Game news Can Metroid Dread on Nintendo Switch be the episode that will make the series (finally) popular?
While it has just celebrated its 35th birthday, the Metroid saga is about to welcome a new canonical episode. Metroid Dread is a direct follow-up to Fusion, a GBA opus released almost 20 years ago. We talked about it in our tribute article, this founding saga of Nintendo has never managed to meet the general public and achieve real popular success. Can Dread be the opus that will put Samus in the spotlight?
The popularity of a license is difficult to quantify by any means other than its sales. We will therefore use this data to assess the success of a title.
Without being totally catastrophic, sales of Metroid have never approached the records of other Nintendo licenses like Mario or Zelda. Far from the tens or even tens of millions sold by these licenses, a Metroid title has never exceeded 3 million copies sold. Unfortunately, the majority of them are close to one million. There are several reasons that can be cited. The Metroid saga is intended to be darker and more oppressive than the rest of the Japanese manufacturer’s catalog. It is therefore difficult to orient the marketing of the license towards the same demographic target as Mario, Zelda or Pokémon. In the past, Nintendo may have struggled to sell titles less geared towards the mainstream. We can also regret some questionable strategic choices, such as launching a title against the last episode of Final Fantasy or simultaneously release a portable episode and an episode on home console. A ridiculous idea for this license which has on several occasions been self-cannibalized in addition to rubbing shoulders with licenses with a much higher strike force.
A very different market and fleet of consoles
Only, with Dread, Metroid returns for the first time in 10 years on a home console. This long-awaited event by fans of the license is crucial for the future of the franchise. Not only will Dread be the first 2D opus to find its way to our shelves for almost 20 years, but it will also be used to take the temperature to prepare the announcements around Metroid Prime 4, which is long overdue. But if the release of this new episode is full of stakes, it is also placed under the best auspices. The context of this episode’s release could not be further from that of the previous episodes. The overall number of players is only growing and the Switch seems to have allowed many licenses to exceed their usual scores and radiate further than in the past. Fire Emblem: Three Houses is the best-selling episode of its saga. Luigi’s Mansion 3 alone accounts for half of the license’s total sales with its 10 million units sold. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is one of the best-selling fighting games of all time and outperforms all of its predecessors by far. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is fast approaching the 25 million copies sold and takes the opportunity to distance all the episodes that preceded it. Nintendo’s hybrid is on the rise. The Switch and its audience seem capable of carrying quality titles hand-in-hand and making them real commercial successes that exceed the expectations of the Japanese publisher. Maybe this magic trick will work for Dread, if the latter meets the public’s expectations, of course. In any case, The pre-orders of the title are encouraging, as Gamestop revealed last June that Metroid Dread was the most pre-ordered game in their stores during E3 2021. Which is not nothing.
Let us not forget that the advent of social networks, which were much less developed (if at all) at the time of the release of the previous opuses, made it possible to widen the field of word of mouth. Resolutely confidential titles have managed to reach a much larger audience than they might have hoped in the past. An Undertale would never have had the overwhelming success it has had without modern means of communication. The intrinsic qualities of a game are more than ever decisive in its commercial and public success. In short, a great game is much less likely to go unnoticed than it was ten years ago. Metroid clearly does not have to be ashamed of the number of rave reviews and opinions directed at it. Let’s just hope that this time, however positive reviews there are, they will reach the ears of anyone who can appreciate this episode.
A much more fashionable genre
Finally, we must not forget that metroidvania has particularly been on the rise in recent years, especially on the independent scene. And if the genre has seen the birth of various projects very well received by critics, a few have managed to stand out to meet with great success and conquer the hearts of players. Ori and the Will of the Wisps and other Hollow Knights have managed to find many buyers. Team Cherry’s game has sold nearly 3 million units, which is a much better score than most episodes of the license it pays homage to and a number that the latter only came close to. twice (with Metroid first of the name and Metroid Prime). This success proves that many players have an appetite for an experience based on the exploration and the rise of the avatar. The genre seems to have won many aficionados in recent years. By extrapolating, we can also say that the advent of the Souls series, which places the feeling of loneliness, difficulty and oppressive exploration at the heart of its game design, may explain the renewed interest in the genre. The From Software series has many points in common with the Metroid license, whether in terms of structure or game design. Whether Dark Souls and the like have had their part to play or not, players seem more inclined to get lost in dark mazes populated by uncompromising enemies.
We will not take ourselves for Nostradamus in plotting the fate of Metroid Dread. However, it is clear that the context of its release is conducive to broadening the player base of the Metroid saga. If the planets are as well aligned as we think and the title is of the same caliber as its predecessors, Dread could possibly become the best-selling episode of the license. In any case, that’s all we want him to.
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