Building a Better Metroid Game

Metroid: Other M is probably the most divisive installment in the series since Metroid II, despite being a sort-of-return to the franchise’s 2D roots. For all the vitriol that fans levy against Other M‘s portrayal of Samus, there are some areas where Team Ninja succeeded with this game. Other M is by no means perfect, but it did inject some fresh new concepts into the core gameplay that could really shine if done right or tackled in a different way. With that in mind, let’s imagine what the next installment in the Metroid series could be like if Nintendo chooses to stick with a third-person perspective.

Much was made of Metroid creator Yoshio Sakamoto and Team Ninja’s use of a single Wii Remote as the only means of controlling Samus in Other M. While it seemed like an elegant way to evolve the classic play control of the original games, in reality all it did was muddle what could have been a much more enjoyable experience. Perhaps more than any of their other franchises, Nintendo knew that Metroid’s fanbase consisted of predominantly seasoned players. At the time, though, Nintendo was in the midst of cultivating the casual audience and knew that they had been turned off by Metroid Prime 3‘s elaborate FPS controls. This “failure” resulted in a desire on Nintendo’s part to bring Metroid back to basics in a way that would satiate core players and lure in new players, too.

Nintendo believed the solution was to implement the familiar controller orientation of games like New Super Mario Bros. Wii and Donkey Kong Country Returns, but this sadly only diminished Other M‘s playability and alienated both crowds. While old-school brawlers and RPGs could get away with the limited range of movement a d-pad can deliver in a pseudo-3D or top-down environment, Other M‘s fluid acrobatics and speed were simply too demanding. The basic architecture of the controls that Team Ninja created are sound, they just need to be mapped to something with an analogue stick to be a bit more effective.

Another break from tradition was the way Samus recovered health. Gone were the series’ traditional health bubbles, replaced instead with Samus’s ability to “concentrate” and recharge energy on her own. Part of the reason for this was directly related to the combat system’s “auto-aim” feature. In an effort to make the gameplay a little more challenging, this recharge move would leave Samus temporarily exposed to attack and thus artificially upped the ante for the player. Assuming a new controller setup should remedy the need for auto-aiming, Nintendo should bring the original health system back. It’s a small detail, but there’s something very satisfying about wiping out a wave of enemies and basking in the cloud of health left in their wake.

Other M‘s second concession to the core crowd was the inclusion of some FPS mechanics for firing missiles and “exploring” the environment. If the next game isn’t going to be exclusively first-person, using missiles from this view should be tweaked to be used as an alternative means of firing (for specific puzzles, combat situations, etc.). Being able to fire a barrage of missiles like in the 2D games was truly missed, as the FPS method was simply too jarring a break from the action to ever be a real part of a player’s fighting strategy. On that note, the addition of scanning like in the Prime games would be an awesome way to immerse the player in the more-distant third-person environment. Even if it’s not as extensive as what Retro did, it would be a welcome opportunity to learn more about the game’s enemies and have the narrative expanded.

One more thing (and this isn’t in an effort to be a pig); more Zero Suit action. It’s really fun seeing Samus be forced to rely on her wits and limited weaponry when she’s out of the armor. Metroid: Zero Mission showed just how great this can be, with some intense stealth and chase segments. If Nintendo could expand those moments for a future sequel, it would be a welcome addition to the console iterations of Metroid. While on the subject of suits, can Nintendo please not make Samus’s “regular” look her “ultimate” look? It was disappointing how there weren’t any of the alternate armors or true color variations from the previous games. Half the fun of the Metroid games is seeing Samus’s armor upgrade and change; pink lights just aren’t going to cut it this time, Nintendo.

If the next Metroid game can take what Other M did right, fix what it did wrong, and leave Samus silent, Nintendo would easily be able to restore any of the luster that the series has lost. It was very interesting seeing Samus from a third-person perspective, as it allowed for a mixture of controls that neither the 2D or first-person games are capable of individually. What will be key is that Nintendo be honest about what kind of game the next Metroid is going to be. The single Wii Remote gimmick didn’t foster simpler gameplay and ultimately left both new and old gamers in the cold. The hardcore walked away knowing how much stronger the game could have played with a Classic Controller and the casual crowd stopped being lulled into a false sense of security once they couldn’t get past the first boss. If the controls are tight and the gameplay is solid, people will play. If an eight year old can learn Call of Duty, I’m sure they can figure out Metroid, Nintendo!

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2 thoughts on “Building a Better Metroid Game

  1. If they want to go 2-D again, which is fine, they definitely need to limit the first person shift for exploration and scanning – NO COMBAT. Trying to dodge, stop, shift, and fire a missile was extremely frustrating. Especially when it took the Wii Remote a moment to realize that you were shifting to first person. Of all the failings Other M had (leaving the story out of this), I felt that was the biggest one. The recharging mechanic would come in second.

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