Talking Point: The Future of Metroid
Posted by Thomas Whitehead
Where next, Samus?
It’s a big anniversary for Metroid, joining Mario and Zelda in the 25 year club. It’s interesting to note that there hasn’t been much fanfare from Nintendo, with the upcoming 3DS ‘Ambassador’ release of GBA classic Metroid Fusion being the only sign of Samus this year. It seems that as a franchise, Metroid is very much ‘in development’; we don’t doubt that new Metroid games are in the works, but there have been no announcements of what direction the series will take. As gamers, we therefore feel it is our duty to speculate wildly and share our hopes and dreams for the franchise. None of what follows is fact, or even genuine rumour, but rather some ideas of what Samus’s next adventures may bring.
Blasting out of the screen
Let’s kick things off with the 3DS. As mentioned above, early adopters of the 3DS are due a treat later in the year, with a free copy of Metroid Fusion promised as part of the Ambassador programme. Although Metroid is typically associated with major home console releases, Nintendo’s handhelds have also delivered some classics: Metroid Fusion and Metroid: Zero Mission on the GBA both brought 2D gameplay from the NES/SNES era into the 21st Century. The only entry on the DS – no, we’re not counting pinball spin-offs – was Metroid Prime: Hunters, which took a different approach by incorporating the 3D first-person gameplay of the GameCube and Wii Prime series. The controls were an interesting idea, particularly aiming with the stylus, though they didn’t necessarily suit everyone. So what can we expect on the 3DS — 2D or 3D?
Our prediction: 2.5D. Although upcoming titles on the platform such as Kid Icarus: Uprising will utilise stylus aiming, our guess is that Metroid on the 3DS will revert to a more traditional, 2D gameplay style. It’s safe to say that a 2D handheld Metroid entry is long overdue; anyone heard of Metroid Dread? First rumoured in 2005 as a DS release, Nintendo and series creator Yoshio Sakamoto have both maintained silence on the subject. Fans desperate for the game to see the light of day even picked up on a hidden message in Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, a scan visor entry stating that “Metroid project ‘Dread’ is nearing the final stages of completion”; it is likely that Retro Studios included this as an inside joke. Even as recently as January this year, a cheeky tweet from UK celeb Jonathan Ross prompted a barrage of Metroid Dread 3DS rumours, all taking his comments out of context. What's obvious is that Metroid fans want the project to happen, or at the very least a new 2D handheld entry.
It may seem contradictory to refer to the 3DS as the perfect console for a 2D Metroid experience, but with creative game design it could be an exciting prospect. The 3D display could be used in a couple of ways; layered environments where Samus boosts to the background or foreground, or even 3D areas within a 2D control scheme. Some ideas could be taken from Metroid: Other M; it may not be everyone’s favourite game, but there are elements of the title that could work perfectly. That title employed 2D gameplay principles in a 3D environment. It wasn't always flawless though, especially as Samus was controlled with the Wii Remote’s small D-Pad, and missiles could only be fired by pointing at the screen; a transition that not all gamers enjoyed.
However, with improved level design, more exploration and less linearity, the ideas in Metroid: Other M could work well on the 3DS. The Circle Pad will allow for fluid movement, first person visor scanning could be activated with a press of a button, with the system’s gyroscope controls being perfectly suited to changing the viewing angle in an immersive manner. If a middle ground between Super Metroid and Metroid: Other M gameplay could be achieved, utilising elements of the first person scanning first pioneered in the Prime series, we think the 3DS could help to take 2.5D Metroid forward, perhaps in a manner less polarising than Other M.
See U on Wii U, Samus?
When looking at the Wii U console unveiling at E3 2011, die-hard Metroid fans may have thought of one thing above all else: that tablet controller is the perfect scan visor. Some demonstrations of the tablet indicated that the embedded screen can provide a 360 degree view of the game world, with the image on the television being the front view, while facing the tablet in other directions provides different perspectives of the same game environment. The visor scanning mechanic from the Metroid Prime series would be a terrific fit for this concept, making an already engrossing gameplay mechanic even more involving for the gamer.
The Wii U tablet could be utilised in other ways, of course. The most obvious application would be as a map display and general area for accessing weapons, suit upgrades and game information. That would be the least creative implementation of the device, certainly less so than as a scan visor. More creative options are on the table, and going back to the E3 concept demos, Battle Mii actually featured Metroid characters in an interesting way. Granted, it was a cartoony Mii related Metroid demo, but it involved two gamers with Wii Remotes and Nunchuks using Samus-like characters to try and shoot down a third player, controlling Samus’s ship with the Wii U tablet. The tablet player had a completely different view from the others, with a view of the ground below the ship to try and shoot the land based players.
So how can these ideas be pulled together into a single title? The most obvious answer is another title following the template of the Prime series, a first-person adventure shooter, with plenty of environment scanning with the Wii U tablet. That in itself would be terrific, but the Battle Mii demonstration does suggest that, as an extra facet of the gameplay, there could be some intriguing sections of gameplay using the ship as aerial support. Perhaps Samus is involved in a difficult battle, and calls in her ship for some assistance. While Samus takes cover on the ground with the TV maintaining her perspective, the ship could be activated on the tablet controller, and manoeuvred to perform bombing runs on surrounding enemies. If this feature was implemented well, it could make for some exciting battle scenes. With the dual stick setup, the Wii U could be an opportunity for Metroid to grab a share of the lucrative first-person shooter market, but with a healthy dose of adventure and Samus magic included. The Metroid Prime series deserved wider recognition, perhaps the gameplay opportunities of the Wii U technology can take it to the next level.
These are just a couple of our own ideas for how the 3DS and Wii U could take the Metroid franchise forward. It is a series that has explored so many gameplay styles and genres – yes, including pinball – so it is safe to assume that Nintendo will continue to surprise. We just hope that it takes the positives and negatives of the recent Prime series and Other M, incorporates some old-school Super Metroid magic with new ideas and gives gamers more definitive Metroid gaming to enjoy.
What direction do you want the Metroid series to take? 2D, 2.5D, 3D, which perspective works best? Finally, which platform will serve Metroid best, 3DS or Wii U? We’d love to hear your thoughts, so share them with us in the comments below.