Although Nintendo is home to powerhouse franchises like Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda, rarely has any game developer been home to a franchise as consistently well-loved as the atmospheric science fiction epic Metroid. Recently, though, Nintendo hasn’t been doing a whole lot to celebrate, or perpetuate, the legacy of bounty hunter Samus Aran.
While her last outing in 2010’s Metroid: Other M on Wii was critically well-regarded, it was extremely divisive among longtime fans for its characterization of Samus. Since then, Nintendo has been largely silent about new Metroid material, save for a minigame in their Nintendo Land title and her upcoming return in the new Super Smash Bros. game. Although the “Big N” has been celebrating the anniversaries of Mario, Zelda, and even Luigi in recent years, the company let Metroid’s 25th anniversary in 2011 pass without official notice. That silence was somewhat broken recently by Nintendo’s most prized game designer, Shigeru Miyamoto, in an interview with the UK’s official Nintendo magazine.
While discussing Retro Studios, Nintendo’s Texas-based subsidiary developer and creators of the critical powerhouse Metroid Prime games, Miyamoto-san was asked about whether or not the studio may once again create new adventures for Samus. He said,
“I definitely think it’s a franchise that we value and we certainly want to see what we can do with it in the future. And, obviously, Retro is a very high priority in terms of the potential team that would be considered for working on a Metroid game.”
Metroid is on the radar of the company, and will likely live again in the HD era of gaming, and I couldn’t be happier. This got me thinking recently, though. While Metroid is undoubtedly an awesome franchise, it’s definitely been outshined in recent years by others in similar storytelling genres. While I think a great case can be made for an argument saying that Metroid innovated so much in terms of atmosphere, design, platforming, and first-person adventure, you kind of have to go out of your way to find a non-gaming aficionado who knows what it is. It seems to be outdone more by Microsoft’s FPS franchise Halo as perhaps the most dominant science fiction stop in video gaming today.
While I don’t dislike Halo at all, this is kind of a travesty. When talking this over with a few acquaintances, one of my friends who’s even quite the gamer in his own right said, “I love Metroid, but if Samus gets a movie before Master Chief I’m going to be pissed.”
Naturally, I got defensive, and proceeded to pound him into the ground (verbally) with several facts about Metroid.
The most obvious and fundamental innovation of the Metroid franchise has to be that Samus Aran stands as the first female protagonist in a major video game, and beyond that, she stands also as perhaps the least sexualized female video game character in existence (at least when she’s not just in her Zero Suit). When thinking of other leading ladies of console games, most people cite Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft – but she’s far more sexualized than Samus. The fact that Metroid has the thought to both set itself apart from so many other gaming franchises, as well as giving the spotlight to a female spacefaring badass (the likes of which we haven’t seen since Ellen Ripley) definitely puts it in the plus column.
While I thought this accomplishment was relatively common knowledge for people in the geek community, I was shocked to learn that only 47% of people asked about the first female video game protagonist in a quiz on How-To Geek actually guessed Samus correctly.
With Samus in most of her appearances, you feel her isolation and, in many cases, her desperation in each situation. Whether it’s obliterating Space Pirates and the titular Metroid species, or restoring a planet to its rightful owners of the once proud Luminoths, the games can be surprisingly emotional even with very little plot-forwarding dialogue. Master Chief, by comparison, is a complete and total blank slate. As a video game character this works relatively well, because it allows the player to project their own thoughts and personalities onto that of the main character. At the same time, though, Master Chief is kind of misplaced in the world of Halo since it’s been telling a relatively episodic story since 2004’s Halo 2, and gives very little insight into the Chief throughout the entire tale (though Halo 4 does address this a little bit).
We don’t really get an “in” to the predominant emotions of Master Chief, unlike Samus. While the best Metroid games haven’t gone specifically into her in-depth thoughts and feelings, they always tend to elicit more emotions from gamers than the simple, “GO FOR THE HEADSHOT!” Metroid, in everything from the exploration, navigation, and especially the boss battles is simply a series that makes you think more than Halo does. And that’s a good thing.
You also just have to look at the games themselves. What Halo has done, it has managed to do tremendously: it completely reinvigorated the first-person shooter genre in a way not seen since Doom, and always captivates players with its gorgeous graphics. Whether it was giving people a taste of the power of the original Xbox back in 2001, or pushing the hardware to the absolute limit as it did last year with Halo 4, no one can deny the impactHalo has had on the video game medium.
The truth is, though, that Metroid’s impact is greater, broader, and more diverse.
In addition to reinventing (or reviving) the platforming genre every time a 2D Metroid game was released (perhaps with no greater effort than with 1994’s Super Metroid and 2004’s Metroid: Zero Mission), it also seamlessly made the transition into the third dimension when Retro Studios released Metroid Prime in 2002 (followed by the sequels Echoes in 2004 and Corruption in 2007). While every other Metroid game released up to that point had been a third-person platforming adventure, the announcement of Prime moving into the realm of first person was met with a chorus of angry boos when first announced…until people actually picked it up and played it.
While you do see out of Samus’ eyes and shoot her arm cannon from that perspective, the Metroid Prime games are not what you would call “first-person shooters.” They innovated the “first-person adventure” genre, because that is what you primarily do in those games: traverse a harsh world in detail to accomplish your goal. This is without even mentioning the incredible dexterity afforded to the players of Metroid Prime 3: Corruption or Metroid Prime Trilogy on Wii, since the franchise again innovated an entirely new and fluidic way to experience a first-person anything game with the most unlikely of controllers: the Wii Remote and Nunchuk.
I don’t hate Halo. I actually like it quite a bit. However, when a hardcore Halo fan blinded by loyalty to the Chief tries to tell me that it’s a “better” franchise, I just want them to have more information. Perhaps when Retro Studios releases a new Metroid game in the glory of high definition on the Wii U, it may just be the gesture to get the attentions of those certain devotees to step into the Space Jump Boots of Samus Aran, and to protect the good people of the Galactic Federation from Space Pirates, Metroids, and of course, Ridley. If you’ve never thought to give it a shot before, then I implore you: give it a try!
I think you’ll be glad that you did.
h/t: Nintendo Life
Recommended Link: Metroid Recon
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