How to Fix the Metroid Franchise
There are a few things to which I am a huge fan–dare I say, a fanboy. The classic, original Twilight Zone TV series from the 60’s. Vintage EC horror comics–Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror, etc. Maybe Star Trek. Certainly the game Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem. The Contra and Resident Evil video game franchises. And definitely, for a very long time, the Metroid franchise. So bear with me, as this one is close to the heart!
The Metroid franchise has been in a state of decay as of late. It started simply with Metroid Fusion–a decent title that was largely a clone of Super Metroid, but completely lacking the freedom and atmosphere of previous Metroid games. Players were no longer immersed in the story–it was told to them. Granted, actual story was light in the original Metroid titles, but it was there–and it all depended on the player. The exploration–a hallmark of the Metroid franchise–was no longer very deep. Instead, it was blatantly linear. There was really nothing new in weapons, items, or tools.
On the upside, Metroid Prime released at the same time, and completely revolutionized the franchise while beautifully moving it to the future. Higher technology, deeper exploration and atmosphere, deeply involving the player in the story, adding new items and elements.
The Prime Trilogy was a high-water mark for the Metroid franchise in storytelling, immersion, evolution, gameplay, exploration, atmosphere–literally everything that defined the Metroid franchise was improved upon in the Prime Trilogy. Players were still central to the story, but now it was truly active onscreen, and players lived through it as it happened. Beyond that, the story was furthered by the player seeking it out.
On the handheld front, the Metroid series languished. Some die-hard fans of Super Metroid wanted more clones of Super Metroid, and indeed, Nintendo delivered with Fusion and later, Zero Mission. Zero Mission was a remake of the original Metroid game to be more like Super Metroid. In the 2-D and portable front on the Game Boy Advance, the Metroid franchise failed to grow, and instead, was used to continue to relive the past with increasingly inferior models. The other Metroid release on the Game Boy Advance was merely a direct re-release of the original NES Metroid effectively meaning that the original Metroid was released on the GBA twice. The DS featured only one new regular Metroid game–Prime: Hunters–which expanded the bounty hunter angle of Samus Aran by having her deal directly with others in her career field. The pinball game merely recounted the events of Prime 1.
By the time the Wii had settled into it’s generation, the Metroid Prime Trilogy had been completed and celebrated. Prime 3 stands out as one of the technical showpieces of the relatively (per the generation) under-powered Wii console. Nintendo later wanted to make another game, and they seemingly heard the cries of a few of the angriest fanboys and called up Yoshio Sakamoto to head the new game, which was also given to Team Ninja (of Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive fame). Sakamoto created the original Super Metroid that is so widely loved by so many (including myself).
Sakamoto, unfortunately, dropped the ball (Team Ninja effectively washed their hands of the resulting game) and demonstrated that while he could deliver Super Metroid to the world, that Super Metroid is apparently the only thing he can deliver as like Fusion and Zero Mission, Other M was yet another 2-D centric Super Metroid clone, with the exception of delivering the worst story this side of bad high schooler slash fiction scrawled in the back of a Pre-Algebra notebook. Samus wasn’t just poorly portrayed, her character was completely decimated, treated with misogynistic hatred, abject sexism, and completely failing to even affect the plot of her own story. Beyond the sexism, where Samus was constantly portrayed as a pathetic little girl to be mocked and reviled, the game upended established continuities and blatantly ignored literally half of the franchise’s stories.
Despite somewhat positive, but generally lukewarm reviews, the game is widely considered terrible and a gross misstep in the franchise. A destructive element to a popular character. Sexist, misogynistic, brainless. It is the end result of constantly hammering away at 2-D Metroid gaming and 2-D Metroid concepts from a blatantly two-dimensional view of human females. The game’s poor public perception and worse after-taste have left the Metroid franchise in a kind of flux. Where the hell can it possibly go from here to redeem this failure?
Here’s the simplest answer: A new Metroid trilogy that takes the broken, unlikable Samus from Fusion and Other M, and simply tells us that she is not the real Samus Aran. I will outline a simple storyline that could handily remedy the broken base of the franchise as it is now, and revive the franchise to a manner, not just to what I would like, but what I think would continue modernizing the series, would continue to evolve the franchise, and would once again appeal to gamers beyond a small core of Super Metroid-centric Nintendo fans who only want to live in the past indefinitely.
