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A mysterious bounty hunter battling scores of fanged aliens in the cold, dark reaches of the galaxy. A nonlinear platformer with special tools and abilities to unlock new and thrilling spaces. A terrifying adventure with a looming sense of calamity.
Metroid has pioneered the way for countless video games since its first installment, even lending its name to an entire subgenre. With Metroid Dread arriving soon, a celebration of this critically-acclaimed series is in order.
For some, Metroid may have been a relatively obscure title that we only came to know because Samus was so freaking cool in Super Smash Brothers N64. But this is a franchise rich with history and quality.
The Original Trilogy
Metroid was born out of competition, among other things. Producer Gunpei Yokoi and his team in Nintendo’s R&D1 division set out to design a game that could rival the success of Mario and Zelda, created by Yokoi’s contemporary, Shigeru Miyamoto.
But they intentionally made artistic choices that were opposite to Mario at every turn. Everything about the project was punk rock, from its nonlinear structure to its immersive, brooding atmosphere. But the biggest shock was the surprise ending that no one saw coming…
Metroid tells the story of Samus Aran, who travels to the planet Zebes to prevent space pirates from using aliens called Metroids to create biological weapons. Creators were famously influenced by Ridley Scott’s Alien film, and even named a dragon-like boss Ridley. At the end of the game, our hero takes off that iconic red robot suit to reveal… bum bum bum! She’s a woman.
Dramatic surprise endings (as well as long intervals between releases) became a calling card for the series. Metroid II, released in ‘91 on the Yokoi-designed Game Boy, ended with Samus annihilating all Metroids on the planet SR388, but taking one baby Metroid at the very end.
While Metroid and Metroid II were well reviewed, the team at R&D1 hadn’t quite delivered a hit for Nintendo. Super Metroid finally delivered that homerun. Created for the Super Nintendo in 1994, Super Metroid blew away expectations. To this day, it’s regarded as one of the greatest games of all time. Then, Metroid disappeared.
Metroid Prime & Beyond
Reasons for Metroid’s vanishing are shrouded in theories and questions, but the franchise remained mostly absent for the better part of the ‘90s. Metroid skipped the N64 almost completely, with the exception of Samus’ (insanely cool) appearance in Super Smash Bros. Unsure how to move forward with the franchise, Nintendo took a chance on a team in Austin, Tx called Retro Studios to bring Metroid back.
Metroid Prime was released on Nintendo’s new console, the GameCube, alongside a handheld title for the Game Boy Advance called Metroid Fusion. Prime (not to be confused with online shopping) brought Metroid into the age of 3D, and Nintendo insisted upon its description as a “first-person adventure”.
Set between Metroid and Metroid II in the series timeline, Prime follows Samus as she travels to a new planet to once again handle those pesky space pirates, who are trying to use a substance called Phazon to their own dastardly ends.
It was a masterpiece. Metroid Prime became an enormous success, selling well and winning game of the year awards from almost every publication. Retro was tasked with a trilogy right away. Metroid Prime 2: Echoes explored the series’ famed Dark Samus baddie, and MP3 brought Metroid to the Wii console. With Metroid Prime 4 in development, the Prime series hangs before us like a carrot on a stick.
While other iterations of the games have been released, including the multiplayer Metroid Prime Hunters and the unfortunately lackluster Metroid: Other M, Nintendo had a project in development for the Nintendo DS in 2006 called Metroid Dread. It was put on hold – until now.
Metroid Dread releases on the Switch October 8, and will be the first side-scrolling Metroid in almost two decades. The game will mark the end of the Metroid storyline, and honor the character of this masterful series. A series that has swum upstream from its inception to become an unstoppable force in the world of gaming.
Kirby, a Brief History
No one can deny that Kirby, with his round little pink self, has captured the hearts of millions and garnered international fame. The franchise has spun out more than thirty games starring the blush blob, earning big bucks for Nintendo and HAL Labs. But before becoming a video game icon, Kirby was actually created rather haphazardly.
