Samus (the female armored bounty hunter protagonist of the sci-fi series) had never before graced the third dimension, with Metroid Prime’s predecessor being the side-scrolling, 2D, Super Nintendo masterpiece Super Metroid; released for the SNES way back in 1994. And all Metroid games preceeding it also being in only two dimensions.
Samus skipped the Nintendo 64 entirely, as Nintendo’s designers wrestled with how to bring their most “mature” action heroine into the space beyond two dimensions; thus she only made a single appearance on the console, with Nintendo’s multiplayer brawler Super Smash Bros., a game that proved to be a huge smash hit (pardon the pun).
Yet it was not enough to satisfy fans of the long-running Metroid series, who craved a polygonal 3D entry in their favorite sci-fi platformer series. Which made it’s debut with the NES title Metroid, a game that set the bar for open-ended action games way back in 1987.
Previous to the debut of Metroid Prime, fans waited with baited breath for the highly anticipated first modern Metroid game… while growing ever worried as news broke that Nintendo had outsourced the development to an American(!) second party company in Texas called Retro Studios. The first footage of the game didn’t much ease the nervousness as fans discovered that Nintendo had switched the game from what was presumed to be a third-person platformer into a… first-person shooter!
Metroid as an “FPS”, or “doom-clone” as games were sometimes known in those days, seemed like the worst idea of all time, and led players to scratching their heads; then folding their hands and praying that somehow Nintendo would come to their senses and not butcher their favorite series.
Thank the gods! All that worrying was for not, as Metroid Prime was, and remains, one of Nintendo’s absolute modern masterpieces that will satisfy virtually every fan of the series.
Metroid Prime deftly combines all of the aspects of the series that fans know and love while layering it with interesting new aspects that the first-person viewpoint brings to the table.
Arguably the most interesting is the way the game allows you to literally step into the shoes of Samus. For the first time, you can truly see through the eyes of the Space Pirate bounty hunter, who is sent to the planet Tallon IV after engaging an old foe on an orbiting satellite.
Thanks to the first-person perspective, you can now get “up-close-and-personal” with the games huge plethora of animal-like enemies, lethal Space Pirates, dangerous insect-like creatures and titanic bosses.
Metroid Prime was the first videogame to truly make you feel like you were strapped inside of an armored suit. This is conveyed by the way the glass you see through contours and wraps around the screen (visibly) in the shape of Samus’ helmet, and by the way the game’s various environmental effects, enemies and machines effect your visor.
The visor Samus sees her world through is almost like a character in itself! And this first Metroid Prime conveys this arguably even better than its sequels and better than any game up to this point (and even today, it stands out). And it was a striking sight to behold and still is, the first time your visor is interracted with in a fun (and back then, entirely unique and new) way.
How so? Fog and condensation will build up on your screen if you pass through some steam, rain pelts the visor as it hits if you look up at the cloudy sky above, acid or bug guts will splatter across your face when they attack or you obliterate them with fire, if light hits your visor at just the right angle you can actually see Samus’ human face reflected on the glass from inside the suit, and certain electricic machines and enemies will interfere with your display, causing it to static out like a television!
All of this contributes to Metroid Prime’s expertly crafted sense of “life”, the world around you and Samus herself feel like much more than the cardboard cutouts of a lot of games, here the world is living and breathing and even the world you see and how you see it, play an integral part in the experience; and it all comes together so smoothly that you’ll be amazed at how incredibly cohesive it feels. It all feels natural and every part of the game resonates as if was all built to go together from the get-go (It wasn’t, in fact the game was originally a third-person platformer until Shigeru Miyamoto, creator of Mario and Nintendo mastermind, demanded the switch to first-person).
Another major aspect of the game is how the Visor ties into the gameplay. One of the newest elements introduced first in Metroid Prime is the introduction of different wearable Visors that the player can switch between at will. Samus starts out with her standard Combat Visor, which is your default view. In this view you can see how much Energy you have, how many Missiles you’re carrying, what Beam Weapon you have selected, what Visor you have selected; and more importantly to combat, a radar in the upper-right that shows incoming enemies and a threat detector on the left that tells you when you are close to incoming danger. You can then use the targeting ridicule to get a bead on enemies before blasting them.
Then you have the Scan Visor, this Visor is avaiable from the start and allows you to take the time (if you so desire) to scan objects, enemies, machines, bosses and any other pertinant information within a room. Scanning will tell you about the object and enter it into your Logbook for safekeeping (you can check the Logbook for TONS of information at anytime by pressing Start).
