Inside Metroid Dread’s Development With Producer Yoshio Sakamoto

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Yoshio Sakamoto has been trying to make Metroid Dread for a long time. Sakamoto, who designed the original Metroid on NES, says he always intended for Dread to be the follow-up to Fusion — the most recent in the 2D entry in the series that isn’t some form of remake. In 2005, IGN uncovered a document listing Metroid Dread as a key release for Nintendo DS.

It never happened. Metroid Dread passed into legend with the likes of Star Fox Grand Prix — games that were hotly-rumored but for one reason or another never materialized. Except Metroid Dread was real, and Sakamoto tried to make it at least twice. Each time, he was thwarted by the technological limitations of the Nintendo DS, which kept him from building on his vision of Samus being hunted by a powerful foe — a concept that he hoped to develop after the success of Metroid Fusion’s SA-X.

Enter MercurySteam, the Madrid-based developer responsible for Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, and more recently, Metroid: Samus Returns. “The reason that I actually met with [MercurySteam] was in the hopes that they’d be able to realize the concepts that I had for Metroid Dread,” Sakamoto says. “I was sure that with their ability and their technical know-how, that they’d be able to make what was once a concept in actual reality. […] In meeting with them, I got the sense that they were a team that I could work together with towards a singular concept and realize this goal that I had in mind for Metroid Dread.”

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That vision became a reality when Metroid Dread was announced during Tuesday’s Nintendo Direct. As the first original 2D Metroid release in close to 20 years — Metroid: Zero Mission and Metroid Samus Returns were both remakes — Metroid Dread caps off the story that began back in 1986. It pits Samus against E.M.M.Is, powerful robots developed by the Galactic Federation that are hunting Samus for unknown reasons.

The desire to create a foe like the E.M.M.I was a big part of why Metroid Droid wasn’t working on the Nintendo DS, Sakamoto says. It’s easy to see why: the E.M.M.I robots in the trailer have a spooky, alien feel to them that would be hard to replicate on a less-powerful handheld like the DS. What’s more, they are more proactive than SA-X was back in Metroid Fusion, often moving in unpredictable patterns and even popping out of a door when Samus is trying to exit.

Sakamoto says that his intention was to make the E.M.M.I as creepy as possible. “I wanted to create something that was unsettling for players, and also would communicate this kind of unfeelingness that is inherent in something that’s robotic. And also the fact that its existence is purely just to chase after and catch Samus as well.”

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Metroid’s Sense of Dread

The oppressive creepiness embodied by the E.M.M.I has always been a part of Metroid’s DNA. The series has long borrowed from films like Aliens, lifting elements like creatures that latch onto the heads of unfortunate explorers. It has a horror vibe that sets it apart from Nintendo’s other franchises, which may explain why it has struggled to find the same audience as Zelda or Mario despite its considerable influence.

Sakamoto insists that Metroid Dread isn’t intended to be a horror game. “It’s really about Samus encountering fear, but she actually stands against that fear and fights it and beats it. That part of it is important,” Sakamoto say. “As for where the inspiration came for wanting to take the game in this direction, it comes from what I said before about the tension surrounding the SA-X from Metroid Fusion and how we wanted to take that style of gameplay and put it into what is considered to be the normal Metroid gameplay to make for an exciting experience.”

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Nevertheless, Sakamoto consistently returns to the concept of fear often in his comments. At one point he talks about how “fear-based gameplay” might help its overall appeal to newcomers. “As for the E.M.M.I gameplay… maybe this sense of fear, as I talked about before, you know, younger gamers who have not experienced the series before may look at that fear-based gameplay and […] want to try it out. And that’s what I was thinking.”

Prior to Sakamoto’s conversation with the press, Nintendo showed some of Metroid Dread’s gameplay, noting how the music changes and more ominous when Samus enters a room containing an E.M.M.I. It may not be a horror game, but it’s clear that Sakamoto understands horror sensibilities, and is capable of weaving them seamlessly into his games.

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“[We] Had One Mind”

Despite MercurySteam’s involvement, Sakamoto has continued to play an active role in Metroid Dread’s development along with Nintendo. “My role in Metroid Dread was similar to or the same as what it was on Samus Returns, where NCL and Mercury Steam worked together to be one team. They’re different companies of course, but we had one mind. So also in the same as Samus Returns, I was always in communication with MercurySteam on a day-to-day basis, looking at the good and bad of what they were producing for designs. So I guess I was called a producer, but I was more involved on the creative side of things as well.” 

Sakamoto says that his vision for Metroid Dread is turning out even better than he imagined 15 years ago, and that he feels “really, really satisfied” as a result. It’s the end of a multi-year journey in more ways than one, as Metroid Dread will also wrap up the original Metroid story. Just seeing the words “Metroid 5” in the trailer carries a weight with it, as it’s a nod back to a similar touch in Super Metroid.

Sakamoto says that Metroid Dread represents a “bit of a pause” or the start of something new, but reiterated that this isn’t the end. “Nobody wants the Metroid series to end, and we know that. We ourselves don’t want that either, but we just want people to know that there is some kind of new episode that is waiting in the works. And we want you to look forward with what we do with that next, but there are no specifics now. “

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Metroid Dread releases October 8 on Nintendo Switch.

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