August 6th, 1986 was the day that the first Metroid video game was released for the Famicom and NES. It featured a large open ended world where our hero was charged with the duty of exploring its vast wonders to destroy enemies, find upgrades and overcoming adversity against all odds. Also it was extremely hard! I don’t know anyone who actually sat down and completed the first Metroid because of how vast and harrowing Planet Zebes is and how challenging the NES game was. Regardless of difficulty though it was still a masterpiece that was highly praised for doing something that wasn’t even thought possible with the current technology. We see this phenomena again with the release of Super Metroid which is probably the most appropriate title for a game to ever come out. By all extents and purposes that was a literal SUPER version of the original Metroid game. Improved controls, larger over-world, more upgrades, better sound, better graphics–by building on Metroid’s formula, Super Metroid became a game that many consider to be one of the greatest achievements in video gaming history. It spawned an age of speed runners, it horrified and amazed new comers to the series, and I imagine its when most people found out that Samus was actually a girl which isn’t a big deal now, but back then it was the first to have a female protagonist.
But you already know all of this. What I want to talk about is the future of Metroid because you may have noticed that Nintendo did not do anything for the 30th anniversary, leaving it to fans to take the hype garnering into their own hands. Further more, if you were to look up new games coming under the Metroid title you would only see this. Federation Force’s focus on chibi graphics and having a multiplayer setting do not remind me very much of the source material and has a lot of fans outraged in this departure to what they have known and loved for thirty years. Me? I’m not a fan of the title either, but I am a fan of the concept and have high hopes that the Metroid series is moving in a direction that can let us see another game before another thirty years passes by.
So, what makes people like Metroid games? The sci-fi mock Alien setting for one thing, and that still seems to be present in Federation Force, but, part of that setting came from the isolated perspective of one hero–Samus. The biggest complaint about Federation Force is the lack of Samus in the game because it goes against everything we know about Metroid. I will try my very best to not mention Other M while writing this article but…even Other M at least got that right??? I know, I know, Other M is the game that must not be named but man I was pretty excited about it when it was announced so I can’t help but try to take small victories where I can.Without Samus there is no dynamic between you and fighting the reoccurring boss Ridley, no reason to fall into the hands of your parental figures, the ancient Chozo guardians to heal or get upgrades and Samus is one of the few female protagonists that aren’t overly sexualized which helps contribute to the larger than life feel a Metroid game entails.
Despite the fact you speed run the game to try and get her to take her clothes off. Her dedication to completing the mission no matter what and her determination when faced against perilous odds are what I like to believe people respect Samus the most for. When you play a Metroid game you are playing as the most feared bounty hunters in the galaxy, which is not just some little lore tid bit, its a phenomena you see first-hand the longer you play the games. Let’s just look at Samus’s history here shall we?
I dunno about you, but that is a lot of ass kicking in any one humans lifetime. And here is probably Nintendo’s first problem when developing a new Metroid game. Where to go from where she already is. I think that the developers find Fusion as the ending to Metroid and perhaps, in an effort to maintain its purity, try not to expand past that date. I mean at that point all the Metroid are dead, the X are all dead, Phaaze is destroyed, the SA-X is dead, hell even Ridley is dead. She’s achieved more than most video game characters in their lifetime so to bring her back again to do high caliber missions seem more and more unrealistic. I think the best way to solve this issue is to either take place in the far future or, to create a successor to Samus. But even then, part of the biggest parts of Metroid was getting to know Samus. No one expected her to develop a bond with the Metroid she finds in Metroid II, the relationship she has with Adam that she seemed to not share with the other members of the force interested many players when Fusion hinted at their bond. If there ever is to be a future successful Metroid game, Samus, or her successor must be a person that is quiet to the point of almost mute, but show her interests and goals through action, they are allowed to feel and have these goals, but they never get in the way of a mission. Honestly I feel like despite the criticism around Other M, the voice actor they chose was exactly the way I thought Samus would sound, and while there is a lot of critique around her portrayal in that game, I did find it unique that Samus was phased to the point of having a PTSD attack when seeing Ridley again. At that point in her life she had thought for sure that Ridley was dead so to see him come back again like he did must have shoke Samus to her core. In that way, it humanized her and reminded us why we root for her.
The other thing people like about Metroid is the freedom to approach danger at their own pace. Older Metroid games never told you exactly where to go, but gave subtle clues in the environment as to where to start. The Prime games did give goals and places to go on a map, but because of the vastness of the map often times getting side-tracked by one door could launch you to a completely other side of the map where you get some cool upgrade or fight something you had not expected. Metroid games have always respected the intelligence of the player so the less hand-holding and script writing the game does, the better. However, this comes with its own set of challenges. The planets are usually your biggest enemies in the Metroid games because of how difficult it can be to find the way you need to go, but I don’t believe that sequence breaking needs to be in every turn of the game either. Metroid is a game that requires you to slow down and observe your surroundings, take in subtle cues to find secrets. But if players are entering a room and simply bombing every tile of a level to find the one that you can fall through to progress in the game, then its no longer exploring but exploiting. Sequence breaking is important but I think that it should be saved more for optional secrets rather than progression because in this way we can get a game where each player has their own experience and relationship with the world instead of a hit or miss dynamic.
All this coupled with the amazing graphic design, sound design and level design that we’ve come to know from Metroid games and you’ll have the formula for a well-received modern Metroid game. I know it won’t be easy, but most Metroid fans are willing to wait. Playing Mario and Zelda? Thats easy. Do the thing get the thing. But Metroid? Metroid players are part of something much grander. Its a kind of experience that leaves a lasting impression. I don’t believe Federation Force is that game, but I do believe that by trying to move away from the traditional set up of a Metroid game is key to keeping the series alive. As long as we have Samus, or at least a successor to her and a vast untamable alien world with the freedom to explore it, I see no reason why Metroid can’t move with the times and adopt a more modern game-feel. The future of the Metroid series lies with the developers is to understand why people play Metroid games, build upon that and give it subtle twists and changes. Its also up to the players who are so set on the older games being perfect that they demand too much pandering in newer games. Each game needs to be its own experience. Hell I wouldn’t even mind a cross-over Alien vs Metroid game as long as it played like a Metroid game. Its just the kind of game that there needs to be more of instead of reshipping the same Mario game every year. Metroid games take effort to make and that’s why they are better than most. (Also I know I’m late on putting this article out, I was too busy finishing Super Metroid for the first time I’m sorry!)