Posted by: seanmalstrom | August 29, 2010

Sakamato: TIME TO GO!

The big myth going around about Metroid: Other M is that it is an “experiment”. What I wish to illustrate is that Other M is not an experiment but an evolution and final fruition of Sakamoto’s bizarre design and story philosophies that root back to Super Metroid. This is why Sakamoto and Nintendo did not advertise Other M as an “experiment” but as the ‘true sequel’ to Super Metroid and a continuation of ‘2d Metroid’.

“Well things certainly have changed a lot for Samus and the Metroid games from the very beginning to where they are now,” Sakamoto told us, “but I feel that it was a very natural and desirable evolution. In fact each step along the way felt like it was a necessary and important change. When you think about the kind of experiences you have with Metroid, you’re slowly sinking into an unexplored world. So adding 3D to that definitely adds a certain level of immersion and sense of depth when you’re exploring the worlds.”

Of course, you do not explore any world in Other M but a holodeck. From Sakamoto’s viewpoint, Metroid: Other M is an evolution, not an ‘experiment’.

“I certainly do get asked that question a lot. During the Prime series, people always asked me when are you going to make a 2D Metroid. So we realized there was a lot of demand there, and that’s actually what drove the initial process to work on this project. I realize that there’s a lot of influence over a control scheme in the way that you feel about a game: When it’s in 2D, it feels more direct in terms of moving exactly where you want. There’s a certain dynamism with the screen in that regard, so the player has an exact understanding of their location and orientation of their movement. We wanted to bring both elements of the immersion of 3D and that kind of connection to your location on screen that you get from a 2D game..”

When I initially aired my concerns with Metroid: Other M (being the first to do so btw) based on initial ‘red flags’ (as Sakamoto said the game was about ‘maternal instincts’, a trailer appeared of Samus saying she was ‘so young’ and ‘young and naïve’ as well as Sakamoto declaring Super Metroid’s ending was an experience of ‘maternal instincts’), some ‘Metroid fans’ threatened me with physical violence and one said he wanted to punch me. Highlighting all the red flags appearing did no good as the “In Sakamoto We Trust!” attitude reigned supreme, and these Sakamoto Cultists kept emailing me nasty emails. But time makes more converts than reason. With colorful reviews of the game out and the sense that this is a Metroid game in name only, perhaps some will be more receptive now to hearing how Metroid has arrived to this point.

The fall began decades ago. But let us start at the beginning.

Metroid came out for the NES in 1986. The game was a hit. Why? Unlike other games at the time, Metroid felt very vast. While many games you could only move in one or two directions, Metroid had you going up and down and all around. Being a ‘ball’ also put the area in a different context as your ball could bomb and squeeze through certain areas. High quality music and sound effects wrapped the game up in a sort of trippiness. The game was a gigantic labyrinth where you would easily get lost. This was a great deal of its charm.

There was a high sense of danger throughout the game. The enemies were very dangerous. The lava pits would kill you fast. Anyone who played the original back in the day will tell you that Kraid and Ridley were absolutely terrifying. Even approaching their lairs was scary. The last battle with Mother Brain was nerve racking and probably the most intense sequence anyone had seen in a video game before.

The fact that Samus was a girl was more of a LOL at the end. It was not why people played the game. Metroid was a badge of a certain type of NES gamer. Not too many people were able to beat the game so if you did so, you were considered somewhat ‘elite’ back in those days.

One thing that NES games did were engage in many mind games with its players. The most obvious was the Super Mario Brothers line of games of how they were hiding the warp zones. After finding the Warp Zone in 1-2 by running on the ceiling, you can be assured every player was trying to ‘run on the ceiling’ in games. This was rewarded in Super Mario Brothers 2, Super Mario Brothers 3, and other various games. Zelda 2 had areas where there were trapdoors, where you could walk through walls, even to the point where the final boss was your own shadow. Bizarre and mind tripping stuff.

Metroid seemed designed as if to be the ultimate expression of these mind teasers and general trippiness. Sure enough, there are illusionary walls, trapdoors, places where you can go that makes no sense. It was the first game I can recall ever seeing a ‘fake boss’. Metroid felt like it had layers and layers of infinite amounts of secrets. We tried over and over again to get to the ‘hidden world’ which was just a bug in the game like Negative World was in Super Mario Brothers. We believed the game had more secrets than it did.

And the game’s trippiness made it somewhat like a religious experience. The choir and organs come on when Samus appears. The organs again come on when Samus gets an item (extremely creepy with those Chozu statues).