How Kirby became an adorable pink circle
The first Kirby game was called Kirby’s Dream Land, released on the Game Boy in 1992. Young designer Masahiro Sakurai was assigned to create a game that was simple enough for anyone to pick up and learn to play. (To this day, Kirby games are easy and accessible.)
While the game was in development, Sakurai created a basic avatar to perform the primary movements of play – a little ball with arms and legs. This was meant as a placeholder, later to be swapped for something more definite. But throughout testing and animation, the team fell in love with this white blob, and they ended up sticking with it. But he was just that – white.
Since Kirby’s Dream Land released on the original Game Boy, its protagonist’s color was indefinite. Adding to the confusion, the game’s North American box art depicted a white Kirby, while the Japanese art showed the pink character we’ve come to recognize. Sakurai always imagined Kirby to be pink, while Shigeru Miyamoto (who created Mario and worked as a producer on Kirby) always imagined our hero to be yellow. Color was an afterthought – literally. They didn’t nail down the official pink hue until after the first game’s release.
Another thing that didn’t come until the second game was Kirby’s ability to copy his enemies’ powers after slurping them up. Kirby’s Adventure dropped on the NES in ‘93, and implemented copy abilities, which are now a characteristic trait of the spherical savior of Dream Land.
How Kirby got his name
Sakurai’s project had a working title of Twinkle Popopo. But Nintendo wanted to go with a name that could create more draw for Western customers. After throwing around several options, the team finally named their character after… a lawyer.
John Kirby was a lawyer who worked long and hard on Nintendo’s behalf in a legal fight with Universal. The movie studio had sued over Donkey Kong, claiming the primate videogame character’s name was too akin to King Kong. (It’s like, totally a different Kong, geez.) Nintendo eventually won the suit, and named a character after Mr. Kirby as a way of saying thank you.
After many platformer adventures, pinball titles, 3D games, and Super Smash cameos, Kirby is now one of the most beloved characters in the video game industry’s history. Whether happily floating above Planet Popstar or bravely dueling with Meta Knight, his innocence and simplicity has captivated kids and grownups alike. And from the looks of it, he’s not stopping anytime soon.
7 N64 Games We’d Like to See on Nintendo Switch Online
In Nintendo’s latest Direct presentation, we were thrilled to find out that N64 and Sega Genesis games will be coming to Nintendo Switch Online. And in their abounding generosity, Nintendo even gave us a sneak peek of the first wave of titles that will be available on the service.
With quintessential mega-hits like Super Mario 64, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and even Banjo-Kazooie, it’s a solid list. We’re certainly pleased. But the N64’s catalog is vast, and there are so many more titles that simply have to make it onto NSO.
While some of these games non-negotiably need to be added like yesterday, others are items of the more “wish list” variety. So, just like our Game Boy/ Game Boy Color NSO wishlist, we have some thoughts. Here are seven titles we’d love to see on Nintendo Switch Online:
Donkey Kong 64
Donkey Kong’s first and only 3D title (for now…) was a silly game. Chucking pineapples and hitting bad guys with trombones – it was a real clown car. But Donkey Kong 64 was also an indisputably elegant platformer. With a few quality of life improvements like more frequent save spots, the game could really get a second wind and bring joy to a new generation of gamers.
Diddy Kong Racing
Now, for Donkey Kong’s smaller primate nephew. It takes real chutzpah to release a kart racing game in the long, looming shadow of Mario Kart. But Rare Ltd. was on fire in the ‘90s, and they pulled off an imaginative, innovative gem in Diddy Kong Racing. Not only did the game implement planes and hovercraft, but it also sported a challenging and captivating single-player adventure mode.
Super Smash Bros.
The OG. It’s hard to imagine a version of Super Smash with only twelve characters and nine stages, but that’s how we did our smashing back in ‘99. They were simpler times. And with Sora bringing the Super Smash Ultimate lineup to a close, it would be fun to go back to where it all began.
