Metroid and The Loss of Originality and Innovation

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Metroid and The Loss of Originality and Innovation

Postby Trishbot » 02.09.12 1:20pm

Like most of you, I love the Metroid series. It's been particularly interesting to play Other M and be disappointed by it, and then to go back and play the rest of the series to determine for myself why that was and what I actually like about the series.

I did so, and it was strange to me that, as I played each game, from 8-bit classic to modern Wii-mote hits, I was struck by something quite peculiar and bothersome.

Every Metroid game is nigh identical in what it offers players.

Granted, there are many, many superficial changes to the games. Metroid II is focused on Metroid hunting and is more linear while Metroid Prime is obviously in first-person and Other M put a lot of emphasis on story and added in things like that invincibility dodge and magic missile recharging.

But those are still very few necessary, lasting, or defining changes to the franchise. For better or worse, every Metroid game since 1994's Super Metroid has brought with it the same powers, the same upgrades, the same abilities, and usually the same enemies.

Playing Fusion again, I was struck by how much potential turning Samus into a Metroid herself is totally squandered. Metroids were considered the apex-predators of space, full of unique energy constitutions, biology, and attacks. They could fly and hover. They had teeth that could pierce even Samus's armor.

And yet, in Fusion, a game that appeared superficially very different from prior games, plays it safe. Samus spends the majority of the game just getting her same old abilities back and doesn't truly get any brand new abilities of her own, let alone any new Metroid-orientated powers (and her "absorb X-parasites" power is no different from the prior games having her absorb energy and missile drops from enemies). In fact, despite being part-Metroid, she is significantly weaker in Fusion than in prior games; abilities aren't as effective, she loses abilities like a proper ice beam, and her enemies in the game are just as strong, if not stronger, than enemies in prior games. She is in no way "evolved" by her new Fusion suit... it is just a cosmetic change.

I hear this complaint with the Zelda series often. However, I continue to believe that these complaints lack merit due to the fact that Zelda vastly changes its gameplay quite often and every new installment brings with it game-defining upgrades and equipment, something new to discover around every dungeon. From the mask transformations in Majora's Mask to ship sailing in Wind Waker to stylus controls in the DS games to game-link-connectivity in the Oracle games to full-on 1:1 swordplay in Skyward Sword, the series is constantly innovating. Even the art style has changed dramatically from the NES days to the N64 days to the Wind Waker style to the recent Skyward Sword style. Throw in unique weapons and items per game like the Beetle in Skyward Sword, the Spinner in Twilight Princess, the Lens of Truth in Ocarina of Time, the Ring system of the Oracle games, and even the Gust Jar in Minish Cap, and you have games that change on a foundational level due to the new weapons and equipment.

Metroid has the same equipment since 1994. Sure, it might get a superficial change (Metroid Prime 2's dark beam is still just an ice beam), but there's precious little truly innovative ideas given to the series since then. Prime had the visors, but even that was just an extension of the X-ray visor from Super Metroid.

Can you image a Zelda series where the past 20 years are full of nothing but boomerangs, bombs, and arrows, and nothing new? Can you imagine a Mario game where he never got any new game upgrades besides the mushroom and fire flower?

Why has Metroid refused to evolve in this regard? The series used to pave the way with innovative ideas and add to Samus's repertoire of abilities. Since then, however, it has been content to sit back and look to the past, believing that giving us those old abilities again and again would please us.

It may keep us content, but it doesn't excite or inspire us. Not like when we actually got something genuinely new. How many people remember when you got the spinespark ability for the first time? Yeah, the NES and Gameboy games suddenly looked really dated. Or when you suddenly could jump off walls... or screw attack through the air... or Power Bomb everything around you to dust for the first time?

And since then... nothing. Sure, we might get a new suit that is only cosmetically different, or a "new" ability that is just an old ability with a new name, but where has the spark of innovation gone in the series?

Why are we not seeing Samus truly evolve, gameplay wise? Franchises like Castlevania took the Metroid series and ran with it in bold new directions. Can you imagine if Fusion had done what Aria of Sorrow did and you could absorb, adapt, and then use the powers of the monsters you absorb? Or even a game like Shadow Complex took the basic idea of the ice beam (the foam gun) and used it to create an experience where your foam gun can create complicated platforms and bridges through clever aiming.

Mario continues to innovate with new powers, new worlds, and new situations. Zelda games push the limits of what prior games did and challenges your expectations.

