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10 Steps Metroid Can Take in the Right Direction

I recently re-played Metroid: Other M for Wii. The game is…divisive to say the least. I personally don’t hate it nearly as much as some do. The game has its flaws to be sure, but the core of the game is not completely without merit. That being said, Other M is something of a misstep. It lacks what makes Metroid, well, Metroid. With E3 coming up, it’s entirely possible that a new Metroid announcement is on the way.

Here’s a list of things that, in my opinion, Nintendo could do to get the series back on track. Keep in mind, these are just my thoughts, and I welcome debate about them.

1. Lose the Space Marines

In most Metroid games, mood factors heavily into the experience. You are the lone human on an alien world, and the sense of isolation can be very poignant at times. Metroid: Other M, and to a lesser extent, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption do away with this, by making Samus interact directly with the Galactic Federation. While doing that isn’t bad in and of itself, it does make the game feel more like it’s just another space war game rather than a deep exploratory experience. At least they tend to only appear in cutscenes and out of your way during the main action. Now there is one possible exception to this, which I’ll get into later, but in general, Samus should be solitary.

2. Embrace A Link Between Worlds’ open-endedness

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds has been hailed as a return to form for the Zelda series, allowing the player near complete freedom in what order challenges are tackled. Metroid has never been quite that linear. You can only overcome certain obstacles with the right weapon, and these generally also double as a key to a new area. In the first Metroid game however, you could go just about anywhere as long as you had the Morph Ball and bombs. Of course, having the Ice Beam and Hi-Jump made it invaluably easier, but once you had the Morph Ball and bombs, nothing could stop you from plumbing the depths of Brinstar and Norfair, or from taking on Ridley and Kraid in whatever order you desired. The only truly sealed off area was Tourian, which became accessible after defeating the “mini-bosses”. Since then, Metroid has ranged from fairly linear (Return of Samus, Fusion, Other M), to open with caveats (Super Metroid, Prime). Super is probably the best example of these; it doesn’t let the player get too far ahead of themselves (requiring a multitude of power-ups to fully explore), but once the player is in a new area, there are no objectives guiding their path. Whatever this new Metroid game (assuming there is one) ends up being, it should embrace something of a best of both worlds approach. For all its strengths, Super Metroid still isn’t quite as open as its console predecessor. In doing that however, it manages to be much clearer in communicating what the player needs to do. If a Metroid game can manage to be as open as the first Metroid, but not be completely and frustratingly confusing, I’d say it would have the potential to be even better than Super Metroid.

3. Dare to set it before Metroid

While the timeline of the Metroid series isn’t as completely wacky as that of The Legend of Zelda, the chronological release order doesn’t match up with it at all. However, there has never been a Metroid game that is set before the NES original. The closest we’ve gotten to that is Metroid: Zero Mission, which remade the first game with Super Metroid’s sensibilities and added a new post-mission. But we know that the infiltration of Zebes was not Samus’ first mission. She had built up a reputation as a bounty hunter, and even before that as a soldier, which is probably what prompted her selection by the Galactic Federation to take out Mother Brain. The Metroid e-manga sheds some light on Samus’ early life, but we have yet to see it in a game (aside from the controversial flashback during the Ridley battle in Other M). Introduce us to characters from the manga like Old Bird. Show us how she learned to use the Power Suit and what her first mission was. There are a number of things that could be done by setting it before the Zebes mission.

4. Dare to set it after Metroid: Fusion

In contrast, we have never had a Metroid game that took place after Fusion, which is a shame, because it leaves Samus in a dire situation. Samus is a fugitive by the end of Fusion, directly going against orders to end the threat of the X Parasites. Other M contextualized this by showing that the Federation has become downright creepy and corrupt. This is just begging for a game to focus on Samus on the run. Of course, this is also asking for trouble. Where would the plot line go? Samus is no revolutionary, she’s too much of a loner. But being pitted against the Federation is the perfect way to make her even more alone.

5. Or just show us what was up with that ship from the end of Corruption

I think this one kind of speaks for itself. The alternative to the past two ideas would be to set it between Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, and Metroid II: Return of Samus. We have no idea who’s trailing Samus, and I don’t know about you, but I want to know who he is and why he has a bone to pick with our heroine.

6. Dare to not include Metroid

Yes, I know, it’s in the title. Here’s something to think about: there are Legend of Zelda games where Zelda hardly figures into the action or story at all. In Majora’s Mask, she only appears in a flashback, while in the first game, she only appears at the very end when rescued by Link. And this idea of not including the namesake is not new to Metroid. Metroid Prime: Hunters didn’t include the little suckers, so the series really isn’t under any obligation to include them, especially when it would only serve to complicate the story. Let’s say that we go with my idea of setting the game before Metroid for NES: the Federation might not even know about Metroids’ existence. Or we set it after Fusion: are you really telling me that they’ve managed to clone Metroids again?! This problem would also incidentally show up if the new game was set in the middle of the already established timeline (but possibly swap out Federation for the Space Pirates). What would this actually do for the game? Well the answer is actually not much. But it would be a sign that the development team is willing to go to different places than we’ve seen in the past.

7. Introduce new power-up concepts

Metroid games are usually pretty good about introducing new items and abilities. But Other M had only one new beam and one new missile type. Yawn. Other M would have been much better in my opinion, if they had branched out more with the power-up choices (and not had the authorization system but that’s another problem entirely). When was the last time we really had a new concept for a power-up? Most new ones that come to my mind are missile types, or other such modifications to already existing mechanics. It’s time for a change, and one of the first things that can change, and what will ultimately make or break the game, is what you use in the game.

8. Include other returning bosses

Don’t get me wrong, I love Ridley, but I kinda miss Kraid. And I can’t be the only one who would like to see the likes of Crocomire again. Recurring bosses are far and few between in this series, which again, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But some of these guys are pretty memorable (which is more than I can say for most of the bosses from Other M and Fusion). And it wouldn’t hurt to bring them back at least one more time.

9. Eliminate voice acting

I was actually pretty neutral on Other M’s voice acting. It definitely wasn’t great, but it could have been a lot worse. I’m going to go on a sort of tangent here: remember WALL-E? How the first half hour of that movie had almost no dialogue? To me, that’s what Metroid is to video games. A game where there is noise in the silence. If they ever make a Metroid movie, I would want them to go that route, and have almost no dialogue. Back to the game, that doesn’t mean that there can’t be text on the screen giving Samus’ thoughts at the beginning like in Super Metroid, but once we know what’s going on, we don’t need loads of exposition and internal conflict to keep us playing.

10. Make music that’s memorable

Metroid’s music is so unique because it is simultaneously atmospheric and catchy. Other M didn’t have a single piece of original music that was remotely memorable. Making up for that, it had some good arrangements of past themes (like the opening from Super Metroid, and Ridley’s theme). But most of the time, it felt like there was no music at all. This is interesting, because the original Metroid had moments like this that worked in its favor. Metroid composer Hirokazu Tanaka once said that he intended for Metroid’s music to be indistinguishable from its sound effects, and was the opposite of “hummable.” I kind of think he failed, but that doesn’t mean Metroid’s music isn’t great. It does convey the themes and feelings the area is supposed to give off well, but at the same time, the pieces are memorable, iconic even. There’s no reason Metroid music can’t be like that again.