Metroid Prime 4 development restarts under Retro Studios

The developer behind the previous three Metroid Prime games is taking over the Nintendo Switch sequel.

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Sean Keane
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Metroid Prime 4 has restarted development, Nintendo revealed Friday.

Shinya Takahashi, a senior managing executive officer, announced in a video that the game wasn't meeting Nintendo's standards and Retro Studios, the Texas-based team developer of the Metroid Prime Trilogy, has been brought back in to save the project.

"From this perspective, we have determined that the current development status of the game is very challenged, and we had to make a difficult decision as a development team. We have decided to reexamine the development structure and change it," Takahashi said.

He noted that producer Kensuke Tanabe will work with Retro Studios "and restart development from the beginning" to ensure that it meets fans' expectations.

"It will be a long road until the next time we will be able to update you on the development progress, and development time will be extensive," he said. "However, we will continue developing the game so that when it is completed, it will stand shoulder to shoulder with the past Metroid Prime series titles."

Nintendo's move may have been a result of problems with the "experimental ad-hoc development process" being used for the game, according to a series of Jan. 25 tweets by Game Informer senior editor Imran Khan, who said it was being put together "in parts" by studios around the world.

"Some studios were trucking along saying it was going smoothly while it was on fire elsewhere," he wrote. "Internal thinking was that it needs to be all under one roof to right the ship. Interestingly, Retro made the pitch for their involvement and put together a demo that Nintendo liked."

Nintendo didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on Khan's tweets. In any case, it could be a while before we see a trailer or hear any concrete details about Metroid Prime 4.

What did we know about Metroid Prime 4 before development restarted?

In a surprise announcement at  E3  2017, Metroid Prime 4 got a title... and that's about it.

Before Jan. 25, we knew that Retro Studios -- the developer of the Metroid Prime Trilogy -- wasn't working on it, having moved on to the new Donkey Kong games.

It'd been rumored that Bandai Namco -- which recently brought Dark Souls Remastered to PS4,  Xbox One  and PC (though Switch version has been delayed ) -- was the developer. Nintendo, however, never confirmed that.

We knew that Tanabe, legendary Nintendo producer, was leading development and his statement about the project revealed very little.

According to Tanabe, Prime 4 "returns to the first-person adventure roots of the original Metroid Prime game and introduces a new storyline that ties together the events of the Metroid Prime universe and takes the storyline in new directions."

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We didn't get an update in the Nintendo Direct: E3 2018 presentation, but Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime told The Verge why it was revealed in 2017 and not shown a year later.

"Last year with Metroid Prime 4, it was important to highlight for the Metroid fan that that franchise was going to come to Nintendo Switch, so that we could also share Metroid: Samus Returns for the 3DS, and not have them be so disappointed that a mainline Metroid experience isn't coming," he said, before offering a minor update on Prime 4.

"It's still in development," Fils-Aime said. "It's progressing well, and we'll share more at the appropriate time."

Fils-Aime shared a little more in an interview with Mashable in November, saying the company has an idea when it'll come out.

"Internally, we have expectations about when [Metroid Prime 4] is going to be released," he said. "We haven't announced it, but yeah, the game is well in development."

He also noted that he's mostly been playing as series villain Ridley in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.

For now, let's get familiar with the series.


Metroids are not to be messed with.


What's a Metroid?

The Metroid series started with the 1987 release of Metroid, a 2D action-adventure game on the NES. Since then, it has appeared on most of Nintendo's consoles and the 14 games (including spinoffs) have sold nearly 17 million copies.

Metroids are a species native to the planet SR388. They drain energy from other lifeforms. Their larval form, which resembles a floating jellyfish, is the most iconic and uses four sharp mandibles to grip its prey.

From this form, the Metroids become increasingly dangerous as they go through a lifecycle that sees them evolve into a massive Omega Metroid. A select few can become Queen Metroids, which sustain the species by laying eggs.

In their universe, "Metroid" means "Ultimate Warrior" in the language of the alien Chozo. But Nintendo's Hiroji Kiyotake revealed its real-life origin in a 2004 interview.

"We attached 'android' to the 'metro subway' and that's how we got 'Metroid,'" he told Nintendo Dream.

Who is Samus Aran?

An intergalactic bounty hunter and Nintendo icon, Samus Aran made her debut in the original NES game. Decked out in an orange Power Suit, she battles the Metroids and the Space Pirates across the galaxy.

Her sex was only revealed to players who completed the game in less than five hours, which resulted in an ending scene that saw Samus removing her helmet. In the '80s, having a female game protagonist was unheard of. Score one for the progressive Nintendo!


