Where Now Samus?: Metroid’s Next Revolution

You’d think I’d know how to feel about Metroid Prime by now. As one of the few first person shooter heroines that’s more brains than bustline, Samus Aran is certainly to be applauded. And the triumphant transition of the Metroid franchise from 2D to 3D is still unsurpassed. Couple that with Metroid Prime 3’s tight armchair FPS controls and a world that’s full of beautiful, tactile touches that use the Wiimote just right and it’s paradise, no?

Well, kinda. And that’s where I always get stuck. Because in Metroid, you’re playing detective — exploring burned out space hulks and abandoned planets — a kind of future archeologist trying to piece together what happened after the fact. When Metroid is at its best, you feel the elation of an outer space Indiana Jones dusting off the Lost Ark (like in steampunk Skytown). When it doesn’t, you just feel lost — in a maze of beautifully different but functionally identical rooms, tracking and back tracking ad nauseam (find the energy cells, Indy!).

That’s when the ugly questions come out: Just how many times can Samus lose all her powers before she gives up getting them back again? And it’s in those moments that you have to worry; worry about whether all the rust coming off Metroid Prime 3 means that the series really doesn’t have another go-round in it — at least not a very interesting one.

I suppose it’s most telling that, even though I finished Metroid Prime 3 only a few weeks back, I remember very little of it. I recall the elation of using the grapple to rip shields from enemies. I remember surprisingly entertaining buddy action with the ship, blowing up ground targets and assembling the Theronian bomb. I remember morph ball physics every bit as fun as they were the first time back on Tallon IV. And that’s…it?

But in some ways that defines Metroid Prime. It’s about twisty little passages all alike, it’s about shooting the weak spot, it’s about some seriously fine control mechanics, it’s about getting that one new power that will push you over the top and then wanting the next one. For all those reasons, I’ve loved Metroid Prime. But for many of the same reasons I wonder if Samus hasn’t become a prisoner of expectations. A perfect example is fan reaction to the biggest departure in MP3: the not-so-solitary G.F.S. Olympus segments. “That’s not Metroid!” they screamed, and they were right.

And that’s the challenge for the next Metroid title — to do precisely what Metroid did when it went jumped from 2D (Super) to 3D (Prime). It has to take all those expectations and treat them not as a burden but as a stepping stone to the next level. I can’t imagine how difficult that is, but I would trust nobody more than Nintendo to pull it off. After all, they look poised to do the same with Mario Galaxy.

It’s funny that after this Wii flagship title shipped with all the fanfare of the second coming, and doing so many things just right, that we suddenly find ourselves back where we started: expecting another Metroid revolution. But I suppose that’s the nature of trilogies, and the burden of renewing a franchise that has such a long and well loved history.

We last wrote about Metroid in Past Perfect and women in games in Black Women Got Game. Find more Metroid history at Wikipedia.

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