With any long-tenured series, developers eventually begin to run out of ideas for innovation. Whether it’s story or gameplay, developers find themselves unable to continue creating a fresh gaming experience inside the already-established guidelines of the video game universe that they’ve created. As innovation slips, so do game sales, and eventually it is no longer profitable to continue adding to the franchise.
An increasingly popular alternative to abandoning a stagnant franchise is rebooting. As aging IPs like Tomb Raider and Devil May Cry have recently shown, starting over from square one can give developers a chance to take a game in new directions that would not have been possible otherwise. By rebooting, developers can start fresh in terms of gameplay, story, and character development without completely ditching their well-recognized characters and game worlds.
With many of its characters and franchises approaching the ripe old age of 30, Nintendo has more well-established and beloved characters than any other video game company. While this gives Nintendo a rich library of first party content, it also means that many of Nintendo’s go-to franchises are at risk of lacking innovation as they age. Perhaps more so than any other Nintendo series, Metroid is primed (pun intended) for a reboot.
Metroid began as a very gameplay-fueled series with little story needed to motivate the player onward. As the game market has evolved to place a higher emphasis on the importance of story-telling, Metroid has slowly followed suit. The increased story-telling helped to spice up Samus Aran’s adventures for a time, but it has become clear over time that the members of the Metroid development team have completely painted themselves into a corner creatively.
The original trilogy of Metroid games seemed to have wrapped up what little story that there was quite nicely. Samus had severely crippled the Space Pirate army, destroyed their base on planet Zebes, and completely exterminated the life-sucking parasitic Metroids. Due to there being an unspecified amount of time in between the first and second Metroid games, the Prime Trilogy was able to find a home without directly contradicting the established canon.
Metroid Fusion was tacked onto the end of the timeline with the presence of Metroids (believed to be extinct) being explained by the fact that the Galactic Federation was illegally cloning them. The most recent title, Metroid: Other M, found itself wedged between the third (Super Metroid) and fourth (Metroid Fusion) games, yet it also contained the monsters for which the series was named. To no one’s surprise, the “twist” in the story was that the Galactic Federation was illegally cloning Metroids.
When a series uses the exact same plot twist in two games that are supposed to occur consecutively in the overall chronology, there’s a problem. Metroids have de-evolved from an interesting and feared enemy to a creature that’s just slapped onto the end of every game because the developers feel obligated to include them for their name’s sake. There’s no real room to move forward with the story without ditching Metroids altogether, and it appears that the developers are unwilling to do that.
Then there’s the issue of Samus herself. For years Samus served as a mostly-silent protagonist, but series creator Yoshio Sakamoto decided to give a voice and a more fleshed out past to Samus in Other M. Unfortunately, the majority of the dedicated fanbase was extremely unhappy with his depiction of Samus.
The silent hero who took on entire planets single-handedly seemed entirely dependent on the approval of her superior officer and seemed to only have two ranges of emotion: painfully dull or on the verge of a mental breakdown. If Nintendo chose to give Samus a voice in future games, they would either have to ignore the way she was depicted in Other M completely (at which point they might as well just reboot her character anyway) or try to build her personality based off a depiction that most fans hated.
By rebooting Metroid, Nintendo could breath new life into a dying franchise. With a fresh start, Nintendo could make Metroids themselves relevant again, give Samus a proper personality (or choose to return her to silence), and open the story up to new directions that weren’t possible before. A reboot gives Nintendo the chance to give longtime fans of the series the proper new Metroid experience that they deserve while attracting an all-new fanbase.
In the past, I expressed my opinion that Metroid and the Wii U are a perfect match, and I still believe that. Nintendo needs exclusive “hardcore” titles for their struggling console, and a rebooted Metroid fits the bill nicely. How about it, Nintendo? Time to give Metroid a clean slate to work with.