Game developer Paul McInnes with character Samus Aran, a Nintendo icon.

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The series carries on the tradition of Samus removing her helmet or armor in its better endings. So play well if you want to see her real face!

Conveniently, Samus' Morph Ball form fits perfectly between the larval Metroid's mandibles. They were destined to do battle!

She has also become a mainstay in Nintendo's Super Smash Bros fighting series, which arrived on Switch and added evil doppelganger Dark Samus and space dragon Ridley, another pair of Metroid characters, to the roster.

What's Metroid Prime?

It's an indisputable fact that adding "Prime" to any name makes it 100 percent more awesome (hello, Optimus) and Nintendo clearly knew it.


The whole Metroid Prime Trilogy is available on Wii and Wii U.


The Prime subseries kicked off in 2002, with the release of Metroid Prime on GameCube . It shifted the series' traditional 2D platforming action to a perspective behind Samus' visor. Still, it should be considered more of a first-person adventure game than a shooter.

The game was a collaboration between Austin, Texas-based Retro Studios and Nintendo of Japan. The partnership began after legendary producer Shigeru Miyamoto suggested Retro take on the project during a visit in 2000.

It went down extremely well. CNET sister site Gamespot gave the game 9.7 and it holds an average rating of 97 on Metacritic. It's sold 2.82 million copies. It has Samus exploring the planet Tallon IV as she puts a halt on the Space Pirates' biological experiments.

The Metroid Prime creature is this game's final boss, but its defeat doesn't spell the end.

It was followed by Metroid Prime 2: Echoes in 2004, which earned a Gamespot score of 9.2 and has 92 average on Metacritic.

This adventure brought Samus to the planet Aether, where she discovers a dark mirror dimension and her doppelganger -- the predictably named Dark Samus -- a reborn Metroid Prime. It didn't get nearly as much attention as the first game, but still sold 1.33 million copies.

Things moved to the Wii in 2007's Metroid Prime 3: Corruption. Here, Samus must jump between several planets as she battles Dark Samus' infection and tries to stop her nemesis (now allied with the Space Pirates) from corrupting the universe.

The third game isn't quite as beloved as the previous pair, with an 8.5 from Gamespot and a 90 Metacritic average, but Wii-hysteria resulted in sales of 1.79 million, a bump on its predecessor.

This trio of games was collected in the excellent 2009 Wii release Metroid Prime Trilogy, which added motion controls to the first two.

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The subseries also got two multiplayer-focused handheld releases, the 2006 DS game Metroid Prime: Hunters and 2016's Metroid Prime: Federation Force.

The former was impressive for the time, but looks and feels dated now. 

Federation Force, however, was the subject of major fan backlash. That was mostly due to its co-op gameplay, chibi-art style and apparent lack of Samus. It was released to mediocre reviews and holds a 64 average on Metacritic.


What should I play before Metroid Prime 4?

Since Nintendo is restarting development, you have plenty of time!

Prime 3 closes the loop on the trilogy's narrative somewhat, so Nintendo will likely position 4 as a nice jumping-on point for curious Switch owners, sort of like the amazing Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

However, the Prime Trilogy remains an exceptional experience and anyone who's mildly curious should play them.

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It's available on Wii, but the disc got a limited-print run in the US. Nintendo brought it to Wii U as a digital download, so that's the best option at the moment. Unfortunately, hardly anyone bought (or still has) that console.

So, don't be surprised if Nintendo announces the trilogy will be ported to the Switch -- it just makes sense. All three games still look great and the Joy-Cons would offer a similar play experience to the Wiimote and Nunchuck of old.

It may already be complete, according to a Game Informer's Imran Khan, who wrote that a Switch version of the trilogy is "long done" and Nintendo originally planned to  announce it in December.

Outside this, other easily playable (and highly recommended) games in the series include the 2017 3DS game Metroid: Samus Returns and 1994's wonderful Super Metroid, which is on the SNES Classic. Both are 2D platform adventures and feature amazing worlds to explore.

If you're curious about the 1987 original, it's on the NES Classic but is dated in a big way. You'd be better off playing Metroid: Zero Mission, a remake that hit Game Boy Advance in 2004.

Also on this classic handheld is Metroid Fusion, which came out the same day as Prime (Nov. 17, 2002) and is chronologically the final game in the series timeline.

Both Zero Mission and Fusion are available to download on the Wii U.

You might also hear about Metroid: Other M. Don't play it. It isn't up the standards of the rest of the series.

This was first published June 7, 2018, at 12 p.m. PT and will be updated at we learn more.