Op-Ed: Managing Expectations for Metroid: Samus Returns

Samus is back on 2D on 3DS, but is she safe from her co-creator?

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 06/20/2017 08:45 Comment on this     ShareThis

Metroid: Samus Returns has a bunch of people excited, and for good reason: it’s been years since we’ve had a proper Samus adventure, let alone a 2D one. I count myself among those who are thrilled to know that Samus Returns is coming September 15, but I know that for some people out there the wounds are still fresh from the disappointment of Other M. Let’s breakdown what we know about the game so far.

The Developer

MercurySteam is a name that Nintendo fans haven’t heard since 2013. That’s when the developer dropped Castlevania: Lords of Shadow—Mirror of Fate on 3DS. It currently sits with an aggregate score of 72, which is by no means bad, but I’m going to go on the record as saying that I think Mirror of Fate was a little underrated. Diehard Castlevania fans seemed to have the biggest problem with it, as MercurySteam attempted to straddle the line between Koji Igarashi’s Metroidvania titles on Game Boy Advance and DS and its own PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 take on the series. As someone who considers himself a Castlevania diehard fan, during my time with the game I soaked in its fun, combo-driven combat, fascinating mix of lead characters plucked from the history of the series, and stunning presentation. It was also not afraid to be dark on a system known more for family fair.

If you’re wondering why I’m bringing up this four year old game when I’m supposed to be talking about Samus Returns, it’s because Mirror of Fate is the reason MercurySteam was given the brass ring from Nintendo. As revealed by GameSpot, the title drew the attention of Metroid co-creator and producer Yoshio Sakamoto, who was impressed with MercurySteam’s work on Mirror of Fate and decided he wanted to bring them in to handle Samus’s next outing. It’s also been divulged in the days since Samus Returns was unveiled that the team at MercurySteam is plucking pieces from Mirror of Fate as it works on this latest Metroid game; Samus’s new parrying ability was drawn right from Mirror of Fate, along with who knows what else. Some have called into question whether or not MercurySteam was a suitable choice for developer, but I’m confident that they’ll give us a solid Metroid experience.

The Producer

Here’s where my trepidation sets in. Outside of the excellent Tomodachi Life, I haven’t had confidence in producer Yoshio Sakamoto ever since Other M. He had his hands all over that particular train wreck, both producing and writing the game. Team Ninja put in some good work creating tight controls, kinetic action, and some great graphics, but what should have been a solid game was scuttled by Sakamoto’s involvement. He insisted on the awkward Wii Remote-only control scheme, which limited ease of movement, along with bolting on some wonky first-person controls that detracted from more than added to the experience. Perhaps most damning, however, was his butchering of Samus’ character. Where once we had a fierce, powerful female lead, now there was a mewling, emotional mess in her place.

In short, Sakamoto, despite helping create the character, neutered Samus because he apparently doesn’t truly understand her. With him at the helm of Samus Returns, I’m worried that the same awful characterization will permeate this promising handheld installment of Metroid. Thankfully, it’s a reimagining of the wonderful Game Boy title Metroid II: Return of Samus, so the dev team is building upon a sound foundation, but that still might not be enough to protect this project.

Unfortunately, Sakamoto has also gone on record as saying that he’s excited to put a new spin on Metroid II since he wasn’t involved with the creation of the original. At present, I question how much he understands what Metroid fans want. I’m confident in saying that the average Metroid devotee who pined for a return to 2D was likely envisioning something closer to Metroid Zero Mission or Super Metroid; Samus Returns is clearly pulling from Other M from a gameplay perspective more than any of those games. Let’s hope the same can’t be said of Samus’s characterization.

In Conclusion…

Does that mean Samus Returns is doomed? I’m inclined to say no… for now. What was shown at E3 was very promising. Again, I felt that Other M played quite well, so if this is a return to that game’s more visceral combat I’m not very worried. I would have liked to see a more traditional 2D game, but as it stands MercurySteam seems to be pulling out all the stops with its Nintendo debut. What will hold this game back is an unrestrained Sakamoto running amok like he did with Other M. I can respect that he helped create Samus, but Nintendo would be wise to learn from the mistakes that Sakamoto made the last time out. He almost singlehandedly annihilated one of the most important franchises in video games. If this game is to be a success, it needs to be a return for Samus, alright—to the character that we knew and loved in every game she appeared in right up to Other M.


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