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Why Nintendo won't release Metroid Prime 4

Nintendo is known for creating many of the most recognized video game franchises in history, and among those is Metroid. The series debuted on the Nintendo Entertainment System and took the gaming world by storm with the ending reveal of Samus Aran as a woman. This was a great move on Nintendo's part, challenging gamers' preconceived notions, and letting them all know women can be just as badass as men.

The series has since grown a huge following, not just for its tough female protagonist, but for its revolutionary design, laying down an early example of open-world exploration. Games since have followed Metroid's lead, leading to the creation of a whole new genre of "Metroidvania" games. 

Metroid has evolved over the years, tapping the first-person shooter genre with Metroid Prime. And while the Prime trilogy has a strong fan base, the possibility of a Metroid Prime 4 has remained rather dubious. Nintendo has had the fourth installment in the works since 2017, but as the company continues to delay its release and withhold details, the promise of a new adventure for Samus Aran feels more empty.

These are the reasons why Nintendo won't release Metroid Prime 4.

It may fail to meet Nintendo's standards

If there is one thing Nintendo is known for, it's quality control. Going all the way back to the Nintendo Entertainment System with its "Official Seal of Quality," the gaming giant has held extremely high standards for its games. As such, it makes sense that extra care and precaution would be taken with Metroid Prime 4.

Announced at E3 2017, development appeared to progress until 2019 when the entire project was scrapped in an effort to start fresh. According to Business Insider's Kevin Webb, Metroid Prime 4 faced an indefinite delay, with project leader Shinya Takahashi personally expressing Nintendo's commitment to delivering an experience that will satisfy fans' high expectations. 

While Nintendo's honesty and integrity are highly commendable, one has to wonder how the company could have allowed the project to go a year and a half before deciding it was time to change strategies. It remains unknown as to what exactly happened, but considering it was so far off the mark that Nintendo had to make an official announcement regarding the revamp, the possibility of Metroid Prime 4 launching becomes even more questionable.

Development changed hands

Without a doubt, Metroid Prime 4 has had quite the rocky development cycle so far. Along with the announcement of restarting development, Nintendo recruited Retro Studios to take over the project, replacing the first team entirely. And while Nintendo has maintained transparency regarding the shift of developers, much still remains a mystery as to the first team and what exactly went so wrong as to call for a clearing of the slate. An article by CNET's Sean Keane speculates that problems may have arisen from an attempt to part out development to different studios across the globe.

Since Retro Studios made the Prime trilogy, it stands to reason that its developers will have a greater vision and direction for the new Metroid Prime title. But with Retro back on board, one must wonder why its team wasn't working on Metroid Prime 4 in the first place? Whatever the reason these original developers were not initially involved, the fact that they were only brought on after the fourth game was in trouble means the future doesn't look much more promising than it did in 2017.

Retro Studios is struggling to fill roles

Not only did developers change hands, but a number of employees who worked for Retro Studios during the Prime trilogy are no longer with the company, which left plenty of positions to fill. If that's not troubling enough, the team is still looking to staff up for the project. The fact that Retro is stuck in the hiring phase is evidence enough that the game remains in early development.

Not all hope is lost, as some positions have been filled by notable professionals like Adad Morales, Nicholas Wilson, and Bryan Erck, who have worked on StarCraft, Borderlands, and Shadow of the Tomb Raider, respectively. Still, the team is actively seeking more artists, along with other roles. A job posting for a boss designer offers some insight into the plans for Metroid Prime 4, detailing the kind of work Retro Studios is looking for. The description hints at what could be a highly immersive entry in the series — if it comes out, that is. But if development is still this far out and the team still hasn't found all of its people yet, one must wonder if this project will ever get off the ground.

Nintendo has been tight-lipped about the release date

Any information regarding Metroid Prime 4 has been difficult to obtain. There's a whole lot we don't know, and one of the biggest question marks out there is the game's release date.

Since its announcement in 2017, the only major detail made public was the restarting of production, which widened speculation even further as to when, or if, fans would ever see this title. According to an article from Inverse's Tomas Franzese, Nintendo has listed three major titles in its launch schedule from the second quarter of 2020 as "TBA." Those are Breath of the Wild 2, Bayonetta 3, and Metroid Prime 4. And while Metroid Prime 4 may be included on this list, there is no guarantee, or even likelihood, it will see a Fall 2020 launch. 

