Why it’s time to give Nintendo’s Metroid series the reboot it deserves
Did you know that 2016 marks the 30th Anniversary of Metroid, one of Nintendo’s most storied and beloved franchises? If you answered no don’t feel too bad – apparently no one at Nintendo remembers either since they’re doing sweet f-a to mark the occasion. Sure they might throw up a re-release or two but where’s the year of Metroid? Mario had a huge deal made out of his 30th last year. Back in 2013 Nintendo granted a whole year to Luigi (Yes it was a huge marketing drive for Nintendo in a bad year but that’s not the point!). So where’s the Metroid love?
To understand why this has happened we have to glance back at the Metroid offerings (Or lack thereof) in recent times. Metroid Prime: Federation Force was announced and then universally panned for being a shamelessly shallow attempt to squeeze the Metroid franchise into an e-sports game. Before that you have to stroll all the way back to 2010 where the franchise veered off the tracks with the insanely ill-advised Metroid Other M. 2009 was slightly better, if only because Nintendo offered up a “best of” collection in the form of Metroid Prime Trilogy. Truth be told – the last time we got a new “good” Metroid game was way back in 2007 – almost NINE years ago. To put that in context; the Fallout series (Which itself had been famously languishing in limbo) hasn’t just returned, it’s had three full iterations and gone on to become one of gaming’s top-selling franchises.
One large reason I suspect this has happened is because the Metroid story has become a minefield of awkwardness. The original Metroid trilogy was envisioned as a standalone story; a story which had a pretty conclusive ending. For that reason it took a long time for Nintendo to really see the value in returning to the franchise. Eventually we got it in the form of the Metroid Prime series – a bunch of games that took a wildly different look at the Metroid universe and did their absolute best to avoid trampling on the toes of the original series by setting themselves up as prequels. And it worked…. mostly. But then Nintendo threw in the Gameboy Advance title Metroid Fusion which acts as a bookend to the Metroid story; ending with Samus learning of her employers betrayal and bringing the Metroid’s back. Wonderful – except Nintendo then decided to add in Metroid Other M, a game that hinged its entire plot on revealing Metroid’s could be cloned before Metroid Fusion – undercutting the story of that game showing a complete disregard for the series canon. And if you don’t think canon matters in a series like Metroid – it really does.
Part of the fun of series like Halo and Mass Effect isn’t from the games themselves (Although they are great games), it’s from the world building that goes on around them. Learning about how that universe came to be. How the characters formed and what motivated everything to land how it did before you took control of your protagonist. Metroid Prime does this in the form of data logs – building the mythology of the universe through brief glimpses into the world of Tallon V. World Building gives a series legitimacy and makes the events you find yourself in seem that much more important. But Nintendo have allowed their Metroid series to come undone with a series of lazy additions to the canon that undermine everything. If a Metroid game got announced tomorrow the discussion would turn to where in the franchise it would land. Another prequel? Well that’s boring. Another game after Super Metroid? Great! But are they going to wheel out the clone storyline again so the Metroid’s can show up? (And then be destroyed before the end credits roll). It’s like how in Marvel films, nobody really dies. People look like they did but there’s always a hook to get them back into the movies if Marvel needs it – and it’s reached the point where death isn’t treated as the grand event it should be. If you know “extinction” doesn’t really mean that, why should we be invested when the Metroid’s go extinct for the fifth time? We know that they’ll be back right as needed.
The truth is that when the series killed off the Metroid’s its creators failed to conceivably offer a reasonable route back for the titular creatures – and why would they? To them the Metroid story was told and they weren’t going back. It’s this decision to close the original trilogy off though that has become the main problem the series runs into when it needs to wheel them back out. Worse still; when the games start hinging entire plot twists on the “shocking” idea that someone is cloning Metroid’s it takes away from their presence. The mystique of Metroid’s as a plausible plot device diminishes when you know that they’re probably going to turn up in a laboratory and escape right around the time the plot starts to drag on. And this is why the idea of a reboot becomes plausible. Rebooting the series allows for someone to come on board and address this problem by changing the story enough that using Metroid’s doesn’t become a byword for lazy.
Reboot is a dirty word in modern times. Some people see it as lazy while others see it as a way to re-release already established stories in a new coat of paint. Both of these are true and when reboots are done badly (See any number of Hollywood movies from the past 15 years) it can be horrible. But rebooting allows a series to escape the creative cul-de-sac that it finds itself in. It presents options and allows for a different interpretation of the storylines already laid down – possibly allowing it to branch into new directions. If there’s one thing that Metroid needs from stories; its new directions. The fact that they’ve reused the same storyline element twice (Spoiler: cloned Metroid’s being made by the supposedly good Galactic Federation) should be a huge give-away that the franchise has run out of ideas and judging by the prolonged silence – it’s a sign that Nintendo hasn’t got an answer for the problem.
A reboot would also answer the hugely problematic issues that Metroid Other M added to the series canon. Every long running franchise eventually gets this kind of title. You know the one – that game that ruins the party and brings the entire series to a grinding halt. Such “classics” as Deus Ex: Invisible War. Sonic ’06. Prince of Persia: Ememy Within. Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness. Bomberman Forever. Duke Nukem Forever. Command & Conquer 4. Tomb Raider Underground (Hey that’s the second Tomb Raider game) and so forth. Simply put – when one of these games rolls out it’s a franchise killer. Metroid Other M was this game to the Metroid franchise because it took the typically wonderful silent Samus and turned her into a ball of emotion.
Suddenly gamers weren’t in command of a fearless heroine but a damaged women who sought the approval of her superiors. Her adventure was one with a voice; a whining voice that begged to be taken seriously in the company of people we couldn’t care less about. I suspect that Nintendo and Yoshio Sakamoto were influenced by the success of other reboots at the time across media and felt that if they turned Samus into something deeper they could arguably spin-off more games exploring this. The problem is any game that comes after this game has to deal with that emotion and have to paint Samus in the same light – or spend time undoing that character development. The point is that the series has shackled itself to that interpretation of the character and when you combine that with the story restraints already discussed in this article – it suddenly becomes more obvious why Nintendo just doesn’t want to go back to the Metroid mess it’s made.
I love the Metroid franchise. I came late to the party in Metroid Prime but through that game I found a franchise that was brimming with potential – potential that has all but been squandered. Adding more games to the series now would only muddy the waters further and act as a distraction to whatever story Nintendo want to tell. Put simply, I’d rather they go back to the drawing board and re-imagine the story as a whole if it means that they start feeling confident in broaching the Metroid canon again. Because it’s not fair on fans to keep them hoping.
I anticipate not everyone will agree with me. The idea of rebooting something so loved seems inconceivable. But as things stand – Metroid has just become another face that Nintendo wheels out for any game but Metroid. It’s time for that to change and the easiest way I can see that happening is for Nintendo to reboot and re-focus the franchise again.
What do you think?