Feature: Staff Roundtable - Metroid's Past, Present and Future

Primed and ready

James: Then of course Retro did something very traditional with Donkey Kong Country Returns, though we'll discuss that another time! How do you feel Prime evolved the series as a whole?

Jacob: Its evolution is kind of weird, actually isn't it? Metroid Prime 1 was so incredibly Metroid; it really didn't feel like anything else on the market. There was really no exposition, voice acting — just the subtle storytelling that the player discovers via scanning the environment. The only thing driving you forward was your desire to explore and escape, eventually. And then Prime 2 came along and ruined a lot of that, turning it into a universe-saving Zelda story. With a lot of little Zelda gameplay tokens, light world, dark world, etc.

Prime 3 really captured the best of both worlds, I thought.

Thomas: I think there were subtle changes that, in my experience, made the game more accessible. I often struggle in the older 2D entries to figure out what to do without a guide, whereas the Prime games provided simple hints, as well as the environments being easy to distinguish. The scanning visor really helped with that. We'll have to come back to Echoes later, I want to defend it!

James: Well, now's your chance, Thomas! Defend when ready!

Thomas: Okay then! For one thing, I think the Prime series follows the 'Star Wars' plot. Number 1 is full of storyline, introducing characters and their enemies. Number 2 is dark, sinister and has a moody tone. Number 3 is all action, wrapping up the story in a burst of explosions. Echoes really drew me in, with the idea of two conflicting worlds, with the Ing being classic villains. The introduction of Dark Samus, the varied environments and cool weapons really did it for me. And actually, I think Samus was just saving one planet, whereas the universe-saving kicked in with Corruption.

Jacob: You're right about her just saving the planet, that was my bad. Here's my issue with 2: the light world, dark world thing just wasn't effective, and not because I had seen it in a half-dozen games before. It didn't work because the "light world" already felt pretty dark to begin with. The worlds were artistically different, I guess, but both seemed pretty drab and in need of a savior. The dark world in Twilight Princess, for example, is genuinely disturbing, especially compared to the lush landscapes of Hyrule. Prime 2's dark world was more about introducing new gameplay concepts. That's fine, and I definitely had fun with the game, it just wasn't the flawless success that its predecessor (and in my opinion, its sequel) was.

James: For me, I never really gelled with MP2 either just because I found the whole shooting-crystals things so incredibly tedious. But then by the time the third game came around... wow. It attracted a lot of attention for its controls, but what else made it noteworthy in your opinions?

Jacob: The art direction was just absolutely off the charts; it's clear Retro was inspired by the Wii's superior hardware, and even though the Wii is often sneered at as a differently shaped GameCube, if you play Prime 1 and Prime 3 side by side, the leap in graphical quality is staggering.

Thomas: I think, in gameplay terms, it was a significant shift away from MP1 and MP2. When I played through the Trilogy in order, it became obvious that Corruption was much more action orientated. In some respects it was slightly more linear, and helped the gamer more, but it was executed so well that it felt like a natural progression for the series.

Jacob: Yeah, I'm glad you mentioned that, because that jump to a more action-and-story oriented Metroid game really set the table for Other M, I think. Obviously the storytelling in Prime 3 is a lot less intrusive, but it's one of the reasons that I didn't find Other M's so-called "radical departure" all that...well, radical.

James: So you think Other M was a more natural progression than general perception would have it? Thomas, how do you feel Samus's most recent adventure fits in?

Thomas: I think Other M does pick up the MP3 ball and run with it; without getting bogged down in franchise timelines. By trying to merge 2D and 3D gaming, and pushing on with story and action, it does move on from MP3. I think a lot of negative reaction was that fans objected to Samus's portrayal. Rather than accept what Nintendo were doing with their character, people focused on their own perception and perhaps didn't take the game at face value. I'm not sure Super Metroid, released today, would grab gamers, whereas Other M tried to take retro stylings, but spruce it up with some modern gaming conventions.

Jacob: Maybe it's because of its placement in the timeline, but Other M always felt like a game that said "this is where the series is at now," rather than "this is where the series is going," so I think that if gamers took the latter perspective to be true, then yeah, I can see how they'd be a little worried, because the game is far from perfect. But after playing through Super, Zero Mission and Prime 1 right before Other M came out, I found the game to be a really refreshing departure.

James: The real question which Jacob so skilfully touched upon then is: where is Metroid going?

Jacob: Well whether you liked the game or not, Nintendo has definitely heard the loud minority of Other M haters (and it is a minority — its critical scores and sales are above average), so I doubt we'll see another Metroid game with quite so intrusive of a story. But Nintendo seems to be taking an “everything old is new again” approach with its franchises, lately — Super Mario 3D Land is taking a lot of cues from Super Mario Bros. 3, DK Country Returns was a call back to the SNES original and even the new Mario Kart game is bringing back coins. So I think the gamers who have been crying for an old-school sidescrolling Metroid just might get their wish.

Thomas: I think we'll see two directions. I think the 3DS will see the long rumoured 'Metroid Dread', and I agree that it will go back to a more conventional 2D style, with some nice 3D backgrounds thrown into the mix. I think the Wii U, on the other hand, may get a first person game along the lines of Prime, but utilising the new controller and technology in interesting ways.

James: I think Wii U will most likely go first-person again — that controller is made for a scan visor, right? — but as for 3DS, who knows? DS had Metroid Prime: Pinball after all!

Thomas: I don't think pinball is what the 3DS needs! I reckon 3DS Metroid will be a big reveal next year, but the 2011 'Holiday' period is already packed with releases.

James: Agreed, there's no room in this year's line-up, but we'll most likely see Samus on 3DS next year. Here's hoping anyway!

Thanks to Jacob and Thomas for their time and insight. We have plenty of Metroid content lined up so stick with us and celebrate the bounty hunter's birthday!

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