In addition to scanning enemies and objects (which can be viewed later under your menu, as mentioned above), you can also find stories and journals hidden deviously on walls and in plain site on computer terminals throughout the various lands you will visit. These provide the user with in-depth backstory from the view of both the Space Pirates and the ancient Chozo people’s of Tallon IV (those that build Samus’ spacesuit and provide her with new weapons scattered throughout the game’s worlds).
Important items that can be scanned appear in Red, and scanning important items and logs counts towards your percentage of completion when you beat the game (along with your time). A higher scan count also unlocks additional art galleries upon completing the game.
Scanning however is entirely optional, and some players will find it boring. These players can simply scan just the Red highlighted areas to quickly progress in the game; while those who love more story will enjoy reading the in-depth logs that shed new light on the world and forces of Metroid Prime and will want to scan everything they can get their hands… er, visor focused on.
The controls in Metroid Prime take a bit of getting used to, and will feel really strange to those weaned on Halo and most other modern first-person shooters, with their dual-control-stick navigation. To that end, Metroid Prime is dubbed by Nintendo a first-person ADVENTURE (not “shooter”) and features a unique setup where you cannot move while aiming (an aspect that was “fixed” with the Wii version of the game, where you can move and aim at the same time, by simply pointing the Wii Remote at the screen).
To aim, you must press in and hold the R Button, which causes Samus’ to hold up her arm cannon while standing in place. You can then press the A Button to fire (and rapid fire the quicker you press it, depending on the Beam equipped) and look around with the Control Stick (while R is being held). The B Button is used to make Samus jump and leap from platform to platform (done really well in this game), while the Y Button shoots Missiles and the X Button rolls Samus into her infamous Morph Ball. Since you can’t aim while moving, it gives the game a much slower pace and a completely different feel than most first-person games. Although it works REALLY well once you get used to it.
The Morph Ball is Samus’ trademark ability, the one that (arguably), made Metroid famous. By using the Morph Ball, Samus curls up into a perfect, metallic sphere; which allows her to enter small spaces that are unaccessable any other way.
Like with all of the Metroid games, you start out this Metroid game with only the bare minimum of abilities, and as you progress through the various environments you will pick up all kinds of new items, Weapons, Abilities and Power-Ups. These add to the number of things Samus can do.
The Morph Ball is one such ability and was one of the main concerns players had before Metroid Prime’s release. How would the game utilize the Morph Ball in a polygonal, fully 3D world? In previous Metroid games, the Morph Ball was used to enter small cracks that were previously unexcessable. Additionally, you could lay Morph Ball Bombs to blast holes into walls, floors, ceilings, etc. and enter those crevices to reveal new locations.
Amazingly, this was maintained in Metroid Prime and done FLAWLESSLY. Pressing the X Button enters Samus into Morph Ball mode, and the camera pans out into a third-person perspective (then seamlessly zooming back into first-person when you press X again to roll back out of your ball).
Throughout the game, you will discover certain areas (which when scanned, are revealed to be made of specific allows, which gives you a hint on how the barrier can be destroyed) which can only be accessed by bombing with the Morph Ball, these usually lead to new paths that take you to different areas, or along an unseen track into one of the game’s many hidden Power-Ups and secrets. Be them Missile Packs, which increase your max Missile-carrying capacity by 5 or Energy Tanks, which give you an additional 99 units of health, for example.
New abilities have also been added to the Morph Ball which take advantage of the environments in unique and fun ways. One in particular sounds and seems really goofy (and LAME) but once you do it in the game it just…. works.
The environments in the game run the gamet and cover all of the videogame stereotypes you would HOPE to see, from the jungle-like area full of plant-life and fauna (as you will find throughout) to the lava environment meant to remind fans of Norfair, to the atypical Ice World. One area where Metroid Prime REALLY excels though is in world DESIGN.
Amazingly, similar to Resident Evil Remake (also a GameCube exclusive), each and every room in Metroid Prime is unique. There are no repetitive environments in Metroid Prime and the intricate design is second to none. And unlike the sequel (Metroid Prime 2: Echoes, released for GameCube in 2004), the levels (er, areas) do not suffer from the curse of feeling complex just to be complex. In fact, it is quite the opposite, the levels are intricate and crafted with grace; in such a way that the layouts are easy to learn. This is how you do masterful design.
