After the incredible reception of Metroid Dread, the fifth installment on the mainline Metroid series, it was normal that the expectation translated into more sales of Metroid-related stuff, and some controversies along the way.
Metroid Prime is big absent of this party. The spin-off series didn’t receive too much attention. It could be that the series is very different from a 2D Metroid, hence why the conversation turned around Fusion, Zero Mission, Samus Returns, and even Super Metroid, but that doesn’t mean much when the Prime games are practically not available anymore. Kind of a bummer when you consider the Metroid Prime series is highly praised games that nobody should pass out, and that hold very well up to this time.
It’s not about when, but how and how much. It’s up to Nintendo to check if the money they put into porting the first game in a timely manner makes sense.
What does take for Nintendo to port these games to the Switch? If you look how Super Mario Sunshine came to happen, the task is possible. The problem is on how much time, if Nintendo hasn’t moved a finger to port the games to their new platform.
Taking the words of the former Lead Designer of all three games, Michael Wikan, into consideration, we may be really far from a port to happen.
Metroid Prime to Me-do-it-Again
We know Metroid Prime and Metroid Prime 2 Echoes where launched on Gamecube on 2002 and 2004, respectively. Only the third game, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, launched exclusively on Wii, three years later. On 2009 the Metroid Prime Trilogy was released with all the games on Wii and motion-control compatibility.
One of the big pretext on why was Trilogy possible is the architecture, Wii’s Broadway CPU was backward compatible with the Gekko (Gamecube) architecture, so porting was possible in a timely manner.
The biggest most immediate problem is the tools used to create Metroid Prime are no longer functional. Michael doesn’t specify if is the only the first game, but it makes sense that he refers to all three.
The biggest issue is [that Retro Studios] no longer has functional editor tools to work with the Prime code base, so everything has to be “brute force” hard coded.
These tools may have their licence expired, or tightly coupled to Gekko/Broadway architecture, meaning they’re useless unless code compilation is adjusted to target ARM (Tegra X1). That, or these are no longer available commercially.
Long story short, Retro Studios, or anybody up to the task, will have to create the tools to re-create Metroid Prime from the ground up — hopefully platform-agnostic. Partial emulation may be a solution, as it happened with Skyward Sword (more on that later).
An alternative would be to license an engine, like Unreal Engine, Unity, CryEngine, Godot, or anything that allows the team to start recreating the game and porting the assets to the game if these are still available in their original form. Picture somebody recreating the interaction of doors, maps, enemies, and everything that is not a texture, sound, effect, or a 3D model. We could even count in-game cinematics.
You may want to compare this task to what Groove Street Games did with GTA: Trilogy - The Definitive Edition, which ported all the games to Unreal Engine. Note that the developer has uncomparable expertise, pedigree, along a good partnership with Rockstar.
The case for Metroid Prime 2: Echoes may share the same problems. It was victim of a tight deadline by launching, as evidenced by a lot of unused content, just 2 years later. Nonetheless, they knocked it out of the park, even if they had to cut a lot of corners during the development.
For Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, that will be an journey on its own. There are a lot of parts in Metroid Prime 3 that require motion controls, while a lot of other interactions are tuned for free-aim. With no much further ado, try to imagine this 13-minute clip without free-aim, but with a joystick that demands constant force to reach a particular part of the screen.
It’s feasible? Yes, but a lot of parts may have to be reimagined to make gameplay painless.
Another point of comparison is The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD. The original version shipped with Motion Controls in mind, even demanding the Motion Plus accessory to work — pissing off customers and developers at the same time. The game was ported by Tantalus, who has also a great history of porting games, and some portions of the game are emulated.
The herculean effort to push all three games on a different architecture doesn’t mean Nintendo has no plans for a Metroid Prime Trilogy on a different platform. They may have already developing a release in the shadows with a non-disclosed porting studio, as it should happen when you take into account Retro Studios is already busy with Metroid Prime 4.
In any case, trying to port the whole Metroid Prime Trilogy into Switch is not something that would take a relatively short time. Also, Nintendo is not a dumb company, and with the work involved with porting one game, surely they will start with the first installment and sell it for a whooping USD$ 60 as they did with Skyward Sword. The market clearly accepted the price, so the changes are high that the pricing will be the same.
It’s not about when, but how and how much. It’s up to Nintendo to check if the money they put into porting the first game in a timely manner makes sense. Metroid Dread hay have proven that the consumers are interested in the franchise, but interest does not directly correlate to sales.
Who knows if they already started while you’re reading this, who knows if they’re holding it after they have figures on how much Metroid Prime 4 sells, once it launches in the near future.