This month we celebrate the 15th anniversary of Metroid Prime launching in the UK. And if that sentence makes you feel old, you’re not alone.
To commemorate a decade an a half since Samus Aran made the leap to 3D back on the Nintendo GameCube, I wanted to take a look to the series’ future, and specifically Metroid Prime 4 on Nintendo Switch. I wanted to see if by looking back at what the Metroid Prime series has given us so far, we can make some guesses about what could be in the 4th installment.
Now, story has often been secondary in the Metroid Prime series, in favour of just simply dumping you in an environment and leaving you as the player to figure out what’s going on. Normally the way the player would piece together the story would be through scanning logs and pieces of lore, and how much of this you did was up to you. However as the Prime series has gone on, and particularly in Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, we see more of an emphasis on delivering narrative in cut-scenes.
As such I expect to see more of these cut-scenes in Metroid Prime 4 as a way of telling the story. I definitely think that scanning the environment to piece together the more granular detail will remain, but I expect more of a spectacle in terms of set-pieces through cut-scenes. I also don’t necessarily think this has to detract from the traditional Metroid feeling of isolation and discovery, and if anything I expect and hope such cut-scenes will provide emphasis of this desolation rather than jar with it.
In terms of specifics of the story, there are certain things we can garner from previous titles. Piecing together clues I think it’s likely that a key part (if not all) of the story will revolve around Samus battling against the actions (or aftermath thereof) of a fellow Bounty Hunter called Sylux. He has appeared a couple of times in the Metroid series before, but most importantly in the special ending of Metroid Prime 3: Corruption where he is seen chasing after Samus’ ship. He was also seen during a special ending of Metroid Prime: Federation Force to be hatching a Metroid egg. So chances are he’s up to no good and he is where my money is on for the main antagonist of Metroid Prime 4.
He won’t be the only character in the game mind, leading me onto…
In a similar way in which it beefed up cut-scenes, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption also served up more character interaction than we’re used to in Metroid games, thanks to the inclusion of additional Bounty Hunters each with their own personalities. Then the release of Metroid: Other M (although not strictly a Prime series game) went after character development and cast in a big way (for a Metroid game at least). So it seems fair to assume that there will be a continued focus on a selection of characters that Samus will interact with, and certainly more than a single example of a dying race she needs to save, like in the earlier Prime games.
I imagine the character list to be a fine balance though. Nintendo will be keen not to flood the game with a large cast, because as I said earlier, Metroid games succeed through their atmosphere and a feeling of isolation and battling against the odds. And having a character to interact with every 10 minutes kind of ruins that, so I envisage a few memorable characters and that’s it. I also expect the usual suspects of Metroids and Space Pirates to appear, as well as some representation of the Galactic Federation. I also wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a third-party that Sylux is working for, which would up the ante from lone individual antagonist to huge evil corporate function.
Oh and Ridley will be in it. 100%.
Normally I wouldn’t even consider talking about this, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little concerned around Nintendo’s approach to gaming difficulty, especially in recent years, during which Metroid Prime hasn’t had a full console release. In the 11 years since Corruption, Nintendo seem to be almost allergic to challenging gamers for fear players won’t be able to cope. My hope is that this doesn’t result in Metroid Prime 4 being an overly easy game.
That’s not to say I want a game to be released that is known only for its difficulty. We’re not talking Dark Souls or Celeste standard here, but a game that offers a fair amount of challenge. For me the best example of this is Metroid Prime 2: Echoes, where the world of Dark Aether was poisonous save for pockets of light energy that kept you safe, on top of hordes of monsters looking to rip you out of your Varia Suit. It kept it tense, and the few safe spots added strategy to your adventure. I’m not saying a similar “unsafe” zone mechanic specifically needs adopting in Metroid Prime 4, but some sort of challenge within the adventure that commands some skill and practice from the player.
The good news is, if we purely look at the Metroid Prime series as a yard stick, then difficulty shouldn’t be a concern, and let’s hope the cotton wool doesn’t come out too much in the latest installment.
Everyone’s favourite gaming descriptor; “Metroidvania” wouldn’t be true to its roots if a Metroid game didn’t have backtracking. It’s part of the game to have areas visible to you but inaccessible so that once you gain new skills or abilities, you can return to earlier areas and explore further. So this part isn’t really to discuss whether these sections will exist – that’s pretty much a given – but more to speculate on how they could be executed.
In previous Metroid Prime games they’ve tackled this is different ways with varying degrees of success. In my eyes, the perfect case study on how to do this well and not so well is the original Metroid Prime released back in 2003. Metroid Prime was lauded for successfully transitioning from 2D into 3D, but not purely for that fact, but mainly in the way it executed it. The game created a world that flowed, and importantly interlinked the various distinct areas together, allowing for multiple ways to track back. Think of how the separate areas in Super Metroid linked together, but in a 3D world and you’re not far off. This design makes backtracking more varied and enjoyable and for want of a better word, seamless. And it’s why the choice of having different planets to explore in Metroid Prime 3: Corruption felt less grand because they weren’t all joined, meaning backtracking was more laborious. I would like to think that therefore Metroid Prime 4’s world is large, varied, but ultimately interconnected, so that when we revisit areas, we do so with a smile on our face.
On the flip-side, Metroid Prime committed for me the cardinal sin of an near-end-game fetch quest section requiring you to locate 12 keys to unlock the final area of the game. It’s all very reminiscent of the Tingle Charts and Triforce shards in Wind Waker, that just felt that they artificially extend the main game and make exploration less fun. This wasn’t adopted in future Prime titles, so I’m hoping Nintendo have got this out of their system, meaning it hopefully won’t rear its ugly head in Metroid Prime 4.
Whilst not specifically from previous Metroid Prime titles, there are other guesses we can make about the game, not least how the Metroid Prime 4 will make use of the functionality of the Nintendo Switch. Expect to see the touch screen used, possibly for quickly scanning things, or maybe as some kind of quick aim mechanic. And with this being Nintendo, it’s likely that whilst not being required, there will be some functionality of the Joy-Cons that will be used. I’m thinking maybe wiggling of them to facilitate double jump or the Space Jump mechanic if it is included.
I could also see it being used to charge spinners when Samus is in Morph Ball mode, and extending that further to using the tilt capability in the Joy Con to control Samus when in Morph Ball form also. If done right, this could be a very interesting mechanic, and a new way to control Samus’ movement.
So there we have it, looking back through the Metroid Prime series, has offered up some hints to the type of direction the series could take in Metroid Prime 4. Naturally this is all speculation, but if the majority of the above does come to fruition and the game plays to the strengths of the series so far, we could have a pretty special game on our hands. Finger’s crossed for more revelations at E3!