Last week, Nintendo surprised everyone with the announcement of Metroid: Samus Returns, a remake of Metroid II. Here's another surprise: It's basically finished. And a fact that's probably not so surprising: It looks and feels fantastic.
At E3 in Los Angeles last Thursday, in a private room within Nintendo's VIP booth, I sat down with a copy of Metroid: Samus Returns and played through the first 20 minutes of the game alongside three of the people who worked on it: Yoshio Sakamoto, longtime producer of the Metroid franchise; Jose Luis Marquez, a director at MercurySteam, the company behind the game; and Tim O'Leary, a veteran translator and member of Nintendo's Treehouse.
A few things stand out. One is that development on the game is complete, according to O'Leary, although we'll have to wait until September 15 to play it. Another is that it feels more like a brand new 2D Metroid than it does a remake of a Game Boy game. MercurySteam, a studio previously responsible for the Castlevania: Lords of Shadow series (which included Mirror of Fate, a sidescrolling 3DS game directed by Marquez), has done an excellent job making Metroid: Samus Returns smooth and satisfying.
Samus' animations are spectacular, her gun feels sufficiently blasty, and the new abilities -- which include a visor that lets you spot hidden walls -- seem like they will be rad. It has been roughly 4,000 years since the last 2D Metroid game, so I am very stoked for this one.
Here's some footage from Nintendo's E3 livestream:
And now, some brief thoughts from Yoshio Sakamoto, as translated by O'Leary (and lightly edited for clarity by me):
On how this whole thing came together:
Sakamoto: It started about two years ago. I've been wanting to make a 2D Metroid game for quite a while, and I've been thinking about what sort of team I'd like to work with when creating such a game. At some point during all of this, I heard from our folks over at Nintendo of Europe that this developer MercurySteam was interested in making a remake of a classic Metroid game.
I heard MercurySteam and I knew they'd made some Castlevania titles, so I thought it was possible there was an affinity for our title as well. I said, 'Well, man, I gotta meet these guys, let's go to Spain.' So we flew to Spain. MercurySteam had created a small prototype for me to take a look at. I looked at it, talked to them, got a sense of what their team was about, and said, 'Yeah, let's see what we can do together.'
Why it's on the 3DS and not the Switch:
Sakamoto: That was really my decision. One of the big reasons for that is the 2DS/3DS family have two screens. That lent itself so well to the map screen functionality that I've been wanting to put into the game that we hadn't seen before, the ability to have the map screen always on. So it was a very obvious choice.
I wanted to be able to have that free-aiming mechanic, and the analogue stick allowed for us to do that. And Metroid, that series, that world-building, that feeling of where you're at... that level design, all those things combined really make great use of the glasses-free 3D functionality.
So if I take that: the 3D functionality, analogue stick, second screen, put that all together, and the 3DS [is the best fit].
On why it's taken so long to make a new 2D Metroid game:
Sakamoto: I'm working on other titles outside of Metroid, of course. I've been fairly busy with stuff. There's a lot of timing involved when all the pieces fall into place, and we have the ability to do some of these things we've been thinking about for a long time. I guess for us the timing was two years ago. Or now.
On how criticism of Metroid: Other M has affected the depiction of Samus
Sakamoto: To be honest, as far as wanting to change that depiction of Samus, I made what I wanted to make. It did give me some momentum, I guess, and the ability to look at Samus from a new viewpoint, and maybe reconsider what I wanted to show about her.
On how 3D and 2D Metroid games are handled at Nintendo:
Sakamoto: There's no close proximity to those things. We're not really in communication. Obviously we talk about, 'Hey what're you guys doing, this is what we're doing, let's not release these [games] all at the same time, or hey maybe we should release these at the same time.' There's that level of communication.
Of course [veteran Nintendo producer Kensuke] Tanabe worked on the Metroid Prime series. And he comes and says, 'Hey this is what we're going to be doing,' and lets us know what's going on [with his team].
On Sakamoto's final thoughts:
Sakamoto: I just want people to be able to play it as soon as possible. I think once they play it they will understand a lot of the things we're trying to present this time. They can look forward to having an orthodox Metroid experience, plus new stuff.