Metroid is more like Pokemon; you do the same thing, the same way, year after year. Except even Pokemon had the courage to actually add in bold, game-defining features in each installment, whether they be triple battles, the introduction of Pokemon breeding, changes to Pokemon trading and the introduction of Pokemon happiness, and the inclusion of new ways to train and strengthen your core team. Despite big changes, the series is still rather stale (if enjoyable), but Metroid hasn't even done that much to evolve its gameplay.

I read that Sakamoto tried to create Other M like an old-school game. He wanted the remote only because it was like an NES remote and he wanted to keep it "simple". But that's a problem. The game is not simple. The industry is not simple. The Wii is not simple. WE are not simple. Metroid has always been one of the most complex, difficult, and challenging adventures in the industry, yet regressing it to its 8 and 16-bit roots is not evolution, especially not with the exact same powers and abilities that we've seen countless times.

The series is in a rut, I think. It still can offer quality gameplay, but it is hardly as innovative as it used to be, hardly as original in how it challenges gamers to explore its labyrinthine worlds, and it plays it far too safe where it matters most (and story is NOT where Metroid matters most).

I'm ready for something new. I'm ready to turn the page on this series and see new life, new ideas, new gameplay, new enemies, new worlds, and new conflicts breathed into this stagnating series. It's a science fiction story; you're practically only limited by your imagination. Samus could go to any sort of planet, fight any sort of monster, get any sort of new abilities.... so why settle for the same? Sure, the last meal was good, but at some point I want something new for dinner and not just the same meal with a different garnish.

Now, don't take this to mean I hate the recent Metroid games. I still enjoy them for what they are, and many of them are still some of the best games ever made. But the series is resorting to the Madden formula, changing its roster, doing a few minor tweaks, and making the graphics better, but the core experience is pretty similar... only we wait years between Metroid releases for very little innovation.

Few will argue that Mario Galaxy is a similar experience to Super Mario Bros, just as Skyward Sword is a huge evolution from the NES Zelda games. Yet, it's odd to be able to play the 8-bit Metroid and to discover that the Prime games, Fusion, and Other M still follow that same original formula with such unwavering devotion, and they fear the risk of truly innovating the core experience. Sure, maps have been added, recharge stations are here now, we've got cutscenes and dialogue, and the experience flows better than the clunky original (we can DUCK and SHOOT! WOW!), but that's not innovation; that's just refinement.

I can't be alone in this regard. Even if you're a passionate fan of the series, you still have to admit that innovation is the life-blood of the industry and Metroid can not keep riding the coattails of Super Metroid forever. It has to break out and make a game that is not a pale imitation of the past but rather a bold, exciting new direction for the future. We need a Metroid game that is the equivalent of Metal Gear Solid to the Metal Gear franchise, a game like Resident Evil 4 to the Resident Evil series, a game like Mario 64 to Mario games, and a game like Symphony of the Night for the Castlevania saga.

We need a game that innovates. It doesn't throw out the core of the experience, but it takes the old and rethinks it with modern sensibilities. HD graphics alone won't do that.

So, what are your thoughts? What innovations do you hope to see? What originality do you wish them to pursue? Or do you think I'm entirely wrong and Metroid is like soap, a formula that works and should never be tampered with? Let me know!
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Re: Metroid and The Loss of Originality and Innovation

Postby Infinity's End » 02.09.12 6:42pm

If you don't think there's innovation between Metroid 1 and Metroid Prime and Other M, then you're out of your goddamned mind.
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Re: Metroid and The Loss of Originality and Innovation

Postby Trishbot » 02.09.12 6:44pm

Infinity's End wrote:If you don't think there's innovation between Metroid 1 and Metroid Prime and Other M, then you're out of your goddamned mind.


I never said there wasn't. But there hasn't been ENOUGH innovation. Again, compare Metroid to the Zelda or Mario series. When's the last time we received a brand new ability that carried over into another game?

The Metroid series can and should do better to innovate its mechanics. I already listed examples of other games that followed the Metroid formula yet innovated upon it in vastly interesting ways that Metroid has not.
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Re: Metroid and The Loss of Originality and Innovation

Postby Infinity's End » 02.09.12 6:48pm

Trishbot wrote:When's the last time we received a brand new ability that carried over into another game?


  • Hanging on ledges added to Fusion
  • Power Grip added in Zero Mission.
  • Power Grip added in Prime 3.

