Metroid Prime 4 is likely the most high-profile game Nintendo fans are waiting to see, outside of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2. There's a LOT of pressure on Retro to deliver, and I thought I'd take a dive into that. As always, thanks for reading.
Nintendo fans are always eager to see what the Big N is doing next with their franchises. Nintendo has built an unbelievable library of software over the last 40+ years, and they somehow always seem to deliver. There's a reason why Nintendo's characters are beloved and long-running. Nintendo and their partners put an ungodly amount of time and care into these experiences, making sure they're not only fun to play, but that they also feel like a Nintendo game. Whatever that magic behind-the-scenes formula is works, and Nintendo continues to wow fans with sequels to this day.
There's always pressure on any developer when coming up with a title, but things are a little different when it comes to Nintendo. More often than not, devs are working with franchises that have been growing for decades now, and have received some of the highest marks and rewards the industry has to offer. The weight of that success has to weigh quite heavy on all involved when a new installment is being cooked up. Nintendo often does a lot of the heavy lifting themselves, but they also partner up with a select few companies to help them achieve things they might not be capable of on their own. Case in point, Nintendo's second party partner, Retro.
As far as gaming goes, Retro really hasn't been around super long. They came into existence in 1998, and they officially hooked up with Nintendo to work on Metroid Prime in 2000. That said, Retro certainly proved that they were up to snuff when it came to developing. Working alongside Nintendo, they created the Metroid Prime series, which is one of the most highly-praised and lauded runs in Nintendo's history. Nintendo themselves said that Metroid Prime wasn't something they felt they could tackle on their own, and they wanted a Western dev to work with to achieve the next step for the Metroid series. Right out of the gate, Retro proved they could be that partner, and set an incredibly high standard for themselves.
Ever since, Retro has been doing phenomenal work. They continued to work with the Prime series to create two more stellar installments, and then shifted things over to the Donkey Kong Country series. While Metroid Prime took Samus in a new direction, Donkey Kong Country Returns was the return to a classic gameplay formula for Nintendo. Once again Retro took the reigns, and what they cranked out was beyond impressive. While Retro proved they could head in a bold new direction with the Prime series, their work on Donkey Kong Country titles showed they could not only emulate past experiences to great success, but innovate with them as well. Donkey Kong Country Returns and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze not only feel like the classic DKC series, they actually surpass the classics in some ways. Nailing that feeling while providing new experiences, all while not breaking the vibe...it's ridiculously impressive work from Retro.
Metroid and Donkey Kong...that's the body of work from Retro so far. They've done a bit of work here and there for Nintendo on other titles, but haven't taken the lead on a project since Tropical Freeze launched. Many have been eager to see what Retro could do with something brand new, or perhaps how they could innovate with another classic Nintendo franchise. For awhile there, we got to speculate on what Retro could be doing next, as things were extremely quiet. We still aren't quite sure what Retro was doing for a number of years there, but we certainly know what they're doing now. Retro is returning to the Metroid series for another Prime installment, and it's likely going to be their most anticipated and important title ever.
Nintendo was trying out something experimental with the development of Metroid Prime 4, and it just didn't pan out. In a very surprising move for Nintendo, they released a video statement on the game's development. Rather than hiding the behind-the-scenes troubles, Nintendo confirmed that Metroid Prime 4 needed to be completely retooled from the beginning. The project would start fresh once more, and Nintendo was bringing Retro in to pick up the mantle once again. This was met with an absolutely huge groundswell of support from fans, as they'd been dying to see the Prime series continue with its original developers.
This is where things get interesting, though. Yes, Retro has worked on three Metroid Prime titles, but that was Retro as of 2007. Its been 13 long years since Retro created a new installment in the Metroid Prime series, and the company has seen a lot of turnover since those days. Countless devs who were instrumental in creating the Prime installments have since moved on to other companies, and in some cases, even opened their own studios. There are still some developers within Retro who were a part of those Prime games, but by and large, Metroid Prime 4 is going to be the creation of a Retro that's in flux.
Could the new Retro tackle this project with ease? Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is proof positive that a more recent Retro Studios is more than capable of creating a AAA experience. Again, there's sure to be a number of employees who've left the company since Tropical Freeze's days, but it does give us a more recent snapshot of the company. There's talent there, and with Nintendo's guidance and oversight, there's a very good shot they could crank out a 4th installment in the Prime series that really wows. That said, there's another element to this saga that needs to be addressed, and it's the one that really piles on the pressure.
Back in 2010, Nintendo released Metroid: Other M, which was a collaboration with Team Ninja. Metroid: Other M was a bold departure from the Prime series of games in just about every way. The gameplay took things back to a more 2D-style approach, albeit with plenty of 3D areas to explore. Gameplay was focused on quick-paced action and fancy moves, rather than the more methodical and calculated approach of the Prime games. When it came to story, Metroid: Other M was jam-packed with voiced cut-scenes and melodrama, where as most of the Prime series let the story play out through the environments and isolation aspect, with a few story beats sprinkled in.
