Fine-Tuning: Metroid

Posted by Mento (2810 posts) -

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.

From: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

  • 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.

Bonus Comics

Metroid: Other M

Other M's infamous contrivance. And also maybe the worst Ridley rendition ever put to computer canvas.

Deus Ex?

Dun dun duuuuun..?
#1 Posted by Mento (2810 posts) -

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.

From: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

  • 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.

Bonus Comics

Metroid: Other M

Other M's infamous contrivance. And also maybe the worst Ridley rendition ever put to computer canvas.

Deus Ex?

Dun dun duuuuun..?
#2 Edited by ArbitraryWater (12130 posts) -

Metroidvania is such a weirdly specific subgenre. I admit, I've never finished a Metroid game of any kind, but I have finished both Shadow Complex and Symphony of the Night, which are both great in their own specific ways. If anything, my advice to make a game like that is simply to try to do something a little different, because having played a decent amount of DS castlevania, those games' worst problems are that they're pretty much the exact same game with a slightly different mechanic for how item usage works. To the point where half the creature sprites are still from either Circle of the Moon or Symphony of the Night.

#3 Posted by Mento (2810 posts) -

@ArbitraryWater: All the major franchises with several entries are a little like that though. It's almost as if they're afraid of "breaking" what made the original do so well, or alienating the fans with their very specific expectations, so they change and evolve very gradually and observe how these changes are received as research for the next one.

I guess a game that is a Frankenstein's monster of those that came before it isn't quite as inviting as something brand new and exciting - not to mention the possible cohesion issues from combining so many facets. It's really more of a hypothetical exercise of breaking down each game, finding their best aspects and creating a figuratively ideal end product with them.

#4 Posted by MooseyMcMan (11412 posts) -
@Mento: I cannot wait for Deus Ex HR comics. I loved all of my two playthroughs of the game, but it has enough "jankiness" to make it good for comics. 
#5 Posted by Dalai (7074 posts) -

I would buy this Metroid game, but then again I'd buy pretty much any proper Metroid game. And the post-game bonuses of Other M would be a great addition to this hypothetical 2D Metroid game which I've been waiting years for. Despite my utter hatred for most things Other M, everything after the main story was actually pretty good and closer to the Metroid games I'm used to. Throwing Phantoon at the end was a great choice so maybe Kraid can come back in a similar way in the next game... with an inverted SR388.

#6 Posted by Video_Game_King (36272 posts) -
#7 Posted by Mento (2810 posts) -

@Video_Game_King: Hey, if Return of Samus was a worthwhile Game Boy game, it'd be on the 3DS Virtual Console already. I mean, they put Alleyway up.

I neglected Aquaria unfairly, especially for those map markers (were they in Shadow Complex also? I could've taken more features from that too.)

#8 Posted by FateOfNever (1855 posts) -

The visor things sounds fine so long as they wouldn't use it through that awful scanning upgrade in Super.

I actually recently played through Zero Mission, Fusion, and Super. I think Zero Mission was the only one that I really enjoyed all the way through and had nothing that just rubbed me the wrong way (other than getting some of the really difficult to get to upgrades, but that was more of a fun challenge than anything.)

Fusion was a pain due to never really getting any better defense throughout the game, so eventually enemies are taking out an energy tank in one to two hits, not to mention how it completely stops you from being able to go back and get any missing upgrades after a point (and it's not even a decent point to do it at.) The other thing that comes to mind when I think about Fusion is that, unless they find yet another spot to squeeze in a game earlier in the time line, the next game might have to take place after Fusion, which means the crazy Metroid-fused-Samus with more of a bio-suit than a techno-suit. Course, that makes it even harder to explain away her not having all of her upgrades right at the start unless they rip that off of her.

