25 years ago, Nintendo released the original Metroid on the world, kicking off a franchise that has hit incredible highs and suffered the odd low point too. Here news editor James Newton is joined by reviewers Jacob Crites and Thomas Whitehead to discuss the series, its heritage and where it might go in the future.
James Newton: This week marks the 25th anniversary of the original Metroid, and I'm joined by two of Nintendo Life's writers to celebrate. Please introduce yourselves.
Jacob Crites: Hey, I'm Jacob Crites, and I do download reviews, features...stuff. I do stuff.
Thomas Whitehead: Hey, I'm Thomas, I write reviews and the occasional feature. I stare at dusty manuscripts and publish eBooks, the usual career choices.
James: Just briefly, can you both explain a little about the first time you remember encountering Metroid?
Jacob: My first memory of Metroid, and it's one of my earliest gaming memories in general, is Samus' ship lowering down in the rain at the beginning of Super Metroid. And then that music plays...God, that music...
Thomas: It's shameful, but my first experience was Metroid Prime 3: Corruption on Wii; we'd always had Sega consoles. It blew me away, and I've been working through the back catalogue and new releases since.
James: Don't worry Thomas, I'll hold the readers away from you! Talking about Prime though, that's what we're really here to touch on. What do you both remember about the original Metroid Prime at the time of its release?
Jacob: I was born in 1992 so I was still pretty young when it came out, but what I do remember distinctly is not being surprised. That sequence I talked about in Super Metroid? That's almost exactly how we're introduced to the world of Metroid Prime. I was just watching my uncle play, but seeing that ship lower down into the grassy alien terrain... it felt like Metroid to me.
Thomas: I remember reading about it, and the critical acclaim was deafening. It was almost enough for me to pack in PC gaming in that period and get a GameCube. It seemed that critical acclaim and commercial success weren't exactly in sync, though.
James: Well, it certainly did light up the world critically. What do you think it was about the game that got reviewers so entranced?
Jacob: Well I think expectations had a lot to do with it, because going back and reading the previews and headlines when that game was first announced, it seemed like almost everybody thought it was a bad idea. So when they picked up the controller and realized that not only did it feel exactly like Metroid, but it set a new standard in art direction, immersion and subtle, unobtrusive storytelling, they went berserk.
Thomas: That's absolutely right. The world that you play through is just so immersive. Not only does it look great, but the balancing and design of the environments just urges you to try the next room, or backtrack to that door that was locked. They just nailed the design, and misgivings about 3D Metroid just melt away as a result.
James: You both mention misgivings about a first-person Metroid game - bet those critics look fairly silly now. Jacob, why do you think people were so reluctant about the game's premise before launch?
Jacob: When people hear First Person, they're really thinking First Person Shooter. And, of course, you are in fact shooting things. Samus has a gun. So I guess people were just worried that action would take the front seat to the classic exploration. Plus, the GameCube hadn't really proven itself with the FPS genre in general, thanks to its weird controller.
Thomas: Also, us gamers can be strange creatures. We crave excitement and innovation, but cling to favourite styles and franchises and want to avoid change. I guess concerns about the console and controller played into that.
Jacob: Yeah. Well, look at Other M, not to jump the gun. People wanted something different. They got something different. They didn't like it.
James: I suppose the fact Retro Studios was hired to make the game didn't help either. An unproven studio with a fan-favourite franchise in a new genre? No wonder people were suspicious...
Thomas: That's a good point about Retro Studios. It's interesting to look back at some 'making of' videos that came out recently, and Nintendo themselves were apparently nervous about a new dev taking the franchise in a new direction.
Jacob: You know what really surprised me about all of that stuff, is that it was Miyamoto's idea to take the game into first person. It seems so blatantly against his typical design philosophies, but I guess it just goes to show you that the game was never going to be anything but a first person ADVENTURE. Shiggy knew it could work.
James: Knowing Miyamoto he probably decided on that about three weeks from launch. "Ah, to Hell with it, let's do FPS!"