With Metroid Dread now released (and no, I still haven't played more than a couple hours of it), it's been hard to resist the temptation to listen to podcasts and watch videos about Metroid and its future. One particular podcast (The Omega Metroid Podcast) brought up the subject of Metroid Prime 4's controls, and I couldn't help but have thoughts on the subject that weren't mentioned on the episode.
Every time I hear about controls for a potential Metroid Prime Trilogy port or Metroid Prime 4, everyone always says "Well obviously the first change they should do is add dual analog." Yes, the dual analog approach is ubiquitous among FPS games. Even at the time of Metroid Prime's release, dual analog had already cemented itself as the default first person control scheme. In all honesty, it's amazing to think that Prime and Prime 2 sold as well as they did considering how their controls went against the mainstream approach. Isn't it weird to think about? Perhaps a similar approach wouldn't be accepted in today's market. Maybe Prime 1 and 2 would've sold even BETTER with more traditional controls.
However, I always push back at the idea that traditional dual analog is a good fit for Metroid Prime, and I'm sure a lot of you have heard this argument before. Metroid Prime is often touted as a First Person Adventure (does this credit go to Matt Cassamassina?). The series traditionally doesn't rely on shooting. In similar Metroid fashion, the enemies are mostly an obstacle in your larger goal of navigating and exploring the world. This means that there's a lot of platforming and a lot of jumping. Two things that dual analog traditionally doesn't do well with. The original games push this idea so far to the point that some of your "looking" is automated. For instance, whenever you jump off a ledge, Samus' view actually starts pointing downwards. Its this sole reason that Metroid Prime has been the only first person game where platforming is actually satisfying because you can actually see where you're going. At the time of its release, its closest contemporary was something like Jedi Knight 2, where the platforming was rough to say the least.
The beauty of Metroid Prime's original control scheme is that your right thumb is always ready to mash the jump and shoot buttons, and you never lose your ability to look around. Since turning left and right is assigned to the left stick, this means that you can easily jump off of a ledge, change your trajectory midair, and easily line up your next shot on a nearby enemy or door without any thumb gymnastics. In a dual analog setup, this just wouldn't be possible. Your right thumb would be constantly moving back and forth between the right stick and the jump button. Such an idea reminds me of controlling the camera in Super Mario Sunshine. In Sunshine, the camera was SO manual, that the player constantly had to adjust it, while also maneuvering Mario through some pretty complicated platforming sections. Not ideal in my opinion. Some level of automation helps keep your focus more on playing the actual game, rather than fighting its controls.
"But what about Prime 3? That didn't use the original Gamecube controls."
This is true! However, the philosophy remained the same. Your ability to "look" and your ability to "jump/shoot" were separated. MP3's turning and looking controls were mapped to the Wii Remote's IR pointer, keeping your thumb still locked on the shoot button. I actually also really liked having jump on the B trigger. It almost felt like you were springing Samus off the ground, and it felt very satisfying. Fun Fact: When I played Dark Souls for the first time, I used the Steam controller and used a similar control setup. I mapped Sprint to the grip button on the back of the controller. With this, I could easily sprint and turn at the same time, without changing any of the other controls.The default sprint button was B, so this setup felt much more natural to me. "Well, there's your solution. You just mentioned mapping some actions to the triggers. Couldn't we just do that?"
Well, I've thought about this a lot. The idea of putting jump and shoot on the triggers, also referred to as "Bumper Jumper", would certainly keep your right thumb on the right stick most of the time. This is probably the easiest way of allowing the player to look around, jump, and shoot all very easily. My fear about this control scheme is that, well, you shoot a LOT in Metroid Prime. In Metroid Prime, you're doing one of two things when you shoot: either you're using the charge beam, or you're MASHING THE SHOOT BUTTON LIKE CRAZY. My index finger is already hurting at the idea of doing this. So, with Prime 4, they'd either have to give Samus some automatic weaponry (which might not be a bad idea to shake things up), or somehow put less emphasis on shooting rapid, single shots. I think we could probably all agree that this kind of setup would be annoying. Also, this would put Jump on the left trigger, which sounds weird to me. Maybe you could get used to it easily? And then there's the issue of locking onto enemies...so you'd then have to figure out what to do with that as well. I don't think many of us are keen on using three trigger buttons at a time. "Well, the Switch has gyro controls. Can't we just use those and mimic the controls in Metroid Prime 3 on Wii?
To be honest, I've barely put any time into any FPS games on Switch. The closest you could probably say is Splatoon, but I couldn't tell you if those controls would lend themselves well to a first person game. My hunch is that it sounds like it would be clunky, and that the player would constantly have to hit a button to recenter the gyro as it drifts. Maybe I'll have to fire up Splatoon 2 and put my brain in Metroid Prime mode to see if I could imagine how it would work. Or on a more illegal level, perhaps there are mods for emulation that allow such a control scheme to work. I know there are mouse and keyboard mods for Prime Trilogy, but it's hard to imagine they work very well.