Metroid was never as big as Zelda and Super Mario Brothers because the game wasn’t popular with girls. Then again, no science fiction game is popular with girls.

Note the NES Advantage, usually shown to imply some ‘expert’ type game. But note how the commercial talks about saving or destroying the planet. The point is that Metroid was an epic experience. The entire planet blew up. This wasn’t your usual adventure.

As sequels to Mario and Zelda came out, people were awaiting a sequel to Metroid. Well, it finally occurred but on the Gameboy. This was a huge surprise as people expected the sequel to be on the NES. Apparently, Nintendo was desiring to draw NES players to their new handheld device.

Metroid II was an incredible game and very well received at the time. The only real complaint was that the portable game was called the sequel (as Super Mario Land was not called Super Mario Brothers 4).

Metroid II was a phenomenal update on Metroid. Player control had greatly increased and now Samus can shoot DOWN (she couldn’t before). Somehow, the game was scarier than the first one. The game was about hunting down and killing the Metroids, i.e. genocide. It was a brilliant twist to focus on the Metroids and focus that they would evolve into nastier and deadlier creatures (unlike other Metroid games where they tried to focus on Samus more and leave Metroids out).

As a Gameboy game, Metroid II was impressive. It was the biggest Gameboy game ever made at that time. While people might complain about how the areas are divided and you must create earthquakes to drain the toxic sand, keep in mind this was designed to be a handheld game. Instead of one massive area, it was many areas linked together. Anyone who played through this game will tell you how massive it is especially with the Spider Ball as Samus was exploring and running around on top of ceilings. It is something you could never do in any Metroid game since.

Metroid II is definitely the scariest Metroid game ever made. The creepiness of silence when going through the Metroid areas only to have the headphones shock you with the Metroid attack music began as an Omega Metroid appears from nowhere! And if you look at the walkthrough video, the sound and recoil Samus makes when she takes damage hits me to this day. You really feel as if you are dying and getting hurt. While Metroid 2 doesn’t make use of much music, it does make brilliant use of sound effects.

Super Metroid came very late near the end of the SNES Era in 1994. It is believed today that Super Metroid is the pinnacle of the series. Actually, it is the beginning of the series decline. If anything, it is vastly overrated.

Super Metroid is a very mixed bag. It did some things well. It was the biggest cartridge ever made at the time. It was very lush with wonderful art and beautiful music and sound effects. Super Metroid matched Metroid I and II in its quality of sound and utilized the SNES to really show off Metroid in 16-bit graphics.

Remember the difference in years. Metroid came out in 1986. Super Metroid came out in 1994. This is a HUGE amount of time. Comparing Metroid to Super Metroid is like comparing Super Mario Brothers to Donkey Kong Country. Younger people today will look at Super Mario Brothers and consider it a bad game due to its rigid mechanics and bad graphics. But anyone alive at the time will easily recall how huge Super Mario Brothers was and why it is the best selling Mario game.

The same is true for Metroid. Metroid for the NES was way more popular and far more of a phenomenon. Super Metroid had a mixed response. After a couple of months of good sales, the game dropped off the sales charts. Soon, Super Metroid sat in the bargain bin alongside games like Mystic Quest.

To many of the original Metroid fans, Super Metroid was a vast disapointment. While the graphics and sound were well received, this was expected as anything on the SNES should be better than an early NES game from 1986. The issues were the following:

-The game felt more like a re-make than a sequel. Metroid II was a sequel in that you went to a different planet and fought different bosses. In Super Metroid, it had the identical setting and bosses as NES Metroid. We have blown up Kraid, Ridley, and Mother Brain before. Why must we do so again? Doesn’t Nintendo have anything new to tell after eight years? It felt more like a remake because of this and that the name of the game was Super Metroid instead of Metroid 3 (despite it appearing at the title screen). It was as if a remake of NES Metroid with some ‘expansions’ (like Maridia and Crateria).

There was nothing scary at all in Super Metroid. Enemies and bosses were very easy. Metroid I and II had a tight tension throughout the game. The game was terrifying. Metroids were terrifying. Since all the enemies were so easy to kill in Super Metroid, it was very difficult for you to die. In comparison, Super Metroid felt like a nature walk-in-the-park. While the previous Metroids felt like you were in battle against superior forces, Super Metroid felt like the enemies has no purpose in the game whatsoever except to slow you down from one item to another.

Controls were funky. The wall jumping was horribly implemented. Sometimes the Space Jump felt off.