I liked Super, mostly, but some of the outdated controls just drove me crazy. Having to hit select to go through items (when there are five different items to select was such a pain in the ass), along with the map not showing you where room entrances and exits were meant sometimes heading one direction thinking "surely there will be an entrance over here!" only to find a dead end with no secret way through. And while I liked how big and expansive and "exploration driven" the world of Super was, it was sort of in direct conflict with the whole idea Metroid games have of "beat it as quickly as possible." Is it beneficial to make a world that is meant to so thoroughly be explored when you also encourage people to explore it as little as possible?

I still need to go through the Prime games, but, I don't know if I can really bring myself to do it. I remember playing a few hours of Prime and absolutely hating how bad the backtracking in that game was, and how long it took, and how far they expected you to backtrack, even compared to the rest of the Metroid games.

#9 Posted by Hailinel (25205 posts) -

@Video_Game_King said:

I love how Metroid fans the world wide tend to ignore Return of Samus. Even those who would adamently defend Other M push aside the game that made it possible. Also, why not have a list of features to take from Aquaria? You know, like:

My reputation precedes me. O_o

And I can't speak for Metroid II that much because I myself have never had the chance to play it. And while the game is ultimately important to everything that occurs afterwards in the timeline, the only events with a lasting effect aren't revealed until the game's very end. (Well, that, and the eradication of the Metroid species fucking up the ecology of SR388, though that isn't realized until Metroid Fusion.)

@Mento: Great write-up. I do disagree with the narrative aspects of Super being the ideal (Flaws in the script of Other M aside, I prefer to actually hear Samus's voice and see her interact with other characters, rather than exist as a cypher), but I'd love to see a Metroid game that managed to take all of the best gameplay elements experimented with throughout the series and mesh them in an intelligent manner. Intelligent being the key word, since a group of well-regarded concepts don't make a great game on their own. (Are you listening, Peter Molyneux?)

Also, funny comics, once again! Though I do recall Samus actually being allowed access to the Super Missiles before the actual start of the Ridley encounter. (/Pedant)

#10 Posted by Video_Game_King (36272 posts) -
@Hailinel
 
There are two things you are known for on this site: defending Other M, and arguing with me over Devil Survivor :P.
#11 Edited by JackSukeru (5967 posts) -

I really missed the scanning in Other M, and not only because I got stuck on some mini-bosses when I didn't know if I was doing any damage or not.

Also, I didn't like the rechargeably health thing they had going on in OM. To me Metroid (especially the Prime games) were always about not fucking up over a large amount of time, and the health pickups you, erhm, 'picked up' only served to slowly mitigate the overall damage. Your health slowly goes down, but if you're careful it'll slowly go back up over the course of fighting many enemies. In Other M if I would fuck up once against a stronger enemy, then I would be be stuck in 'low health' mode until I reached the next save room, forcing me to play carefully all the time. I hated that.

Recharging missiles were fine I guess, they were such a hassle to use that I often didn't bother, unless I had to, anyway.

I haven't played through Super Metroid more than once so I didn't recognize Phantoon, but I did enjoy Nightmare from Fusion being in it, he was definetly 'that one boss' in that game for me and pretty fun to fight in OM as well.

Fun fact: Metroid 2 was the very first Metroid game that I played. I finished it but didn't learn until years later, through the power of the internet, that Samus was a girl. This page detailing his moves in Smash Bros. kept refering to him as a "her".

#12 Edited by CptBedlam (4460 posts) -

@Mento: Strongly disagree with self-replenishing health and missiles. That stuff needs to stay out of Metroid.

#13 Posted by DeF (4979 posts) -

@Mento said:

@Video_Game_King: Hey, if Return of Samus was a worthwhile Game Boy game, it'd be on the 3DS Virtual Console already. I mean, they put Alleyway up.

it's coming in Q4 (at least in Europe)

Also, the visor first appeared in Super Metroid (X-Ray visor)

#14 Posted by ahoodedfigure (4240 posts) -

Scanning and Visors are a healthy yes from me. That had to be my single favorite aspect (other than the annoyance of collecting them when I should be surviving). What I loved was that I felt like a detective using those tools. I really wish more games had this, and probably part of the charm WAS its unobtrusiveness.
 