"So what's the solution then?"
This is where the clickbait comes in, I suppose: the asterisk in the subject title. The solution is dual analog. And gyro. And Gamecube controls. And Bumper Jumper. The easiest solution, if the developers are willing to put the time in, is to offer options. Metroid Prime and its ideas are almost 20 years old at this point. Its controls were formulated before even Halo 2 came out, so perhaps its ideas were more palatable to gamers. Nowadays though, I'm sure most of the youngins would discard Metroid Prime if it didn't have dual analog. And I'm sure a lot of the more experienced gamers just won't be go against what their muscle memory has been doing for the past 20 years of FPS games. So, while I don't think dual analog is a great idea for Metroid Prime, I'm sure it would have an audience, and allow more people to enjoy the game. Hopefully, the next era of Prime is full of options so that everyone can get what they want out of the game.
What do you think about dual analog in Metroid's future? How would you handle it if you had your hands on the reins of the series?
Metroid games might not be "about" combat but the Prime games sure had a lot, especially later in the series. 3 had a lot of full-on fight off enemy waves sections.
I think dual analog could work if, as you say, they make the guns more automatic. Though I'm not sure I'd really LIKE jumping with a shoulder button.
I have to say, going back to replay all of the Prime games a year ago or so and man... the controls did feel stiff. I more or less got used to it again so I'm sure I would be fine if they stuck with the old style controls, but I feel like there is probably a better solution out there. I've defended Resident Evil 4's controls in the past because I thought the series might lose something in moving to dual analog, but the recent games show that it still retains what it needs to. I think Prime could be the same.
Personally, I recently played Halo for the first time in fifteen years and tried out Bumper Jumper, and that's my new jam for dual analog. It does somewhat depend on the game, though. Even for Halo, Bumper Jumper has its limitations: it's still not ideal having only four shoulder buttons with five different major actions (e.g. jump, shoot, grenade, melee, grappling hook).
More specific to Metroid Prime, I think the bigger issue isn't the control scheme(s), it's all the dang shooting. Everything is a damage sponge in these games, I suspect due in part to the basis on lock-on controls: if you can hold a button to auto-target enemies and every shot hits its mark, the only way to make combat engaging is to let enemies ignore the first fifty shots you hit them with and make you dodge their attacks in that time. Which is to say, building Metroid Prime 4 around dual analog or some other new control scheme could definitely work, but it would require rethinking some of the Metroid Prime conventions for sure.
Also, having to hold down a button to charge a shot is the shameful enduring legacy of Mega Man 4. Unless there's some advantage to NOT charging your shot (there never is), it should just be automatic, in all games, always.
I loved MP1 and MP2's controls. I felt like I was one of the few who wasn't totally in love with MP3's pointer controls when it came out. They were fun, but didn't do it for me as well as the GCN controls. So I'm all for more control options.
@V_s I kind of half agree. I loved the novelty of looking around with the Wiimote. At the end of the day, I find a lot of Wiimote pointing games to be uncomfortable. I'd have to do some serious thumb gymnastics to hit the 1 or 2 buttons on that thing while holding it vertically. Sometimes I just want to be able to sit back and play a game, or lay down and play a game, which isn't always easiest with a pointer. It was never really ideal for me. Still, it was a fun take on the game. I was also one of the few people who never had an issue with Metroid Prime's Gamecube controls. and thought they were perfect for what Retro was trying to do. I kind of miss games that forced you to STOP MOVING if you wanted to look around, as it made me feel more like a detective analyzing a given room/space.
Also, maybe this will sound weird, but sometimes there's something about a weird control scheme that feels more immersive. Maybe that's weird to say, but for Prime, my mindset is "Well I'm Samus, operating her suit, and I have to master the controls of THIS game and everything that's specific to it. It's all futuristic and high tech, so of course I might need to learn a few things." A lot of FPS games just use the same exact controls, so I feel like they kind of lose some immersion in regards to me having a deep connection with the game and its controls. It's something I would also say about DKC, which is coincidental. No, DK doesn't control like Mario...but he's a giant ape, of course he might be a bit hard to control. Part of the fun is mastering those controls and what makes the game unique. Same thing goes for even something like Resident Evil 4. Was the Wiimote way faster and more accurate? Sure. Did it make the game better? I'm not sure. It kind of made the game feel way less tense because dispatching enemies was so much easier.
I love love love the Wiimote controls, so itís going to be a step down from that regardless of what they do for me, sadlyÖ Iíll take gyro assisted dual analog as a runner up though. The GameCube controls worked well since the games were designed and balanced around them but they do make Samus feel less agile than Iíd like. Since this game is being built around whichever control scheme they are going for, I trust Iíll end up just fine with whatever happens. I just hope Retro is still capable of making a worthy entry. Been so long since weíve seen anything from them that itís hard to be blindly confident in them as I once was.