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The Real Reason Metroid Never Went Open World

"Metroid" is one of Nintendo's most iconic action-adventure series. Its combination of vertical and side-scrolling gameplay changed the face of video games and, along with Konami's "Castlevania," it went on to inspire an entire sub-genre of games called metroidvanias that include games like "Hollow Knight" and "Ori and the Blind Forest." Producer Sakamoto Yoshio recently announced the upcoming "Metroid Dread" for the Switch, describing it as a 2D action game, seemingly following in the footsteps of past installations in the franchise. But what if Nintendo chose to abandon the vertical side-scrolling gameplay the series built its name on in favor of an open world adventure? Well, it turns out that almost happened.

Bryan Walker, former senior director of development for Nintendo's Retro Studios, recently gave an interview to the New Zealand based YouTube talk show, Kiwi Talkz. Over the course of their discussion, Walker mentioned that Retro's former design director Mark Pacini had pitched an ambitious plan for the third game in the "Metroid Prime" series. He wanted the game to be open world and "less linear" than the titles they had made before. Apparently, the team was excited to implement Pacini's vision and they created several prototypes, but most of them never made it into the final game. That being said, Pacini's plan wasn't completely scrapped.

Pacini's open world plans fall through

One of the few things that did make the cut was some expansions to the ship as a playable space. Walker described Pacini going as far as to print out and assemble a large origami version of Samus' ship as a visual aid for the team in order to help them with it's digital construction in the game. "He had taken the mesh on the Samus ship and used a program that basically unfolded it into what he could then turn into a paper model." Walker seems to attribute this kind of enginuity to the reason that they managed to get as much 3-dimensional space in the game as they did.

It seems even that didn't quite reach the team's vision, however. Walker went on to say, "that was, I think, an area where I think we may have fallen short of our goals with 'Prime 3;' in not being able to expand the formula a bit. We're still [very] proud of 'Prime 3' ... but I would have been interested in seeing what the response was ... to the expanded use of the ship and the more open world, non-linear experience."

Walker never says it outright, but he seems to infer over the course of the interview that the reasons they never managed to implement Pacini's open world vision were primarily logistical. He closed the segment by expressing his curiosity in seeing how the movement to expand the formula for how "Prime" games are designed "with 'Prime 4' perhaps" would be received by the fan community. Only time will tell.