At least in this case
This past week I’ve been really thinking about what Metroid producer Yoshio Sakamoto had to say about the future of 2D Metroid. While you’d assume it would be one of the least risky ventures for Nintendo to handle in-house, they opted to go with MercurySteam for the 3DS-bound Samus Returns.
On paper, it all seems fine. Tasking third party studios with spinoffs and side projects is something Nintendo has been doing for years (and has worked out when studios are proven to produce results, like in the case of Sonic Mania), but this time, it’s a little different. Sakomoto is hitching the entire future of 2D Metroid titles to Returns, and by proxy, a developer that has had issues in the past.
All I have to ask in return is “why?”
You don’t need to flip too bar back in the history books to see a potential disaster scenario in waiting.
Castlevania was basically killed off with a one-two punch, delivered by MercurySteam itself. Not only did they produce the underwhelming Lords of Shadow 2 (which director Enric Alvarez even admitted they made mistakes with), but the uneven Mirror of Fate, a 2D game that was supposed to resurrect a franchise after long laying dormant — sound familiar? Fast-forward three years later, and Nintendo has hitched its wagon to MercurySteam for the future of the 2D Metroid series. Now, as an overseer, Nintendo is a way better boss than Konami (plus Nintendo EPD is credited as a co-developer), but there’s still plenty of cause for concern.
If this game bombs, either critically or commercially, Nintendo can just blame the series. They’ve done it once already with Team Ninja’s Other M, citing low sales as a reason to ignore Metroid for a while. Now, I’m not suggesting that Nintendo unprofessionally throw these developers under the bus — a reputable Japanese company wouldn’t dream of doing that even if I did. But putting so much stock in them and then killing off (even temporarily) a storied series that internal Nintendo developers put their heart and souls into (again), isn’t a good look. And for the record, Retro Studios handling Metroid Prime wasn’t as big of a risk as you remember — it was founded as a Nintendo partner and quickly eased into a first-party role.
I hope that Samus Returns lives up to the legacy of Metroid. While some spinoffs and 3D games have been uneven, the 2D portable line has been fairly rock solid for decades — it deserves the full resources Nintendo has to offer. Or in this case, potentially a second chance. We’ll see for ourselves when it arrives in mid-September. As always, I’m fine with being pleasantly surprise and having my fears be unfounded!