Fans were amazed by the surprising news this E3 concerning the state of the Metroid franchise. After years of no releases, the vast majority of fans assumed that the series had been dead and buried with no real hope of revival.
However, a source close at Nintendo has given this author an exclusive look behind the curtain at Nintendo, and just what exactly triggered the change in attitude towards our favorite female bounty hunter.
In 2014 there was absolutely no chance of any future Metroid games. The franchise, following Other M, had hit a dead end, both creatively and sales wise. Nintendo had been willing to support the series due to the critical acclaim the series had gotten in the west, but Other M dampered their confidence in the brand and character of Samus Aran. Nintendo did not know what to do with the character in 2014, and therefore she was dead to them.
And then Smash Bros launched.
Nintendo fans vastly underestimate just how big of a deal that game was to Nintendo. Not only did it cement the fate of the Wii U (Contrary to popular belief, Nintendo stopped actively starting developing new Wii U games after 2014, after that point it was merely a matter of finishing what was already in development) it also introduced the big success story for Nintendo that year. Amiibo.
This hasn’t been something that Nintendo has actively talked about in public, and I imagine they won’t until their Amiibo centric software launches, but Nintendo has been paying VERY close attention to Amiibo. Namely, how well specific figures sell. You have the obvious ones, of course, like Mario and Link that always do really well. The Fire Emblem ones have been doing really well as well, to no one’s surprise.
But the one that caught everyone off guard was the best selling figure in North America. Samus Aran. Samus is so popular here that she can compete with sales of the others on a global scale. This led to management at Nintendo talking.
People loved the CHARACTER of Samus Aran, but not necessarily the games she was in. Brainstorming began. What could they do to reinvent Metroid for a western audience?
The answer, to Nintendo, was simple. Produce a Metroid Prime 4. However, forming a team out of the blue to create a new entry Prime series would take years. Retro was not available due to work on their new IP, and Nintendo felt that a new Metroid Prime needed new blood.
They needed to take the series in a bold new direction. They needed to experiment with Metroid to findd something new and exciting. They needed to bring Metroid Prime back in full force.
They made Federation Force.
But despite what fans might think, Metroid was already in recovery by this point. Metroid Prime 4 itself was already in the early planning stages. Tanabe was bringing the core creative side together, speaking with MonolithSoft and other Nintendo subsidaries to try and find interested talent. At this point, Nintendo was not interested in merely putting a single game together. Nintendo wanted to assemble a team that could take Metroid to new heights and do fresh things with the genre and series.
Federation Force was always supposed to be merely an appetizer for the upcoming Metroid Prime 4, much like how Donkey Kong Jungle Beat essentially served as a proto type for Donkey Kong Country Returns. It was made to experiment with new ideas and concepts for the Metroid franchise without having to bog down a big budget game with them. At that point, it was not decided whether or not Metroid should have multiplayer. Nintendo understands that it does not suit the series well at well, but they believe that most westerners buy first person games under the expectation that it has quality multiplayer.
Federation Force’s release and reception led to Tanabe coming to a final decision. The newly assembled Metroid team would focus first on creating a extensive, unique single player experience.
Sakamoto, although not actively working on the project, saw Tanabe working diligently on a new Metroid game. Although still reeling from the failure of Other M, Sakamoto found himself thinking more about the series in general, and his relationship with it. He was now the man in charge of the 2D games, while Tanabe handled the bigger, higher budget Prime games. And that made him realize, if nothing else, that he should give 2D Metroid one last shot.
Enter Mercury Steam, who had approached Nintendo with the hopes of making a new Metroid game. Sakamoto turned down their initial pitch, but offered them the chance to make Samus Returns.
When both of these games were announced at E3, fans got the impression that Nintendo had listened to their complaints regarding Federation Force and Metroid in general. But in reality, the backlash towards events never really factors into the decisions at all. Following the massive success of Samus Returns and its amiibo, Sakamoto and Mercury Steam are already planning a proper new 2D Metroid for Switch. One that very may well launch alongside Metroid Prime 4 in 2018.
Make no mistake, Metroid fans. The reason that Metroid lives is because YOU BOUGHT THE AMIIBO. It was the Amiibo that encouraged Nintendo to take risks with the franchise, it was Amiibo that made Samus Returns such a huge hit. It was the Amiibo that made Nintendo realize just how beloved the Metroid universe really is.