  • Boost Ball in Prime
  • Shinesparking with the Ball in Zero Mission

Hate to say it, but it may all go back to :YS: in the end. He's clearly not experienced enough in 3D game mechanics to really push the "innovation" when considering 3D game design. He's self-admitted to that several times and has even said he's HAPPY to be that way. Maybe, just like Zelda has (twice now) they need to switch directors. Maybe with the WiiU we'll get a 3D Metroid game that the fans will love because it won't be held back by technical limitation?
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Re: Metroid and The Loss of Originality and Innovation

Postby Trishbot » 02.09.12 11:52pm

I don't consider many of those "innovations" to be, well, that innovative. "Hanging from ledges" didn't do that much to alter the game and wasn't something that other games had done before (and done better) before Fusion. I concede that the Boost Ball was nice, though.

My problem is I don't believe "technical limitations" are holding back innovation. Quite the contrary; limitations are the breeding ground of creativity and innovation because you have to think of clever ways to get around these limitations.

Silent Hill used the limitations of draw distance to create their trademark fog and darkness; rather than being a detriment, the innovative use of fog and darkness was a GOOD thing for that game (while it was a bad thing for other games). It was all in how it was used.

Similarly, a classic story is how the movie JAWS wasn't going to be as scary as it is now. They spent millions on a mechanical shark that didn't work, malfunctioned, and sank to the bottom of the ocean. They couldn't use it. So... Steven Spielberg had to think outside of these limitations and instead used camera angles and music to create mood and atmosphere, and the shark became SCARIER because you COULDN'T see it.

I think you could release Metroid all the way back on the SNES or NES again and innovate it to a remarkable degree. Technology can become a crutch, or as my teacher's taught me, a tool, but it is no replacement for creativity and should never become the pillar upon which a game is made.

A Metroid of the same technical level of Super Metroid and Fusion can still be more innovative than Prime or Other M. Graphics will always improve and ultimately become outdated, but good gameplay is truly timeless and good ideas can last for generations.
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Re: Metroid and The Loss of Originality and Innovation

Postby TheBlackCat » 02.10.12 12:41pm

I don't think the innovations in the zelda games have been any better, frankly. Starting from the same place, Link to the Past, there really hasn't been all that much truly new in terms of items. Lens of truth? How is that all that different than the lantern in Zelda II? The gust jar is a combination of elements of the hookshot and fire wand in terms of how it is used, both of which were present in LttP. It is certainly no more new than using the grapple beam to rip shields off in Prime 3.

On the other hand, having the plasma beam cause fires and the wave beam use electricity were entirely new, those sort of elemental attacks were not present in any prior game.

Zelda games give new names to items, but they tend to have the same basic mechanics, while the metroid series tends to give the same name to completely different items.

As for gameplay, I wouldn't say the one-on-one swordfighting is that much larger of a change than what we see with the first-person perspective in the prime games or the dodge mechanics in Other M.
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Re: Metroid and The Loss of Originality and Innovation

Postby Infinity's End » 02.10.12 1:24pm

Furthermore - it's a double edged sword. When Metroid games become a little too "un-Metroid-y" (according to fans) then they bitch and flip the fuck out. It's this balancing act, on a tightrope made of dental floss. Lots of franchise games are like this - change too much, and everyone says "OMG IT'S NOT XXXX GAME! THIS SUCKS!" Change too little and everyone says, "OMG WHY DON'T THEY EVER CHANGE ENOUGH!? IT'S JUST A REHASH!" So you can't expect Nintendo to "innovate" more than they have in their subsequent games in each franchise.

Someone once said (in some form or fashion) when creating games, specifically in a franchise, you have to make it "90% old and 10% new," or else you won't be able to have success. This seems pretty true to an extent.
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Re: Metroid and The Loss of Originality and Innovation

Postby okey » 02.10.12 3:01pm

You already talked about how Fusion didn't do anything cool with the part-metroid angle, but there's another missed opportunity you forgot to mention:

Most of your items in Fusion are made by the feds but the intro shows that they don't understand how Samus' suit works. They couldn't even get the thing off without cutting it to pieces.

How do these same guys have perfect copies of her old items? Shouldn't they be sending over stuff they invented instead? It would have been a good story reason to introduce a bunch of new items.

Infinity's End wrote:Someone once said (in some form or fashion) when creating games, specifically in a franchise, you have to make it "90% old and 10% new," or else you won't be able to have success. This seems pretty true to an extent.

