Special articles, columns and features exclusive to the MDb.
MDB EXCLUSIVE: METROID 64 UNVEILED!
For years, you have speculated about it. The rumors and lies and false promises of the late 90s. Shigeru Miyamoto going on record that the game was actually in development. Well now it's finally here: proof of the holy grail:Metroid 64. Sadly, we only have a couple screenshots of the game. These were taken from an old issue of Nintendo Dream, a Japanese Nintendo magazine. They come from an interview with Toru Osawa, the designer of Kid Icarus and artist on Super Metroid who worked on a prototype of the game in 1999. Included are some of the hoaxes of fake Metroid games we've heard of in the past. Be careful!
THE DEVELOPMENT OF A LEGEND
Back in 1994, Yoshio Sakamoto had finished development on Super Metroid>, what many consider to be the masterpiece of the series, and hands-down one of the greatest games ever created. Not satisfied with sitting on his laurels, Mr. Sakamoto went forward with new projects, this time for Nintendo's upcoming handheld system, the Virtual Boy.
Working with 3D technology, albeit primitive, was challenging and rewarding for Sakamoto. He had previous experience working with handheld consoles thanks to his work writing the script to Kaeru no tame ni kane wa naru (For the Frog the Bell Tolls, unreleased in the US), X, Balloon Kid, and Hello Kitty World. Pretty soon, he was deep in development on Teleroboxer, Galactic Pinball, and later the Japan-only Card Hero.
As a result of his deep involvement with handheld gaming, Mr. Sakamoto simply had no time to work on a console-based game. He didn't have a team who understood the N64 hardware and he didn't have the resources. Additionally, Mr. Sakamoto had considered the Metroid series to be effectively over with Super Metroid. All the Metroids were destroyed. So was Zebes, along with Mother Brain, the Space Pirates, and Samus' arch-nemesis, Ridley. Just where could the series go from here?
That task would fall to Mr. Sakamoto's confidant, Toru Osawa, the director who cut his teeth on Kid Icarus and also helped build Super Metroid and Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, along with Teleroboxer for the Virtual Boy. When Zelda was finally completed, Osawa was put to work on new prototypes for Nintendo's next games. One team of R&D1 veterans was busy working on a realistic 3D action game. Something about this game really struck Osawa. "It looked just like Metroid, only in 3D!" he told Nintendo Dream in a 2002 interview. Though he knew Yoshio Sakamoto was busy with portable game development, the two reached an accord and soon Osawa was leading the prototype team to work on Metroid.
"We'd had Samus running in a cave," Osawa said. "There was space jump and wall jumping...all the abilities from Super Metroid. I thought we had really caught on the core gameplay." Osawa went on to explain he helped model the version of Samus used in the prototype. However, the team soon ran into trouble in the form of Nintendo's new hardware, the Gamecube. The company at the time felt the resources of Metroid 64 would be best applied to their newest game system; Metroid 64 was simply developed too late int he console's life-span.
"So we took the assets and gameplay we had created for Metroid 64 and put it to work on Smash Bros. DX."
However, Nintendo wasn't quite done with Metroid yet. Other elements were at work pushing for a new Metroid, this time from the other side of the world with the 'external company' that was reported to have been working on Metroid 64...
JET FORCE METROID?
In December 1997 in the UK, Paul Mountain was hard at work on a prototype for Rare's next game. His team had just completed Diddy Kong Racing, and Mountain was the lead programmer on an R&D team experimenting with new game concepts. Rare saw that shooters were becoming popular in the West with the release of Quake, which offered a revolutionary cover system. He was also a big fan Super Metroid and combined this idea to create an upgradeable weapons system. The project soon took on a lead artist, Lee Musgrave, along with some of the idle Blast Corps team. With inspiration from these two games, as well as others, the early foundations of a 3D shooter were in place, the basic prototype for what would eventually become one of Retro's greatest games for the N64, Jet Force Gemini.
Due to Rare's strong relationship with Nintendo, the Japanese company frequently sent experts over to check on the status of Rare's next creation. In one fateful instance, Shigeru Miyamoto flew over from Nintendo to look at their early demos. He liked what he saw with the gameplay and knew that Rare had something great on their hands. However, he didn't like the big-headed character designs, which were far too cute for a realistic action game. He also saw the connection with Metroid. He knew that Yoshio Sakamoto was hard at work on the Virtual Boy, but knew an opportunity for something great when he saw it. "Hmm... These heads are a little big for a serious sci-fi action game. Hey, what if you made this a little more like Metroid?" Miyamoto asked.
Mountain and Musgrave were dumbfounded. This was a truly great opportunity to work with one of Nintendo's greatest franchises. Mountain had already been trusted with the Donkey Kong franchise when working on Diddy Kong Racing, and had produced one of the most innovative racing games ever created. However, the two also felt really strongly about their creation, particularly the Lupus. They insisted that while the feel of Metroid was certainly there, switching between characters with unique abilities was central to the game. "We basically said that Metroid was a single-character experience," Mountain explains. "In order to really that Metroid experience, Samus has to be alone on the planet. In addition, you really need to get that sense of being behind the visor. You'd really have to have a large portion of the game take place behind the visor in order to get that feel."
So Miyamoto pushed the conversation back to the character designs. According to Musgrave, "He basically told us, ‘Oh, well just make those heads smaller. They're too damn big!' (Laughs)" Musgrave jokingly explained, "We finally did, but it took us until July , which was a couple months before we launched!" Still, Shigeru Miyamoto would remember these comments later when he directed Retro Studios to make Metroid Prime a first person game. Metroid would have to wait three more years for that to happen.
And that's it! That's the extent of what we know so far on Metroid 64. We're very proud to announce to you that the game was actually real, and that it had been in development at Nintendo. We're pretty disappointed to hear that it was cancelled, but at least we got two fantastic games out of it as a result!
IDENTIFYING FAKE IMAGES
There have been a lot of hoaxes about Metroid 64 over the past decade. From IGN falsely reporting its existence to UK magazines taking Smash Bros. photographs and posing them as Metroid 64 images to fan-made screenshots, you have to be very careful when verifying where the information comes from. These days, it is terribly easy to simply Photoshop something, and so verifying images requires the eye of an expert.
Take this image for example. Someone posted on the Metroid Database forums years ago that Super Metroid for the cancelled SNES CD System. The disc image here states that this is Super Metroid: Special Edition, and the poster claimed the game was full of brand new content, including high-quality animated cutscenes. However, this image is obviously a fake. For one thing, the SNES CD System was officially cancelled in 1993, prior to the release of Super Metroid. How could a special edition have been created of a game that was never made in the first place? In fact, the image was created by one of the MDb's old veterans, SimBen.
Or take these images of "Metroid 4" which were also reported to have come from Super Metroid: Special Edition. Pretty poor artwork, and some of it has even been lifted straight out of Castlevania. I found this on a Geocities site eons ago, so the original page is gone for good!
These other images are a bit harder to debunk. However, the image of Mother Brain is missing the Super Metroid interface, so it has clearly been a doctored image. The second has glitched numbers for the missile count. Unfortunately, I don't know who the artist is, so I can't credit the pixel art for Mother Brain!
Lastly, we have this image, which many people thought was from Metroid 64. It is taken from a canceled FPS mod called Metroid: Lazarus. You can tell it's from an FPS due to the HUD and textures that are too high for the N64 to handle.
Thankfully, we managed to get these images straight from Nintendo Dream. You can find them in Vol. 85, but it can be hard to track down older magazines.