Samus Returns' Developers On Bringing Back 2D Metroid And Why MercurySteam Is Developing

by Kyle Hilliard on Jun 18, 2017 at 12:35 AM

Metroid: Samus Returns for 3DS was one of the biggest surprises of E3 2017, and after getting a chance to play it we spoke with the game's producer, Yoshio Sakamoto, and José Luis Márquez of MercurySteam, the studio developing the game. Márquez was the director of the Castlevania 3DS game, Mirror of Fate, and Sakamoto has a long history with Metroid. Sakamoto's most impressive credit is director of Super Metroid, but he was also a character and level designer on the original Metroid and directed Metroid Fusion, Zero Mission, and was one of the directors of Other M.

Why Metroid II? Why not a new Metroid?

Sakamoto: Metroid II really hasn’t been remade or revisited at this point at all and there are a lot of really interesting special things about Metroid II, so we just thought it would be great. And we think there are a lot of people that want to play it and we wanted to give them that opportunity.

Metroid II contains something that is really important to the Metroid franchise and that’s the episode where Samus first encounters the baby Metroid. So, we really wanted to revisit that crucial story point on the Metroid timeline. And of course, Metroid II is a bit of an older game, so with the increased technology we have, we thought there are a lot of new things we could bring to it, to give it a little bit of a paint job, and add some really fun stuff. So that combined with the other things I mentioned were really the impetus behind revisiting this title.

How long have you been sitting on this game knowing it was coming?

Sakamoto: Of course we were very aware that there were a lot of fans out there clamoring for another 2D Metroid side-scrolling game. During development we would think, “Man, wouldn’t it be nice to let everyone know we’re doing this and make their day,” but that’s really up to the business-side folks to figure out when is the best time to do that and I am working on the development side.

When did development begin on Samus Returns? Is it the same team as Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate?

Márquez: Yes. The main core of the team is composed of the main core of Mirror of Fate.

How significantly will the game differ from the original Metroid II?

Sakamoto: It is based on the original, the flow is basically the same, and we have some extra areas and we powered up the map system, but yeah there are definitely new places to check out.

Whether by way of story or mechanics, is this leading into Metroid Prime 4 in any way?

Sakamoto: No, there is no connection. The Metroid Prime series and the 2D Metroid – they’re both obviously Metroid, but they’re not connected in that way. We hope that you will support Metroid Prime 4, as well, of course.

You’re the producer for Metroid: Samus Returns. Are you serving a similar role on Metroid Prime 4?

Sakamoto: No.

2D Metroid is something fans have been demanding for some time. What are you most excited about in terms of bringing it back?

Sakamoto: For me, 2D Metroid gameplay is really the original Metroid gameplay, so bringing that back is really exciting. And this is a play experience you can only get with a 2D Metroid game. As someone who has wanted to make another 2D Metroid game for awhile, finally getting the chance to do that and work on this project has been a very happy experience for me. It’s been nice to finally get the announcement out there. It’s been an exceptionally great day for me. And of course we’re lucky enough to be partnered up with a developer like MercurySteam and finally reveal that to the public.

Why was MercurySteam chosen as the developer?

Sakamoto: As I said before, I have been wanting to make a 2D Metroid game for a long time and so it really started with my feelings about 2D Metroid, but also, take a look at Metroid II. It hasn’t been touched since release and I thought, “That’s an interesting game. That’s an interesting challenge to maybe go back and revisit.” And at that time we heard that MercurySteam was interested in doing a Metroid game, as well. They didn’t necessarily say they were interested in remaking Metroid II, but they were interested, and that’s where that started.

I was thinking about all this and I wanted to work with a new team and I was asking myself, “Who would be a good partner for this?” and then we head heard about MercurySteam and knew they had experience with 2D games with the Castlevania game and we met and talked about it, and got to know one another. We were really impressed with what we saw and decided to move forward. We really are just one team, I really want to emphasize that. We’re collaborative. We’re both bringing in our own separate experience and our own processes and we’ve really just been melding well together.

Past Metroid games have had an underlying creepiness to them, and MercurySteam's last few games were Castlevania titles, which were gothic and often violent. Can we expect a scary Metroid with Samus Returns?

Sakamoto: Yeah, of course we’re going to have the MercurySteam stamp on this title, since they have done all this work on it, but I don’t think there has been a conscious effort to make Metroid a darker game or a scarier game as far as I know, but you should ask Jose to see what he thinks.

Márquez: If it is, maybe it’s unconscious because we’re fans of those things.

So, we won't see Metroids exploding in showers of blood?

Márquez: No, plus that's more gore than scary.

Metroid II is beloved, but it does feel different from the rest of the series.Why do you think that is?

Sakamoto: It definitely fits with what makes Metroid. It’s definitely a Metroid game, but something that’s interesting – which is something a lot of people don’t know – is I wasn’t involved in Metroid II. And that may account for why there is a little bit of a different atmospheric feeling about it. But from my point of view, that’s a good thing, and I was able to approach this remake, this re-envisioning, with completely fresh eyes. It was a brand new experience.

You worked on the original Metroid which makes this a good opportunity to confirm a story that I have heard conflicting reports about. How did the decision come about to make Samus a woman and reveal her gender at the end of the game?

Sakamoto: We were pretty much the majority of the way through the title and we thought it would be sort of fun as a gift or a present to the player to let them have a glimpse at who is inside the armor. So what could we do with that would be exciting and interesting to the player? And someone on staff suggested, “Well how about if the person inside the suit is a woman?” and we all said, “You know what? That’s a great idea.”

Who was it?

Sakamoto: I don’t recall 100%. It’s been a long time. It might actually be someone who is no longer with company, I just don’t remember. Sorry.

MercurySteam has worked on Castlevania and Metroid, and there was even talk of a Contra game at one time from the studio. Does MercurySteam just have a lot of affection for those classic NES franchises?

Márquez: Well, yes, but we never had any intention to make those games. It’s simply the way it worked out. It was a coincidence.

What is each of your favorite Metroid games?

Márquez: Super Metroid.

Sakamoto: As you can see from my t-shirt, Super Metroid is the one nearest and dearest to my heart. That was the first game I was entrusted with being director on.

You did a good job.

For more on Metroid: Samus Returns head here to read our gameplay impressions, or watch the clip from The Game Informer Show below. And though he doesn't don't talk much about Metroid (because he is not allowed to), you can also watch MercurySteam studio head Enric Alvarez's guest appearance on the Game Informer Show here.