It’s been a minute since we first learned of the existence of Metroid Prime 4. And by that, I mean four years. And that was literally just a logo. But we’re going to have to keep waiting. In the meantime, Nintendo has decided to tide us over with [checks paper] Metroid 5???????
Nintendo revealed the new sidescrolling Metroid game, called Metroid Dread, as part of its Direct today. Dread, a direct sequel to Metroid Fusion, is the first new 2D Metroid game in 19 years. It will be out on October 8, so it’s not far off at all.
In the trailer, Samus walked down a corridor, only to be ambushed by a very tall robot called the E.M.M.I. This cutscene morphed into a sidescrolling chase scene through multiple rooms, with Samus ultimately getting caught and pinned to the ground before the game’s title was revealed. Nintendo then showed a sizzle reel of gameplay footage featuring Samus battling enemies and solving puzzles. Robots that Samus must evade featured heavily.
Nintendo described Dread as having a “new feel” and “a variety of threats that Samus will encounter.” In a developer video that aired right after the Direct, producer Yoshio Sakamoto said that Dread will continue the story that started in the first Metroid and will “mark an end” to the main series story arc focused on the “uncanny” relationship between Samus and Metroids. He further explained that the title Dread references the “relentless threat” that pursues Samus.
That threat is the E.M.M.I., a series of research robots owned by the Galactic Federation. Each E.M.M.I. roams specific areas. When they hear Samus, they give chase. Samus’ weapons don’t work against the E.M.M.I., and being caught means certain doom. This leads to a stealth element; if you don’t make any noise, E.M.M.I. robots won’t detect you. You can also hide behind objects. On top of that, Samus now has optical camouflage she can activate, which renders her temporarily invisible to robots.
However, Sakamoto made sure to stress that you won’t just be running from robots all the time. Dread is still a traditional Metroid game, meaning we should “expect some rock-solid and reinvigorated action and exploration.” This includes newer abilities from Samus Returns like free aim and a melee counter skill, as well as a new melee dash attack. Samus will also be able to slide from the get-go, which Sakamoto said will add “more depth to the action” and make for a “smoother” gameplay experience.
Sakamoto also outlined some of Samus’ new exploration abilities, which include the Spider Magnet, which lets you latch onto select walls and ceilings and move along them. He said that new abilities grant you more freedom than in previous Metroid games, but you’ll have to balance that with the fact that you’re being hunted.
“These two dynamics have been fused together in Metroid Dread in a way that everyone can enjoy regardless of whether they’ve played the series before or not,” said Sakamoto.
Intriguingly, Sakamoto noted that Nintendo first came up with the idea for Metroid Dread “about 15 years ago,” but the company gave up on it at the time due to technological constraints. For a while, he thought the idea was a no-go, but then Nintendo collaborated with developer Mercury Steam Entertainment on Metroid: Samus Returns for 3DS and now Dread. As a result, Dread now “surpasses what we imagined 15 years ago.”
A Treehouse session after the Direct showed off live gameplay, revealing new elements like a temporary Omega Cannon power up with an over-the-shoulder camera that makes cool use of the fact that—though Dread is a sidescrolling game—it’s rendered in 3D. The Omega Cannon is powerful enough to down an E.M.M.I., but afterward, the power evaporates.
During the demo, Nintendo also showed off an E.M.M.I. chase sequence, noting that the robots have trouble fitting through tight spaces. Samus, then, can slide underneath obstacles, forcing robots to take different paths through each area. It seems like this adds a fast but tense flow to the level design. If you get caught, it is an instant death, but Nintendo noted that respawns are relatively “forgiving” and usually place you very close to where you died.
Much of the demo, though, was classic Metroid gameplay: exploring, solving puzzles (one of which involved water), blasting open secret areas, collecting power-ups and new powers (like the charge beam), and battling enemies who move in identifiable patterns.
Many were expecting to see Metroid Prime 4 today, but it seems that was never the plan. During today’s Direct, Nintendo mentioned that it’s “working hard” on Metroid Prime 4 before quickly transitioning into the big Metroid Dread reveal.
Metroid Prime 4 was first announced at E3 2017 and, at the time, was not being developed by series progenitor Retro Studios. Instead, Nintendo said that series producer Kensuke Tanabe was working with a “talented new development team.” Later, reported that the team to be under the umbrella of Bandai Namco, first in Singapore and then in Japan when the Singapore team moved on to another Switch game.
2018 came and went uneventfully, with then-Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aimé that “Metroid Prime 4 is still in development and proceeding well.” Not too well, apparently, because in early 2019, Nintendo senior managing executive officer Shinya Takahashi said in a video that development “has not reached the standards we seek in a sequel to the Metroid Prime series” and that Tanabe would restart the game’s development “from the beginning” alongside original series developer Retro.
“We did not make this decision lightly,” Takahashi said at the time. “This change will essentially mean restarting development from the beginning, so the completion of the game will be delayed from our initial internal plan.”
He further added that development time would be “extensive.” So it’ll probably be a while longer before we finally see it in action. Metroid Dread, though, seems like a more than adequate consolation prize.