As a reminder, the chronological timeline is thus: Metroid/Zero Mission, Prime1, Prime Hunters, Prime Echoes, Prime Corruption, Metroid II, Super Metroid, Other M, Fusion.
Part 1 of the Trilogy:
The new Trilogy starts with Samus leaving Zebes completely destroyed after the events of Super Metroid. Samus gets a medical check at a Federation outpost. After this, she decides to take a hiatus and leaves for one of the final remaining, and quite distant, Chozo worlds to reflect on her busy years battling the Zebesian Space Pirates, Phazon, and Dark Samus. The Chozo instruct her to seek reflection through a relatively simple mystery they have been unable to resolve. They send Samus to an ancient and abandoned Chozo world that has been quarantined for several centuries. Her power suit will allow her to explore safely if she can, fairly quickly, find an experimental suit upgrade that had been developed and stored there. Samus agrees that this relatively calm detective work will be soothing and aid in her self-reflection, and leaves straight away.
Samus finds the new suit, discovers what had happened to the planet and why the Federation had set up a quarantine around it so very long ago. The Federation has been sitting on a secret for centuries–that the reason the Zebesians and Chozo had long been at war was because the Federation had caused it to make their own expansion easier by befriending one side when the war grew too deadly for both sides. The Federation would be able to expand more easily, and would also acquire advanced alien technology from the Chozo (or the Zebesians) in that regard. Initially, the Federation had no qualms about siding with the “insect people” or the “bird people,” and simply wanted easy expansion and technological advancements.
Shortly after this revelation, Samus stumbles upon the Federation’s latest secret–a clone of Samus–and the individual who had just taken part in the Other M and Fusion storylines. The clone is tasked with erasing the evidence of the Federation’s involvement in the Chozo-Zebesian wars. Samus fights off the clone, but the game ultimately ends with the clone fleeing, but now dying from the contamination of the planet as the real Samus has the upgraded Power Suit.
So, where did this clone come from? Samus must put her self-reflection on hold now–she has this new threat to hunt.
Part 2 of the Trilogy:
What about the memories of False Samus? Implanted by the Federation to create her loyalty to the Marines–to make her more docile and controllable. Samus was a recruit once, but left early and under poor terms with the military, but not the Federation government–who saw her association with the Chozo and ability to use Chozo technology as an important asset–and indeed, she came in very handy on SR-388 and Zebes in this regard.
The more confusing memories of False Samus were implanted by the Federation, and her old Space Marine pals felt a great deal of distrust to her due to her being seen as largely “abandoning” the Corps and for receiving special treatment from Federation government officials. Adam Malkovich was informed secretly by the Federation that False Samus had been “reconditioned” to listen to him, though he was seemingly unaware that she was actually a clone–or he simply didn’t care. He was given orders to test her boundaries, thus giving completely asinine and moronic orders to her during her visit on the ill-fated, and stupidly named Bottle Ship. Adam, being a misogynist bastard, had never had any respect for her, and wanted nothing to do with her in part because of her gender and in part because of his obscene nationalist agenda. He delighted in tormenting her, but was struggling with his own demons at the time leading into his unnecessary suicide mission towards the end of Other M.
False Samus had been the individual on both the corrupt Bottle Ship and the ill-fated Biologic Space Laboratory of Fusion where the integration of Metroid DNA to her own was put to the test on the deadly X-Parasite. False Samus isn’t just a quick and dirty clone–but a messy one intended to be the Federation’s ultimate biological weapon.
This story is unraveled by Real Samus (of Metroid 1, II, Super, and the Prime games) as she hunts for False Samus after False Samus crash-lands on an alien world and attempts to flee into thick forests. Samus’s exploration is driven by trying to track this bizarre, dying clone through an unforgiving alien world. Halfway through, Samus catches her quarry and learns the story of where she came from. All this time, False Samus thought she was the genuine article, and learns only too late in a run-down Federation facility in a confrontation with Real Samus what she truly is. As it turns out, False Samus had been programmed to return to this place in the event of an emergency–as it was the lab where she was created.