Who can forget the way that screen turned red when you got shot? What was meant as a fun accessory to promote the latest James Bond film turned out to be a masterpiece. Also developed by Rare Ltd., GoldenEye was a stellar first-person shooter, and arguably set the stage for games like Halo. This title would be the toughest to get rereleased, due to licensing red tape. But oh how we wish it would!
This popular snowboarding game actually preceded Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater by one year. Extreme sports were on the rise in the late ‘90s, and 1080° Snowboarding capitalized on it with a game that was graphically sharp and mechanically smooth for its time. Customize your ride at the lodge, then hit one of the trickiest slopes. This one would be a blast to play online with friends.
Yes, Mario Party Superstars includes boards from the original N64 game. But, like Super Smash, Mario Party has been reinvented and added-onto considerably since the first entry. Revisiting this zany series’ inception would be a pleasant trip down memory lane.
The N64 era was so exciting for so many franchises because it brought our favorite characters into the world of 3D. Consistent with this phenomenon, Pokémon Stadium took those cute monsters and gave them a dazzling three-dimensional makeover. This tournament-style strategy game let you transfer your ‘mons from the 151 Pokédex of the Game Boy games and fight them. It was a pivotal title in Pokémon and Nintendo’s illustrious joint history.
Metroid Dread Delivers
If you ask anyone who’s played Metroid Dread what they think about it so far, you might hear something like “to be honest, I had my doubts, but…” This game has been surrounded by immense hype. Metroid is a series with a deep history and deeper fandom. So the more cynical among us could see the propensity for the fine people at Nintendo and MercurySteam to rest on the laurels of this franchise and create a rote, victory lap of a game. Fortunately, they didn’t do anything of the sort.
Metroid Dread is the final chapter in the mainline, 2D Metroid story; a story development that’s been in limbo for almost two decades. And the title could not have been chosen more accurately. From the start of the game, Samus feels less the hunter and more the hunted. She’s been sent to the planet ZDR to research the malevolent X parasite, following a band of E.M.M.I. drones originally sent for the same purpose.
The evil-turned E.M.M.I. robots contribute to a defining characteristic of Dread: its punishing difficulty. As the title’s name suggests, you feel like you’re always on the backfoot, struggling for survival. And it’s an adrenaline-juiced thrill. Besting the agile, wall-crawling bots takes navigation through each of the seven E.M.M.I. zones, defeating a mother-brain-esque central computer, and using its power for one blast to rule them all. It’s a challenge of pace and prowess.
Developers seemed to go through the Metroid formula with a fine-tooth comb, enhancing what we love from this game series. It’s the best a Metroid game has ever looked, with sharp, vivid graphics (especially on Nintendo’s shiny new OLED Switch). Controlling Samus is impressively smooth and snappy, with new moves and suits to boot. But boss fights are the highlight of this game.
The bosses in Dread have to be studied. They can’t be outgunned. They can’t be outlived. You’ll have to go to school. While they’re tough, they’re also exceedingly rewarding. With variety and intuition, these boss battles keep you on your toes. It’s sure to afford Dread “gamer’s gamer” approval.
Along with legitimately challenging battles, Metroid Dread also achieves a near-perfect balancing act in many ways. The characteristic nonlinear gameplay neither holds your hand nor leaves you hitting your head against a wall. The game balances narrative cutscenes with platforming action. It balances classic Metroid elements with new innovations. It keeps momentum building steadily throughout. And in true Metroid fashion, there’s a big twist at the end.
You could argue that the developers of Dread drilled down on perfecting the game’s mechanics so much that it short-changed on some of the more atmospheric characteristics for which Metroid is beloved. But ultimately, fans of the series are just so glad that Nintendo did justice to this “final” installment of the mainline Metroid series. Dread reminds us why this game has an entire subgenre named after it. It’s an apex of 2D platforming.