Nintendo is often praised for the ingenuity it demonstrates with most new releases in its biggest franchises. However, Nintendo also rarely experiments with the genres of its games, and that makes us wonder if the company could achieve even more by pushing its titles into new directions. In recent years, third-party collaborations have led to games like Ubisoft’s Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle and Cadence of Hyrule. Placing Mario and Link into turn-based strategy and rhythm genres respectively indicated how new life could be injected into these long-standing series. Nintendo has surely seen the merit in such outside-the-box thinking, so could it be inspired to do the same and take more of its franchises to new heights? In the first of this new mini-series, let’s discuss what Metroid could look like as a survival horror game.
Ripley or Ridley?
There is a lot of potential on the table if Metroid took the deep dive into survival horror territory. Famously, the Metroid series takes inspiration from horror classics like Alien. The various adventures Samus undergoes parallel those of Ellen Ripley, with both women facing a deadly alien threat. Metroid’s main villain, Ridley, is also a nod to Alien director Ridley Scott and bears some resemblance to the iconic Xenomorph from the films to boot. While these similarities lent some horror vibes to the early Metroid series, I’d imagine that Nintendo could do a lot more with modern hardware.
Broadly speaking, a survival-horror Metroid could take two distinct approaches. Firstly, much like Alien: Isolation, a first-person game akin to Metroid Prime could heavily lean into horror mechanics. Exploring a scary space station or new planet would let the game retain its series-defining elements whilst also adding in the tension of more deadly foes. As usual, Samus would start the game with the bare minimum of items, making each enemy a slower and more thoughtful encounter. Using limited supplies or evading aliens would make resource management essential and place a strong emphasis on new stealth mechanics.
The Morph Ball could be used for traversing tight spaces but also to hide from enemies in plain sight. Creepy familiar monsters like the snake-esque Botwoon could sneak up on Samus through unexpected vents, while the Ing could stalk hallways and rip Samus to shreds if players aren’t careful. As the icing on the cake, Ridley could even take the place of the Xenomorph from Alien: Isolation, as a persistent threat that could appear at any moment.
A survival-horror Metroid could also take inspiration from slightly more action-oriented horror games like Dead Space or Resident Evil. Intricate Metroidvania design that makes the player progress through meaningful backtracking and puzzles is an even more intense experience when monsters could spontaneously appear. In a scenario where Samus crash-lands on a dangerous planet and finds herself marooned without most of her signature equipment, she will have to improvise to survive. Her Varia Suit and Power Beam would be damaged but usable from the get-go, while any weapon or suit upgrades would be makeshift creations that improve her odds in battle, but never make the player feel more powerful than the enemies at hand.
This approach allows a survival-horror Metroid to retain some classic weapons and suits from the series, but in a limited fashion that ensures tension remains high and Samus is always the underdog. By mixing up sections where Samus must use her Zero Suit or acquire new suit upgrades, the game could alternate between stealthier and more action-focused moments, creating a good balance of tension and pacing.
Improvised suit upgrades would let Samus progress through deadly environments, while her trademark Power Beam would give players the choice between using limited ammo on enemies or creating beams to light up dark spaces. Hand-crafted versions of familiar weapons could create a plethora of interesting gameplay moments. The Wave Beam or Ice Spreader could stun or freeze enemies respectively, thus giving Samus the choice of escaping, creating platforms from the aliens, or even prioritizing threats like Metroids that bring other dead enemies back to life. By turning Metroid into a survival horror title, every gameplay mechanic becomes an engaging decision, each creature becomes a deadly prospect to tackle, and the series can take advantage of the early horror themes it was inspired by.
Which Metroid foes would you dread to face in a survival horror game?