Metroid Dread is just days away from release, taking the series back to its 2D roots on Nintendo Switch. But fans of Nintendo’s intergalactic bounty hunter Samus Aran are most looking forward to the long-delayed Metroid Prime 4, the continuation of the ambitious first-person take on the franchise.
Could a discussion about a failed Metroid Prime 3 plan give a hint at what’s to come?
Bryan Walker, senior producer on Metroid Prime 2 and 3, and former team member at Retro Studios (the developer now responsible for Metroid Prime 4) spoke with Kiwi Talkz (via VGC) on the third Metroid Prime game that nearly was.
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"We wanted to a great degree leverage the ship as a playable asset, and we had that to some degree in Prime 3 but Mark [Pacini, Metroid Prime’s series director] was thinking much more ambitiously," said Walker.
"There was also an open world that was much less linear than he was proposing and the team was excited about. We weren't able to prototype a lot of those because they were really big. We did have some ship prototypes, but the open-world one was much bigger."
However, these ambitions were built around hopeful expectations of what Nintendo’s next console at the time, the Wii, would be capable of, based on what Walker and his team already knew about the then-state-of-the-art competition, the Xbox 360 and PS3.
"We knew what the Xbox 360 was going to have, [we] knew what the PS3 was going to have and the initial specs we were looking at [for Wii] were not competitive from a hardware and memory standpoint... there were all these disadvantages.
"We were a little concerned, to be blunt, and then they rolled out the Wii Remote, and kind of in unison the team went, 'Ah! Ok.'"
Metroid Prime 3, while still a solid game, is perhaps the least fondly remembered of the original Prime trilogy. Walker and co. remain proud of it to this day.
"We may have fallen short of our goals with Prime 3 in not being able to expand the formula a bit," Walker said.
"We're still very, very proud of Prime 3, it turned out to be a fantastic game, but I would be very interested to see what the response would be, especially the fan community, to the expanded ship and the non-linear experience that we were touching upon.”
Analysis: Could Metroid Prime 4 go open world?
Metroid Prime 4 had originally been in the works at Bandai Namco Studios, but a troubled development saw it transfer to the series’ original home at Retro Studios.
If the original vision for Metroid Prime 4 wasn’t working out, could Nintendo have been passing the reins back to Retro Studios to work on its shelved, ambitious plans from yesteryear? The Nintendo Switch is still not a powerhouse console in the way the PS5 or Xbox Series X is, but as evidenced by the likes of Breath of the Wild, is more than capable enough of large open world-scale games.
It’s a relief to see Metroid Prime 4 back at the series original home – it’s one way to ensure continuity through the series across multiple console generations. And given the ambitious ideas the studio had for the series long ago, it would make sense to see the studio go back down that path again. Could Metroid Prime 4 finally be a space-faring, ship-steering, open world adventure that so nearly came to be all those years ago?
With no release date yet set for Metroid Prime 4, and a Metroid Prime Trilogy remaster still expected before the sequel's release, we'll have some time yet to wait to find out.
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