which Nintendo eventually shut down). Regardless of the legality of the game, or Nintendo’s response to the AM2R, the interest in the project illustrates that a large group of fans want a new 2D Metroid. In an interview with Destructoid, Doctor64, creator of AM2R (Another Metroid 2 Remake) asserted that the success of “so many indie Metroidvanias out there shows that people want to play games like this. It’d be great if Nintendo, creators of the genre, would start focusing more on its roots and make a proper Metroid game. I’m sure I’m not the only one wanting to play it.” (Holmes, Destructoid). If Nintendo is unwilling to create the next 2D Metroid themselves then there are plenty of great developers out there that could design the next 2D Metroid in conjunction with the company.
In terms of using Switch hardware and features, a beautiful retro Metroid game would be a great fit with the Switch’s portable hook. The concept of playing a technically impressive 2D Metroid either on the go or at home would be appealing to many gamers. And it is important to bear in mind that the last two true 2D Metroid games were both released on the Gameboy Advanced, a handheld device. The portability of the Switch makes it for a perfect fit for a successor to the lineage of Super Metroid and Metroid Fusion. Since the Switch is off to an excellent start in terms of hardware sales, it is unlikely that Nintendo would consider putting the next Metroid on the 3Ds, a nearly 7 year old system. Regardless of its large install base the 3Ds has it not the future of Nintendo. The Switch is the future and Metroid should be connected to that future.
If Nintendo is worried about the cost of creating a new Metroid, a 2D Metroid would be a more cost effective prospect than a new 3D Metroid. It would also allow Nintendo to test interest in the franchise without throwing down the cost for a Triple AAA Metroid on the level of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild or the forthcoming Super Mario Odyssey. Nintendo experimented with the Zelda format on handheld before eventually bringing changes to their console Zelda experience. Metroid could use the same strategy. If Nintendo is worried about the cost of developing a new 3D Metroid then creating a 2D Metroid would be more cost effective and would appeal to a different group of gamers. Even a remake of Super Metroid, Metroid Fusion, or Metroid Zero Mission could be used to gauge interest in the franchise.
If it doesn’t happen now, it may never happen!
Metroid Other M was almost 8 years ago! That was the last time Samus suited up for a true Metroid adventure. It’s been even longer if you look at 2D Metroid games, where the last true 2D Metroid was 2004’s Metroid: Zero Mission, a redux of the original Metroid with some added content.
This brings me to my final point: franchise care. Nintendo has been rightfully criticized for its handling of the franchise. Franchise care is critical to keeping a franchise alive and successful. If a video game franchise wants to thrive and perform well, there needs to be franchise care. This means releasing games for a franchise in order to maintain excitement and attention for a franchise. Long droughts can destroy a franchise, even one as renowned as Metroid. When there are long droughts between games in a series, and no real announcements about when a new game is coming or how far along it is development, fans can lose interest or faith in the IP. This lose of interest and attention in a franchise can result in low sales, which will discourage developers from putting money into what they perceive to be a bad investment.
While Nintendo could opt to create a 2d or 3D Metroid, they should opt to do both. Much like Zelda, Metroid’s 2D and 3D offerings are different enough to offer exciting opportunities to players. Metroid Prime and Metroid Fusion launched on the same day in 2002, and offered games two distinct experiences. The same could happen again in 2018 (or 2019). I hope that history can repeat itself for Metroid.
What do you think about the Metroid series and how Nintendo has handled the franchise? What do you want to happen next with the Metroid franchise?
Baker, Chris. “How ‘Super Metroid’ Defined an Era and Inspired a Generation of Game Makers.” Rolling Stone. Rolling Stone, 29 Aug. 2016. Web. 21 Feb. 2017.
Drake, Audrey. “What Metroid Did for Women in Gaming.” IGN, IGN, 20 July 2011. Web. 26 Feb. 2017.
Holmes, Jonathan. “What’s Nintendo’s problem with Metroid?” Destructoid.com. 21 August 2016. Web. 1 March 2017.
Robinson, Martin. “Metroid Prime remains one of Nintendo’s finest games.” Eurogamer.net. N.p., 02 Jan. 2015. Web. 21 Feb. 2017.
Staff, GamesRadar. “The best SNES games of all time.” Gamesradar. GamesRadar, 03 Aug. 2016. Web. 21 Feb. 2017.
Tassi, Paul. “Nintendo Says Angry Fans Will Like Metroid’s ‘Federation Force’ Once They Play It.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 01 July 2015. Web. 25 Feb. 2017.
Totilo, Stephen. “Metroid Prime: The Kotaku Review.” Kotaku. Kotaku.com, 10 Mar. 2016. Web. 25 Feb. 2017.
“Top Games Of All Time.” IGN. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Feb. 2017.
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