History of Metroid - Part 3
22nd Oct 2007 | 15:36
In 1999 with the Nintendo 64 approaching the end of its troubled road and "Project Dolphin" on the horizon, Nintendo finally accepted that Metroid wasn't going to sell in Japan and started planning a fully Western-orientated instalment. The next game in the series would be for Dolphin, eventually renamed to GameCube, but there wasn't any room internally to get to work on the first 3D instalment.
Intelligent Systems was already busy working on Game Boy Advance launch games Mario Kart Super Circuit, Wario Land 4 and Advance Wars - plus its lack of 3D expertise made it an unlikely candidate to take Samus into the third dimension. Instead Nintendo put the team to work on a new 2D instalment for Game Boy Advance, once again under the direction of series director Yoshio Sakamoto.
Nintendo was forced to look to outside sources for its new Western Metroid. Then second-party Silicon Knights was booked solid, and relationships with Rare (who also later bailed ship) were questionable at best after it was forced to re-skin one of its adventure games with Starfox characters.
Enter Retro Studios, the upstart developer founded by Jeff Spangenberg, former boss of Iguana Entertainment, the creators of the first (and only decent) Turok games. Retro was an attractive candidate for the Metroid project; it had a list of talented names among its staff, an up-to-date development building with motion capture studio and thralls of impressive technology. Spangenberg's reputation sealed the deal.
Nintendo signed an agreement with the untested studio to develop five exclusive GameCube games, one of which would be the first fully 3D Metroid, called Metroid Prime - a prequel set between the NES original and Metroid II. The other four titles in development were a combat racer, an action-adventure game, an American football sim and the much-hyped Raven Blade, all of which were shown at the Space World 2000 show via trailer.
The Western developer was a controversial choice for the series - which by now had gained a massive and loyal fanbase all desperate for the sequel they'd been waiting for since 1994. Retro's public perception was muddied further when it was revealed that two of its titles - the American football sim and unnamed racer - had both been canned. Soon after, the mysterious 'action-adventure' title also got the chop, causing concern for how well the long-awaited 3D Metroid would turn out.
Then, at Space World 2001 in Japan, concerns for Metroid Prime got much, much worse...
The Tokyo unveiling of the GameCube line-up was controversial enough as it was; Mario with a new water-pumping backpack, cell-shaded, winking Link and Starfox without any flying. Nintendo fans got their knickers even more in a bunch when it was revealed that, thanks to intervention from Shigeru Miyamoto himself, the already controversial Metroid Prime would now be in first-person.
To make maters worse, early, ropey-looking screenshots of the game left a very sour taste in the mouths of the press and public. Going first-person was the final straw for the incredibly controversial Metroid sequel, and expectation was at an all-time low.
Meanwhile at Intelligent Systems development on the long-awaited Game Boy Advance sequel, Metroid Fusion was progressing smoothly. For the first time in years Team Shikamaru had reunited especially for the Metroid project, and was going to be the most accessible, plot-heavy instalment yet.
Fusion took Samus back to SR-388 (where she'd earlier exterminated the Metroids) where she swiftly became infected by X Parasites, the galactic pandemic that Metroids were originally created to destroy. Samus was saved by surgical removal of her armour and infusion with Metroid DNA, allowing her to absorb X Parasites for health. The consequence was the creation of an evil Samus clone, who constantly stalked you throughout the game.
Objective based gameplay made for the a far more linear Metroid than had been seen before, and Team Shikamaru hoped it would finally help them sell a few more copies in Japan.
In North America Retro Studios' public image - and expectations for Metroid Prime -got worse and worse. The developer's final non-Metroid project, Raven Blade was officially canned and staff moved over to help reach the deadline for Metroid Prime. Then a series of embarrassing photographs of led founder Jeff Spangenberg to resign from the company. Miyamoto and Japan stepped in.
A year later Metroid Prime re-emerged - this time playable and in first-person at E3 2002. Expectations were totally and completely blown away; the controversial sequel successfully retained the classic Metroid formula while moving it into a 3D environment.
Nintendo called it a First-Person Adventure; seamless and beautiful HUD effects immersed the player in Samus' world like never before, registering everything from rain effects to the bounty hunter's own reflection in her visor. But glimpses of the famous Varia suit weren't completely removed; morph ball antics were flawlessly moved into first-person and many of Metroid's famous items survived the move into first-person.
At the end of that year both Metroid Fusion and Metroid Prime arrived in North America in the same week, both receiving rave reviews. But it was Prime that turned out to be the real winner, bartering tons of media game of the year awards and becoming the second highest selling title on GameCube. Metroid had finally become a success, and Nintendo quickly moved in to purchase Retro outright and commission a trilogy.
The second game in the Prime series, Metroid Prime 2: Echoes arrived in record time just two years later, receiving a similarly stellar reception - but suffering from the competition of Microsoft's much-hyped Halo 2.
The game saw Samus explore the moody planet Aether, a battered world split into light and dark dimensions by the twisted race Ing. Meanwhile Dark Samus roamed the planet unchecked, a reincarnation of the long defeated Metroid Prime.
The Metroid revival continued with Metroid Zero Mission, a surprise remake of the NES original, and NST's Hunters, a first-person spin-off designed to show of the 3D hardware of the Nintendo DS. Positive reaction from pack-in demos with the new handheld caused Nintendo to pour extra development resources into the project and hunters managed positive reviews thanks to its solid online modes, but failed to impress in the sales department.
Retro farmed the DS game to NST for a good reason, it was about to embark on its biggest game yet for Nintendo's next console...
Metroid Prime 3: Corruption was the first game to be shown running on Wii hardware, a proof of concept that Nintendo's radical new control method could be used to make the most accurate and smooth console shooters yet.
Thanks to the Wii remote players can now aim Samus's weapon with the flick of a wrist, and traditional series items such as the grapple beam can be taken to levels of interactivity previous impossible on old hardware.
It's also the taken longer to develop than any of the Metroid games to date (it was originally planned for the Wii launch). It's missed its projection by almost a year, but since then the gain in quality is blatantly obvious, and it retains a standard that could be regarded the best yet in the acclaimed Prime series.
Prime 3 will be the first of Wii's post-launch triple-A titles. Maybe, finally, Metroid's learnt to be at the right place and the right time...