Metroid Prime 4: Beyond Won’t Be The Franchise’s ‘BOTW Moment’, And That’s Okay

Metroid / Zelda
Image: Nintendo Life

When Nintendo closed out its latest Direct presentation with the full reveal of Metroid Prime 4: Beyond, the world briefly got a little bit louder as fans celebrated the glorious return of one of the company’s most revered franchises. Finally, after its initial announcement back in 2017, Prime 4 is scheduled to launch in 2025, and it looks spectacular.

Although an overwhelming majority reacted to the trailer with excitement and anticipation, there are also those who felt disappointed, citing the game’s similarities to previous Prime entries, both in terms of its visuals and gameplay.

Here’s the thing: I get it. I really do. After 7 (or, if you’re anything like me, 18) years of waiting, our imaginations undoubtedly start to get the better of us, and after games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and even Super Mario Bros. Wonder show just how far Nintendo is willing to deviate from the tried-and-tested formula, it’s only natural to assume that Prime 4 would also mark a significant evolution for a series that began in 2002.

Now, I’m not saying that developers should rest on their laurels and be satisfied with the bare minimum; experimentation, pushing boundaries, and challenging player expectations are always a good thing. But with Prime 4, I think it’s important that we examine our own expectations and understand what this game really is.

Let’s look at the development time to start. There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that Prime 4 was announced far too soon, and few would argue against that. Many Nintendo first-party games these days are revealed and released within just a handful of months, yet almost two years after Prime 4’s announcement in June 2017, Nintendo’s Shinya Takahashi confirmed that development would be restarted from scratch at Retro Studios.

So let’s break this down. If development started in January 2019, that means Prime 4 has had roughly five years to cook in the oven so far (a large chunk of which was likely also affected by the pandemic restrictions in 2020 and 2021). 20 years ago, that would seem most unusual, but for big-budget titles in the 8th and 9th generation of consoles, this is considered the norm. The only difference with Prime 4 is that we, the fans, knew about it all along (good luck with The Elder Scrolls VI, Bethesda).

I know many folks are probably reading this and thinking something along the lines of, “Well, that’s not our problem, is it?” – and you’d be right. What I want to illustrate, however, is that when a game becomes a known entity and is subsequently kept under a veil of secrecy (for seven years, mind), it’s incredibly easy for expectations to become inflated. It’s happened to me on multiple occasions.

It’s also impossible been to avoid the growing speculation that Prime 4 might actually skip the Switch altogether and release on its successor. An understandable conclusion, to be sure, but nevertheless an unfounded one. Nintendo has consistently labelled Prime 4 as a Switch game, including it in its regular lineups during financial updates. Now, I know companies like to embellish information or employ misdirection from time to time, but to outright lie about which platform Prime 4 would launch on? Nah, I never bought that. Prime 4 looks like a Switch game because it is one. Even if it winds up being cross-gen, the Switch 2 version will simply be a shinier version of what we’ve got here.

Aside from that, it’s important to consider that Prime 4 is, well, the fourth mainline entry in an ongoing narrative. When you look at franchises like Zelda or Mario, those games (for the most part) rarely put numbers in their titles, essentially giving developers a blank canvas on which to work their magic. Prime 4 is the continuation of a story that concluded on a huge cliffhanger in Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, with Federation Force providing only a few tantalising clues as to what might occur in the future.

Prime 4 3
Image: Nintendo

The thing is, this isn’t a reboot or a drastic overhaul of the Prime series; it’s simply the next chapter, just like Halo 4, just like Uncharted 4, just like Gears 4. Heck, just like Pikmin 4! And I think we’d all agree, as good as they are, that none of these games did anything particularly groundbreaking when compared to previous entries. Again, it comes down to expectations and what we think we want from the next game versus what it’s actually going to be.

Finally, I want to highlight the visuals, specifically. It’s clear to me that Metroid Prime Remastered was a bit of a test bed for Prime 4. Looking at the two side-by-side (which I did, by the way), there’s a noticeable improvement with the latter, but you can tell that the technology applied to Metroid Prime has probably been repurposed for Prime 4. With this in mind, you’d be forgiven for thinking, “Oh, well Prime 4 looks just like the first game”. But I would say go back and look at footage of the original trilogy on the GameCube and Wii and I think you’ll be surprised at just how far Retro Studios has come.

Metroid Prime 4 won’t be the franchise’s ‘Breath of the Wild moment’, and that’s just fine — we shouldn’t expect it to be. What we can hopefully look forward to is a thrilling journey into the fourth mainline entry in one of Nintendo’s most celebrated franchises of all time. 2025 can’t come quickly enough.