Talking Point: Super Metroid's 20th Anniversary Reminds Us Of What We Are Missing
Posted by Thomas Whitehead
New Metroid games must be coming, right?
Today brought us a notable landmark, with the much-loved Super Metroid celebrating its 20th Anniversary. It's enough to make some of us feel old, but more importantly acts as a testament to the title's exceptional quality; you can play it now on your still shiny Wii U and it stands up to scrutiny. Visually it's akin to the very-best pixel-based visuals a current download-only developer of the top order could produce, but its core design, gameplay and soundtrack have lost none of their lustre. It's a masterpiece of the Super NES and all eras.
It also reminds us that, in an unfortunate scenario getting increasingly frustrating with each passing month, it's a series that's been absent since the divisive Metroid: Other M on Wii; that was in Autumn / Fall 2010, and due to its presentation and design choices alienated some fans. To find the last broadly acclaimed Metroid title you have to go back to Metroid Prime 3: Corruption in 2007, which was the concluding part of Retro Studio's outstanding Metroid Prime Trilogy. So it's been over three-and-a-half years since a title that caused arguments throughout Nintendo communities, and we're approaching seven years since Corruption, five if you enjoyed the Trilogy edition on Wii. Without wanting to cause too many wails of despair, we can't help but observe that the absence of confirmed projects for the franchise leave us with a bit of a wait yet, unless Nintendo pulls a shock "out in 2014" announcement soon.
There's always hope, of course, with the rather fun Metroid Blast in Nintendo Land showing Nintendo hasn't forgotten about the brand, with later comments from Shigeru Miyamoto that the ideas in that mini-game may emerge in hypothetical future games pleasing some; yet the launch title also included Takamaru's Ninja Castle, so let's not get too carried away. It feels like an odd scenario that a franchise rich in lore and with terrific pedigree is sitting dormant, especially as it's typically been a strong performer in the West.
Perhaps that last point gets us to the core of the issue, as it's in Japan that this franchise doesn't blow up the sales charts. Let's not forget that despite its worldwide teams and brand power, Nintendo is very much a product of Japanese corporate culture, with its business decisions often reflective of its native environment. When breaking that down it's clear that this Japan-centric approach can be a positive in defying trends from elsewhere and surprising consumers, while on the flipside it can undoubtedly be a negative. At present, meanwhile, Nintendo is facing problems in the home console market, and is reacting with some of its safest franchises that cover as many territories as possible — though Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is struggling in Japan, it must be said.
Even beyond debates about Nintendo's desire to prioritise the most bankable franchises, which we'd argue Metroid can be outside of Japan, thinking about what makes Super Metroid resonate with so many even today brings us to its art-style, design and gameplay. As we suggested in our article directing your attention to the anniversary, Super Metroid did an outstanding job of evoking suspense, intrigue and an adventurous spirit. It's also wonderfully alien and dark, with some of us in Nintendo Life HQ saying it's the perfect game for classic movie Alien, not in terms of storyline — obviously! — but in the foreboding environments and tone that's set. What it delivers beyond what any movie can hope to achieve, also, is a diversity in locations and creatures that is a delight, with many moments from the game no doubt ingrained in some gamer's memories.
A reason that the first Metroid Prime earned such critical acclaim was that it successfully recreated the world of Super Metroid — indirectly at least — and transposed the best elements of the 2D classic into a 3D adventure. The Trilogy as a whole perhaps felt so complete, when all was said and done, as Retro Studios then went on to express itself with alternative ideas and approaches: Metroid Prime 2: Echoes was darker in its storytelling while incorporating two realities for the same world, while Corruption was infused with a little more bombast and a Hollywood blockbuster approach that took the adventure to multiple planets and locations.
As for Other M, there were objections to the control scheme but most of all — it seemed — to the space-opera storytelling and portrayal of Samus Aran. Comparisons to Metroid Fusion are surely valid, however, as a similar tone of narrative — not to mention a fairly linear approach — was also to be found in that Game Boy Advance title. Both were directed and written by Metroid co-creator Yoshio Sakamoto, which is illuminating in itself, and the Wii title perhaps simply gave Sakamoto-san the chance to incorporate the cinematic storytelling that was hinted upon in Fusion.
In any case, it's in considering Super Metroid and the Prime trilogy that we're left yearning for the overdue return — or at least an announcement — of a new entry in the series. What the sci-fi IP also gives Nintendo is a chance to remind gamers that there's a little more to its output than bright visuals and delightful fun. Those are excellent qualities to have, yet the Wii U library to date has lacked strong first-party content with a darker tone and more mature setting. We advocate and support the joy games like Super Mario 3D World can bring, yet much of Nintendo's output in HD has been accessible, cheerful content. It's understandable, but we'd love to delve into an alien world, be drawn in by its depth and stunning imagery, and at appropriate moments fire a blaster at a Space Pirate's face. A first-person adventure, in particular, would give an alternative flavour to the cornea-burning content already on the system. Variety is the spice of life, and some frankly mediocre third-party ports don't cut it.
In an ideal world we'd probably be willing to sacrifice a limb for a dual release. A common refrain from within the Nintendo Life community is that it'd love to see some Super NES games on the 3DS Virtual Console, and Super Metroid is always one of the first games to be mentioned. Perhaps it's from the frustration at the teasing and then disappearance of the ever-elusive Metroid Dread, a project that — in our dreams — is a 2D entry in the series to rival the 16-bit classic. If Nintendo could simultaneously release a 3D adventure on Wii U and a 2D 3DS game that serves as a prequel or accompaniment, we'd possibly lose our heads. Think of a Batman: Arkham Origins / Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate arrangement, only far superior.
Ultimately, we love that Nintendo continues to provide irreverent, colourful and, most importantly, fun entertainment, distinguishing itself with that approach. Yet we know that, in the right circumstances, it can create worlds full of alien beings, intimidating areas and engrossing suspense. It's time for that side of Nintendo — potentially via a second-party studio such as Retro Studios — to come back, and Metroid is the IP to make it happen.