”Extreme” style of the game made it lame. At this time period, Nintendo and Sega were engaged in the great 16-bit war. Advertising and games were being designed as being ‘extreme’ (to pander to teenagers). It was lame how Kraid would become ‘larger than the screen’ for example. Was that even necessary? Nintendo was very interested in showing off why Super Nintendo had better graphics than Genesis apparently. The Baby Metroid then turned into a giant big Metroid which was a giant sprite on the screen. I suppose we were supposed to be ‘surprised’ by this but it came off lame. The biggest lameness was Mother Brain turning into a giant T-Rex. WTF!

-Items were missing. Super Metroid added some cool new items. I remember people loving the grapple beam. The X-Beam was cool too. However, what happened to the awesome Spider Ball? People were so disappointed that it wasn’t in the game. The Charge Beam was disappointing for the same reason the Mega Buster was for Mega Man 4. For gameplay purposes, a player would normally always had it charged up and couldn’t hear the music and sound effects over its ‘charge’. It was something constantly to do and was annoying just like the Mega Buster was.

Inconsistencies began appearing in the storyline. It was never well explained why you had to go back to Zebes and fight the same bosses again. Zebes was destroyed in Metroid I. So why is it back? And why didn’t the ‘Baby Metroid’ evolve like the Metroids in Metroid II?

If Super Metroid was so popular, then why didn’t Nintendo make a sequel to it? It took many, many years later into the Gamecube Era for more Metroid to appear. Everyone thought this was out of respect to Gunpei Yokoi due to his unfortunate death. But perhaps the simplest reason was that Nintendo thought the game wouldn’t sell as Super Metroid didn’t sell that well. But with Nintendo being trapped by marketers into the ‘kiddie corner’ definition, it is clear why Metroid was brought back.

I stopped console gaming at the end of the SNES Era. I had always wondered why Super Metroid felt ‘off’. Today, I realize the problems were due to eccentricities of Sakamoto. As more and more original Metroid developers would retire and leave Nintendo, the greater and more eccentric Metroid became as Sakamoto took greater control.

As time passed, the easiness of Super Metroid played to its favor. Younger gamers who do not possess the old school game playing skills and certainly have no map making skills would find the map-less Metroid and Metroid II “unplayable” while thinking the easy Super Metroid would be ‘difficult’. Super Metroid became what I call a ‘comfort game’. If you are sick and just want to run around in a game, Super Metroid was a ‘comfort game’ that would satisfy that need. It is arguable how large this ‘comfort game’ audience is as the 2d Sakamoto games that would follow, such as Fusion and Zero Mission, were pretty flat in sales (i.e. not phenomenons).

Metroid Prime came out with great success. It is the best selling Metroid game ever (and on the Nintendo console with the smallest install base). However, much of those sales could have been from some people thinking Metroid Prime was Nintendo’s FPS answer to Halo and other shooters.

While much has been written about Metroid Prime, what no one points out as a big reason for its succession was the lack of Sakamoto. Of course, Sakamoto was involved but only serving as a type of tinpot Metroid pope who would decide where a content element went out of the boundaries of what Metroid was.

From IGN:

Around the same time, Tanabe, a Tingle-loving member of Nintendo’s software product development group in Kyoto, was cornered by Miyamoto and asked to lead the daunting title, a proposition that caught him off guard, he readily admits. “When I first heard from Mr. Miyamoto that I was appointed to be in charge of this first-person shooter project, what I thought was, I had never developed a first-person shooter and I pretty much had no experience in playing first-person shooter titles, either. So I wasn’t really confident that I could pull off a phenomenal first-person shooter title,” he acknowledges, adding, “On top of that, I was never involved in the Metroid series before.”

Sakamoto’s disdain for Metroid Prime likely has more to do with Miyamoto’s involvement. People outside Miyamoto’s group are proud to say that Miyamoto is not their boss.

To aid him in this challenge, Tanabe sought the advice of Metroid series creator Yoshio Sakamoto, who had very strong opinions about who main character Samus Aran, a space bounty hunter, really was, and how she might behave in certain situations. “[We asked him], what would Samus do if Space Pirates took someone as a hostage and said, while pointing a gun to their head, ‘Samus, back off!’ How would Samus react?” explains Tanabe of some initial design planning. “What we heard from him was that she would not say, ‘Hold on!’ or show any emotions. She would just bring up her gun and shoot a head shot at the Space Pirate.” To illustrate this point, Mr. Tanabe makes a gun with his hand, points it has his forehead, pulls the virtual trigger and rocks his head backward as if in slow motion. I can’t help but laugh at the imitation.

