What is up, fellow Bombardiers? Time to introduce yet another new feature I'll probably never revisit: Fine-Tuning!
Now, as tempting as it is to go all "back-seat designer" and talk about how I could improve a treasured but stuck-in-a-rut franchise with my crazy ideas, I'll err on the side of caution and humility and simply talk about how I would take the many games in said franchise and merge the best parts together for an idealized package. No introducing brand new, untested elements; everything discussed already exists in a game in that franchise (or from one that's very similar.)
The franchise in question would be Nintendo's excellent atmospheric action-platformer Metroid. Having come off the (un)expectedly great Other M, with all the additions that Team Ninja made (both good and bad), I was inspired to think about what my perfect Metroid experience would be.
From: Super Metroid
- The basic template, of course. Super Metroid remains one of the most concise, enjoyable metroidvania experiences, so it's from this old-school (for a certain age group) classic that we create our base for the perfect Metroid.
- The 2D setting. I appreciate that the 3D Metroid Prime games were a decent compromise to bring the 2D gameplay to a 3D world, unlike many other franchises that have made the jump in the past. But even so, the Prime games sometimes felt like fitting a square peg in a round hole, especially when you're trying to make series mainstays like the Screw Attack work. Other M tries to have its cake and eat it too, with its viewpoint switching, but it still doesn't quite feel natural enough. I think the best bet is Shadow's Complex "all but 2D" approach. Or perhaps a really lavish sprite-based 2D game.
- A dialogue-free narrative. I won't suggest that Samus' adventures with the baby metroid that imprinted on her is the be-all and end-all of storytelling in video games, but I found I vastly preferred it to conversations and pathos. Samus has a mystique that was sorely tested every time she freaked out at Ridley or discussed her experiences by flatly intoning sentences from a teleprompter.
From: Metroid Prime
- The scanning. Now, before you all start typing angry hurtful words, I specifically mean the aspect of scanning that was a method of introducing background information in a non-intrusive or compulsory way: Having to constantly scan buttons to activate elevators was clearly not the most effective use of that feature, nor was giving every broken pillar or corpse its own pointless blurb. Using it to identify what equipment was necessary for what barrier (and then having that information added to your map, perhaps), the weaknesses and background of enemies and reading reports for further backstory are the sort of things where scanning either helped out or otherwise delivered exposition without any interrupting cutscenes.
- The visors. Of course, having various visor displays (being allowed to change Samus' view to infra-red and x-ray, for instance) work best with Prime's first-person viewpoint, but it'd be easy enough to translate to a 2D side-view by simply filtering the screen in the same way. Having alternate ways to view the world created some interesting boss fight strategies and additional exploration opportunities. Surprised it never appeared outside the Prime games, given how popular "Detective Vision" became a few years later with Batman: Arkham Asylum.
From: Other M
- Self-replenishing health and missiles. Other M introduced an interesting way to restock on missiles (and health, to an extent) by "concentrating"; allowing the Varia suit to refill your stock of presumably energy-based missiles. It creates a system where you effectively have infinite missiles, and can bring yourself back from the brink of death (you have to be in critical condition to restore health, and only by an energy tank or two), but only when you aren't being attacked. It means corridors of respawning enemies can be quickly dispatched, with a brief restock before moving on, making backtracking slightly more bearable. But in boss fights, you're taking a calculated risk if you try concentrating, unless you pick an ideal moment where the boss is either stunned briefly (normally opening them up for a barrage of attacks) or if there's a brief gap in their attack pattern. Couple this with the fact that enemies no longer drop missiles or health pick-ups, and you have an interesting and occasionally more challenging variation.
- Post-game bonuses. After defeating the final story boss of Other M, the game allows you to return to the game's ship setting for more exploration: All currently non-acquired items are now highlighted on the map to hit your 100% item completion (in fact, 100% is impossible until this mode.) And in case you don't feel like 100% completion is enough of an incentive to keep playing, there is a bit more story and a hidden boss - having 100% items when you reach that guy (a gloriously 3D-revamped Phantoon, I'll go ahead and spoil it) is a big help. And, of course, the self-destruct goes off shortly afterwards and you have a brief window to get back to your ship. It wouldn't be a Metroid game without it.
- Weapon variation. Samus tends to upgrade her weapon in set increments, with each new increment opening up new exploration options and giving her a fixed damage bonus. Metroid doesn't have any of the RPG trappings that the newer Castlevanias have gone for, perhaps for the better, but all the same it should embrace its Contra-style shooter roots with an adaptable weapon system: Players could be given the choice between a spread-shot (more coverage, less focused damage), a faster rate of focused fire, a more powerful charged shot or other such "double-edged sword" variations as the situation calls for it.
- Inverted Planet Zebes. Okay, I'm being silly now. Time to call it a day.
Metroid: Other M