Metroid Prime 4 Speculation
Taking a look back at two years of Metroid-related rumors, leaks, and inteviews.
Posted on 2017-06-23 by CiaoCiao

After years of rumors, Nintendo finally announced a new Metroid Prime at this year’s E3. The fourth installment in the Metroid Prime series has been hinted at for about two years now in interviews from various Nintendo representatives such as series producer Kensuke Tanabe and President of Nintendo of America, Reggie Fils-Aime. These interviews have provided us with quite a lot of information for what we can expect from the new Metroid Prime game, including new gameplay features and what the plot may be. Let's analyze these interviews, as well as take a look at related rumors and cancelled Metroid games, to speculate on what Metroid Prime 4 will likely be about.

GAMEPLAY

In June of 2015, Eurogamer conducted an interview with Kensuke Tanabe to talk about the future of the Prime series. During this interview, he divulged ideas he came up with for a hypothetical Metroid Prime sequel. The most prominent idea concerned Samus exploring “a single planet that has a time-shifting mechanic, similar to Metroid Prime 2: Echoes' single planet with dark and light variants."

Will Breath of the Wild influence Metroid Prime 4?

One particular idea I’ve seen posted in forums for the past few months now is how Nintendo can use what they’ve learned from Breath of the Wild in developing an open-world Metroid game. In terms of freedom, Breath of the Wild is one of the most easygoing games in letting you progress how you want. The first three or so hours serve as a tutorial and a means of giving Link all the necessary equipment with the rest of the game being optional content sans the final boss. Link starts in the middle of the map and can walk to any part of the world almost immediately. When I see people saying how they want to see Breath of the Wild influences in the next Metroid, this freedom to do what you want and that sense of exploration is what I assume they mean, but a more specific element I would like to see the next Metroid take is Breath of the Wild's survivalism mechanics. Link in Breath of the Wild has to be constantly scavenging for pretty much every item in the game, from equipment to food. He needs to keep hunting down Hyrule's prey and infiltrating enemy bases for tools. I find this mechanic quite fitting in Metroid's exotic and alien settings.

Based on the fact Tanabe has stated he would like to focus on “a single planet” (as well as based on the direction modern games are being designed in general), I can see Metroid Prime 4 incorporating more open-world elements. I feel like most Metroid fans will be irked by the idea of open-world or sandbox elements in their Metroid game, as the level design in Metroid games have always been very tight and claustrophobic, which some may see as going against the “openness” of open-world. However, open-world games don’t necessarily need to have wide open fields of nothing; the “open” in the genre’s name refers to the freedom the player has in approaching particular objectives, not the level design. Personally, I think the core Metroidvania concepts (large, nonlinear and interconnected world; acquiring special tools to progress past certain points) lends themselves greatly to being incorporated into an open-world game.

As for the "time-shifting mechanic", this would likely be implemented as a "dual-world", similar to the one featured in The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages. Samus would shift from the planet's present to the planet's past and future at will. Whatever she does in the past will obviously change something in the future. This could be done to open locked doors and blocked paths.

STORY

I expected a new console Metroid eventually, but I didn’t necessarily expect a new Prime installment. I thought the Prime series was more or less wrapped up. Phazon has been contained. Dark Samus has been defeated. I suppose that Nintendo sees the “Prime” in the title as being less indicative of the game’s plot points and more that “Prime” indicates a first-person Metroid opposed to a 2D platformer.

In the Eurogamer interview, Tanabe states that the fourth game will “focus on other Prime-series elements”, referring to bounty hunters, and even more so, Sylux. Sylux is a villainous bounty hunter featured in the spinoff Metroid Prime Hunters for the DS. For an unknown reason, he vehemently opposes the Galactic Federation and by association, Samus Aran. Tanabe stated that he would like to “create a story centering around Samus and Sylux.” This would fit into the rest of the Prime series timeline. In the secret ending to Metroid Prime 3, we see a mysterious ship tailing Samus; this ship was later confirmed to be Sylux’s Delano 7. Additionally, Sylux makes a possible appearance in the ending of Federation Force. In this scene, an unknown culprit (likely Sylux) breaks into the federation in order to steal and hatch a baby metroid. These two cliffhangers will set up the core plot of Metroid Prime 4.

In addition to a conflict between Samus and Sylux, Tanabe also said he wants to explore bounty hunters and the Galactic Federation more. Both factions have been expanded in their own handheld spinoff (Hunters and Federation Force respectively), but in Metroid Prime 4, Tanabe wants to show these two factions interacting with each other.