Then what the heck happened with Other M? Not even Sakamoto is consistent with Sakamoto.

The problem was, Retro wasn’t entirely sure what to do with the Metroid franchise. Shortly after learning that it had received the popular license, Wikan and others gathered in a conference room and began playing the classic Metroid titles, all of which take place in 2D, where Samus is clearly visible as she platforms and guns down Space Pirates on her path to Mother Brain. “We had large numbers of meetings both internal and with Nintendo about every conceivable aspect of the game,” says Wikan, who also confirms that the team briefly considered making Prime a third-person game because it seemed the most intuitive way to tackle the transition to the third-dimension without sacrificing the essence of the original releases. Retro’s designers discussed the possibilities of a third-person view, but soon afterward Miyamoto put the kabosh on the design and told them instead that the project should keep the first-person perspective. It wouldn’t be easy, but in a way, it was a relief. As Wikan puts it: “We knew how to do first-person shooters.”

The decision to make Metroid Prime as first person perspective wasn’t a Retro decision but a Miyamoto decision. This adds more fuel that any dislike of Metroid Prime Sakamoto might have is more due to him trying to be different than Miyamoto.

For those annoyed at how Retro approached Prime 3, we might want to untie Retro’s hands first before blaming them.

For Prime 3, Retro needed a new gimmick and there was a great divide between the studio and Tanabe about what that should be. What they could agree on was Aran’s character — at least, for the most part. “Samus could best be summarized, at least in my mind, as Boba-Fett with a sense of honor. Everybody hears bounty hunter and, of course, Boba-Fett is synonymous with that for good reason: he’s a very compelling character,” says Walker. “But Samus has a sense of compassion and honor where she’s not in it for the money. She does it to protect humanity. And her upbringing and being raised by the Chozo gave her that sense of nobility that I think many characters lack.”

Samus really isn’t about the money, a truth that confused the developer — and me, upon hearing this story — when it presented Nintendo a gameplay design that appealed to Aran’s chosen occupation. “We were looking for something more along the lines of a mission-based game where Samus collected bounties. And for the life of us we couldn’t understand why [Nintendo was] being so resistive to that concept. And then over the period of days we came to understand that their definition of a bounty hunter is not a bounty hunter. It is not someone who brings in bad guys for money. That concept was completely outside of their definition,” says Walker. Nintendo told Retro that Samus does not actually take bounties for those she hunts. (Someone should tell Nintendo that Aran has officially been labeled a bounty hunter for two decades now, a slight inconsistency.) “So we started joking that Samus was actually a pro-bono hunter. And occasionally we’ll run into those nuances of translation and culture that can sometimes derail us for days.”

What Retro is talking about is a similar design that Blizzard would use for Starcraft 2 in that the main character would go out on ‘missions’ and make money (perhaps buy new items through that money). It could have been an interesting twist, far more interesting than what Retro eventually did with Prime 3.

It was never “Nintendo” being resistive to the concept. It was Sakamoto. Sakamoto is the tinpot Metroid pope. Nothing, story wise, is done without his approval. While Retro, in class, says that it was ‘cultural differences’, we know the real answer now is because Sakamoto is insane. Samus Aran being a bounty hunter and doing missions for money would run entirely counter into a ‘maternal instincts’ Samus Aran. I believe there is another take on this story as well (though I wasn’t able to locate it when doing this post) of Sakamoto shooting down the idea and saying, “No! She is a hero!” Yet, in Starcraft 2, everyone understands Raynor to be the hero despite him doing missions for money. I consider this an example of Sakamoto’s eccentricity holding the Metroid series back.

The Metroid Prime series had two big problems. The first was that everything was in 3d and this made the game very inaccessible to many people. The only way to solve this would have been to make a 2d Metroid which wasn’t the mission for Retro at the time. The other big problem was that there was three Prime games which was draining the well pretty low. In any entertainment, sequels tend to be draining and makes people less excited. Yet, how many series in video games have been able to sustain a sequel let alone two of them?

It is curious that Sakamoto said that a Metroid like his Other M hasn’t come out since Super Metroid as Sakamoto was behind two handheld Metroids during the Prime series

When talking about Other M, Sakamoto says:

“I certainly do get asked that question a lot. During the Prime series, people always asked me when are you going to make a 2D Metroid. So we realized there was a lot of demand there, and that’s actually what drove the initial process to work on this project.”