Screen Rant's Riley Little called the announcement of Metroid Prime 4 "irresponsible," claiming Nintendo may have used this reveal as a way to create some buzz for its then-new Switch console. Considering the tactic was a gamble, the company unfortunately dug itself into a bit of a hole, as gamers are still waiting anxiously for a release date that may never come.

Speculation puts it at least five years out

Considering how far behind Metroid Prime 4 is in its development, it's very unlikely to see a release any time soon. Inverse's Jake Kleinman believes Metroid Prime 4 is at least five years away based on the development track of 2018's God of War. In his article, he points to Retro's struggle to fill the art director position as a major deterrent. He also expresses concern over Nintendo's handling of the project, claiming the company may have passed the game over to Retro Studios without any regard for the timeline. 

If Metroid Prime 4 progresses without time restraints and the project takes another five years or more to fully bake, the game will likely be launched at the end of the Switch's life cycle at best. There's no telling where Nintendo will be in another five years. A new Switch will likely be on the market by then, and in that time a whole slew of other games can distract from Metroid Prime 4. Excitement can fade, and Nintendo executives may no longer see much value in the project. Five years is plenty of time for Nintendo to find a reason to cancel Metroid Prime 4.

Little is known about the game

As it stands, Metroid Prime 4 remains mostly a mystery. Since it was first announced, Nintendo has shown us a logo, given us a name, and has indicated that Retro was not handling the development, but later took over the project. Even the name could be tentative. The greatest insight anyone can muster comes from job descriptions for open roles at Retro Studios. And where a void of information exists, fans are ready to supply speculation. 

Gavin Lane from Nintendo Life theorizes that if Metroid Prime 4 comes out, it could follow the Breath of the Wild model, seeing both a classic Switch release and a Switch Pro release. It's likely the game would be finished when the next iteration of the Switch, or any other follow-up Nintendo console, is out, lending credibility to such an outcome. Fan speculation has also led to the rumors of other potential Metroid releases, which could serve as placeholders. Whatever the case may be, Nintendo can tease its audience with Metroid Prime 4 all it wants, but until the company reveals more concrete details, the game's eventual existence will remain speculative at best.

We could get a Super Metroid remake instead

Super Metroid was a wildly successful, highly acclaimed entry on the Super Nintendo that is often a contender for the title of best SNES game. Offering an array of new abilities and an incredibly vast, atmospheric environment to explore, Super Metroid gave players tons to see in a non-linear setting.

If things aren't going well for Metroid Prime 4, but fans are still hungry for a chance to walk in Samus's shoes once again, it only makes sense for Nintendo to offer gamers a way to replay one of the best titles in the series. Rumors have been floating around that a new 2D Metroid game is coming down the pipeline, with speculation pointing to a remake of Super Metroid. Nintendo already put out a Metroid 2 remake, so why not give the third game in the series the same treatment? 

Whatever it may be, if a new 2D Metroid game is indeed in the works, you may have to settle for that over a new Prime game. Remaking a fan favorite could be a tactic to distract gamers while Metroid Prime 4 slowly sinks into the ocean.

Metroid Prime Trilogy could come to Switch

Another rumored game floating in the mill is a possible re-release of the Metroid Prime Trilogy for the Switch. And considering how little the development on Metroid Prime 4 has progressed, it almost seems more likely that Switch owners will be reliving the trilogy than enjoying a fourth Prime game.

With a noticeable absence of Metroid on the Nintendo Switch, Metroid Prime Trilogy could be Nintendo's answer, if not for the alleged 2D Metroid game. Originally made for the Wii, a Switch port of the Prime Trilogy has been the subject of multiple leaks suggesting it could arrive at stores sooner than you might think.

Inverse's Danny Paez claims that an April 2020 Best Buy leak was likely an April Fool's joke, though he does admit the original source has a solid track record, concluding that a Prime Trilogy is still quite possible. If it's true that the Switch will see a port of the Metroid Prime Trilogy, Nintendo very well could be using this as a quick and easy solution to divert attention from the lack of progress with Metroid Prime 4.

Nintendo has a history of struggling with Metroid games

Sadly, the Metroid series has not had the treatment or luck it deserves. The franchise seems to have a bit of a history when it comes to potential games falling into obscurity. At one point, Metroid 2 was supposed to see a DX treatment for the Game Boy Color, but it sadly never came to be. The Game Boy Color was also to see a sequel to Super Metroid, but that was shelved as well. And on the Nintendo DS, a game called Metroid Dread was in production, though much like Metroid Prime 4, little was known about it before it faded away. 

