A BRAND NEW EXPERIENCE IN MEDIOCRE OPINION PIECES
Welcome, ladies and gentlemen (or whatever else you call yourself, it’s cool, I won’t judge), to my new series! Born from the ashes of Absolutely Smashed, inspired by the never-ending vortex of cynicism growing in the world of gaming, it’s a series about franchises that need help! Sort of!
So here’s how these are gonna go: Every week, I’m going to pick a series of games to talk about here. These series will be franchises that are struggling in some way or another, from a lack of recent installments to a disastrous departure from their roots. Every now and then, I’ll flip it around and talk about a franchise that got better, or one that’s emblematic of what other games should be doing. In each article, I’m going to talk about what made the series great, what soured it, and what can be done to fix it. In my opinion, at least. Like all art, games are completely subjective, so I’m sure not everyone will agree with me, and that’s fine. Comments on both this article and wherever else I end up posting it will be totally open to debate on the matter, but no suggestions for this series, folks. Now that that’s all laid out, let’s dive on in, shall we?
Mission Objective: Save all Metroids
Metroid is one of Nintendo’s most well-known and beloved franchises, and with good reason. It basically invented a whole genre of video game, lovingly nicknamed “metroidvania”, a combination of Metroid and Castlevania (which went from hard-as-hell platformer to Metroid-inspired adventure). In its wake, we got an innumerable amount of amazing games, from Symphony of the Night to Guacameelee. This was a game that came out in the heady days of the NES and had the balls to make you go left to even start the game. Personally, I was born after this heyday of gaming discovery, but I grew up playing my step-father’s old games. To this day, I vividly remember being stuck at the very beginning of the game, unable to move forwards, and after 30 minutes of desperately jumping at the wall and smashing the down arrow (I’m pretty stubborn), I decided to turn back to see if I missed anything. Realizing that I could go to the left by multiple screens, and then finding the Morph Ball there, was a huge moment. It was the first time I played a game that really wanted you to explore, and that stuck with me. Metroid is a huge deal, is what I’m getting at.
As the years went on, Metroid got bigger and bigger, receiving sequels at a slower rate than most Nintendo properties but almost always innovating with each one. It went from inventing a genre on the NES, to perfecting that genre on the SNES, to an installment on the Gameboy that isn’t really amazing but managed to be a truly effective conversion of the central mechanics to lesser hardware. Then, after a brief period of silence during the birth of 3D gaming, we got Metroid Prime on the Gamecube, taking the metroidvania format to the land of the now massively popular FPS genre, and holy shit, what a revelation that was. I can’t think of a single game off the top of my head that has done anything remotely similar to the Prime games, from the gameplay to the little details such as seeing your own face reflected in the visor. And hey, we also got the first strong female character in video games out of it, which is pretty awesome. Samus Aran is a god damned badass, and she managed to convey tons of character traits without uttering a single word. Of course, she had text narration in a few games (Metroid Fusion being the most prominent example), but overall, we just got her body language in cutscenes. Seeing her try to finally end Ridley’s life in Prime 3, for instance, showed more rage and resentment for the beast that killed her parents than any speech or monologue ever could.
And then, of course, they had to cock it all up.
Metroid: Other M was a noble effort in theory. After all, Nintendo had a ton of success handing Metroid over to other developers before (Prime was made by Retro, who would later go on to save Donkey Kong Country from racing spin off hell), so why not see what Team Ninja could do with the property? I, for one, was excited at the idea of a Metroid character action game, a version of Ninja Gaiden with exploration and upgrades. I was prepared to forgive a weaker story too. I even played the game at Comic-Con before it came out, and came away with a good impression. And then I played the full release, and everything fell apart. Samus is stripped down to the most bland, weak, male-reliant protagonist possible, exploration was nonexistant, upgrades were literally doled out when the plot dictated it, and perhaps worst of all, the combat didn’t even feel that good. Basically, it was a game about Samus Aran, who now has a voice and actual dialogue, coming to terms with her baby craziness. Also, being bossed around by men. Also, 4 or 5 characters with the same initials as perennial villain Mother Brain, because Team Ninja spells subtlety with ten foot high burning planks of wood. Seamus Aran, female role model/feminist gaming icon was given high heels on her Zero Suit (something the original concept art for the character insists shouldn’t happen), a Sailor Moon style transformation sequence, and the inability to stand up for herself. The most telling/painful moment is when Ridley, a guy that Samus has actively murdered 5 times (the last one not even a month ago, if in game-continuity is to be believed) shows up, and Samus is reduced to a blubbering little girl, and only starts fighting after a man shoots Ridley and gives her the confidence boost she needed. It’s kind of bullshit.
