Will the Switch Save Metroid?
I have owned every Nintendo console except for the SNES, which means that my introduction to the incredible world of Metroid was Metroid Prime for the Gamecube, initially released in 2002 by Retro Studios (sorry Super Metroid).
I was already well-acquainted with the protagonist Samus Aran from countless hours of Smash 64, but was excited to get behind the visor and explore the world from her perspective. Metroid Prime showed off the graphical leap Nintendo made from the 64 to the Gamecube, and it blew my mind. Almost the same way Captain Falcon’s “Falcon Punch” did when I first saw the glorious 3D flames on a Walmart demo kiosk for Melee.
Prime’s graphics are only a contributing factor to it’s greatest achievement: atmosphere.
Combining stellar art direction, detailed and diverse environments, and the most bitchin’ soundtrack of any Nintendo franchise, Retro Studios created an immersive and often isolating world. The music doesn’t just fit the scene you’re currently playing, it shapes and controls the emotion they want you to feel.
In the opening sequence, Samus is dropped into a claustrophobic space station to find the source of a distress signal and the backing track is eerie and sparse. When the ship begins to melt down, the music switches to a stressful, high-tempo track, which sounds like 2 alarms played over a drum solo. After losing all your powerups and barely escaping with your life, you land on a lush region of the planet Talon IV and are treated to the overworld theme, creating a sense of peaceful awe. The game perfectly transitions from big orchestral themes for wide open environments, to minimalist spacey tracks for isolated exploring and backtracking, to intense sinister themes when battling space pirates or their leader Ridley.
The environments are detailed and varied, but the magic comes from a plethora of subtle, immersive effects that make you feel like you’re behind the visor. Jets of steam will fog and obscure your vision. Raindrops and alien goo realistically hit your visor. My favorite effect occurs when the bright flash of a charged shot causes Samus’s face to briefly reflect on the interior of the glass visor. It was a simple touch that had a huge impact.
The two sequels in the Prime series are incredible games, but could not surpass the genius of the original. Metroid Prime 2: Echoes relied too heavily on the light/dark world mechanic instead of interesting environments and significantly increased backtracking. It should be noted that Prime 2 included a shallow split screen multiplayer that my brother and I nonetheless sank hours into. I consider Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, to be one of the greatest experiences on the Wii and made incredible use of the pointing functionality of the Wiimote. Retro Studios nailed it with gameplay and controls on Prime 3 but lost some of the isolating atmosphere that made the original Prime unique. Metroid Prime introduced me to a new genre: “First-Person Adventure,” but the fluid controls of the Wii emphasized the game speed and combat, rather than exploration.
Ever since Prime 3 released in 2007, fans have been waiting for the next stellar Metroid game. Team Ninja’s, Other M, had interesting gameplay ideas, but completely missed the mark with a clunky and melodramatic backstory for Samus. The Legend of Zelda saw massive success by bringing their series back to its’ 2-dimensional roots with A Link Between Worlds on the 3DS and I hoped that Metroid would do something similar. Metroid Prime: Hunters for the DS, while ambitious, had some rough first person 3D graphics (seriously, try to replay it). For the handhelds, Nintendo should have played to the hardware strength and released a polished, 2D side-scrolling Metroid.
Since Metroid has skipped the Wii U and the 3DS, (I refuse to acknowledge Federation Force) we now look expectantly to the Switch. Will this be the generation that sees a glorious return of Metroid? Nintendo must realize the goldmine they possess in their first party titles and give them the same TLC they’ve given the Zelda series. There are decades of nostalgia waiting to be tapped into. It’s clear that Breath of the Wild is carrying the launch of the Switch. My hope is when I set Zelda aside after I’ve explored everything the game has to offer and I’m ready for the next adventure, that Nintendo will validate my Switch purchase and announce a true F-Zero, Starfox, or Metroid successor.
I’ve stuck with Nintendo through some rough years and what keeps me coming back is the inexplicable hype I feel whenever a new system or first party game is announced. The time is now to reel back in the long-time Nintendo fans, while introducing a new generation to incredible games with rich histories that span three decades. The Switch can absolutely save Metroid, we’ll just have to wait and see if Nintendo will.