Is Sakamoto even living in reality? He made 2d Metroids for the Gameboy Advance. In fact, they were released at the same time as Metroid Prime and Metroid Prime 2. Has Sakamoto completely lost his mind that he has re-written history in his head?

Sakamoto’s 2d Metroid of Fusion came out at the same time Metroid Prime did. Despite the much larger Gameboy Advance install base, the audience overwhelmingly chose Metroid Prime. Praises and high review scores was the response to Metroid Prime. Metroid Fusion received complaints and questioning whether it was a real Metroid at all.

“So for all of these people saying that they really want a 2D Metroid, what I’d really like to say to them is I think this is your game. I’d like to see these people play it, and if they still want a purely 2D Metroid game after they’ve had this experience, then they should certainly let me know, then we’ll have to think about what to do next.”

It is astonishing to me that Sakamoto is pretending that his 2d Metroids of Fusion and Zero Mission do not exist.

Metroid Fusion came out at the same time as Metroid Prime did. Fusion sold pretty well due to being a new first party Nintendo game on the very large install base of Gameboy Advance yet it easily got overshadowed and vastly outsold by Metroid Prime.

Handheld games get a pass on many things that console games do not. With Metroid II, the game got a pass on its somewhat area by area design due to it being designed on a handheld. Fusion and Zero Mission got the same pass. However, while Metroid II’s eccentricities was due to the platform (brick Gameboy whose gameplay needed to be able to be stopped at anytime), the eccentricities of Fusion had nothing to do with the platform at all. They were designer originated eccentricities.

Immediately, people complained about them. Metroid Fusion’s complaints appear to be summed up as…

1) Linear Based- Like Metroid II, it was an ‘area by area’ and not like Super Metroid where everything was more intertwined. Unlike Metroid II, which tried to hide this with the planet and earthquakes, Fusion highlighted this that authorization from the computer allowed access to new areas and not by something Samus Aran did (like cause an earthquake). This authorization to advance would be used by Other M to intense complaint from Metroid fans.

2) Setting and Holodecks– Fusion was set entirely on a space station. This made the game feel as if one wasn’t exploring anything or penetrating some rich alien eco-system. The overuse of holodecks shows Sakamoto doesn’t understand science fiction. In science fiction, the holodeck is one of the most hated elements ever and was constantly despised whenever it appeared in Star Trek. Why? It is because the characters were not really doing anything, they were just ‘simulating’ the experience. Having a space station simulate biodomes or act as a type of zoo ruins the adventure and makes it seem as if Samus Aran is playing a video game herself.

3) Fusion Suit– There is nothing more stupid than the Fusion Suit. It looks awful and plays awful. Did Sakamoto watch Alien 4 and think it a great idea to mix alien DNA with the main protagonist? The Fusion suit itself destroyed the Metroid series and ensured every Metroid game, from here on out, was a prequel to Fusion.

4) Adam– Who cares about ‘Adam’? And there is too much text. Metroid is not a reading experience or a character experience.

While the criticism to Fusion was hot, it was tempered that it was a 2d Metroid and was on a handheld (where standards are less). It is likely these criticisms are why Zero Mission tried to be a more traditional Metroid.

As someone who loved NES Metroid, I should like the remake of it. Yet, I despised this game. And looking at the lackluster sales, apparently the oldschool Metroid fans despised it as well. The only saving grace of this game is that it included NES Metroid as an unlockable when you finished the game.

Seriously, wasn’t Metroid already remade with Super Metroid? Why was this game even made in the first place? The answer appears to be that Sakamoto wanted to re-define Metroid and NES Metroid doesn’t jive with his ‘vision’.

Zero Mission piles on with the flaws that Super Metroid introduced and Fusion embraced. NES Metroid was very much a maze like game with rich difficulty and evil creatures. Zero Mission feels like a zoo where enemies serve nothing more than to slow you down from point A to point B. And there is no maze at all. For some reason, areas like the Wrecked Ship, Crateria, and Maridia were not put in. Why not? What was the purpose of making this game at all? If you wanted to play NES Metroid in 16-bit, there was already Super Metroid.

There are some people who really like Zero Mission. But these people treat Metroid as a type of ‘comfort food’, and they see Super Metroid as the same way. These same people would find NES Metroid or Metroid II as ‘unplayable’ because the games actually requires some skill to beat it (as well as crafting your own map). But as the sales numbers show there are not many of these gamers that exist despite their vocality on the local gaming message forum.