It's weird that people assume Metroid had no narrative before Other M. A few of them totally did, although I think what disappointed me more was that they didn't go all-out with their science fiction in that case. Somehow, involving earth or human beings made things feel more mundane. I like the idea that she's a human among a bunch of strange aliens, possibly the only human in this part of space. Metroid's all about isolation anyway, so why not? 

#15 Posted by selbie (1969 posts) -

The best thing about Super for me was the ability to mix n match the different beams. A new metroid game could expand on that and allow the stacking of different beams for different effects. Much like Skyrim's dual-wield combined spells, you could not only have functions that are attack-based but also utilitarian aside from the existing grapple beam etc. Another thing i'd be curious to see is Nintendo exploring the early days of Samus when the Chozo were training her. I haven't played all the gameboy metroids but i dont think any game has explained the connection between Samus and Ridley thoroughly enough. Maybe it probably wont work but i dont know where else in the timeline the game would be set.

#16 Edited by just_nonplussed (127 posts) -

 
Nice post. Good to celebrate Metroid's 25th! :-) 
 

@ ahoodedfigure
 
Despite what gamers often say, the story in Metroid is not limited to those little cut-scenes that happen now and again if at all. Metroid tells its story through its pacing and direction. Return of Samus is a narrative about extermination of a race, Super Metroid is a very rich and silent narrative about the nature of power itself. Metroid Prime 2 is very much about repression and restriction as a theme, and so on and so on. Story in video games cannot be directly compared to literature or film. It tells its story through play. Wake up gamers! :-) 
 
Isolation is a small part of the Metroid picture. It figures a lot in the earlier entries where the maps are very sparse. But later in the series the theme becomes very much about attack and and all-out offensive. It becomes about speed and energy much more so than isolation. 
 
All those little plot details and the manga fiction is nice and all to set the background, but it's not generally representative of the players' direct experience through Samus. 
 
 
@ selbie
 
I agree. I love that about Super Metroid. I hope they bring back, someday, the ability to skip weapon upgrades and mix and match abilities. I feel Bayonetta really allowed a lot of this by allowing her moves and abilities to be switched on or off on the menu screen. 
 
 
Anyway, I wonder if scanning would work very well in 2D, in the same way as in the Prime series. The scan visor was actually invented in Super Metroid; you got it near the end and it allowed Samus to see through walls. So I guess they could bring that back. I admit, it was an excellent touch that added a lot of gameplay depth. But each Metroid is unique...and takes advantage of each specific systems limitations and opportunities. Each Metroid is very bespoke. I'm not sure a 'hodgepodge' of elements thrown together would necessarily work well for the sake of nostalgia or something. Fans are their own worst enemies really... they want designers to give them their nostalgic memories exactly as they experienced them and keep repeating their own specific experiences, which is impossible. That said, each game tends to combine some great aspect of a former entry in the series and, like zelda, uses its storied history to its advantage. 
 
I will say though that there are two basic Metroid experieces, to put it crudely. One is based on speed, and the other is based more on space and the environment. These two elements are combined a lot of course, but 3D is best for environment depth, and 2D is best for that feeling of speed (speed booster, screw attack etc.). Super Metroid I think is a great balance of both of these elements. 
 
 
 

#17 Posted by MormonWarrior (2668 posts) -

I absolutely love every Metroid game except that terrible Other M game. It's awful. The original isn't my favorite either, but I think they're expertly crafted games. That style of gameplay hasn't been done as well by anyone else - Shadow Complex is good but not as great, Symphony of the Night is HUGELY overrated (the GBA/DS games are all way, way better but still not the same level as Metroid Fusion or Zero Mission)...

What I'm trying to say is: I want another proper 2D, pixel-animated Metroid game. That's as long and expansive as Metroid Prime. Thanks.

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