This past October, Nintendo released Metroid Dread, the latest installment in their illustrious Metroid series. For Metroid fans, this title was a long-time coming. Following multiple obstacles before coming to fruition, Producer Yoshio Sakamoto's latest title finally saw the light of day with the help of developer Mercury Steam. But for the gaming scene at large, this might be their first experience in the Metroid series.
Metroid Dread's release does not just harken a new entry in a beloved franchise. Metroid has always been a hit among many Nintendo fans. Unfortunately, while the series began to climb up to the top levels of gaming hallmarks in the early-mid 2000s, Nintendo cut its support short before its momentum could truly blossom.
The release of Metroid Prime 3 harkened the end of a beloved trilogy while 2009's Metroid: Other M left a blemish on an amazing series. The following release of Metroid Prime: Federation Force for 3DS felt like a slap in the face of fans. Metroid was less likely to follow the route of Mario and Zelda and instead become an unsupported franchise like F-Zero.
Thankfully, Nintendo's decision to develop and release Metroid: Samus Returns for the 3DS in 2017 returned the faith to many Metroid fans. In addition to releasing a specially-themed New 3DS XL and several amiibo to help market the game, Samus Returns marked the return of the series. With the unlockable art gallery foreshadowing the impending story of Metroid Dread, the series was given both new fans from Samus Returns as well as a new lease on life. They needed only capitalize with a system-seller on Nintendo Switch.
Impact on the Metroid Series
Metroid Dread marks the first 2D home console title in the series since 1994's Super Metroid. It's also the first non-remake 2D Metroid title since 2002's Metroid Fusion, christened as Metroid 5. If Metroid Dread's sales succeed where its predecessors could not, it will show several things.
First, despite being the end of the story arc which Mr. Sakamoto had envisioned, it begins a new era for the Metroid series: an era of success in which the momentum and sales inspire Nintendo to continue developing and releasing games in the series without the fear of a hiatus or cancellation.
Impact on Nintendo Fans
I used the term "system seller" earlier. In other words, this is to define Metroid Dread not just as "another game for Metroid fans" but a game made to sell Nintendo Switch units. Releasing on the same day as the Nintendo Switch OLED model, it becomes clear that Nintendo purposely banked all of their faith on Metroid Dread succeeding and moving hardware units.
Nintendo's stellar marketing of the game delivered everything except a Twitter emoji. Their frequent posts, the "reports" to preview the game, and the Nintendo Switch OLED release date signaled that Metroid Dread was not just another 2D game on the system. Rather, Metroid Dread was given the honor to be Nintendo's Game of the Year.
This would be the title that was put on a level similar to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Pokemon Sword & Shield, and Animal Crossing. Nintendo wanted Metroid Dread to join the ranks of their top-selling franchises and entrusted the task to Yoshio Sakamoto and the development team at Mercury Steam.
In doing so, thanks to strong marketing and word-of-mouth, Metroid Dread could quite possibly bring in the biggest number of new fans since 2002's Metroid Prime and Fusion if not more so. Their marketing strategy was intended not just for the longtime Metroid fans or even the newcomers from 2017's Samus Returns. This is the same kind of marketing they use to market even their big, new IPs like Splatoon. Nintendo had no intention of letting this game go unnoticed and have made sure that their entire fanbase - veteran fans and especially the potential new ones - set their eyes on the Metroid series.
There's no way an 8-hour game has any business being Game of the Year, right? We live in an era of paradigms. If it isn't a lengthy, open-world adventure like Red Dead Redemption 2, Death Stranding, or The Last of Us 2, why would Nintendo's side-scroller have any business being a top-notch hit? Because they've been doing it for years.
Even in spite of low sales, the Metroid series continued to win awards thanks to the sheer quality of its best games. Most recently, Metroid: Samus Returns won Handheld Game of the Year in 2017. But that's not to undermine the many awards Metroid Prime won to include Game of the Year back in the early 2000s either. It was always there, but just not present in the line of sight of many Nintendo fans who were focused more on their most popular, family-friendly series.
However, the Metroidvania formula has retained immense popularity. Especially during the late 2000s to mid-2010s drought of 2D Metroid and Castlevania titles, indie developers began creating and releasing Metroidvania titles in droves. I daresay the industry is oversaturated with indie Metroidvania titles of which only a few truly shine. Among them include Ori and the Blind Forest and its stellar, improved sequel, Ori and the Will of the Wisps.
Impact on the Metroidvania Genre
Titles like Ori championed the Metroidvania genre in the recent era. WayForward also continued the development of Shantae, a series that also entered its own hiatus in the early-mid 2000s. These developers carried on the genre's legacy to the top until Mercury Steam and Nintendo brought Metroid back in 2017. Now with Metroid Dread, the title vastly improves upon the already stellar Metroid: Samus Returns, one of the best 3DS games and handheld titles in history. As such, Metroid Dread is not only comparable to Super Metroid, and dare I say better in many ways, but sets a new standard for the genre as well.
Metroid Dread brings to the table revamped, improved, and polished combat, a lengthy overworld to explore, tense stealth segments, and some of the best boss battles you could ask for. It brings Metroid back into fruition with a home console release and the best advertising Nintendo has ever given it. As such, this quality title has surely captured the eyes and hearts of the many indie Metroidvania developers seeking to create their next hit game. With Metroid Dread in mind, they will surely seek inspiration from this new title to continue paving the way to the genre's future.
If it were up to me, I would say Metroid Dread has earned the series the right to be called a top-tier Nintendo franchise. As much as I enjoy the series, it just never sold quite as much as Mario, Zelda, Pokemon, or Animal Crossing. Outside of its appearances in the Smash Bros., series, many Nintendo fans might have passed up on Metroid the way they would pass up on F-Zero, EarthBound, and Kid Icarus: Uprising. However, Nintendo sought to steal their attention with this quality hit release. As such, I can only hope that its sales drive Nintendo to continue moving forward with the series and celebrating it as one of their finest creations.
Furthermore, this paves the way for Metroid Prime 4. Remember the AAA game examples I listed above? Metroid Prime was that game once before and spent an entire trilogy building its story across two consoles: the GameCube and the Wii. Known for its longer campaign, immersive atmosphere, creative boss battles, and its many pieces of lore, Retro Studios has its work cut out for them.
Known most recently for reviving the Donkey Kong Country franchise, Retro Studios already has the foundation to release Metroid Prime 4 to a new generation of fans on Nintendo Switch. With the proper marketing and precise polish, Metroid Prime 4 could be a destined system seller should the publishers play their cards right. Maybe then we won't have to worry about Metroid being treated as a lesser franchise and watch it bloom into the respected, high-selling experience it was always meant to be.
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