Again, the answer to Zero Mission’s strangeness seems to be about Sakamoto’s eccentricity. Anime sequences come and go throughout the game. Most ridiculous is at the end. When Samus flees the exploding Zebes, she is captured by a pirate ship! Clearly this wasn’t in the NES Metroid original! In this final part of Zero Mission, it plays like an entirely different game altogether. Samus Aran runs around in her jumpsuit with only a pistol while trying to run away and keep out of sight from enemies.

There are only two explanations as to why this final part is in the game. Either Sakamoto got bored remaking old Metroid and threw this in, or the entire purpose of Zero Mission was to redefine Metroid on Sakamoto’s terms (with this final part focusing fleshing out, literally, more of Samus Aran).

There were some other handheld Metroid games that came out later on. Metroid Prime Hunters was designed to be more of a Quake game, to demonstrate FPS gameplay on the DS, than a Metroid game. And Metroid Prime Pinball is, of course, a pinball game than a Metroid game. So I am going to ignore those two as they were not trying to be ‘Metroid experience’ games in the first place.

As Nintendo deals with the backlash from Metroid: Other M, the question is ‘how did we get to this point?’ The answer is that the problems did not suddenly appear in a game that was boldly trying to ‘experiment’. The problems of Other M can be seen in less evolved forms back in previous Sakamoto games such as Fusion and Zero Mission.

If Nintendo is serious about making expanding the audience of Metroid, the only solution is to make sure Sakamoto never touches Metroid again.

“So for all of these people saying that they really want a 2D Metroid, what I’d really like to say to them is I think this is your game. I’d like to see these people play it, and if they still want a purely 2D Metroid game after they’ve had this experience, then they should certainly let me know, then we’ll have to think about what to do next.

Source.

The issue is not 2d Metroid versus 3d Metroid. The issue is the fundamentals versus Sakamoto. From Kotaku:

“Retro has their own approach toward Metroid games,” Sakamoto said. “They had their own producer. Their approach to Metroid games has traditionally been the FPA — first person adventure — but my concept was kind of different than that and I was looking for a team that could bring my idea to life.”

To Sakamoto, there is no such thing as ‘fundamentals’ to why Metroid is Metroid. The reason why Metroid Prime was a success, even though it was 3d, was that it stayed true to many of the fundamentals that define Metroid. The criticisms that would come from the Prime games came when Retro distanced themselves from the fundamentals. For example, the ‘story’ and ‘bounty hunters’ of Metroid Prime 3 was not well received. The ‘dark world’ of Prime 2 was not well received. The reason why is not because they are ‘bad concepts’ but because they are not Metroid and go away from the fundamentals that define Metroid. But compared to something like Other M, these complaints amount to little more than nitpicks. Other M is so far away from the fundamentals of Metroid is why people have such intense hostility for the game and even call it “insulting”.

“With Fusion, that game was very story-driven. In that game, I believe I was able to explain Samus as a character, as a person, not just somebody in armor. And I was not only explain Samus but the characters around her… with Super Metroid I showed, through her relationship with the baby Metroid, some of her maternal instincts. Between those two stories I feel I was able to explain Samus as a person. But because Metroid equals Samus, I’d like to develop her character further, as a soldier, as a human, also as a woman. That’s what they’re hoping to do with Other M.”

Absolutely no one thought ‘maternal instincts’ when they played Super Metroid. And no one saw Samus Aran as a person in Fusion. With Fusion, Samus Aran became less human due to the Metroid DNA and virus.

Sakamoto is not connected to any reality. How in the hell can he say any of this stuff? My suspicions is that he already had an idea where he wanted to go with Other M and invented justifications in his mind that validated his direction. So he could tell himself that maternal instincts is fine in Other M because “it was in Super Metroid” which it most certainly wasn’t.

“Our goal in developing Other M,” said Sakamoto, “Is to deliver the kind of Metroid that all fans want to play.”

If this is true, then this is epic fail.

From Kotaku:

“These are all very interesting experiences, especially considering that Metroids are this enemy that you have to kill to progress through the game,” Yoshio Sakamoto, the game series co-creator, told Kotaku in a recent interview. “It’s possible for Samus to feel a bit maternal toward a newborn as she did in this case. That kind of connection between the baby Metroid and Samus was one of the first dramatic opportunities that we really got to hang a lot of story on.”

If anything is clear, it is that Sakamoto has no idea how players are responding to Metroid games. No one, and absolutely no one, even thought of ‘maternal instincts’ with Metroid II and Super Metroid.

