Until the release of Metroid: Samus Returns on Nintendo 3DS, it had been thirteen years since the last traditional Metroid title. Personally, I never thought I would ever see a “2D” Metroid game again, the Metroid Prime brand was so much more popular and it felt like fans were only interested in a new 3D title. In 2017, that all changed.
One fortunate consequence of running a Metroid community is that occasionally, information gets passed on to me from unexpected places. In the case of Samus Returns, I was made aware of the game’s existence in late 2016 by a source that will remain anonymous. At the time, I didn’t know a great deal about it, except that it was coming to Nintendo 3DS and that it would be a collaborative effort between Nintendo and a third party based in Europe. Other details that later proved to be false included the game being developed in the United Kingdom, and that it would be coming to Nintendo Switch in addition to the 3DS.
Knowing this information but keeping the surprise of the game’s announcement from other fans was incredibly difficult. All I wanted to do was shout it from the rooftops, and even more so when Metroid Prime 4 was announced in the same live stream. While everyone was going crazy over Prime 4, all that was going through my mind was that we were going to get TWO Metroid games! At a time when Nintendo had seemingly lost the confidence of its fans after Metroid: Other M and Metroid Prime: Federation Force, this was an unthinkable scenario. It was massively satisfying for me to see two Metroid games officially confirmed, and a pleasant surprise when I saw that the game was now taking a 2.5D approach. I welcomed the fact that it was going to be a reimagining of Metroid II: Return of Samus, a game that in my view, deserved the upgrade.
Metroid: Samus Returns was aptly named by the fact that it was indeed a return to the traditional side-scrolling formula, and what a glorious return it was. Not only did it tell the original story of Metroid II: Return of Samus, it expanded on it. Classic weapons and the new Aeion powered abilities was now canonically a part of Metroid 2’s story, showing just how far technology and the original concept for the game has come a quarter of a century later.
Planet SR388 was now quite vibrant, bursting with colour and depth across the whole planet. Turning up the 3D slider on the Nintendo 3DS was like peering into another world, as if you could reach your hand through the screen! I have yet to see another game on the platform that did 3D as great as Samus Returns. Controlling Samus using the circle pad allows for some tighter controls, allowing for 360 degree precision over the eight-directional input in previous 2D games.
Daisuke Matsuoka made his debut to the franchise, providing the soundtrack of Samus Returns under the guidance of Kenji Yamamoto and Minako Hamano. When I heard how Matsuoka-san arranged Ryoji Yoshitomi’s classic music I was very impressed, he truly understands what the soundscape of Metroid should be, and I would be delighted if he played a key role in the future of the series’ music.
Samus Returns wasn’t just traditional Metroid returning to its roots, or even an opportunity to bring a tired classic back to life, it reinvented the classic style for the modern day. The game won several awards such as Best Handheld Game at the 2017 Game Awards, Handheld Game of the Year at the 21st Annual DICE Awards in 2018; as well as critical acclaim from the games industry, receiving positive scores across the board. This proves that 2D Metroid is still relevant and an important focus moving forward, and the additional Metroid lore in the form of the Chozo Memories shows that the games’ Producer, Yoshio Sakamoto, may have ideas of where the series could go next, and has been quoted that he has no plans for another remake. Is it finally time for Metroid 5?
At the time of writing, seventeen years have passed since Metroid Fusion, the latest game in the Metroid timeline. A sequel to Fusion has been rumoured as far back as 2005, when a project codenamed ‘Metroid Dread’ was in development for Nintendo DS. The idea of a dual screen Metroid title where the game plays on the top screen, with a map constantly accessible on the bottom screen, always felt like a perfect fit for Metroid to me, and even series producer Yoshio Sakamoto has been quoted saying he was interested in this. Seeing this concept in action with Samus Returns reaffirmed this for me. At the time of writing, Nintendo have no further 3DS titles planned for release, and I find it upsetting that we may never see another dual-screen Metroid title. Perhaps Metroid 5 could be the platform swan song?
Realistically if a new Metroid title were to release, it would now be on newer hardware like Nintendo Switch, or a Switch handheld successor to 3DS. However, it’s hard to ignore such a significant 3DS install base. According to Nintendo’s financial data available on their website, 3DS sales stand at a massive 74.8 million units globally (as of December 2018). Perhaps the game could be built using the existing Mercury Engine, which would presumably save time and money developing a new game from scratch, meaning less risk release if there were any concerns about a new Metroid title not doing well.
While there’s plenty of speculation to what direction Metroid 5 could go next, it’s reasonable we will see Samus on the run from the Federation after the destruction of the BSL research station. Samus would likely have the support of Adam within her ship’s computer, and possibly the Dachoras and Etecoons that saved her. The Chozo Memories from Samus Returns also point to corrupt, evil Chozo group that may play a key role in a future game, an exciting narrative I would personally love to see explored. Perhaps some important Chozo characters originally seen in the Metroid manga, such as Old Bird and Gray Voice, could make an appearance? I feel these two notable characters from Samus’ past could be referenced in some way, and play a crucial role.
Since the rumour of Metroid Dread for Nintendo DS in 2005, I looked forward to seeing Metroid on a dual-screen device, and thirteen years later my dreams came true. When I became a Metroid fan in 2004, Metroid: Zero Mission had only just released. Until Samus Returns, there had been no more traditional Metroid and I had given up hope of ever seeing a new traditional title. It pleased me to no end to see this important style of game return and evolve into something new.
This can not be a one off, it has to be a new beginning! Traditional Metroid is the foundation of the Metroid series, and its audience remains. After almost seventeen years an opportunity to expand the Metroid story beyond Fusion is long overdue. Let’s hope that Samus’ return, is the start of a new beginning.
Written by Darren Kerwin