So… some days ago I was discussing about Retro Studios in another thread. And by doing that, I started to wonder: What’s the real reason Retro hasn’t released a new game in 5 years? Is it incompetence? Is it internal problems? Lack of ideas? Honestly, none of these are answers that manage to satisfy my curiosity about such topic. And since today I have tons of free time… I decided to create my own theory about what’s going on with Retro Studios. I want to make this clear: this is all speculation. I don’t know if this is true. This is just me trying to piece together some facts that in my opinion are somehow connected. All of what you’re about to read might sound like nonsense to many of you. But I would like to share my thoughts with other people anyways.
Also, keep in mind this is gonna be a LONG reading. So, I don’t blame you if you don’t feel like reading everything. Although I would be very pleased if you did. Anyways… let’s begin:
In February 2014, Retro Studios released DK Country: Tropical Freeze for the Wii U, a sequel to their Wii game DK Country: Returns. Critically acclaimed and loved by everyone who played it, it is considered by many as one of the greatest 2D Platformers of all time.
After they were done with the Donkey Kong franchise, they started to think what their next project would be.
We move to E3 2014. Nintendo had a great event, showing many titles that won the interest of the fans. In fact, many people believed that Nintendo won E3 that year. But they got a surprise. At the end of their Nintendo Direct, they showed off-screen footage of a new StarFox game for Wii U. People were very excited about the return of this franchise and the overall reaction to the announcement was extremely positive.
In my opinion, the way they teased the game says many things about Nintendo’s intentions. Nintendo wanted StarFox for Wii U to be a hit, one of the strongest games for the system. They wanted to make the IP great again, something like what they managed to do with Fire Emblem. Just… way bigger. Miyamoto would supervise the project, Platinum Games, the masters of action games, would co-develop the project and the title would make full use of the Wii U Gamepad capabilities.
Keeping this in mind, I think Nintendo decided at some point between 2014 and 2015 to make a spin off about StarFox in order to take advantage of the upcoming Wii U game and make more money. Either Retro Studios asked Nintendo to make a spin off about StarFox, or Nintendo asked them to do it. Either way, the game that would be known in the rumors as StarFox Grand Prix started development. Retro Studios wanted to make it as big and great as they could and they worked hard on it.
For those who don’t know… during 2018, there were very strong rumors about Retro Studios being developing a StarFox racing game called StarFox Grand Prix and the official announcement was apparently imminent. This rumor was backed up by some important gaming sites such as Eurogamer, and all of them expected to be truth. However, the game failed to materialize and everyone thought the rumor was false. But as you can see… I don’t think so. Back to the story…
Then… E3 2015 happened. Probably, Nintendo’s worst E3 ever. They showed games that nobody wanted like AC: Amiibo Festival, Metroid Prime Federation Force and many others. And the star of the event… the big gun… was StarFox Zero. And it was a complete disappointment for everyone. People criticized the game’s poor visuals, the mandatory motion controls,the fact that you had to look at two screens at the same time… Yeah, the StarFox franchise did not receive a warm welcome on its return.
Nintendo kept trying to push the game by showcasing the good things about it in some gameplay trailers through the year. They announced a limited edition. They made an animation short. An Arwing amiibo. They even upgraded the graphics for release. But… it just wasn’t enough. StarFox Zero was released on April 2016. It had very poor sales, failing to reach 500.000 copies even to this day. Reviews were mixed: to the previous complaints, short duration, irregular quality on levels and being too similar to StarFox 64 were added to the mix. Overall, fans did not like the game and StarFox failed at returning as one of Nintendo’s biggest franchises.
But more things happened during this time period. The Wii U was almost dead in a corner and the Nintendo Switch was getting ready to be shown to the public by the end of the year.
With all of this happening, two things could have happened:
- Nintendo decided to stop StarFox Grand Prix development and thought about switching development to the Nintendo Switch.
- Nintendo cancelled StarFox Grand Prix because of the failure of StarFox Zero, the Wii U being put down and the uncertainty about the Nintendo Switch at that time.
I think this would explain why everyone seemed so sure about the Grand Prix rumor being true. Even important sites like Eurogamer very much believed them and confirmed that their sources informed them about it. They thought it was true because the game actually existed at some point and it probably was in a very advanced state in development and ready to show at any time. Nintendo just didn’t want to continue the project. Also, it would also explain the comments of frustration of some former employees of the studio on the website linkedin some months ago. Almost three years making a game, doing your best… and then somebody else says that it’s over. That would totally suck.
Anyways, after StarFox Grand Prix “freezing” or canceling at some point between 2016 and 2017, Retro Studios had to start to make another game. I mean, I doubt Nintendo pay them for doing nothing. And they may have done just that, because along with the Grand Prix rumor, there was another one that suggested that Retro was making yet another game for the Nintendo Switch. I think this rumor was true too, because it makes sense for Retro to start working on some other thing after their previous project was shut down by Nintendo. But, the rumor also suggested that the game was going through development issues. So… it was not going well. And to be honest, is not that hard to believe that a game has problems at the beginning of development.
The next thing we know for sure is that on January 2019, Nintendo announced that the upcoming Metroid Prime 4 was being restarted because Nintendo didn’t like the quality of the current product... and that Retro Studios would be the new developer. Related to this, we have yet another rumor that says that Retro actually showed a demo of Metroid Prime 4 to Nintendo and they liked it. And that is the reason they are doing it now.
If we assume this is true, then what I think happened is… Retro was not happy about how their new project was coming along… they heard about Nintendo not being happy with the current development of Metroid Prime 4… and at some point of 2018 they said: “Hey, you know what? This game we are doing is going nowhere. Let’s show Nintendo how a Metroid Prime game is done. Then maybe they’ll give us the project… and we can actually do something great again”.
So… in this 5 years… I think Retro Studios was about to complete one big game (StarFox Grand Prix) that was either cancelled or held back, which generated frustration among some workers... and they started another game, but there were complications early in development and with the oportunity to work on Metroid Prime again, they stopped working on it, showed a demo to Nintendo, and they got the job.
I know, I know… there’s probably many things to take this theory down. But hey, I did this just for fun and maybe to generate an interesting debate about the current situation of one of the most beloved Nintendo studios.
What do you think?