They could come up with new ways to use the old stuff if they're worried about alienating the fans.

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Re: Metroid and The Loss of Originality and Innovation

Postby Zynux » 02.10.12 7:39pm

I honestly don't feel like reading that massive wall of text, but I think I know the gist of it. For the most part, yes, Metroid is unfortunately at its core a pretty stagnant series, specifically when it comes to plot (not that big of a deal imo), but more importantly with game mechanics, power-ups/puzzles, and level design. Stuff like hanging on ledges are tweaks, but definitely not innovative.

You would think after Metroid Prime and Metroid: Other M, two times where the series seriously "innovated" that the series would become less stagnant but imo thats not the case. Metroid Prime Trilogy completely reused three times in a row the same power-ups, puzzles and even the same levels (seriously, we didn't need Bryyo Fire or Bryyo Ice, even though I liked Bryyo Ice) and therefore stagnating the series again. And Metroid: Other M? You are once again on a ship filled with Sectors (Metroid Fusion anyone?) that are representative of more boring level design (LOL Fire, Jungle and Ice themes again?) with all the same items again that perform the exact same functions as in other Metroid games.

Grant it, I'm not saying that ever-single-new-Metroid game needs to be 100% different from the other, but I'm starting to think that the developers aren't even trying anymore. Well w/e just my 2 cents.



TheBlackCat wrote:I don't think the innovations in the zelda games have been any better, frankly.


This is actually why I have such a problem with Zelda games. Most will probably disagree but imo there are times when it becomes extremely stagnant and uninnovative. Twilight Princess imo comes to mind really fast. It tried way too hard to be an Ocarina of Time clone but in the end it just failed hard.


Infinity's End wrote:Someone once said (in some form or fashion) when creating games, specifically in a franchise, you have to make it "90% old and 10% new," or else you won't be able to have success. This seems pretty true to an extent.


Its true that this does happen and is consistent, but frankly I disagree heavily that this should be the Developer's ultimate goal when it comes to new content.
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Re: Metroid and The Loss of Originality and Innovation

Postby Opium » 02.10.12 8:18pm

Zynux wrote:Grant it Granted, I'm not saying...
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Re: Metroid and The Loss of Originality and Innovation

Postby Zynux » 02.10.12 8:31pm

rofl whoops, mah bad.
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Re: Metroid and The Loss of Originality and Innovation

Postby Maetch » 02.11.12 3:15pm

okey wrote:Most of your items in Fusion are made by the feds but the intro shows that they don't understand how Samus' suit works. They couldn't even get the thing off without cutting it to pieces.

How do these same guys have perfect copies of her old items?

They don't. Pay attention to what they actually send Samus, and you'll notice that all they send her are Missile upgrades and other generic weapons. Technology like Missiles and Bombs wouldn't take much effort to replicate. The Varia was a bit of a stretch, but I'm sure that the Feds would have also managed to make their own heat-absorbing armor upgrade by now. All the truly Samus-unique stuff were taken from X parasites.
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Re: Metroid and The Loss of Originality and Innovation

Postby Dragonheart91 » 02.12.12 1:10am

I don't actually want a ton of innovation. Honestly, I would be tickled pink to have a refined Metroid experience with a new map to explore and smoother functioning game mechanics. (E.G. Zero Mission and Fusion)

I want to see more games that maintain what's fun about the series. New power-ups should definitely be included, but there is a lot of room for exploration of new things there and Samus doesn't have to acquire ALL of the same old power-ups every game. Other than that, games like Zero Mission and Fusion are exactly what I want the Metroid series to keep doing.

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Re: Metroid and The Loss of Originality and Innovation

Postby LesserChozo » 02.12.12 8:02am

As I understand it, the Metroid series has been more focused on the story. Granted, the gameplay formula has been similar for each game, but the story has been a slow progression. If you ask me, too many good franchises are ruined by too much change, too quickly. Subtle changes are more often enough to freshen the game. It boils down to what actually defines the franchise. You don't want to change that.
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Re: Metroid and The Loss of Originality and Innovation

Postby okey » 02.14.12 7:18pm

Yeah but doesn't Metroid boil down to 'you're in a spooky maze, you find cool stuff, you fight aliens'?

It seems like new items, environments and enemies would only make the formula better. Hell, just a few new items would make it better.

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