“You are going to see a lot further development all of which is connected to this progression you see in the Samus character in the past,” Sakamoto said. “So you get to learn what kind of person she is and how she is connected to the events in her past and how they have made her the person she is in the present moment.”

Why does Sakamoto assume character development has a place in video games at all? No one can point to me a single video game where players are saying “that was excellent character development”.

You saw in the original Metroid series titles and then through Prime there were different glimpses of the Samus character,” he said. “But this is our best opportunity to date to present everything all together about Samus, to give the definitive character sketch and that is going to be something people can draw from as a resource as we pull them into the Metroid universe in the future as well.”

What future Metroid universe? At this point, the future of Metroid is very grim indeed. Why should anyone wish to buy a new Metroid game? Clearly, Sakamoto is not interested in the fundamentals of Metroid but interested in doing something else, this something else fans are not only hostile at but it pulls down the Metroid franchise as a whole.

My great fear is that Nintendo views its games that there will always be another one to make. So it doesn’t matter if the last Zelda game was bad, because there is always another Zelda game in the future. This is not the case of the market. The decline is terminal. The Metroid series may never ever be able to recover from the disaster of Other M (similar in how the Wii has been unable to permanently recover from the disaster of User Generated Content).

The best way to make a bad game is to assume you will be able to make a sequel after it. The best way to make a good game is to assume it is the last game you will ever make.

If you assume the game you make will be your last, one day you will be right.

“There are different emphases in the two series of games. The Samus that we present here is very much our own, but the creators of the Prime series might have different goals and different areas that they want to stress as they go forward.”

There is no acknowledgment of any fundamentals that exist with Metroid. According to Sakamoto, all that exists are different visions of game makers. In other words, talking to Sakamoto about bringing Metroid back to its fundamentals is like talking to a wall. In Sakamoto’s viewpoint, everything is about ‘visions’ and ‘creativity’.

“Samus is a character that fights and she has a lot of deep backstory and a lot of emotional content. That is what is essential here.”

But that isn’t what is essential. No one gives a damn about Samus Aran as a character, let alone her ‘deep backstory’ or ’emotional content’. What the player cares about in a Metroid game is what the player can do. The character is irrelevant because the player cannot control that. What concerns the player is what he or she can control. So the player’s concerns are about the game world, how big and awesome it is, the cool power-ups, the cool enemies to blow up, all the stuff the player can interact with. The player cannot interact with cutscenes which is why video game players reject them. If a player cannot alter the story or interact with it, the player will see the story as ‘bloat’ that ruins their interactive experience.

Sakamoto is said to be a ‘legendary game designer’. Yet, he doesn’t even know the basic 101s of how video games are consumed by customers.

More from Kotaku:

“If we had thought of making this from the ground up as a first-person shooter there wouldn’t have been nearly as many opportunities for us to bring fresh design ideas,” he said. “It wouldn’t have been as fun. Similarly if we had aimed at it being solely 2D there wouldn’t have been as many opportunities here.”

These ‘fresh design ideas’ are not fresh and are ultimately frustrating to the consumer.

Sakamoto broke off from his answer then to ask what I thought of the game. I told him that being a fan of the original series, I loved to see their return to some of those elements. But, I added, I don’t think a game like Metroid could be made now because people would expect more from the experience.

He seemed to agree.

Remember, 2D Metroid, if you just shot at the right height lined up at the target the bullets were going to hit the enemies,” he said. “A lot of people played those games purely out of habit, because they were so immersed in that world at that time.

As you said, some of those games you just couldn’t make now. They have a feeling that has been lost to some extent. But we wanted to bring a little bit of that old feeling back while melding that nostalgia with the evolution of the gameplay experience here.”

What Sakamoto is saying is that the reason why we played games like NES Metroid was because of the immersion and atmosphere, not because of the gameplay or gameplay mechanics (which he calls ‘repetitive’). This, perhaps, also explains why Miyamoto was hell-bent on only making 3d Mario and not making 2d Mario. To him, he probably thought the Super Mario Brothers mechanics were ‘repetitive’ and the true reason why people played the game was because of the immersion of the gameworld and because of Mario the character.

Sakamoto is completely 180 degrees wrong. The mechanics and gameplay, much of what I refer to as the ‘fundamentals’, is precisely the reason why we played it in the first place. It is the reason why we keep playing these games today. The ‘immersion of the gameworld’ is secondary if at all in having any factor. In the 16-bit generation, we watched gamers gravitate to Sonic the Hedgehog as well as Bonk. Despite being different characters and completely different worlds, players were attracted to the solid fundamentals.