Biological experiments had spread over the world and made the plant and animal life powerful and resilient, which ultimately led to the destruction and abandonment of the facility therein. The Federation arrives, confiscates both Hunter ships, and Samus spends the rest of the game looking for a hidden cache of Chozo technology and a new ship while she fights off increasing waves of seemingly mutated Federation soldiers–and what appear to be enslaved Zebesian pirates.
It ends with Samus destroying the complex and the massive Federation Battleship that had been hunting her as she flees with information that this facility was only a small outpost to the real thing.
Part 3 of the Trilogy
False Samus is dead. Two terrible Federation secrets have been uncovered. The first, an ancient war had been started in part by the Federation for nationalist and imperialistic reasoning. The second, the Federation had created a duplicate of herself in an attempt to further gain control of Chozo technology and to reign in control of the real Samus Aran.
Samus, in her newly outfitted Huntress Gunship moves to a remote outpost in the galaxy–a system with three suns, a two enormous gas giants, deadly radiation, and a solitary moon awash in some of the hardiest and deadliest life in the known galaxy. The moon is hot, and equal parts harsh desert and monstrous hazard-filled forest. Hidden on this world are the most secret weapons laboratories in the galaxy–all run by the Federation.
Samus locates another ship in the system–a now rare Zebesian Light Cruiser. Upon investigation, they are not the infamous “space pirates,” but Zebesians who had long ago defected from the war-like direction and outright piracy of the rest of their race as they too struggled with imperialism and expansionist greed. Samus learns from them of not one, but two moons here with Federation outposts building terrifying weapons.
At this point in the galaxy, the Federation is the ultimate political power–the Zebesians and Chozo both all but extinct. The once wide-spread and benevolent Chozo species driven to the brink of extinction from clashes with deadly lifeforms like the Metroids and X-Parasites, and war against the Zebesian empire–who resorted to piracy to grow their military might. Other species and governments lack the spread and control of the Federation, so this extra research becomes troubling. The Zebesian Renegades feel the same way.
Samus and the Zebesian Renegades seek to redeem the failures of the past of both the Chozo and the Zebesians. They each choose to infiltrate a different moon.
At this point in the story, Samus is again solitary as she digs and uncovers secrets on the first moon. Here, she finds a laboratory intending to incorporate Chozo technology into Federation technology, where Samus finds many possible upgrades to her suit that are of previously unimagined power. Towards the end of her infiltration, she discovers someone using a heavily modified Chozo suit to attack her. Is it another clone? But the suit glows blue. Could it actually be another Dark Samus? And how many could there be? After a hefty and difficult battle that sees much of the research facility obliterated, the second fighter is revealed to be a terrifying and genetically modified Anthony Higgs (from Other M). Anthony had been friendly toward False Samus on the Bottle Ship, and had inexplicably survived a moment when he should have died. He had been in the early stages of genetic manipulation at the time giving him unrealistically high strength and abilities. Now, wearing a Federation-made imitation Chozo suit, powered in part with imitation Phazon ore, Anthony reveals that he was studying False Samus for the Federation to prepare to take her out if she was ever deemed a threat. He never even knew that the Samus he saw on the Bottle Ship was an inferior clone. He was ultimately unprepared for the real deal, and dies making no apologies for his actions. All for the glory of the Imperial Human Federation.
Samus loses contact with the Zebesians towards the end of her infiltration and proceeds to the second moon, complete with a heavily outfitted new Power Suit combining Federation and Chozo technology. She enters a facility that has been infiltrated and largely cleared by the renegade Zebesians. She can explore anywhere freely. Despite their peaceful ways, the renegades had proven to be capable fighters, and had defeated every Federation threat they encountered. Still, it is worrisome that contact had been lost. Scanned computer terminals reveal disturbing accounts of a project referred to as “Metroid Redemption.” It was a covert plan by the Federation to use Metroids as weapons a la mistakes made by both the Chozo and Zebesian Pirates in the past.
Samus’s ultimate horror is confirmed when Redemption is the code-name for a hellishly modified Metroid queen–one that births Prime Metroids. A biological weapon capable of destroying entire worlds, without any other military involvement. She finds the Zebesian renegades–their numbers cut down–but still fighting. They have struggled to defeat two Prime Metroids that had been freed shortly after their infiltration of the facility. They are twice as large as the Prime Samus faced on Tallon IV and like their relatively primitive forms, appear able to fly–possibly even survive in space.
