Posted by: seanmalstrom | January 27, 2019

Nintendo President announces Metroid Prime 4 scrapped to be restarted with Retro Studios

It looks like the rumors were true. Take a look at this…

When I watch videos like this, I actually yell at the screen. But let us, as they say today, ‘unpack’ this.

It is not enough to say Nintendo wants their games to sell as many units as possible. Nintendo is unique among game makers as they are a platform holder, and, as it appears they see themselves now, a collection of intellectual properties. I believe Nintendo is shifting to value the integrity of these IPs more than ‘software sales’ or ‘hardware sales’. In the long run, interesting IPs offer more business options for Nintendo (such as the amusement park and other merchandising) than being a forgotten Beanie Baby or Cabbage Patch Doll toy fad. Nintendo should have enough history by now to really come to this conclusion.

Take a look at Zelda. Zelda, as a series, has a very high ‘pedigree’ of IP and quality standard especially when the series began. You know this because people did not say “This is an action game”, “This is an adventure game”, “This is a RPG game”, no, they said, “It is a ZELDA.” High quality IPs are spoken as their own genre. “It’s a MARIO GAME.” “It’s MARIO KART.” “It’s ZELDA.” And that was all we needed to know. We knew what Zelda was. But Zelda lost popularity further on (comparing sales numbers directly is a no no when you are talking a time span of DECADES and different markets) because of one reason: the IP was losing its integrity. Zelda was little more than some ‘puzzle/adventure’ gameplay with Zelda bells and paint put on. If I replaced the graphics and sound with something else, these ‘Zelda’ games could have been any other game. But you cannot do that with the early Zeldas since the gameplay is so distinct. You can change the graphics and sound and people would still say it is Zelda. With Breath of the Wild, Zelda returned its IP to its former integrity. Only as that as a consequence, Zelda BoW “Wow!” sells big numbers. But even better, the game doesn’t stop selling. It will still be selling DECADES from now. Meanwhile, Skyward Sword is met with a yawn.

Nintendo may not always be making games and hardware in the future. But yet, Nintendo’s greatest ‘fortune’ is its collection of IPs. Nintendo may think, currently or in the past, that the definition of their IP is the Mickey Mouse type character on the cover of the box. But, it isn’t. It is the gameplay that makes the IP and gives it its true feel. When I hear ‘Mario’, I think of jumping around in a platformer. With ‘Zelda’, I think of exploring a world gathing items and weapons and going into dungeons.

So what of Metroid? The fans keep demanding it, yet the sales numbers aren’t there. But the sales numbers do not reveal everything going on. I don’t think Nintendo’s canning of Metroid Prime 4 to restart it with Retro is simply because they didn’t like where the quality level was at. If that were true, Nintendo would have cancelled Metroid: Other M, Metroid: Federation Force, and (hate to say it), Metroid: Samus Returns (and yes, that game is not quality). Yet, now, they are cancelling what I think is JAPANESE DEVELOPMENT work to go for developers from Texas (yee-haw). Does this represent a shift in how Nintendo views Metroid? I think so.

I believe Metroid: Other M was a take on ‘expanding Metroid’ to target new audiences… especially women. I have no idea what was going on with Federation Force. Samus Returns’ quality is difficulty to understand since it is trying to remake an older Metroid. Most people do not differentiate where the old Metroid ends and the Sakamoto begins.

Metroid doesn’t sell for two distinct reasons. One, it is in a Red Ocean market. There is intense competition for ‘sci-fi’ alien games where you run around with a gun. This competition is super saturated on the Xbox and PlayStation consoles (as well as PC). Remember that when the granddaddy of FPS games came out, Doom, the year was 1993 which was after the SNES was out. The second reason why Metroid doesn’t sell big numbers is that it is a game designed for advanced gamers. However, this does not necessarily stifle its sales numbers. I think the first reason, the red ocean of space hunter games everywhere, is what is sucking the oxygen out of the room for the Metroid flame to breathe.

“But Malstrom, why should Metroid be made if there is a red ocean?”

Why should Switch have a FPS, say Fortnite, if it is on every other system?

The point is, there is a market for these type of games. If there are zero of these type of games on the console, this market won’t be on the console at all. Yes, there is intense competition from other platforms. But it is better to show up to fight than cede the playing field entirely. Nintendo, as an entire company, then gets placed with a reputation branding as ‘for children’ or ‘dah casual’ or something else.

The Nintendo fans love Metroid so much because Metroid is the only sci-fi Nintendo game. Let’s look into why Metroid, as an IP, is so cherished. There is precedence:

In the arcades, competition was extremely intense. The customer could step left or right and be in front of a competitor. Games had to be flashy and eye-catching. Controls had to be simple. Pac-Man, Centipede, and other games had very simple controls. PONG sold while Space War didn’t because of the simplicity factor.

Then came one game that wasn’t simple at all. It had this button scheme:

Image result for defender button layout

WTF!? You have a LEVER on the left. A button that says reverse. Then you have FIVE MORE buttons. One of them is ‘hyperspace’…

This is the control scheme of Defender. This ‘complicated’ game was a huge hit which boggled the arcade analysts back in the early 1980s. Why? If you were an experienced arcade game player (like I was, ahem), you couldn’t get your rocks off by playing more Pac-Man or Donkey Kong. You needed something more. Defender scratched that itch. Defender is an extremely challenging game even for arcade games. You will die almost immediately. Advanced games like Defender kept arcade gamers in the arcade and from getting bored.

