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Retro Studios prototyped Metroid Prime as a third-person shooter, but Nintendo insisted on making it first-person to appeal to the West

Nineteen years ago as of last week, the first game in the Metroid Prime series released for GameCube, putting a 3D first-person spin on the 2D side-scrolling formula that the franchise was known for at the time. Jack Mathews, a former developer at Retro Studios, recently sat down with KIWI TALKZ for an interview, discussing a variety of gaming industry related topics, including details on the development of Metroid Prime. Interestingly, despite Nintendo approaching Retro Studios with the intent for them to develop a first-person Metroid game, they initially prototyped Samus in the third-person instead.

“When we did our first prototypes we did do them as third-person, but I mean, these were the initial like, getting streaming working and stuff. I believe [Nintendo] might have seen that, we had like basically a third-person Samus kind of running around between doors, and then they immediately put the kibosh on it and were like; ‘No no no, we said first-person, we meant first-person.’”

– Jack Mathews, former dev at Retro Studios

Metroid has always been more popular in the West rather than in Japan, which Matthews explains is why Nintendo specifically reached out to Retro Studios, a western based company, to work on the project. Nintendo thought bringing the series into first-person would put “western sensibility” on it.

“100% of the reason we got it, and this is apocryphal, I heard it through people there, was essentially that Metroid was not all that popular in Japan, but every time [Shigeru] Miyamoto came to the West in the N64 era, people in North America were just constantly barraging him with questions about when a Metroid was gonna come out on the N64. That showed him that the westerners cared about the game a lot more than the Japanese, and so then they wanted to put that sort of western sensibility on it, but I know that even when we first got the IP, people even in our studio thought that that was not the right move and sort of buckled against it for a little bit, but we kinda figured it out, mainly because of the Morph Ball.”

– Jack Mathews, former dev at Retro Studios

Check out the full interview here for even more details on the development of the Metroid Prime series, including how Retro was able to keep the game running at a consistent 60fps, and why Jack Mathews left Retro due to feeling Metroid fatigue and the technical limitations of the Wii hardware.

Recent rumors suggest that the original Metroid Prime could soon be getting an HD remake for Nintendo Switch, or perhaps an HD remastered port of Metroid Prime Trilogy. We’ll have to wait and see if these rumors ever come to fruition, but hopefully we hear something in the near future. With Metroid Dread being nominated for Game of the Year, maybe we could be lucky enough to get some exciting news at this year’s The Game Awards.

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14 thoughts on “Retro Studios prototyped Metroid Prime as a third-person shooter, but Nintendo insisted on making it first-person to appeal to the West”

  1. Thank goodness it turned out the way it did. I remember that time though… People were excited for Fusion but thought Prime was going to be bad. It ended up being more the opposite (at the time).

      1. fans on various forums really did not like the segmented, linear design of Fusion, and were very vocal about this and drowned out the opinions of everyone who thought different. This was the era of “Celda’s gonna suck” amongst forum internet bros, so any sequel that wasn’t just “more of the same as the entry that was “everyone’s favorite”” was lambasted and derided as “not a true sequel” or other such nonsense.

        So just like Reddit, but even more irritating and all pervasive.

        (There were dissenting opinions, to be completely transparent, it was just that back then the jankiness of the internet made it seem like there was some sort of consensus of opinion that was held as gospel despite that being far from the truth)

  2. It turned out great but I would also love to have it as a 3rd person shooter. Other m did this but they didn’t do a very good job given the awkward controller mappings on the wii.

  3. Third-Person would have been a terrible choice, I really don’t understand why they considered it at all honestly. This is a space exploration game with horror, suspense, and errieness. Playing the game from the view of Samus’s visor imerses the player into the experience and sells that feeling of sollitude and exploration.

    Look at Other M, with a third-person perspective it just doesn’t feel like a metroid game, well for me it doesn’t at least. It doesn’t pull you in, you don’t feel attached, and you don’t feel like you’re experiencing the world the same way the character is. It feels like you’re just watching a character play rather than playing as the character. If Metroid was solely about action, killing, hack & slash, and beat em ups then yeah third-person would work. But if you want deep space exploration, puzzle solving, and eerie space ambience vibes, then first-person is always the way to go.

    1. That 3rd person fluid action with heavy exploration elements, great theming and atmosphere is kinda what I love about the 2D games, though. Other M is the closest 3D Metroid has ever gotten for me to actually recapturing that same feeling, but on a grander scale. It’s like, real bad, don’t get me wrong, and Prime is infinitely better. But I can’t deny that Other M feels much closer to what I actually want from a 3D Metroid, personally…

      1. Dread was great and all, personally didn’t buy it tho because I’m a fan of the Prime games rather than the 2D. For me, the 2D gameplay kills the exploration and mood. It was nice running from the emmi and all, but I wouldv’e loved it so much better in first-person.

    2. So your telling me games from the horror genre in third person like resident evil or dead space or silent hill fail to capture horror, eeriness, etc. ? Lol

      It’s your personal preference. You can definitely create a great exploration metroid game in 3rd person. Other m was not a good example.

    3. Have to disagree here. Samus’s armor is awesome so being able to kick ass while looking at it is fun. I prefer to feel like I’m playing with an action figure, too. And I can still immerse myself heavily without seeing thru their eyes. I guess I’m more attuned to my imagination than most others since I can still feel immersed in a game without having to see thru the character’s eyes.

  4. Forgive me. I know I’m in the HELLA minority. But, no matter how much I REALLY try…I just can’t get into the Prime series. I bought them all. Again, forgive me: I skipped over the original Metroid on the NES. Love Super Metroid. REALLY digging Dread (even though…call me old or whatever – Dread is kinda hard!!! Do-able…but hard!!!).

    I guess to each their own. And oh: I can’t stand Other M. 🤷🏾‍♂️🤷🏾‍♂️🤷🏾‍♂️

    1. Not everyone has to like everything. That’s why we have so many different games.

      There’s even some people who like Other M.

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