CAN METROID PRIME 4 LIVE UP TO THE SERIES’ LEGACY?

With all the buzz and hype surrounding Sony and Microsoft’s press conferences in the run up to this year’s E3, gamers across the globe were shocked and surprised when the biggest announcement instead came from a brief 43 second trailer for Metroid Prime 4 during Nintendo’s humble ‘Spotlight’ video. It has been ten years since a core release in the critically acclaimed Prime series and the idea of an announcement had become a running joke and source of bitter disappointment to fans. That’s why the 43 second video, although showing little more than a logo for the game, was to many the equivalent of Nintendo dropping the mic on E3 2017.

The Prime series reinvented Nintendo’s dark sci-fi franchise by bringing its open world, puzzle-shooter gameplay into a 3D first-person shooter perspective. All three core entries achieved immense critical acclaim and are regarded by many as some of the best videogames ever made. It is no surprise then, that fans have been asking for a new entry for so many years.

It has been revealed that Retro Studios, the original studio behind the Prime games will not be in charge of the fourth entry (let’s not broach the question of what the heck they have been working on the for last three years). Instead, a new development team will be tackling the game. This in itself raises some concern, but there is a slight trade-off as Kensuke Tanabe, the producer of all of Retro’s Metroid games will be leading the new team. Plus, Nintendo taking internal control suggests that it wants to get stuck in with this entry, instead of outsourcing one of its most valuable IPs as has been common in the franchise’s history (perhaps to avoid similar disappointment to Metroid: The Other M?).

There is very little to go on right now to gage what the title will be like and whether it will match the quality of its predecessors. It should be encouraging at least, that we are looking at a direct numbered continuation to Prime 3 and not another spin-off to further convolute the franchise’s already complex plotline (although fans of the franchise proper may still be waiting for a sequel to 2002’s Metroid Fusion, which is chronologically the latest entry). We can however see that Nintendo is kicking the Metroid franchise back into gear from its other recent titles and announcements.

The company had a second Metroid announcement this E3, quietly slipped into a ‘Nintendo Treehouse’ presentation, of a ‘re-imagination’ (see: liberal remake) of Metroid II: Return of Samus. The game is headed by series’ creator Yoshio Sakomoto, who notes that, although he was not involved in development of the original Metroid II, he is looking to preserve the nostalgia fans have whilst building on and improving the game. Curiously, the title is outsourced to Castlevania Lords of Shadow developer Mercury Steam, who famously pitched ideas to Nintendo for an original Metroid title which never saw the green light. Extensive coverage of the title during E3 looks promising, with an influx of new ideas and mechanics but the core gameplay staying true to the 2D Metroid games’ roots. An important part of the Metroid sound is the music and sound design. The originality of the soundtrack for Prime is something that fans covet. It is good to know then, that Metroid Samus Returns features the same sound designers from the franchise’s historic releases.

One the flip side, last year’s release of Metroid Prime: Federation Force for the Nintendo 3DS was widely regarded by critics and fans as Nintendo dropping the ball (pun intended, see: ‘Blast Ball’) on the quality of the franchise, using the reputable Prime moniker for a game that amounted to nothing more than a generic 4-player co-op arcade shooter. It is possible that the overwhelming reaction from fans to this title as a whole (the announcement trailer today has a stunning 90,117 dislikes compared to 10,484 likes on youtube) spurred Nintendo into bringing the franchise back into action.

The Metroid franchise stands in a very precarious position. The last two entries: The Other M and Federation Force were the weakest in what is otherwise a universally acclaimed sci-fi saga, which is certainly the most mature IP that Nintendo has in play. The promise of Prime 4 is colossal for Nintendo, they have set the task of not only pleasing fans and critics who treasure the Prime games, but delivering a strong title in a mostly dormant franchise, on Nintendo’s Switch hardware, which is already the subject of great discussion and scrutiny in the industry. We can only hope then, that these two new titles live up to the hype and follow the immense success we have seen with Nintendo’s other flagship franchise in the form of the Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild.

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