Yoshio Sakamoto and Mercury Steam share a historical quirk: Both infamously made the games they wanted to make, executing their goals to their own satisfaction, only for the negative fan reception to completely blindside them. Between them, they laid to rest the two series for which the Metroidvania genre is named.
Sakamoto helmed the poorly received Metroid: Other M , the infamous game that put Metroid on metaphorical rails and lead to the Metroid franchise going dormant. Yet in spite of its notably large flaws, it was clearly the game he wanted to make, going so far as to say he wouldn’t change anything about it. On the other end, Mercury Steam made Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2, a competent game that developed smoothly and was what the team wanted to make, but lacked focus and wasn’t what fans expected. It was the last Castlevania game before the series also went dormant. Both titles also suffered from their release window being at the end of their respective platforms’ lifespans. However, Metroid Dread is a perfect confluence of events to create a new break out entry for the underappreciated legacy franchise.
For starters, the Switch is still white hot sales-wise, it has an amazing attach rate, and almost every single Nintendo franchise released on the platform is reaching new heights in terms of sales, production values, and quality. The timing of Metroid Dread’s release is infinitely superior to Metroid: Other M releasing during the Wii’s sales collapse and Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 releasing as a 7th gen exclusive well into the 8th gen. Metroid Dread releases October 8, 2021, it will have its rush of release day sales right at the start of the period where video game sales begin ramping up for the holidays. It will get another boost from Black Friday sales peaks, and will continue to be Nintendo’s big Christmas title.
Nintendo is also giving Metroid Dread a major marketing push, and the Dread moniker plays into that: It has been almost 20 years since the last brand new 2D Metroid, Metroid Fusion, released. This entire time Metroid Dread rumors have periodically swirled, with Sakamoto confirming the idea has been started and shelved multiple times in the past two decades. This means the game has eclipsed both Final Fantasy 15 and Duke Nukem Forever in terms of “Holy sh!t it was real” factor. Just listen to the hype coming off of fans.
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Through marketing and hype alone, the stage is set for Metroid Dread to be the best selling game of the franchise, as evidenced by the massive pre-order sales seen from various charts like GameStop’s post-E3 pre-orders & Amazon’s best sellers. Fans are so excited for the new game that Wii U owners have flocked to the abandoned console’s version of the e-shop to buy Metroid Zero Mission, Metroid Fusion, and the Metroid Prime Trilogy to catch up on the series before the latest release, even managing to push all of them to the top of the Wii U sales chart. Even Metroid Samus Returns is seeing boosted sales. Still, hype can only carry sales so far, there has to be follow through: Sakamoto and Mercury Steam have to deliver a good game, a prospect which leaves some people skeptical given their aforementioned histories. There’s some justification to their doubts, for sure, but I want to point out what this team up is the PB&J duo Metroid has needed.
Sakamoto’s biggest contributions to Metroid this millennium have been Metroid Fusion and Metroid: Other M. He essentially streamlined game play to focus on narrative story telling. This is why both games abandoned the freedom of exploration for the linear path: It facilitated the story he wanted to tell. People say Sakamoto is terrible when it comes to story, but that’s just not true. The story of Metroid Fusion was a hit. Metroid: Other M’s story fell flat. but I believe the reason for this was mostly a cultural divide. This pitfall was avoided in earlier games, because most of the story was told via game play and visuals, allowing players to piece it together in their minds in a manner most fitting to their tastes. That changed when Metroid: Other M included voice acting, essentially a series first and early into Nintendo’s forray into voicing games, and the script was made more expansive. This meant the process of filtering it through another language and differing societal tastes led to a more stilted product. An example of this is that Western fans that played the game in its native Japanese have had a a better opinion of the “unfiltered” plot without the god awful voice acting. It was a growing pain that came with being the first of its kind for the franchise, and the team making it.
Mercury Steam on the other hand, flubbed the story of the Lords of Shadow series, possibly due to some constraints put on them by the executives at Konami, but they are a team that has a track record of relatively smooth development. They also suffered from trying to expand game mechanics too much, the complete opposite of Sakamoto’s habit of over-streamlining gameplay, adding different mechanics that didn’t go over well at all. Still, Mercury Steam has already proven that if they are given a solid idea, good support and oversight, and a reasonable framework they can make a damn good video game. Which is fortunate, because that’s exactly what Nintendo brings to the table when they work with third parties on their IPs. We can really see this aspect of Mercury Steam shine in their handling of the first Castlevania Lords of Shadow and Metroid Samus Returns
The Metroid franchise has always been a Western franchise in that it drew heavily from Western influence, particularly Ridley Scott’s Alien. Sakamoto brings the story, Nintendo’s oversight of the franchise brings the framework to build the game within, and Mercury Steam brings a Western touch, which is the advantage Western developers have cultivated in terms of efficient development pipelines and experience with HD and more mature and open design. This should also result in a less awkward script due to direct input from a Western team during development, instead of trying to fit the square peg in the round hole after development via localization. Story telling has also advanced as open worlds have become more common and necessitated more nonlinear narrative design, something that wasn’t very common in games around the time of Metroid Fusion and Metroid: Other M. This was even alluded to in the Metroid Dread Treehouse presentation, where Nintendo reps made sure to stress “Adam” would not be guiding you through a linear adventure like in Sakamoto’s previous games.
These teams are good compliments to each other, and Metroid: Samus Returns was the perfect test to see if Mercury Steam was up to the task of handling a new entry in the Metroid franchise. You can bet Nintendo was vetting them. Nintendo is watching the Metroid franchise like a hawk, as seen by their willingness to remove developers from Metroid projects and restart from scratch if they feel the product is not up to their standards. Nintendo knows this is the moment. The best moment possible to elevate a franchise that has always been critically acclaimed, beloved by fans, and forever falling short of their own high sales standards. They want Metroid to take off and become a major hit that can stand proudly with the likes of its sibling franchises, Mario and Zelda. That starts by making Metroid Dread the best selling entry in its franchise. If a title as niche as Fire Emblem, a SRPG game, can hit 3 million sales, Metroid needs to be able to do the same in a time when the 2D Metroidvania genre is at its very peak.
With the shadow of the more eagerly anticipated Metroid Prime 4 looming over the franchise, this could be do or decades-long-coma, for 2D Metroid. Sell or sleep. Still, if past Nintendo Switch sales boosts, pre-order sales, and hype are any indicators of impending success, then 2D Metroid is back and here to stay. Most importantly though, if Metroid Dread becomes the best selling Metroid game to date, some doubtful skeptic has to play Balan Wonderland.
Here’s at CSG we’re all about fans and gamers coming together to make the community a better, more active place, so we’d like to spotlight relevant fan creations at the end of articles like this. Today we’re featuring this badass depiction of Samus’s new suit by @Staria_H, so be sure to check them out and show some love.