This would also explain why Sakamoto keeps fiddling with the fundamental gameplay elements even in the 2d Metroids. It explains why Samus Aran is making Mortal Kombat moves in Other M, why she is acting more and more like a ninja in the handheld Sakamoto Metroids, and why the rich labyrinth and difficulty of Metroid has been lost (“because it is repetitive”). The only thing that is repetitive is Sakamoto’s horrible character development, story, game world (yet another space station), and ‘visions’.

No one is responding to Other M with saying, “We want more character development! Oh yes! More cutscenes! And less of that repetitive gameplay!” The responses are exactly the opposite. Everyone is calling for less character development, less cutscenes, and more of that wonderful ‘repetitive gameplay’. Sakamoto has it completely backwards.

How to Resurrect the Metroid Franchise

Nintendo is underestimating how Other M will harm the series. It is probable that the Metroid franchise has been essentially destroyed at this point. The character of Samus Aran has been ruined. No longer is Samus Aran ‘cool’ anymore. No longer is Metroid ‘cool’ anymore. Other M has made Metroid cross a rubicon where it will never return from. Other M will be the equivalent of the Mario and Zelda CDi games and the Nintendo, of the future, will likely pretend Metroid: Other M never existed (as they do for the CDi games.)

Above: Confession Time: Can you spot the difference in quality between the two clips? I cannot. Other M is the CDi Metroid.

I see only two ways to resurrect the Metroid series from here. The first way is to remake the original Metroid (including Maridia, Crateria, and add in new places) and stick to the fundamentals. Remove all the Sakamoto garbage that has infiltrated the series. This, maybe, would provide a similar experience that made Metroid cool and popular back when the series began. Keep in mind that Super Metroid is nothing more than a Metroid remake as well. This would be like Super Super Metroid. It would be completely 2d game, no Sakamoto ninja bullshit he added in as well. It would stick true to the fundamentals and focus on making a rich, lush labyrinth to explore. Perhaps a designer could come up with some new feature to put in (though I’m not sure how multiplayer could be added to Metroid but anything is possible). In a way, this Metroid would follow a similar course as Mario 5 did.

The other way is to make a 2d Metroid but completely write the Samus Aran character out. After what Sakamoto has done, it is impossible to use the Samus Aran character except for a complete reboot (as the first solution would be). Samus Aran is now a joke character due to her ‘maternal instincts’ and ‘confession time’. Also, Samus Aran has not only a defined past, but a defined future due to the hideous Metroid Fusion suit. Remember, Sakamoto has expressed that the purpose of Other M is to solidify and define the Samus Aran character. This is why her character must be completely abandoned because it is so polluted with Sakamoto baggage.

I know developers like to define their own worlds and dislike having to take marching orders from someone else’s “vision”. This is why I think the second solution will be attractive.

A new 2d Metroid game could be made in the distant past. This would be before Samus Aran was even born. Metroids would not be extinct. They would be numerous and around. The Chozu would not be extinct. They would be around. And there could be other fun new galactic civilizations around. The new main character doesn’t have to be defined well as NES Metroid Samus was barely defined at all. I do not think they should differentiate the new character from Samus Aran’s usual suit. The goal of the game is to resurrect Metroid, not someone to have a vision of another character. With both solutions, Metroid will not be about the character at all. It will be about the gameworld and the Metroids. So the new character wouldn’t need much in definition.

To those who think the second solution wouldn’t work, it worked very well for series such as Castlevania and it worked very well for Link to the Past (a prequel). I think the second solution would be enticing for a developer because there is so much they get to ‘make up’ instead of regurgitate Brinstar and Norfair for the billionth time.

How do you make the Metroid series continue to stay dead? It would be to have Sakamoto assigned to the new 2d Metroid.

Folks, Sakamoto has made 2d Metroids. All Sakamoto can offer us is another Metroid Fusion and a Metroid Zero Mission, both of which would continue to drive the Metroid series into the abyss.

The solution to Metroid is not 2d Metroid. The solution to Metroid is Sakamoto-free Metroid. Sakamoto is not responsible for the rise of Metroid. Sakamoto is responsible for the fall of Metroid. Every action that has caused Metroid to become hated or scorned or become lame has the design fingerprints of Yoshi Sakamoto. If I was Iwata, I would assign him to do something else like make a new Wrecking Crew.

Malstrom charges up his arm cannon.

Sakamoto…. time to go!

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