That was the last Metroid release. So what’s happened since? Well… mostly nothing. Rumors about Prime 4, rumblings of a cancelled game, and Federation Force, which isn’t even about Samus. For the record, I am kind of okay with Federation Force existing, but I think it sucks that we’re getting a spin off game before Nintendo fixes the franchise.
So What Hurt It?:
Honestly, it’s kind of hard to pin down any factor beyond Other M, which I just realized the full acronym for is MOM. I fucking hate you, Team Ninja.
If I had to really put a name to anything, it would be the lack of support from Nintendo after Other M dropped. It’s been an entire console generation since the last main game in the franchise, and Metroid sorely needs something to earn its rep back. Other M may have done the damage to the characters and series as a whole, but what’s really hurting Metroid now is the fact that we still have Other M as the last Metroid game. This sort of hiatus was fine after Super Metroid, because Super Metroid is a nearly flawless game, but to have one of your flagship characters all but vanish from their own series after a bad installment is something of a damning statement. It feels like Nintendo doesn’t have faith in their girl anymore, which sucks for a variety of reasons. Firstly, because Samus Aran doesn’t deserve to be abandoned to Smash Bros alone, and secondly, because Nintendo has the capital to essentially operate for another century without making a profit, so making a new Metroid game and having it not sell well won’t exactly kill the company.
Is There Hope?:
Honestly, this is probably the most likely revival of a franchise out of any one that I could write about. Nintendo usually knows what they’re doing, and if the recent release of Star Fox Zero is any indication, they still care about all their properties. Well, the ones that people still care about, at least. And all they really need to do to fix the franchise is to release a game. It doesn’t even have to be that good, frankly, just better than Other M. It can be a classic 2D adventure in the vein of Super Metroid or Fusion, or it could be another FPS (please make Prime 4, please make Prime 4, please make Prime 4), shit, it could even be a completely new experience, all that matters is that it’s better than the last game. Seriously, I will buy, complete, and heavily praise a 2 and a half hour Metroid game that’s only playable on an out of date system if it gets made, especially if that game leads to bigger and better things in the future. Shit, I’ll even take another spin off game if it features Samus in some capacity. I’ll take a sequel to Other M if it improves upon the formula. Just make another game. That’s literally all Nintendo has to do.
The Wish List:
Here’s where I’m just going to talk about my ideal future release. I know none of it will probably ever happen, but screw it, it’s fun to talk about this stuff.
Basically, I think it would be really cool for a full 3D, third person Metroid game. Like what Other M could have been if you removed the FPS gimmick parts and made it less linear. It’s a realm we haven’t really seen too much of Metroid in, and it’s one that I think could be worth exploring. Barring that, I would love to see a co-op Metroid game, or at least one with the option of cooperative play. Of course, the Metroid games have always had a great feel of isolation to them, but games like Guacameelee and Outland (sort of) have proven that the gameplay formula can work with more than one person involved. And as the Prime series showed us, there’s a plethora of bounty hunter characters that could serve as an additional player character out there. Sure, almost all the ones we’ve seen are dead as a result of, you know, plot, but there’s no reason they couldn’t introduce a new one. And you could either give both characters identical abilities or differing ones, depending on how integral the co-op aspect is to the game.
I know I’m in the minority on this one, but I think the multiplayer from Prime 2 would be a welcome addition in a future Prime game. Prime Hunters proved that the formula could work (and on a handheld of all places) given some polish, so why not put it in Prime 4? Slap in some online play to give the game a little more selling power if you have to. And while on the subject of Prime 4, if that ever comes out on the Wii U, just make the touchpad display the map, and switch to the visor view whenever you scan something. That’s a freebie right there. Fatal Frame 5 did a similar thing and it was cool, why not take that approach for Metroid?
Lastly, just put in different suits in the next game. We all miss it. We miss it so much.
Tune in every week for Save State to see me rant about the lost glory of certain franchises, and don’t forget to check out Who the Hell every Friday for comic character spiel!