Have you looked at the roster for Super Smash Bros. recently? No, not the latest iteration, just plain ol’ N64 Super Smash Bros. And, in this case, I’m talking about the exclusive, “members only” original eight selectable characters (sorry, Ness, I love you, but you were obviously a dark-horse choice). You’ve got Mario, who, before and since, has appeared in more videogames than any other videogame mascot. Donkey Kong is on a similar echelon, and he arguably started the trend of Nintendo “mascots”. Pikachu was a newcomer at the time, but that little fuzzball has practically conquered a generation or two. Kirby and Yoshi (the original Pokémon) might not be quite as prolific, but they’ve both headlined everything from puzzle games to lightgun shooters. And Link? Link needs no introduction, and might be considered the “coolest” character in gaming despite (or because of) being rather silent.
Consider that every character I’ve named thus far has starred in a Saturday morning cartoon.
Then you have the Nintendo space heroes, like “Star” Fox McCloud. Fox always seemed made to appeal to the kiddies (daring, cartoon animal ace pilot), but has yet to garner enough popularity points to net those lucrative licensing deals and pay off the Great Fox. Come on, guys, they gave him an entire planet of friendly dinosaurs and a deviantart-bait magical princess girlfriend, and he still couldn’t score so much as a spin-off until 2016’s Six Nights at Slippy’s. It’s good that Star Fox is still getting games at all, but it seems a little unusual that this pillar of the Nintendo universe hasn’t been ported into something a little more modern. Sure, shooters are dead, but this fox has legs (apparently), give him something new to do.
And, finally, we have the lone (confirmed) female of the game, Samus Aran, space bounty hunter. Metroid is currently a reputedly dead franchise (note to Nintendo: I will be perfectly happy to have this article look completely dated in exchange for a glut of new Metroid games), and, even when it was still on life support, it was considered, at best, to be mishandled. Super Metroid redefined the genre, but its 2-D descendants were improperly managed or far too derivative (or both). Metroid Prime was a revelation, but Metroid Prime 2 seemed like a typical FPS disguised in powersuit trappings, and Metroid Prime 3 was madly uneven. And Metroid Prime Hunters? Ugh, please don’t remind me that existed.
But… Metroid Prime Hunters is important, because there was a brief, shining moment in Nintendo’s history when Samus Aran was used to sell systems.
Alright, yes, that might be an exaggeration, but the Nintendo DS, eventually one of Nintendo’s most popular and experimental systems (ah, the heady days before the touch screen became standard) initially shipped with a game… or at least a demo for a game. Metroid Prime Hunters: First Hunt…. wasn’t much of a demo. The single player portion was practically nonexistent, but the multiplayer portion of MPH:FH was an eye-opener. Now, for the first time, you could compete with your friends in a “networked FPS” style death match, but you didn’t need a single wire or powerful PC, just a DS and a buddy within shouting distance. The DS might not have offered many options at launch, but Metroid-Doom dominated any place you might find a bunch of congregating nerds (like, I dunno, a college, for instance?) and probably sold more DS systems than Tetris DS ever would.
So, when Nintendo decided to produce a new upgrade for the little dual screen that could, they looked again to their favorite daughter, Samus Aran. The DS was to receive a new rumble pack accessory, and what better way to sell rumble in a videogame than with pinball?
… It’s really the thought that counts.
Metroid Prime Pinball is a very weird game. As the story goes, MPP was first conceived when someone at Nintendo noticed that A. Nintendo randomly makes mascot-based pinball games, and B. Samus, super serious space bounty hunter, often turns herself into a ball. It’s like peanut butter and applesauce! So, while most Nintendo franchises feature characters that just kinda bounce around like pinballs anyway, pinball was hoisted on Metroid, a franchise best known for measured exploration and deliberately paced powerups. Because, ya know, Samus Aran can turn into a ball. What’s more, rather than make this a “simple” collection of Metroid-themed pinball machines, Metroid Prime Pinball has a plot and level progression, with bosses/challenges that bar progress until they’re slain/completed. Pinball doesn’t work like that! There’s a reason we never saw Pinball Quest 2, dammit!