Metroid: Other M was given lukewarm-to-good reviews by the gaming press, but that was nothing compared to the reaction from fans around the world. Longtime followers of Samus and her journeys were not happy with the game at all. While there were gripes about certain gameplay elements, it was the story aspect that really rubbed fans the wrong way. Samus went from a stoic, self-assured bounty hunter to a character that seemed extremely insecure and wishy-washy. The story itself was filled with characters that seemed at odds with the franchise before it, and it all played out as something akin to a lackluster anime. It was not the story fans wanted, it wasn't the portrayal of Samus they expected, and it left an absolutely massive black mark on the Metroid series altogether.
Regardless of how you personally feel about Metroid: Other M, there's no denying a huge backlash followed the game. That point in time for Nintendo marked a turn for Metroid that is still being felt today. With so many fans let down by Other M, they were now more eager than ever for Nintendo to provide a new installment in the Prime series. As the months went on, calls for a new Prime only grew, and fans were becoming restless. They wanted to know what Retro was up to, and why a new installment in the series hadn't been announced.
Unfortunately for Nintendo, things went from bad to worse with Samus' next game, Metroid Prime: Federation Force. After waiting 5 years for a new Metroid game, Nintendo's reveal of Metroid Prime: Federation Force took fan rage to a whole new level. Metroid Prime: Federation Force was a spin-off for the Metroid franchise that played something like a Monster Hunter game in the Metroid universe. The focus was on 4-player co-op with missions and boss battles. Fans made it extremely clear that this is not what they wanted, nor was it what they were waiting for. This release only made the calls for Prime 4 that much louder, and the rage from fans more intense.
Side note: Personally, I greatly enjoyed Metroid Prime: Federation Force. I never thought it deserved the negative backlash it received...at least not to the degree it got. I feel the reaction to that game was more about fan expectations of what should come next, rather than how the game itself was. I still feel bad the game never got a shot with some fans, but it is what it is.
While the reaction to Metroid Prime: Federation Force only served to enrage fans more, we've since seen one more Metroid game release in Metroid: Samus Returns. Again, while this wasn't the new Prime game people wanted, it was at least more of a return to form for Samus. Metroid: Samus Returns was a remake of Metroid II: Return of Samus on Game Boy, and it was much improved compared to the original. It also had a lot more in the way of the atmosphere fans expect from a Metroid title. While it released a tad late in the 3DS' lifespan, those who did play the game seemed to enjoy it quite a bit. It wasn't the big fix that Metroid fans needed, but it was a nice band-aid to cover up the wound.
That journey brings us up to today. We're 13 years removed from the last Metroid Prime game, and the anger that stemmed from Metroid: Other M can still be felt. There's pressure in creating any sequel, but the amount that's flying around Metroid Prime 4 is extremely dense. I think it's safe to say there's never been more pressure on Nintendo and Retro to deliver. There was certainly concern about Metroid Prime before it came out, as it was something completely new for the series. That said, there was also excitement about the new direction, and early coverage did a ton to assuage fears. We were also living in a different time, and social media wasn't a thing. Developers didn't have a live-stream of all the anger, hate, and worries of every gamer around the world, which only intensifies the situation today.
We often wonder if games can live up to the hype. Nintendo has done an excellent job of somehow managing to meet the hype, if not surpass it time and time again. The same goes for Retro, which has knocked it out of the park with everything they've touched. Can the two sides team up once again to create a masterpiece in Metroid Prime 4? It's certainly possible, and Nintendo will no doubt make sure this next outing for Samus does a lot to repair the damaged relationship with fans. You can bet Retro will be doing their best as well, going out of their way to not just deliver the game fans want, but give us some new things we haven't even thought about. No matter how Prime 4 is received, no one will be able to say the final result comes from two teams that didn't try.
Metroid Prime 4 is easily the most important release in the Metroid series to date. What happens with the franchise from here on out is going to depend on Prime 4's success. The restarted development process is pressure enough, and would make for an interesting story in and of itself. Throw in the fan disappointment with the series in recent years and the immense amount of time that's passed, and it's hard to imagine a more stressful situation. In the eyes of most fans, Metroid Prime 4 needs to right the Metroid ship.
We'll most likely see something about Metroid Prime 4 in the not-too-distant future. That's no doubt a moment Nintendo and Retro are quite worried about. They need to show something that's absolutely pitch perfect. Until then, us fans would do well to step back, take a deep breath, and be ready to take in what we see with a level head. Hopefully whatever we're shown will wow us. It's happened before with the Metroid series, and it can certainly happen again.