In 1986, Nintendo released this game:

Image result for metroid nes box art

Here’s the commercial:

The commercial is very revealing. They use an older kid, somewhere a teenager. The teenager in 1986 would have grown up not with NES (as it was current) but with the Atari 2600 and those Gen 2 consoles. This is why he uses the NES Advantage controller. The reason why NES Advantage controllers were everywhere was because this teenager and older grew up with joysticks, not the D-pad. The NES Advantage use is telling us that this is for experienced gamers. The ad blasts about the ‘challenge’ of Metroid.

Is Metroid, for the NES, a challenging game. Fuck yes.

Was it a challenging game in 1986? Or 1989? Fuck yes.

Many youngsters started NES gaming with Super Mario Brothers. They then went to Zelda, Mega Man, Castlevania, Ninja Gaiden, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2. Some went to Metroid. But most of the Metroid players were those who were gaming prior to the NES. If Metroid was not on the NES, the system would have been less interesting.

Metroid is the platform equivalent to Defender. The sound effects and graphics are just as out of this world. The challenge is extreme yet addicting. Metroid is such a troll of a game. Metroid routinely uses fake bosses, fake levels, and keeps messing with your mind.

Metroid was so popular from that single game, it earned its right as the third of the Nintendo triumvirate next to Mario and Zelda. Metroid was so well known that it got featured heavily in Captain N: The Game Master.

Image result for metroid captain n game master

Above: The bad guys of Captain N. Mother Brain, from Metroid, is the big bad guy. King Hippo (why is he blue?) is from Punch Out! Eggplant Wizard is from Kid Icarus.

Not long after Gameboy came out, Nintendo released this:

Image result for metroid 2 box

Metroid 2 was well received. Considering the Gameboy’s limitations, it is amazing this game exists at all. This game was ‘huge’ for the Gameboy especially when the Gameboy doesn’t do scrolling well at all.

Out of the Gameboy library, Metroid 2 is one of the most challenging games. It certainly isn’t a game you give to a kid.

As for Super Metroid, I think that is when the series began to fall apart. Super Metroid didn’t make the same splash the first two games made. One reason was increased competition, a red ocean. But as someone from that time, Super Metroid was just too damn easy. I could beat the game in a rental! This ‘easiness’ certainly made the game age extremely well. When people view Super Metroid today, they are seeing the ‘aged extremely well game’ but not the Metroid market in 1994. Imagine if there was a ‘second quest’ of Super Metroid that was more challenging! People would be thrilled. Metroid is meant to be challenging.

The best selling Metroid is Metroid Prime for Gamecube. Some scoff and say it was because people thought they were buying Nintendo’s ‘Halo killer’. But Metroid Prime 2 and 3 also sold, though not at the same number as the first one. Without Metroid Prime, the Gamecube’s library would be thought much less, and I doubt many gamers would have trusted Nintendo to buy the Wii.

Have you noticed all the Metroid fans out there are experienced Nintendo gamers? Metroid is critical for Nintendo because it keeps those gamers to their system. Mario won’t do it. Zelda may do it. But many gamers gain experience and drift to another console or to PC gaming.

So what is Metroid’s worth? It is anchoring experienced gamers to the Nintendo platform. People say, “You keep playing Nintendo because of nostalgia!” It’s actually for Metroid. We play Metroid. Then we replay Metroid again and again. Metroid is the ‘experienced gamer’ game which is why it keeps singing to us.

Note how my take on Metroid is very different than the ‘Metroid means open world 2d platformer where you get lost and explore everything in dark atmosphere’. The reason why is because there are numerous other games like that… today and when Metroid came out. Zelda and Metroid share very similar gameplay trajectories. Both allow ‘freedom’ yet make you get items and weapons to advance further in the world. While one is fantasy and other is sci-fi, there clearly has to be a distinct difference between Zelda and Metroid as no one recognizes the two as the same. So what is it? Zelda is for the low experienced gamer. Metroid, however, is for the higher experienced gamer.

I always saw Mario games as the introduction to games for new players. How many people grew up on Mario?

Zelda is different from Mario not in that Zelda is HARDER, but Zelda is the game you live inside for a while in order to beat it. Zelda has a distinct world to inhabit.

While Zelda and Metroid both have distinct worlds to inhabit, both have puzzles, both have new weapons and items, both have backtracking and interesting atmospheres, Zelda and Metroid go separate ways when it comes to their target audience. Zelda goes for the less experienced. Metroid goes for the highly experienced. Mario may be Nintendo’s milk, Zelda may be Nintendo’s beer, but Metroid is Nintendo’s wine. Metroid raises the platform to another level (i.e. the level for the advanced gamer).

What is Retro’s demo?

I don’t know. But my idea for a new Metroid would be a sci-fi version of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Zelda BoW “Wow!” has all the gameplay dynamics that would be perfect for Metroid. Although Metroid has its tunnels, it also has a glorious planet overworld. Metroid Prime 1, 2, 3, all running on Gamecube or Wii hardware, are severely limited by that hardware. They had to use tubes to load the assets in the next room. Also, sci-fi assets are less extensive on hardware than fantasy. For example, in fantasy the trees must make sense. In sci-fi, the trees can be off-color, weird shaping, and still be considered ‘great!’.

After seeing the response of Zelda BoW “Wow!” with everyone and its sales, I suspect Retro went this course. And Nintendo would be impressed with it because if Metroid uses the same gameplay magic of Zelda BoW “Wow!”, it will make Metroid far more interesting and popular. It also saves Nintendo from making another Zelda BoW “Wow!” since they have Retro make one with Metroid Prime 4.

At least, that is my theory. I highly doubt Retro will do the Gamecube style of ‘tunnels everywhere so we can pre-load assets!’ because the hardware is at a level where they don’t have to do so. I think Metroid Prime 4 will be more Tallon Field and less ‘Magma Caverns’ if you know what I mean.

Above: This is what we want.



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