These are just a handful of examples of Metroid games that followed a path similar to Metroid Prime 4. And where some of these scrapped titles may have inspired elements or evolved into other games, others like Metroid Dread never really amounted to anything beyond an announcement. As Metroid Prime 4 continues to follow a track closer to the lost Metroid Dread, one can only assume the fate of the former will echo that of the latter.

Nintendo doesn't want to distract from other franchises

You would think that with all that has happened during the development of Metroid Prime 4, Nintendo would have wanted to enlighten its fans during E3 2019. It would have been a perfect opportunity to offer some sort of insight into any progress, especially considering it was the first E3 since Retro took over the project. But in classic Metroid Prime 4 fashion, information was withheld yet again. And what was the reasoning behind this decision? According to Kensuke Tanabe, Nintendo didn't want to take the spotlight away from Luigi's Mansion 3

It would seem as if Nintendo either places little weight on Metroid Prime 4, or things really aren't going well for the project. Surely there would have been room for both games at E3 2019, and gamers would have been excited about Luigi's Mansion 3 and Metroid Prime 4. As such, Tanabe's explanation seems a little flimsy. If it's a way to cover up the fact that Metroid Prime 4 is making zero progress, Nintendo may not want gamers to assume its inevitable cancellation. And if the company truly didn't want Luigi's Mansion 3 to share time with another game, it speaks to how low the Metroid series sits on the Nintendo totem pole.

It's already been over ten years since the last Prime game came out

Metroid Prime 3: Corruption came out in 2007. That means it's been over ten years since fans had the opportunity to play a new Metroid Prime game. And though Nintendo released a remake of Metroid 2 in 2017 with Samus Returns and the spin-off Federation Force the previous year, the series has not seen a true mainline entry since Other M in 2010. Such a long stretch would be unheard of for other popular Nintendo franchises such as the Mario and Zelda series. Of course, Metroid is not the only major franchise that has been neglected by Nintendo, but considering its history and popularity, the series deserves more frequent console representation.

This isn't the first time fans have had to endure a long gap between Metroid titles. After Super Metroid, gamers had to wait another eight years before Samus embarked on a new adventure. The problem, however, is that as of this article's publication, 13 years have passed. As far as the public is aware, the game is still in development limbo. As more time passes, who's to say Nintendo will follow through with a new entry in the Prime series?

Metroid: Other M was a miss

Metroid: Other M was the last original game in the series with Samus as the protagonist, and it may have left a bad taste in the mouths of Nintendo executives. Arriving on the heels of the Metroid Prime Trilogy, Other M was expected to be a huge success, with sales projections of a million units by the 2010 holiday season. Unfortunately, it failed to meet that mark. The game performed poorly, coming closer to half a million copies as the holidays closed in. The minds at Nintendo were quite perplexed by the game's poor performance. And while many fans have complained about the story and its portrayal of Samus Aran, the game is otherwise considered to be a solid entry in the series. 

If you look at Metroid's history after Other M, it becomes apparent Nintendo has approached the series very carefully since. In the ten years after its release, fans have only seen a remake and a spin-off. There's no doubt the surprise lackluster performance of Other M has made Nintendo afraid that another Metroid game may also underperform. If the company continues to be this wary with the series, Metroid Prime 4 may never make it out of development.

The ending of Metroid Prime 3 did not leave much room for another sequel

Fans of the Prime series should rejoice at the opportunity to play a new game in the franchise. However, from a narrative standpoint, releasing a fourth installment may not make much sense. Why is that? If you've played all three games, you would know the ending did not really leave room for more story. If you haven't played all three, you may want to skip the last paragraph to avoid any spoilers. 

Metroid Prime actually refers to an individual Metroid that grew massive in size and great in power after absorbing a mutagenic substance known as "Phazon." Samus battles the series namesake and ultimately comes out victorious until it steals her suit and becomes "Dark Samus." In the second and third games, Samus is pitted against this dark version of herself until Dark Samus — that is, the Metroid Prime — is destroyed once and for all. Not only is the creature gone for good, but the planet where Phazon originated is wiped out as well, wrapping up the Prime story entirely. This was even confirmed by Kensuke Tanabe, the series producer.

Without room for a continued storyline, Nintendo may not have much reason to keep Metroid Prime 4 in development.