A Metroid Prime Beyond Retro

It felt like Nintendo’s Metroid franchise would rest for well over a decade after Metroid: Other M on Wii garnered a pitiful reception after it released in 2010. But for anyone who enjoyed the series more than its many 2D inspirations (though they’re fine in their own right), Nintendo proved all the skeptics wrong at E3 2017. They announced that two games were in development: Metroid Prime 4 and Metroid II: Return of Samus remake Metroid: Samus Returns, which meant Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto should be believed when he talks. Samus Returns was released in three months after the announcement, but Prime 4 was announced with a logo and little else.

The most immediately interesting (or alarming, depending on your perspective) aspects of both was how they weren’t being developed by the expected teams. Nintendo confirmed that Retro Studios, who developed the previous Metroid Prime games, wouldn’t be involved with Prime 4. Meanwhile, Samus Returns was developed by MercurySteam, previously responsible for the Castlevania: Lords of Shadow titles. There was cautious optimism for both, but it felt safer to look forward to Prime 4 after Samus Returns turned out to be the best game MercurySteam has made thus far. It showed how Nintendo knew what they were doing in making these development decisions.

While Nintendo still hasn’t confirmed Prime 4’s developer, the identity might have been leaked. An employee for Bandai Namco Singapore listed that they worked on a Switch-exclusive first-person shooter/adventure on their resume on LinkedIn alongside other titles like Ace Combat 7, which was accessible to those with an account. There are few titles that could fit that genre description, and the employee was verified as legitimate. Skepticism suggested this could have easily been for something else — like, I don’t know, a Breakdown remake. But any other first-person game would have been multiplatform, and it was unlikely that Nintendo had two such games in development simultaneously.

(The resume also mentioned that Ridge Racer 8 is also in development as a Switch-exclusive, which is nearly as interesting as the Prime 4 rumor. If true, it will be the first numbered Ridge Racer game in over a decade, since Ridge Racer 7 released as a launch title for PlayStation 3 back in 2006.)

Eurogamer’s “multiple sources” subsequently reaffirmed the rumor, a site that’s been reliable for leaks in the past outside a few hitches. Many of Bandai Namco Singapore’s development team members were previously employed at LucasArts Singapore, and worked on Star Wars 1313 before it was cancelled. Article writer Tom Philips’ sources later relayed info that Bandai Namco’s Japanese studio is also working on it, and there are plans for them to take the lead on the project. The Singapore studio will be shifted to the development of another Switch game if that happens — which could be Ridge Racer 8. These reported development decisions indicate how early the project is in development.

This is potentially big news, and while most are curious about how this could turn out while acknowledging Bandai Namco’s good reputation, there are some extremely negative reactions to this from others. It’s strange to see when the game hasn’t even been shown yet, but it’s another reminder that some gaming types jump to extreme conclusions too quickly. There’s nothing wrong with skepticism, since the Star Wars 1313 team never got the chance to be tested and Bandai Namco’s Japanese arm has never developed a game like a Metroid Prime title before, but come on.

Perhaps the negativity is due to Nintendo choosing another Japanese developer besides themselves to handle this, which invoked memories of when Team Ninja was chosen for Other M. That’s not a good reason to write the project off this quickly, especially given how Bandai Namco’s resume is better than the post-Tomonobu Itagaki Team Ninja in 2010. Admittedly, the latter has since proven themselves with titles like Dead or Alive 5 and especially Nioh, and most of Other M’s complaints were related to the story, which Nintendo handled.

The pessimism here is reminiscent of some reactions when the original Metroid Prime from Retro Studios was first revealed, as there was intense backlash about how bizarre an idea a first-person Metroid adventure was. That it was coming from a then-untested western developer didn’t help, which led to opinions suggesting that Metroid was being dumbed down into another first-person shooter like Doom or Unreal. But even those who feared the worst enjoyed the game, as it captured the spirit of the series despite the switch in perspective. It will be up to the team (or teams) at Bandai Namco to capture the best of what worked with the Retro-developed trilogy.

Speaking of them: What in the heck is Retro Studios doing right now, anyway? Their last game was Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze for Wii U, which released four years ago as of this month (and will be ported to Switch in May). They’re definitely working on a new project, but it’s surprising that nothing about it has been revealed yet. Perhaps we’ll hear something about it at E3 this year, let alone see something.

In fact, that could also apply to Metroid Prime 4. If Nintendo was willing to announce the game with nothing but a logo last year, they could feel comfortable with showing some early footage if it’s in a showable state.

Before that, it would be nice if Nintendo remastered the Metroid Prime Trilogy for Switch. They have to already be considering this, as it would do a good job preparing everyone for the new title, and holding them off until it arrives. We’ll see if more info about the title leaks out over time, or if Nintendo just decides to confirm it.

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