"Nintendo plays things too safe" is a common criticism we hear from people across the vast swamp of cynicism that is the internet. It is a criticism that has always struck us as a little odd, because it's common knowledge that Nintendo often performs risky Frankenstein-like experiments with its wealth of existing franchises. Just look at the sheer amount of variation across a series such as Star Fox, which has gone from on-rails 3D space battling, to adventure, to partly turn-based strategy in the space of six titles. We could make similar observations with a number of other series; remove recurring characters from the 2D and 3D Metroid titles and they might as well be different franchises entirely.
Metroid: Other M was the product of one of Nintendo's more recent experiments. Samus Aran was torn from the loving arms of Retro Studios in order for her next spacefaring adventure to be partly outsourced to Team Ninja (of Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive fame). The end result was a game that was a stylish but bizarre mashup of the Metroid series' 2D and 3D gameplay, with a much heavier focus on story. Despite the amount of hype surrounding the game, Other M's 'greatest' achievement was that it successfully polarised the Metroid fan base upon release. While many fans enjoyed the fleshed out Metroid Universe and flashy melee combat, many others came to resent Samus' apparent transformation from a strong-willed and tough female protagonist to a seemingly submissive, whiny girl.
It seems clear that a return to the style of Metroid: Other M would probably be a very ill-advised move on Nintendo's part, and though we'd absolutely love another instalment in the Metroid Prime sub-series, Retro Studios may be moving on to different projects. So — given Nintendo is sometimes quite insistent on trying new things — where could this take the Metroid series in the future? The answer has been staring us in the face for over a decade. Horror.
Think back to when you played Metroid Fusion all those years ago (and if you haven't played it, download it on the eShop or buy it on eBay as soon as you can). Remember the SA-X? Remember the sheer amount of tension that small collection of pixels caused simply by walking menacingly into a silent room? Nintendo was able to make you feel so on edge and so helpless with the SA-X with what appeared to be relatively little effort. It was really quite admirable and the SA-X remains one of the Metroid series' most memorable villains for that very reason.
Such tension wasn't exclusive to the 2D Metroid titles. Using the skills it had honed while creating Prime's Tallon IV, Retro Studios successfully crafted another mysterious and exotic alien world called Aether for the sequel, Metroid Prime 2: Echoes. Only — thanks to a dimensional fissure — Aether had an 'evil' twin known as Dark Aether. This place existed as a twisted, unholy shadow of the original where everything — even the air — was hostile. Gone was any whimsical sense of adventure and exploration that fans of the original Prime may have had; you had no idea what was lurking in those shadows and, for the most part, could barely leave the atmospheric safe zones to find out. The threats came to you and there wasn't much you could do about it.
Now, imagine an entire Metroid game built around making you feel tense, fearful and helpless as you did the first time you encountered the SA-X clone or exploring Dark Aether. Metroid has always had all the elements of a potentially great horror title, but it's just never collated them in such a way that would make it one. Narrow corridors, creepy ambient soundtracks, grotesque creatures, abandoned facilities, strange environments and the occasional jump scare are all staple features of most titles in the series. However, more often than not you've got an arm cannon filled to the brim with plasma to dispatch threats and more energy tanks than you can shake a Dachora at, so you seldom think that you're in any sort of danger; even the vulnerability in Dark Aether is softened after a short while. Focusing these established elements more towards horror and reducing how self-assured players can get when they're in Samus' shoes could make for a very appealing experience.
It's interesting to note that Nintendo may have had a horror-themed Metroid title on the mind in the past. Dedicated Metroid fans will know about Metroid: Dread, a title that cropped up a fair few times in release schedules around 2005-2006, but quietly disappeared (but not before Retro Studios made a cheeky reference to it in Metroid Prime 3). The very title "Dread" implies...well...dread. We know virtually nothing of the game but it's certainly possible Nintendo knew the merits of a more horror-oriented Metroid title. Sadly Dread has been officially shelved, but who knows what the future has in store.
Though we're unsure of Nintendo's horror-related intentions, those of other developers and their franchises seem pretty clear. While big names such as Resident Evil and Dead Space have fully or partly renounced their horror ways — much to our displeasure — others are determined to keep the genre alive and screaming. The Creative Assembly want to undo Gearbox's mistake with a definitive Alien experience in the form of Alien: Isolation, while Shinji Mikami's The Evil Within promises to be what contemporary Resident Evil titles should have been. It seems there's a renewed interest in making people jump out of their seats, so would it be so bad to join that bandwagon?
In a world where horror titles are creeping back into fashion, HD Nintendo gaming now exists and half the Metroid fan base needs something fresh to forget Other M, soon would be a perfect time to hear about Samus' next venture. Horror is a genre Nintendo hasn't dabbled in a lot and we think the Metroid series — with all its aforementioned elements — is just begging for a scary makeover. Do you agree?