So it’s almost E3 time again, when we get to sit here and make wild, baseless speculations about what games are going to be announced this year. Rather than toss out a whole list of games I’d like to see, I’m going to focus on a single game: Metroid. As a huge fan of the series, I’m probably more than a little bit biased, but there really does stand a good business case for Nintendo to release a new Metroid game right now. Nintendo has two pieces of hardware that could make for a wonderful new Metroid entry, the WiiU and 3DS both offer compelling reasons to house a new entry to the franchise, so let’s break them down separately, starting with the WiiU.
Nintendo needs to start moving consoles. Period. They need something that will show off what the system is truly capable of, outside of more Mario games. Mario Kart 8 is a big step in the right direction, but they need to keep their momentum going. The big thing that the WiiU is really missing right now is a good first person game. Something unique and exclusive to the system that people would want to buy the console for. This is where a new Metroid Prime comes in. Way back when in the Gamecube days, a little studio named Retro came along and decided the world needed more Metroid, but that the series needed to be brought into the modern era. Their solution was Metroid Prime, a game that Retro Studios called a “first person adventure game”. While it may have ostensibly been a first person shooter, the mechanics were nothing like anything seen in the genre before. For all intents and purposes it was a first person Super Metroid, and it was brilliant. Metroid Prime showed off what the Gamecube was truly capable of. Using an art style that more than made up for any technical limitations of the console, Metroid Prime was not only one of the best looking Gamecube games, but one of the finest looking games of the entire console generation. How many first person shooters from the Gamecube era still look good today and not horribly dated? Not many, and two of them are Metroid Prime entries. Now Nintendo is in a very similar situation with the WiiU, their console is in a distant 3rd place, and while it’s a fairly capable machine in and of itself, it lags behind the competition noticeably. What they need is to prove what can truly be done within the limitations of the console, something to bring out the very best of what it can do. Retro Studios have proven in the past on both the Gamecube and the Wii that they can bring out the best of Nintendo’s hardware, and Nintendo desperately needs a convincing first person shooter to not only keep up with the times, but to surpass them with the deep, unique adventuring that only the Metroid series can provide.
The other option is a side-scroller for the WiiU. Again, Retro Studios showed their chops in this arena on the Wii with Donkey Kong Country Returns, and Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze for the WiiU. Both were excellent games that took full advantage of their hardware. More importantly, the games stayed true to Donky Kong Country’s SNES roots. There hasn’t been a true side-scrolling Metroid game made since Zero Mission on the Game Boy Advance. Other M was trying to be too many things at once (among other problems). While a side-scrolling Metroid could certainly work on the WiiU alongside Tropical Freeze, I don’t think it’s the best place for it.
Enter the 3DS. Metroid and handhelds have a long history together, going back to Metroid II: The Return of Samus on the original Game Boy. In fact, there has been a Metroid title on every handheld Nintendo has made, something which can’t be said about their consoles. The last portable entry was Metroid Prime Hunters, a slightly delayed launch title for the original DS. The series is long overdue for a portable entry. The problem with Hunters is that it tried to be a competent first person game on a handheld that just didn’t allow for it. The horsepower was there, but the controls weren’t. With the 3DS’ slide pad, and wide screen format, it is very much doable now. Especially with the increased power. First person would still be tricky with a single analog stick, but look at what Retro did with the controls for the Prime games on the Gamecube’s controller; I think they could find a way to make it work, but I’d prefer they didn’t. What the 3DS needs is an awesome new side-scrolling Metroid. What I want to see is an all new adventure for Samus, done with an art style not unlike The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, they could even tack on some 3D to add depth to the backgrounds. The 3Ds has everything needed to finally give us a modern take on Super Metroid: it has the controls, the horsepower, the features, it’s all there. The 3DS doesn’t need the help that the WiiU needs to sell units, but the Metroid series needs help from 3DS to sell itself.
You see, as much as you could make a strong business case for a new Prime on the WiiU, I don’t really think it would succeed. I have no doubt the game would be amazing, but I do have serious dounts that it could draw in enough people right now to truly be a system seller. For one, the Metroid series may be fantastic, but it’s also a bit niche, and the number of people who are die-hard Metroid fans, and would buy a console just to play it, but don’t already have a WiiU is probably pretty small. Plus, as great as the games are, they aren’t likely going to be enough to pull most FPS fans away from Call of Duty, not if they have to buy a new console to do it.
Furthermore, before a mainstream console release would have any real chance of success, the Metroid series needs to play damage control. Team Ninja dropped the ball pretty hard with Other M, and the sales figures reflected it. The damage that was done to the series’ reputation cannot be ignored. Before gamers are going to trust another big-budget hyped up Metroid console release, they need to know that they won’t be getting another Other M. The series needs to redeem itself by going back to its roots, but also by being put out to the largest possible audience. The 3DS offers a much, much wider player base than the WiiU, so what better place to get the game into people’s hands than by putting it onto one of the most successful video game systems ever made? After Nintendo has regained gamers’ trust in the franchise, then they can try and make their big console play with a new Prime title.
So what’s the take-away from my little rant here? If there is one thing I want from E3 this year, it is for an announcement trailer for a new side-scrolling, Retro Studios developed Metroid for the 3DS. There is nothing else in the entire industry that could make me happier than that announcement.