Cognition Dissemination: The Samus Returns Amiibo Debacle

There was a heap of rejoicing when Nintendo confirmed that Metroid wasn’t dead at E3 this year with the announcement of two projects: Metroid: Samus Returns and Metroid Prime 4 for 3DS and Switch, respectively. The former is currently the most important title, since it appears development for the latter is just gearing up. Though Samus Returns might look like a new game at first glance, it’s actually a remake of Metroid II: Return of Samus. It follows in the footsteps of Metroid: Zero Mission, a remake of the original Metroid that released for Game Boy Advance in 2002/2003. But this version uses 3D polygons instead of sprites, and gives Samus a series of new melee abilities.

Of course, the biggest change is how it’s being developed outside Nintendo’s internal studios, and instead by Spanish developer MercurySteam. The mere utterance of their name was enough to cause panic among those familiar with their games, particularly their mediocre take on 2D Castlevania with Lords of Shadow — Mirror of Fate. But that fear died down when it was shown on two Treehouse streams, as the gameplay shown gave the impression that this will be a quality effort that incorporates nearly every element people enjoy about the series’ 2D installments — perhaps outside the 2D sprite work.

Since the developer involved won’t be a controversy, something else has taken that throne: The Samus Returns Amiibo 2-pack announced alongside the game, which includes a new variant of Samus and a squishy Metroid figurine. These Amiibo, along with the Super Smash Bros. Samus and Zero Suit Samus iterations, will unlock exclusive features, and the functionality tied to them is rubbing people the wrong way — for damn good reason.

The new crouching Samus Amiibo that mimics Samus’ pose on the cover art will unlock an energy tank while playing, and an art gallery after the main quest is completed. Using the Metroid Amiibo will reveal the location of nearby Metroids on the map, and unlock the “Fusion” hard mode after finishing the game, with Samus wearing her Metroid Fusion suit. The Smash Samus Amiibo will unlock a missile tank during the game, and an exclusive piece of concept art after completing it. Finally, the Zero Suit Samus figure will unlock another energy tank, and a music box mode where the soundtrack can be played after the game is finished. What’s upsetting is how all these features are exclusively locked to the Amiibo, since these were in-game unlockables with previous installments.

It’s the “Fusion” mode being locked to an Amiibo that’s the worst. In addition to the Fusion outfit, a nod to the only game where Samus wore a protective suit that wasn’t her traditional one, this essentially locks the hardest difficulty to the figure. Given the cost involved, this is worse than when other games lock content to DLC. The new Samus and Metroid 2-pack costs $29.99, a mere $10 less than the main game, and stores in America have already sold out of preorders. The other figures will cost an additional $12.99 if you don’t own them. Worse, those who still play on the original 3DS or XL model will also need the NFC Reader, which costs another $19.99. All those costs seriously add up.

Nintendo has been bounding a lot content to Amiibo lately, including how Fire Emblem characters were unlockable through them in Codename S.T.E.A.M., and how classic outfits could be unlocked for Link in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. But they’re going too far here, as if they want to make up for potentially underwhelming sales of the main gameby getting those who purchase it to buy the Amiibo alongside it. It’s a cynical way of thinking, even if there’s a chance of this working out for Nintendo.

This means some Nintendo fans have a dilemma here. It’s understandable that some don’t want to support a game that includes anti-consumer features, and plan on boycotting this and the Amiibo. But this could result less in Nintendo learning a lesson about doing this in the future, and instead make them concerned about whether it was worth their time to bring the Metroid brand back. (Though in fairness, Metroid Prime 4 would still release.) Either way, it’s an unfortunate development when it’s coming from a company many thought was behind the times in a good way in terms of DLC.

Bad press isn’t what this title needed, but there’s no helping it when Nintendo takes actions that invite it. Given how little they like to address the qualms of their most dedicated fans online (recently seen with the SNES Classic Edition preorder fiasco in America), don’t expect them to provide a response. But I’m open to being surprised. It would be best if the game sold well and Nintendo learned their lesson here about fans not liking this, but time will tell.

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