Samus and the remaining Zebesians realize that, as of now, a Prime Queen must be created in a laboratory, and that the new Primes do not yet have the ability to develop into new queens naturally. Samus and the Zebesians realize the entire moon needs to be destroyed, but not before they make damn sure this terrible new queen is confirmed dead and that they are able to access the organic computer core beneath the surface to set off a full global destruct sequence. The Zebesians leave to track down the location of the organic “brain” core, while Samus prepares to fight the Prime Queen.
The Zebesians eventually aid Samus in the final battle as the Prime Queen is, predictably, flanked by Prime hatchlings making the fight difficult for all. When the queen is confirmed to be completely eradicated, the crippled Zebesians limp to their ship and Samus sets off the destruct sequence to destroy the moon.
The Federation attempted to wipe out the Zebesians and crudely control Samus Aran. In the end, they have their redemption, and the evidence they bring to the attention of all in the galaxy is about to bring great change to the once-proud Federation.
End of trilogy.
Now, the next story doesn’t have to be exactly like this, but I personally find this one quite enjoyable. It redeems the character of Samus Aran, it adds a wealth of new depth to the character, and it maintains the Metroid formula while expanding the universe to the massive scale that it deserves to be. Each game is played in a vein similar to the Prime games–3D, (first or third person doesn’t matter), tech-heavy, richly detailed, and realistic.
It finally adds a layer of depth to the Zebesians, the Chozo, and the Federation all at once. It’s imperfect in this brief outline, and admittedly, I came up with this in about half an hour. It rolled rather quickly once I knew where the story was going. It adds a kind of depth important to the classic hero story–that moment when the hero might be failing or might even be the pariah or villain. We get to see Samus run and struggle, we get to see her find redemption–the overall theme of the trilogy. To redeem it from the disasters of Fusion and Other M. To redeem Nintendo from recent hardware missteps, even.
One thing is quite certain to me now. The Metroid series cannot be saved by clinging to Super Metroid any more. Fusion, Zero Mission, and Other M were not sales champions and they did nothing to advance the character or franchise. Super Metroid was good in it’s day. Prime was better and moved the franchise forward logically. The franchise needs this forward momentum once again.
Thanks for reading!
It dons on me that the primary series may indeed be following in this very manner, or is workable based on, of all things, Aliens. When video games first started their Renaissance during the NES era, getting the rights to movies or books for game stories was expensive, so there was often workarounds–games carrying similar themes and concepts to various other media. The Contra franchise borrows heavily from Swartzenegger and Stallone action films, and the Alien and Predator franchises. Castlevania was Dracula without the actual Dracula. And Metroid also, and more succinctly, mirrored the Alien films.
Metroid one was Alien 1. Female protagonist, a focus on a singular alien organism in the title, etc.
Metroid II was Aliens. An action fest with xenomorph extermination as a primary plot device. They both even ended with a saved youth (the girl, Newt, and the Metroid hatchling) and a boss battle with a queen monster.
Super Metroid was Alien 3. Somewhat a return to the style of the first entry of the franchise in horror, pacing, and mood. A carry-over xenomorph from the previous entry in a final living alien survivor, and a high-profile death in the end. They both even took place in run-down facilities.
Metroid Fusion as the actual “Metroid 4″ in the “ignores the rest of it” Sakamoto-led games actually follows Alien: Resurrection. Ripley is dead, Samus comes near death. Upon revival, both Ripley and Samus have their DNA grossly intertwined with the xenomorph genetic code. The foes are crude resurrections as well, on a secret space-born facility soon to be over-run with monsters. And here’s the kicker, Ripley is a clone–and this is where it makes sense that Fusion-era (and Other M) Samus is also a clone. The cloning being done ahead of time, prior to the events of Other M (which, again, bridges a created gap between Super and Fusion), is why Samus was only discovered to have the Metroid DNA incorporated into her own in Fusion.
Once the clone became ill, the scientists who saved her realized that this Samus unnaturally has Metroid DNA intertwined within her. While this doesn’t make sense (as the Metroids draw out energy, they do not fuse genetically with their prey), the scientists go along with it as it offers a convenient live saving route against the X-Parasites.
Essentially, we have not seen the real Samus since the end of Super Metroid (chronologically) and the hypothesis that the woman in Fusion and Other M is a clone is further strengthened.