Driving the “master of designing” home is an amazing, fully 3D wireframe map which you can bring up at anytime by pressing the Z Button on the GameCube controller. This map can be fully rotated in any direction and is broken up by room, with a layout that is easily readable, scannable, and extremely helpful. Labels are available that show you locked rooms, what Beam weapons are required to enter certain doors, and where important Save Rooms, Map Rooms, etc. are located. You can also press the A Button to zoom the Area Map out to go into the World Map, which allows you to zoom into a completely different place in the world and enter that land’s map by pressing A again. The C Stick meanwhile allows you to scan from room to room. Metroid Prime really primiered the amazing, intricate, wireframe map idea and it is one of the game’s shining achievements. Which is equally fitting, as Super Metroid also featured a great map, a map system so great that many other games, like the Castlevania series, used the same kind of map design.
Musically, Metroid Prime offers great tunes that will satisfy fans of previous Metroid games, even if it doesn’t feature many of the same famous pieces that fans know and love (There’s also a few annoying pieces, like the Space Pirate theme). The intro music in particular is INCREDIBLE and serves to give you chills from the moment you press the power button. Especially since the menu design is impeccable, with the Main Menu set INSIDE of a Metroid…. it’s very stylized and very, VERY cool. In fact, if you go and play Metroid Prime Trilogy for Wii, you’ll notice that they cut out this intro in favor of a new uniform menu for each game… a BIG mistake. It’s worth playing this GameCube version or keeping your GameCube copy just for the awesome intro menu alone!
Metroid Prime also features a few cool extras. You can play a free version of the original Metroid if you own a Game Boy Advance GameCube link cable and a Game Boy Advance or GBA SP system, along with a copy of Metroid Fusion, which released day and date with Metroid Prime. Link them up after you’ve beat Fusion and you will unlock the original Metroid in your Metroid Prime to play at any time. You can even save your game in this version! (without having to write down the password!).
Additionally, you can play Metroid Prime using Samus’ Metroid Fusion Suit by linking the two game’s together.
Beating the game will also unlock a harder difficulty setting along with art galleries based on the amount of important items, enemies, bosses, machines, etc. that you’ve scanned. Beating the game with a quicker time meanwhile will give you a better ending… and allow you to see behind the mask!
Overall, Metroid Prime is game that is NOT TO BE MISSED! While it is easy to forget about the game in this day and age, Metroid Prime still holds up extremely well; even though the graphics are not high definition, the attention to detail shines through, as does the impeccable level design, the intricate world, the fantastic enemies, the awesome bosses (the end boss is one of my favorites of ALL time), the great music, the cool weapons, the interesting story and, most of all, the incredibly fun gameplay.
Metroid Prime is packed to the gills with secrets as well, and you’ll be hard pressed to find each and every Missile Pack, Energy Tank, Missile Combo, et al on your first play through. Much less Scan everything and unlock all of the Art Galleries. So Metroid Prime gives you plenty of replay value.
There is a reason why Metroid Prime recieved the coveted Platinum Award from EGM, garnering a PERFECT score of three 10’s… Putting the game right up there with Halo: Combat Evolved, Super Mario 64, the Grand Theft Auto series and the Zelda series as a game that set precedants and stamped out new territory; while delivering proof that Nintendo could still hang with the best of them. Only masterpieces recieve scores so high.
And Metroid Prime is, without a doubt, one of the greatest games of all time. Play it!
The easiest way to get your hands on Metroid Prime is for the Wii via Metroid Prime Trilogy. The Trilogy version however has a few alterations that detract from the overall experience (like the cutting of the intro) while also significantly changing the gameplay by allowing you to aim instantly anywhere on the screen by simply pointing your Wii Remote where you want to shoot.
This also allows you to walk while shooting… While some people will always prefer the GameCube version and consider it superior, if you never played the GameCube version you will not notice these differences.
In which case I’d tell you to not hesitate in picking up Metroid Prime Trilogy for Wii and giving the game a go. Just like with Zelda: Twilight Princess (which also has a GameCube and Wii Version, the latter with motion controls), it will really come down to personal preference and whether playing the game in its original incarnation or in an “updated” form is more important to you. But that intro…. You gotta have the intro!
Either way, you really can’t go wrong, as the core game remains the same on both the GameCube and Wii platforms, and it’s greatness shines through however you choose to play it.
Pros: Impeccable design.
The Bottom Line: A masterpiece not to be missed.
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