Shinya Takahashi, senior managing executive officer at Nintendo, announced Friday via Nintendo’s YouTube channel that the company’s internal production on Metroid Prime 4 will be scrapped. The game had been in development for the Switch for two years, by a team led by long-time franchise producer Kensuke Tanabe, with strong rumors that Bandai Namco was involved.
As of this announcement, however, all work on MP4 is starting over again from scratch. This time, the game will be developed by the Austin, Texas,-based Retro Studios, makers of the first three Metroid Prime games, as well as the recently re-released Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze. Tanabe will continue to work on MP4 “in trust and collaboration” with Retro.
“As a result of the continuing development, although this is very regrettable,” Takahashi said in his short video, “we must let you know that the current development process has not reached the standards we seek in a sequel to the Metroid Prime series. Nintendo always strives for the highest quality in our games, and in the development phase, we challenge ourselves and confront whether the game is living up to that quality on a daily basis. If we’re not satisfied with the quality, we aren’t able to deliver it to our customers with confidence.”
Metroid Prime 4 was first announced as part of a teaser trailer at Nintendo’s pre-show press conference at E3 2017. Since then, very little information on the game had been released. We knew that Retro wasn’t making it, and that it had an uncertain release date, but major press milestones continued to come and go for two years without any more than occasional confirmation that the game still existed. As of this writing, it’s been nearly 12 years since the last release in the Prime series, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, and nine years since the last original Metroid game, the notorious flop Other M. (2017’s Samus Returns was a remake of a 1991 Game Boy title; 2016’s Federation Force is a multiplayer-focused, in-name-only entry.)
Metroid has historically been a dark-horse franchise at Nintendo. While it’s typically considered one of the linchpins of the company’s video game business, the early games are some of the most influential releases in their genre, and the sudden revelation of Samus’s gender at the end of the original game is one of the first big plot twists in modern video games, the individual titles have often been plagued by what amounts to pure bad luck.
The first Metroid initially came out in Japan as an exclusive for the Famicom Disk System add-on, which ran off floppy discs, two months after the industry had begun to shift over to cartridges. Naturally, it bombed. When Metroid came out on a cartridge in the U.S. in 1987, it was in the middle of a full-fledged marketing blitz from Nintendo … for The Legend of Zelda. It still managed to sell respectably, but it set the tone for Metroid as a franchise; the individual games would usually sell poorly in Japan, but do all right in other territories. Even 1994’s Super Metroid, though it’s considered a classic now, was an outright bomb in Japan and was nearly cancelled three times during its development process. Metroid made money, but it didn’t make Mario or Zelda money, so it was considered a low priority by Nintendo.
Samus didn’t appear in a game of her own again until 2002’s Metroid Prime. Even it was controversial from the start; Nintendo’s internal development teams were all busy at the time, so it partnered up with Jeff Spangenberg’s Retro Studios. The idea of a first-person-perspective Metroid was dubious at best, and Retro’s early, unpolished demos didn’t help. Neither did Retro’s chaotic internal development, or Spangenberg’s frequent absences. Upon its release, however, Metroid Prime became one of the most commercially successful games in the franchise, which started a hot streak for Metroid … which ended with the dull thud of 2009’s Other M.
With Metroid Prime 4 starting over, then, it looks like it’s business as usual for a franchise that’s old, well-loved, and consistently unlucky.