But, against all odds, it somehow does work. Metroid Prime Pinball isn’t exactly the best game on the DS, it’s not even my favorite pinball game starring a Nintendo character that can inexplicably become a ball; but, hey, it ain’t bad. While pinball purists would likely have an issue with my favorite parts, I’ve found that this game holds my interest over many pinball games by virtue of randomly inserting more traditional Metroid gameplay. Okay, really, it’s not Metroid gameplay at all, but it’s all inspired by Metroid gameplay, and that’s close enough for a pinball game. For instance, In order to attain that coveted high-score, you must collect bounties, and, while some of these bounties involve simply steering ball-Samus at enemies, many times a bounty will cause Samus to come out of her shell and start shooting that beam cannon. Or there’s an artifact at the top of a cliff, so you’re to alternate L & R to pull off a proper wall jump. Or there’s a boss to slay, so it’s time to whip out the missiles. I like pinball, but I like pinball a lot more when I’m given something else to do every other minute. Oh, bless you, Adult Attention Deficit Disorder. You’ll always be there for me until I see something shiny.
Unfortunately, given most people don’t seem to remember this game exists at all seems to be proof that Metroid Prime Pinball wasn’t much of a success. Metroid: Other M or Metroid Prime Hunters may be reviled, but at least people don’t think you’re talking about some kind of Club Nintendo promotion when they’re mentioned. Metroid Prime Pinball happened, guys! It was a full game! It was pretty alright!
It’s a shame that this game is so forgotten. Metroid Prime Pinball proved that, like Mario, Yoshi, or even Pikachu, Samus Aran could break out of her typical gameplay bonds and do something else. Yes, Metroid defined a genre so permanently it has literally become synonymous with 2-D exploration games, but Mario defined platforming, and he’s doing just fine on the go-kart circuit, too. Samus Aran could be a perennial Nintendo star like Link, and MPP proves it.
And don’t pretend that doesn’t matter. The current gaming landscape is choked with dudes that look just like me (maybe they’re a little less handsome), and, while I appreciate the compliment, I wouldn’t mind seeing a few more lady bounty hunters in the mix. Nintendo is better with diversity than most (by virtue of promoting electric rats and pink eldritch horrors equally), but its big two are still a pair of white guys. You don’t see an hours long demo featuring Linkle on the E3 floor, nope, it’s grade-A, grandma-approved, straight white male elf all the way. He’s even right handed now, because left-handedness is only for freaks and presidents.
It’s nonsense like Metroid Prime Pinball that makes kings and queens out of characters. Link has been fighting Ganon for ages, but he was spouting catchphrases at princesses well before he was the Hero of Time. Mario was ubiquitous on the NES, saving the Mushroom Kingdom, refereeing Mike Tyson, and then playing golf all in the same week. I might not expect Samus to sell the next big Nintendo console, but upping the profile of Nintendo’s only starring fantasy female (that is in no way a princess) could only be a good thing. Yes, I pretty much just want more Metroid games, but I’ll gladly buy another Metroid Prime Pinball to see Samus as the salesgirl for the latest Nintendo thingy. Samus Aran should have her own pair of bongos, dammit! Wait… that might have come out wrong.
So thank you, Metroid Prime Pinball, for proving that Samus can do more than explore musty old planets. You might not have been the best game, but you helped a struggling space bounty hunter, and that’s enough.
FGC #147 Metroid Prime Pinball
- System: Nintendo DS, with rumble pack accessory!
- Number of players: Oh yeah, there is a two player head-to-head mode that even features its own unique stage. It’s just as exciting as 2-player pinball is meant to be!
- He’s too big: Ridley manages to fit into a board that is almost entirely his own. It’s also the most frustrating stage, because if Ridley knocks you out, you have to go and retrieve an artifact from an earlier stage. Pinball doesn’t usually require savestates, but here we are.
- Favorite stage: You wind up playing the first two tables very often thanks to how the game is “shaped”. That said, the Tallon Overworld area is pretty fun, and makes seeing “the same ol’ stage” again and again entertaining with its multiple ways to score. Oddly, its sister level, Pirate Frigate, comes off as boring, and should be escaped immediately.
- Did you know? Metroid Prime Pinball is the spiritual successor to the Gameboy Advance’s Mario Pinball Land. That would be the pinball game that nobody liked.
- Would I play again? I was surprised by how much I enjoyed replaying this game, so, yes, but only on the condition that it’s a downloadable, portable title. I’d fire this thing up for a few rounds here and there when around town, but I doubt I’ll ever put the actual cart back in my 3DS’s slot ever again.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… to be quiet. I’m going to make #148 into #9 here, and deal with a different kind of robot for the next update. Please look forward to it!