Metroid Prime 4 has been in some sort of development hell since its announcement in 2017. After a long period of silence, Nintendo came out in early 2019 to say it had restarted development on the title. But that’s just a small baby Metroid-sized development hell compared to the Mother Brain-sized development hell that Metroid Dread was stuck in. Metroid Dread was originally concepted over 16 years ago and went through years and years of rumors and hardship before finally being one of the best parts of E3 2021.
Metroid Dread‘s first public “reveal” dates back to the June 2005 issue of Game Informer. The magazine (pictured above) listed the game as a “2D Metroid adventure” coming to the DS as a part of Nintendo’s 2006 lineup. Moderators of the now-defunct GI forums allegedly said it was a side-scrolling sequel to Metroid Fusion coming to the DS, but not only is that all but impossible to find now, it’s not clear if they were just echoing or building off what was already stated in the magazine. IGN then allegedly backed up Game Informer, but those articles are incredibly difficult to dig up and see now after being buried for 16 years. Craig Harris, the former IGN staffer who was behind these claims, still stands by seeing it as he recently tweeted how this was in Nintendo’s back pocket for a “VERY” long time and that he first saw the game at E3 2005 (but not much of it).
Gaming researcher Liam Robertson lent credibility to some of these reports in a 2015 video as he stated that the game floated around in Nintendo in 2005 just through ideas and documents; no actual production had been done. This seems to run counter Harris’ insistence that he got a peek at Dread at E3 2005, but Harris probably only saw documents and not the actual game running on a DS.
According to Robertson, Nintendo Software Technology (NST) was being considered for the game based on its work with Metroid Prime: Hunters — the multiplayer-focused DS shooter from 2006 — but Nintendo’s NCL team wasn’t into that idea. His sources said Dread began development in 2008 at NCL, but the prototype didn’t make much headway. The game was shown to Nintendo first-party teams at E3 2009 and looked a lot like Metroid Fusion yet it didn’t have the “Dread” name. It was simply called “Metroid.” None of his insiders definitively knew why it wasn’t shown after.
Robertson went on a podcast after that video went up and said that the game was essentially a DS version of a classic Metroid game with a map on the bottom screen. He also talked to Harris and that Harris had seen a plot summary of the game with other select members of the press (given IGN and Game Informer’s industry stature, it makes sense they would be among the select few to see it), but couldn’t recall any specifics. Based on his research, Robertson then speculated the game was in died around 2010 after he said it went through development hell. He couldn’t remember the exact team doing it, but he thought it was the second team at Nintendo Entertainment Analysis & Development “that normally did Metroid.”
The Official Nintendo Magazine (UK) also threw some fuel on the fire, putting the game on its “official” release calendar under “TBC,” as shown in the above picture from the March 2006 issue. Nintendo then denied it was making a 2D Metroid in 2007, killing the hopes and dreams of fans who read into that message.
An old IGN article from 2007 also backs up that IGN saw the game at E3 2005. It also claims that the game was almost done, but that’s more of it reading too much into an Easter egg in Metroid Prime 3: Corruption. The game had just come out and the above picture shows the scan in question. Metroid Prime 3 Game Director Mark Pacini told MTV that this was a coincidence as it was a “fictional element of something else in the game.” In that same interview, Producer Bryan Walker insisted it was an “innocuous” coincidence. Senior Designer Mike Wikan later allegedly said it was indeed a joke, but those forums are now dead, making it harder to see exactly what he said, if anything. The Japanese version of the game also reportedly changed the text and references a Dread-Class Turret instead.
The dream died for a few years until May 2010 when the 75th episode of IGN’s Nintendo Voice Chat (around the 47:35 mark) aired. Harris once again said he saw the synopsis of the game and that Nintendo “pulled the plug at the last minute,” but “can always bring it back.” Kotaku also brought it up the following month with Yoshio Sakamoto, Metroid‘s series director, in 2010 when promoting the maligned Other M. He told the outlet that “the day may come when Dread hits the stores” but that game isn’t Other M. Sakamoto also told Games Magazine (via NintendoLife) a few months later that he couldn’t “deny the existence” of it or say it would be his next project and wanted to “keep that game a mystery.” Although he did also state he wanted to “reset the situation at once and start from scratch.”
The rumors calmed down for a few years until Metroid: Samus Returns popped up in 2017. Sakamoto told IGN that the 3DS game was not some sort of zombified version of Dread, but did not call it by name; he referred to it as “the other project.” He also seemingly implied in an interview with GameRant that he had thought about making a Metroid game with a map on the second screen, saying he had “been interested in the concept,” possibly giving some credence to Robertson saying that there was a Metroid DS game with a map on the bottom screen.
After only leaks, rumors, and slight nods to the game, Nintendo finally officially shed some light on the game after its official reveal at E3 2021. Sakamoto spoke somewhat openly about the game in the above video, saying the idea started around 15 years ago, but they “gave up on the idea at the time.” He blamed the technology of the time as it couldn’t “properly bring the concept to life.” The team tried the concept again at a later time, but the struggles persisted as they “still couldn’t create the game as originally imagined.” Development halted yet again and make Sakamoto think that they’d have to abandon the project altogether.
These two cancelations seem to corroborate Robertson’s research, IGN, and Game Informer. The first attempt was likely around 2005 when the game was shown to select members of the press and the second was could have been around 2008 or 2009 when NCL allegedly made a prototype. Nintendo will probably never give exact dates so none of this can be certain, but it all of these pieces begin to form some vague picture when they’re all taken into account.
Stronger technology and collaborating with Mercury Steam, the studio that co-developed Samus Returns, seemed to be what finally got the project off the ground. Sakatmoto praised their technical skills as well as their deep understanding of Metroid. And now because of this partnership, Sakamoto claims that this new version of Metroid Dread surpasses the vision they originally had all those years ago, which is a concept that has kept it alive. Players will never be able to test the Switch version of Dread against other ones, but they’ll finally actually be able to play it after all of these years of dead ends.