Nintendo Reportedly Wanted to Shut Down Retro Studios After Metroid Prime Shipped

The road to Metroid Prime was paved with good intentions.

News by Matt Kim, .

Metroid Prime developer Retro Studios was founded in 1998 by a game industry veteran with a lot of money and support from Nintendo with the intention was for the studio to deliver four launch titles for the GameCube. What ended up happening was a series of painful layoffs, a fired CEO, insane crunch, four cancelled games, and Metroid Prime. Reportedly Nintendo was ready to shut the studio down after getting a game out of the studio.

After reading Polygon's history of Texas-based Retro Studio's inception and eventual path to Metroid Prime, it's lucky we got Metroid Prime at all. Due to a scandal which saw the company lose its founder and CEO for running a risqué personal site from Retro's servers, the layoffs, and disappointing cancelled games, Nintendo was ready to cut its losses in the company it invested in.

Luckily when Metroid Prime launched it was a hit and Retro was able to keep going as a Nintendo studio.

Metroid Prime

With a skeleton crew of developers after two rounds of layoffs that cut into the bone of the company, Metroid Prime was released to critical acclaim. The reason Prime made it was that the survivors of the layoffs were some of the best developers around ("It's like this awful sociopathic way of doing business," said one developer) and a desire from the Metroid team to prove their mettle. "Fuck all the people doubting us. We're going to do this," said one developer who said that in the last year the drive to finish Metroid came from this primal place rather than any sense of company loyalty.

Retro was founded by Jeff Spangenberg of Iguana Entertainment fame. The studio promised four launch games for the GameCube, but after failing to impress Nintendo of Japan Miyamoto gave Retro the Metroid IP and a mandate to get it done. One developer called their time working on Metroid Prime "One of the worst experiences I've ever had." Another developer likened the Metroid Prime team as "abused dogs," and "That last year of development was just incredibly awful."

Why Nintendo of Japan gave Metroid to Retro in the first place is anyone's guess considering how Retro seriously failed to impress Nintendo with its four works-in-progress. One employee speculates that Miyamoto, like Lucille Bluth towards Gob, never really cared for Metroid. "Miyamoto didn't like the Metroid series, in terms of the old Metroids. He doesn't get them; those aren't the types of games he likes to play." The fact that Metroid was always more popular in the west might have given Retro the opportunity to make Metroid Prime, but there was a lot of losses along the way, stressful management practices, and excessive overtime.

Since then Retro went on to make two more Metroid Prime games and Donkey Kong Country reboots. The studio is currently working on an unannounced new game. Metroid Prime 4 is currently in development for the Nintendo Switch but under a new developer. And while Retro might be in a better place now than when it started, it can't be overstated how lucky it is that we got Metroid Prime, let alone three of them in the series.

For more on Metroid Prime, check our our Metroid Prime 4 Everything We Know guide for all the latest news stories, rumors, and announcements.

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Comments 8

  • Avatar for donkeyintheforest #1 donkeyintheforest 4 months ago
    i think you freudian slipped in rare for retro there at some point, though secretly working for retro would explain why rare was so lackluster for so long haha
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  • Avatar for usgmatt #2 usgmatt 4 months ago
    @donkeyintheforest Yup fixed. I had Donkey Kong Country on my mind towards the end.
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  • Avatar for docexe #3 docexe 4 months ago
    I was aware that things were really tumultuous at Retro in the years prior to the release of Metroid Prime, but that article at Polygon puts in perspective how bad the situation got.

    Metroid Prime feels like a small miracle after that (and by extension, all the other great games Retro released afterwards).
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  • Avatar for NiceGuyNeon #4 NiceGuyNeon 4 months ago
    I had no idea, but this is definitely something that worked out for Nintendo. They got one amazing game and four pretty consistently entertaining games. It's kind of not a bad thing to have.
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  • Avatar for Wellman2nd #5 Wellman2nd 4 months ago
    Yeah, given the treatment of several of their lower profile IP I can see them just chucking Metroid out there to a unproven team to see if it can work.

    There are only a handful of franchises not connected to Mario or Zelda that they are protective of to a point they avoid radical experiments with unproven talent.
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  • Avatar for Jonnyboy407 #6 Jonnyboy407 4 months ago
    And it's worked out pretty well so far.
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  • Avatar for chaoticBeat #7 chaoticBeat 4 months ago
    Reading that article on Polygon made me feel sad. I would have thought that the team behind Metroid Prime must have had great chemistry to make such a fantastic game. I hated hearing that the origin of the game came from such a stressful, high-pressure environment. :(
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  • Avatar for Woogity #8 Woogity 4 months ago
    The founder who was fired sounds like a major d-bag.
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