Sylux's trophy description from Super Smash Bros. Brawl

DEVELOPMENT

Many fans associate Prime with its developers Retro Studios. I think many see that as an American company, Retro Studios has a far different, more westernized approach to game design than most other Nintendo studios, and this approach helped shaped the Prime series into what we know and love. For this reason, many fans became worried at the news that Retro Studios is not working on the new Metroid Prime and in their place will be a “talented new development team” headed by Tanabe. It is still unknown who this team will be, but it will likely one of Nintendo’s in-house development divisions, such as Nintendo EPD.

A rumor came out last year involving Retro and Tanabe’s relationship. Liam Robertson reported that the two sides “are allegedly not on good terms.” Following development on Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, many staff members at Retro Studios were unhappy with working under Tanabe. Retro wanted more autonomy and freedom with designing Tropical Freeze, which clashed with Tanabe’s directorial style. Below is a quote from Liam Robertson’s report:

Around the time of Tanabe's leave in 2014, Retro had apparently begun to seek a greater level of autonomy from NCL. Previously, Tanabe was NCL's man on the ground there. He was their chief representative, who upheld the Japanese creative sensibilities of Nintendo at the otherwise Western studio. Retro, however, felt that his assistance was no longer necessary. They were campaigning for more freedom; although not just because some individuals had issues with his behaviour, but because they were under the impression that they had earned it. They thought that they had more proven themselves and that they didn't need an NCL producer holding their hand anymore.

This rumor falls in line with how Tanabe worked with Next Level, not Retro, on Federation Force, and is once again working with a different studio for the next Prime.

A few months before this rumor, Robertson reported that Retro’s next project is something they themselves proposed to Nintendo. This doesn’t necessarily mean they are working on a new IP, though the chances are good. Emily Rogers reported that Retro has been working on a new IP for about three years now and it is due out in 2018. Retro working on their own new IP would fall in line with how they sought greater autonomy. Also worth mentioning is that Robertson reported that while Retro Studios has the potential to work on multiple projects at once, they are one of the priciest studios for Nintendo to maintain, and Nintendo would likely not have Retro work on two major projects at once. So if Retro is making a new game, they probably couldn’t afford to lend any major assistance to Metroid Prime 4’s development.

Cancelled Metroid Games

We have covered interviews, rumors, and leaks up until this point, but I think it is also useful to look at other cancelled Metroid games. Many games in the past, not just Metroid, have often used concepts from unreleased installments and early pitches. Metroid Prime 2, for example, took many elements from the cancelled Metroid 1.5.

At E3, Nintendo also announced a 3DS remake of Metroid II: Return of Samus developed by MercurySteam. According to Nintendo Life, this wasn’t MercurySteam’s first attempt to make a Metroid. Anonymous sources in contact with the website leaked a prototype for a Metroid Prime Hunters sequel that was going to be released for Nintendo Wii U and 3DS. Due to years of silence regarding this prototype and MercurySteam denying their involvement in such a project, many people thought this rumor was made up, but the fact that MercurySteam is indeed developing Samus Returns gives more credence to this rumor. The game being a Hunters sequel would have likely expanded on Sylux and would have been used to set up Metroid Prime 4 similar to the ending of Federation Force.

About a month before this E3, the Nintendo YouTuber SuperMetalDavid correctly leaked that Nintendo will show off two new Metroid games. He also said that Retro is working on a new IP, but that they are also helping with Metroid Prime 4 in some form. I don’t see this rumor as necessarily contradicting Robertson’s report or even Tanabe himself saying Retro isn’t developing Metroid Prime 4. From my point of view, “help” has a different meaning than “co-developed” here. Retro could be providing advice to the new team or possibly sending them archived assets from the previous Prime games so the new team has something to work off of.

RELEASE DATE

In the Eurogamer inteview, Tanabe stated that due to the type of game Metroid Prime is, development would have to take at least three years. It is unknown when Metroid Prime 4 entered development. Speaking to IGN, Reggie explained that Metroid Prime 4 is still very early in development. Federation Force released in August last year. Assuming Tanabe began work on Metroid Prime 4 immediately after or around the time of Federation Force's release, we would still likely see another two years before release. A release date in the late 2019-early 2020 range doesn't sound too unrealistic.

RECAP

  • Metroid Prime 4 will likely take place on a single planet.
  • It will have a time-shifting mechanic similar to the light-dark mechanic in Echoes.
  • Sylux will be the main antagonist.
  • Sylux will be hunting down Samus and attempting to take down the Galactic Federation, both for some unknown reasons.
  • Sylux stole a metroid egg from the Galactic Federation at the end of Federation Force.
  • Bounty hunters and the Galactic Federation will be expanded on. We will see these factions interacting with each other more.
  • Will not be developed by Retro Studios, but there is still a chance they will help in some way.
  • Will be developed by a “talented new development team” headed by Kensuke Tanabe.
  • Will likely release late 2019/early 2020.

Metroid: Samus Returns