Metroid: Samus Returns

Introduction

The 2000s was arguably the most prolific decade for a majority of Nintendo’s big-name franchises. The Zelda franchise issued several beloved installments such as Majora’s Mask, The Wind Waker, and Twilight Princess. At the same time, the Mario franchise became highly experimental; Super Mario Sunshine had the title character explore a tropical island with a highly pressurized water dispenser on his back while Super Mario Galaxy saw him explore the far reaches of space. However, Nintendo’s most unexpected move was in 2002 when the Metroid franchise saw not one, but two installments revitalize the franchise that had been dormant since the 1994 release of Super Metroid. One of these games, Metroid Prime, allowed the franchise to break into the third dimension. It was followed up with two sequels, forming what is considered one of the most solid trilogies in the medium. With the franchise proving its continued relevance in the face of their new competition, the future seemed bright for Metroid.

Indeed, going into the 2010s, enthusiasts were excited to play the upcoming Metroid: Other M. Retro Studios demonstrated the franchise’s flexibility with their imaginative scenarios, and Metroid: Other M would be a comparatively simplistic return to form courtesy of Yoshio Sakamoto, the man who directed Super Metroid. It seemed as though this new installment was geared to join Super Metroid and the Metroid Prime trilogy as one of the series’ hallmarks. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. In a shocking turn of events, the same game that topped countless lists regarding the most anticipated titles of 2010 received anomalously bad word-of-mouth. By the end of 2010, the game failed to sell one-million units. Only two years after its release would it pass the threshold. This was an unthinkably dismal performance for a first-party Nintendo game.

The point of contention among most independent critics concerned its story. Mr. Sakamoto had poured a lot of his soul into the project, wishing to provide a definitive characterization of series protagonist Samus Aran. However, said characterization proved problematic for a majority of the enthusiasts who played it – not only abroad, but domestically as well. Consequently, the scenario was universally panned to the point where many critiques failed to mention the gameplay. Depending on one’s perspective, said gameplay was either passable or outright bad. Though the exact quality of Metroid: Other M was hotly debated, its status as a commercial disappointment couldn’t be contested.

For many years, there was no word of a new Metroid installment. The only game bearing the franchise’s name saw the light of day in 2015 under the name Metroid Prime: Federation Force. Because players felt it had little to do with the franchise, the game received a monumental preemptive backlash that persisted once it was released. Many enthusiasts resigned themselves to the fact that the Metroid franchise was effectively dead.

Luckily, all hope was not lost. Developers led by Yoshio Sakamoto began work on a new project in 2015 codenamed Matadora. Joining them on this endeavor was the Spain-based developer MercurySteam. They had previously pitched a Metroid game for the 3DS and Wii U. It was ultimately rejected, but Mr. Sakamoto took note of their interest in the series, and decided to collaborate with them. MercurySteam wished to remake Metroid Fusion, but Mr. Sakamoto instead suggested reimagining the series’ second installment, Metroid II: Return of Samus. He himself did not work on the classic Game Boy title, but he was enthusiastic about remaking it, believing it to be a vital part of the series’ lore. With the knowledge he and his company had developing Castlevania: Lord of Shadow – Mirror of Fate, Jose Luis Márquez found himself in the director’s chair alongside veteran developer Takehiko Hosokawa.

As it turns out, their project couldn’t have been timed any better. Metroid fans had been clamoring for a Metroid II remake for many years. It was to the point where one enthusiast, who went by the alias DoctorM64, took it upon himself to develop an unofficial remake titled AM2R (Another Metroid 2 Remake). For his troubles, Nintendo issued a cease-and-desist notice, and the game was taken offline. While fans were understandably upset, they later learned the biggest reason why Nintendo did what they did when they announced their own official remake. For his part, Mr. Sakamoto stated that, though he hadn’t seen the game, he appreciated the fan for caring so much about the series. On that note, DoctorM64 was just as excited about Nintendo’s project as Mr. Sakamoto himself. In fact, he bought a New 3DS XL with the specific purpose to play Nintendo’s Metroid II remake.

