As time progresses and technology presses ever forward, the Metroidvania genre is dying a slow death. It will likely waste away into obscurity in mainstream markets. Fortunately, the indie game development scene has done its part to keep the genre on life support (Guacamelee, Chasm, and a few others come to mind). The one thing we’re unlikely to ever see again, unfortunately, is another 2D Metroid game. It’s a shame, because this is probably one of the games we need the most.
For those of you coming late to the party, the 2D Metroid titles were some of the most enjoyable games ever released. Each one featured an unusual, yet immensely satisfying combination of platforming and exploration through highly interconnected locales. Samus could grow stronger as the player progressed, with health upgrades functioning as a “level up” and equipment powerups being scattered across the game world. Vast sequences of the game could be done out of order by skilled players, by delaying or skipping the acquisition of the aforementioned powerups in favor of tricky gameplay methods.
The sum of all these parts led to fantastic gaming experiences, around which an almost cult-like obsession formed. Super Metroid arguably popularized the concept of speedruns in 1994, and people are still trying to one-up each other for completion times. The series is interesting enough that simply watching videos of these playthroughs is entertaining in and of itself.
When the series went 3D on the Gamecube with Metroid Prime, it became an entirely different animal. Exploration and backtracking were still a thing, and some platforming still happened. While I consider the Prime games to be quality titles in their own right, things just aren’t the same anymore. This is problematic because any series is expected to evolve away from its original formula, and only in rare cases do developers return to their roots. I don’t fault Nintendo for taking the Metroid series into the third dimension. I just wish they would revisit what made the series so great in the first place.
There’s something undeniably charming about the 2D, platform-heavy environments of the past. I don’t tend to “miss” gaming or genre eras, but I often find myself wishing there was a Metroid Fusion 2 in development or something similar. And for quite a while, this looked like it was happening. In 2005, the first details of a project entitled Metroid Dread were unveiled. This was to be a 2D, side-scrolling adventure and a direct sequel to Fusion.
With not even a single screenshot or gameplay description in almost half a decade, the title was put on permanent hiatus. The last that was heard about the project came in 2010, when an IGN editor confirmed that Nintendo had fully developed a story for Dread, but had no plans to make the actual game.
Instead, we got Metroid: Other M, a hybrid first/third person shooter with awkward controls. To summarize the reception, we could have done without it. If Dread wasn’t going to be in the works, it would have been nice to at least get another Prime instead, or just nothing for the time being.
Most of us have probably stopped holding our breaths at this point, though I’m still holding on to that last sliver of hope. It would make an excellent edition to the already solid 3DS lineup, or even a Virtual Console release for those who couldn’t justify paying full price for a 2D game on the Wii U. Metroid is one of Nintendo’s flagship series, so it would sell like hotcakes. The speedrun community loves the franchise, so it would benefit from plenty of exposure and extensive gameplay for decades to come.
The world needs this game. Listen to your fans, Nintendo.