It’s not always this way. Being a Metroid fan only sucks sometimes. Other times, we’re lucky enough to be fans of a series that releases Best Game Ever-caliber material. Unfortunately, other times we hit a dry spot. Like now. How does it suck? Let us count the ways…
I. Rodney Dangerfield Syndrome
It has always occupied a rather strange space. Lodged between cheery Italian plumbers and heroic Hylians, the Metroid series is the odd duck. It may have gained mascot-status by releasing close to Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda at the dawn of the NES era, but the exploits of series’ heroine Samus Aran didn’t reach the lofty, legendary status of Mario and Link until the sunset of the 16-bit console generation.
While Super Metroid gained legendary status amongst us gamer nerds, and it still holds up 20 years later as one of the greatest achievements in all of gaming, it never sold as well as Mario or Zelda (or even Donkey Kong Country, which ended up outselling Samus during the death rattle of the SNES).
Which is to say, just like always.
Perhaps that is why, unlike Mario and Zelda, Metroid received no 25th anniversary celebration. One wonders if Nintendo will even bother to mark the 20th anniversary of Super, which might be the best game the House of Mario has ever – perhaps will ever – produce. Such is the fate for a series that has seemingly always been at the wrong place at the wrong time.
The mighty shadow of Super Metroid cast a shadow dark enough to blot out an entire console generation. The series saw no 3D reimagining on the N64, and instead relaunched a full 8 years later on the GameCube.
Metroid Prime, developed by Retro Studios of Texas, had better luck at retail than its forebearers, and is rightfully listed alongside Super as one of the best games ever made. However, the long hiatus meant missing out on wielding influence for 3D gaming at large. No one would dare say it’s an unimportant game, but while Super Mario 64 and Ocarina of Time serve as Gaming 101 for constructing 3D virtual adventures, Prime sits further in the background.
Unfortunately, the agonizing 8-year wait between Super and Prime is now being replicated on the handheld side. We haven’t seen a proper new portable Metroid since 2006’s Prime: Hunters. If you like your Samus on the go, you’ve been out of luck. Your luck is even worse if you like your bounty hunting in two dimensions. Despite Nintendo’s 2D renaissance these past few years, the last Metroid entry presented in 2D was released a decade ago.
III. A Fandom Divided
But if a cold corporate shoulder was the only thing facing Metroid fans, that wouldn’t be much of a problem at all. There are disparate fandoms the world over for games unloved by the masses, and who really cares what a few suits in Kyoto think? No, the problem facing Metroid is quite different. The series faces a host of whispers from the shadows, which aren’t from detractors. Instead, the bombinating emanates from within – from Metroid fans.
Other M. I don’t need to type much more than that, do I? Odds are, you have already made up your mind on the game. But that doesn’t make something like this post marking the 17th anniversary of the Metroid Database (which is one of the best resources in any fandom anywhere) any less depressing. A “ridiculous grudge” against the game is as accurate and succinct a summation as I could imagine. Hyperbole, you say? Hardly.
Witness this, an ambitious canonization of the series’ mythology. Sort of.
As a preface (and before getting to Other M’s section of history), I must say that I really enjoyed reading through that, as a Metroid geek. It makes for compelling reading. However, the introductory disclaimer on speculation, and the “logical inclusion of probable events,” doesn’t account for simply making stuff up.
-Assuming a Chozo/Luminoth/Bryyonian supreme galactic alliance based upon a few Prime logbook entries is more than a stretch.
-Samus crawling out of a destroyed power suit at the end of Zero Mission? That’s fiction, as anyone who played the game knows she wasn’t even wearing one at the time of the Space Pirate attack.
-The hunters’ Phazon infection in Prime 3? The Galactic Federation doctors telling the hunters of their imperiled condition and having weeks to live? They actually told Samus the Phazon “had no negative effects” on her health (no really, they did – just go to the 7:55 mark or so).
-The reason for the infant Metroid’s unusual size in Super? Well, Other M gives more than a hint on this, baldly implying that the hatchling wasn’t just any Metroid, it was (spoiler!) possibly a queen.
And so on and so forth. On that final point, of course, one has to actually accept Other M as a part of the Metroid series. As shown in part two of that editorial, the writer does not. In their opinion, the game is “impossible to resolve with the rest of the franchise”…despite actually tying together the storylines of Super Metroid and Fusion. Likewise, no matter how many times the rationale behind Samus’ reaction to Ridley is provided (what appears in Other M was a clone of Ridley; the real one died for good in Super – the only time he’s been completely destroyed – which basically makes the encounter in Other M like seeing a ghost), some fans will tune that out.
Why? Because somewhere along the way, a portion of the Metroid fandom decided the decisions of the series’ creator didn’t count. This, of course, isn’t unheard of – it is both a beautiful and trying factor in any passionate fandom. For example, George Lucas may never be forgiven by a segment of Star Wars fans for showing that before Darth Vader was a fearsome cyborg, he was a whiny teenager. But it’s also a given that Anakin Skywalker was indeed that. Whether we fans like it or not, it’s a perk of being a creator of fiction – both Lucas and Yoshio Sakamoto got to follow the stories they dreamed up. Both Anakin and Samus were once headstrong youths with faults and weaknesses. This cannot be written away by fandoms, no matter how good the intentions. I wish Attack of the Clones didn’t exist, and I wish Metroid Prime 3 wasn’t a discordant planet-hopping endeavor with more than a dash of Halo to it. But I don’t get to re-write fiction; my options are to enjoy those works or not, and then move on.
The Way Forward
Like Infinity’s End at Metroid Database, I’m tired of the constant dark cloud and gnashing of teeth. Saying “I don’t like that videogame” ceases to be a discussion point when fans would rather create a counter-history instead. There is only one way forward – a new Metroid game for us to love and/or loathe. It’s time to either experience wonder or bewilderment again, and to have a new round of fawning or incredulity.
The question is, how long will Nintendo make us wait? It’s anyone’s guess if Sakamoto-san will get another crack at his distinct idea of 3D gaming, or if Retro’s capable hands will once again be called upon. When in doubt before, Nintendo has shelved the series for an entire console generation. Fans are left to read tea leaves, like what does it mean if Reggie Fils-Aime is wearing a Metroid pin? Dare we hope for any announcement at E3 (if Nintendo decides to actually have a conference this year)? Is it a coincidence that Fusion will be re-released on the Wii U Virtual Console? Does anyone at Nintendo even remember Super’s anniversary?
Those sorts of questions are what we have to look forward to. Because being a Metroid fan sometimes sucks.
Well, aside from having an excuse to replay Super Metroid, of course. And Zero Mission and Echoes, which have their own anniversaries this year. Maybe we’ll get lucky and Nintendo will surprise us at E3 with a brand-new adventure for Samus, but if not? Well, we have some legendarily good games to sink our teeth back into, which we’ll be talking more about in the weeks ahead.