Monday, April 11, 2022

Modernized Metroid Control Concepts

Super Metroid Controller Setting Mode as seen on Nintendo Switch

So, a friend of mine has been streaming Super Metroid lately, which inspired me to check out the game once more, this time via the Super Nintendo library of the Nintendo Switch Online service. Luckily, the game lets you change the controls via its options, because the emulator itself won't let you do this. Yes, something from the year 1994 is more sophisticated than a service from Nintendo in 2022, no big surprise here.

Still, I couldn't figure out something ideal and my enjoyment of the game didn't last long. I keep hearing from fans how Super Metroid is "perfect", as if there ever was a perfect game, but while it will always be one of my favorites, I personally don't feel like it has aged so well. And it's not just the button layout, the controls themselves feel very outdated, whether it's the weird wall jumps, having two buttons for diagonal aim, or the inconvenient item select. This is something that I've already struggled with while replaying Super Metroid on the Wii U, but things got much worse after playing Metroid Dread, where everything plays so much more smoothly in comparison.

Of course Metroid Dread isn't perfect either, where the controls feel somewhat overloaded, especially with the Grapple Beam, but it beats Super Metroid in most aspects. And after the success of Metroid Dread, we can safely assume that we will be getting more 2D Metroid games from MercurySteam in the upcoming years, where the game will certainly be used as a template. While it would be amazing if MercurySteam was already working on Metroid 6, another remake feels more likely at the moment and in that category Super Metroid should be the next in line.

You may have concerns about this, considering how Samus Returns turned out in certain aspects, like completely changing the final areas... But the 3DS title was a reimagining, while Super Metroid should get a proper remake, which respects absolutely everything the original did, including any glitch-free sequence breaks. There is no need to change the environments, enemy placements, upgrades, or anything like it. The only things that need to be updated are graphics, sound, and the controls. The game should simply be modernized, but not changed.

At the same time, Samus Returns would profit from something similar, where the Nintendo 3DS title could get ported over to the Nintendo Switch with updated graphics, sounds, and controls. Maybe some assets got already made in HD during the project, which would make such a remaster even more likely. People will want more Metroid for the Nintendo Switch after Metroid Dread, where such a title would be a good filler.

Metroid Dread Controls screen

Now, with all of this in mind I've kept thinking about how these two games would play on the Nintendo Switch by using Metroid Dread as a foundation. This is mainly about the controls, where all three games aren't exactly simple in that aspect... So, let's go through some potential button layouts for these titles to see how they could work on Nintendo's current system.

Of course we're just talking about the default control schemes here. All the games should follow the example of Super Metroid from the SNES and let you change the button layout as you see fit via the options menu, instead of just displaying it there (looking at you, Metroid Dread).

Core Controls

For the sake of consistency, the following should probably be the same for all three titles:

  • Y: Shoot
  • B: Jump
  • X: Melee Counter*
  • L: Free Aim
  • R: Missile Mode / Power Bombs
  • ZR: Grapple Beam
  • Plus: Map
  • Minus: Options
  • Left: Expand Minimap
  • Right: Scan

*It's questionable whether MercurySteam should implement the Melee Counter in a Super Metroid remake as well, but let's not get into this for now, so you can ignore this for that case.

Both Super Metroid and Samus Returns would also need a button for swapping weapons, mainly for changing between Missiles and Super Missiles, where the most convenient choice would be the A button. This one was used for the Flash Shift in Metroid Dread, but there is nothing similar in the other two games.

Super Metroid

  • A: Select Missiles
  • ZL: Dash
  • Left Stick Button: Morph Ball
  • Right: X-Ray Scope
  • Right Stick: beam selection

The SNES title was the only Metroid game that has a dedicated dash button. And not going to lie, using this still feels good. Technically, they could get rid of this by simply using the analogue stick analogously. So, if you don't want to run, you don't press the stick all the way. And the Speed Booster could be activated by pressing the left stick, exactly like in Metroid Dread. But if we go with a dedicated dash button, then the most comfortable choice will probably be ZL, so you can still shoot and jump while dashing.

Overall, the most important thing would simplifying the entire item selection system. This wasn't streamlined in Super Metroid at all, where it can adopt basically everything its successors have improved. Missiles and Power Bombs should be activated by holding R. Grapple Beam can be used by holding ZR. The X-Ray Scope should be activated with the same button as the Pulse Radar, where it then goes into the scope mode, which can be left at any time by pressing Fire or Jump. So, all that's left is switching between normal Missiles and Super Missiles, where this should go to A or X for the best access during combat.

Super Metroid also has a series of special Charge Beam attacks, which could be triggered when Power Bombs were selected and the Charge Beam was equipped with only one of the other four beam upgrades. Since most players never change their beam setup, those techniques are fairly unknown, where a remake could make this more accessible by offering a beam selection similar to that in Metroid Prime. Each direction of the right analogue stick would equip the Charge Beam together with either the Ice Beam, Wave Beam, Spazer Beam, or Plasma Beam respectively. Pressing the stick button would equip all beams at once (a remake will most likely allow the combination of Spazer and Plasma). If you charge and hold the R button during release, it will then fire the "Charge Beam Combo".

Needless to say that certain actions, like Wall Jumps, Space Jumps, or using the Grapple Beam, should work as fluidly as in Metroid Dread, which means that the inputs should feel more intuitive and natural. At the same time a remake should preserve what was possible in the original, e.g. single-side wall jumps, which wasn't a thing in any of the later games.

It could also be interesting to have a ledge grab, which would offer a variety of additional possibilities. But this should probably added via a new hidden item, like the Power Grip in Zero Mission, only optional, to respect Samus's original abilities in Super Metroid (even though they didn't really care about that with Samus Returns).

Samus Returns

  • A: Select Missiles / Beam
  • ZL: Morph Ball
  • Right: Scan Pulse
  • Right Stick: Hazard Shield / Beam Burst
  • Stick Buttons: Phase Drift

Since Metroid Dread and Samus Returns were made by the same developers, the controls are already quite similar. However, there is no second screen with the Nintendo Switch, which on the Nintendo 3DS mainly let you switch between the different weapons. The Grapple Beam gets taken out of this equation thanks to the ZR button, while switching to the Ice Beam and Super Missiles would best work via the A button. The touchscreen could also be used for the instant Morph Ball mode, where now there is the ZL button for that, just like in Metroid Dread.

The one thing that truly has to change is the activation of the Aeion abilities, where previously you would select an ability via the D-pad and then activate it with the A button, which we now need otherwise. Most of the Aeion abilities were toggles, however, like putting on the Hazard Shield, which absorbs any damage at the cost of Aeion. So, there is no real need to pre-select them and bind their usage to a button, where this was already somewhat inconvenient while playing the Nintendo 3DS title and could be improved here. Just flip the right analogue stick either left or right for the Hazard Shield and Beam Burst respectively. The Phase Drift then can go to one of the stick buttons, where this would be like the Phantom Cloak in Metroid Dread. And of course the Scan Pulse should work exactly like the Pulse Radar.

The Melee Counter could also be enhanced like in Metroid Dread, so that it works while jumping and running. This would improve some of the game's pacing significantly.

1 comment:

TourianTourist said...

Small update here: I completely forgot about the special Charge Beam combos in Super Metroid, which only shows how accessible they truly were. But that's one more thing where a remake could shine.