After much speculation, the game was released in September of 2017 for the 3DS under the name Metroid: Samus Returns. The Nintendo Switch had been released six months prior, but Mr. Sakamoto had declined releasing it on that platform due to the 3DS’s larger consumer base at the time. He also felt the dual screens allowing players to view the map during gameplay would be of an immense help. Upon release, Samus Returns was well-received. After a lackluster showing for a majority of the decade, it was seen as the return to form the series needed to stay relevant in the eighth console generation. Mr. Sakamoto had spent a majority of this decade a laughing stock among long-time enthusiasts – especially on message boards. Was Samus Returns able to restore the goodwill he lost?

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Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3

Introduction

When Super Mario Land debuted as one of the Game Boy’s many launch titles in 1989, it became one of the handheld console’s first big hits. Notably, it would go on to sell over eighteen million copies, surpassing figures of its direct predecessor, Super Mario Bros. 3. Three years later in 1992, its sequel, Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins was released. While Super Mario Land impressed many enthusiasts by giving them what amounted to a handheld version of Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Land 2 managed to improve upon the original. Featuring graphics and level design that wouldn’t seem out of place in the highly regarded, 16-bit Super Mario World, Super Mario Land 2 is considered even to this day to be one of the Game Boy’s strongest offerings.

After the success of two Super Mario Land installments, fans eagerly waited for a sequel. Super Mario Bros. formed the basis for a solid trilogy on the NES. It therefore stood to reason that Nintendo would make a trilogy out of Super Mario Land as well. Such a development came to pass, but in a way nobody could’ve predicted. Part of why Super Mario Land 2 remains a popular game is its significant contribution to Mario canon. Specifically, it introduced Wario, a character who stood for everything Mario opposed. His name is derived from the Japanese world for bad, “warui”, but other cultures could identify his diametric opposition to Mario simply because of the letter emblazoned upon his cap resembling an upside-down “M”.  In other words, a nuance that could’ve been lost in translation found itself jumping between cultures seamlessly. He was the perfect rival for Mario. He was driven by greed and self-interest. He proved what an effective villain he could be in Super Mario Land 2. He was to be the protagonist of its sequel.

Nintendo was known for its unambiguously heroic protagonists; the idea of playing as Wario seemed inconceivable. Any chance of the ensuing marketing campaign being an elaborate joke on Nintendo’s part was dashed when promotional materials made the game’s name known: Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3. Despite, or perhaps as a direct result of, having gone completely off the rails, Wario Land was a commercial success upon its 1994 release, moving over five million copies worldwide. In some circles, this game is considered the strongest entry in the Super Mario Land trilogy. With its unlikely protagonist, did Wario Land truly surpass its highly regarded predecessors?

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Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins

Introduction

The Game Boy was a success when it launched in 1989 with demand often exceeding supply. Among its launch titles was Super Mario Land, a 2D platforming game starring Nintendo’s mascot. Though Nintendo considered bundling a copy of Super Mario Land with every console, they instead chose Tetris, a puzzle game from the Soviet Union that was quickly becoming a phenomenon in its own right. This minor setback didn’t stop Super Mario Land from becoming a hit, as sales figures managed to surpass those of its direct predecessor, Super Mario Bros. 3. With thousands upon thousands of Game Boys sold and the console boasting a number of highly popular titles from the outset, the only thing left to do was continue experimenting with the platform.

In November of 1991, development for a sequel to Super Mario Land began. Production of the game went smoothly, only taking ten months to complete. It was released domestically in October of 1992 under the name Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins. The game received a North American release the following November, and it saw the light of day in Europe in January of 1993. Like Super Mario Land, the game was a commercial and critical success. Since then, it has been considered one of the hallmarks of the original Game Boy. Official Nintendo Magazine ranked Super Mario Land 2 forty-fourth on their list of the Greatest Nintendo Games in 2012, implying an enduring appeal. The takeaway is that most people who compile a list of the best Game Boy titles will include Super Mario Land 2. Does it indeed manage to surpass its predecessor – the game that marked the debut of Nintendo’s flagship franchise in the handheld market?

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