Game Review: Metroid Prime (2002)

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There was a lot to be worried about when Metroid Prime was first announced. Metroid in 3D? First person perspective? Outrageous! “Metroid is about discovery and exploration, not shooting aliens!” the fanboys cried. Luckily, Metroid Prime broke the standard FPS mold. Retro Studios quickly reclassified Metroid Prime as a “First Person Adventure”, and they expertly crafted one of the most immersive and atmospheric experiences in Nintendo history.

Where Samus's mission begins
Where Samus’s mission begins

Metroid Prime takes place shortly after Samus’s very first adventure in Metroid on the NES, where she defeated the Space Pirates and Mother Brain on Zebes, and annihilated the Metroids. The game begins with Samus responding to a distress signal from an abandoned ship orbiting a planet known as Tallon IV, where she discovers that Space Pirates have been using a dangerous substance known as Phazon to experiment and mutate the local creatures of the planet. After finding out that Ridley, one of Mother Brain’s cohorts, survived their encounter on Zebes, and after destroying a gruesome insect creature enhanced by Phazon, Samus pursuits Ridley to Tallon IV to find the Space Pirate base and to destroy the Phazon source.

What Works:

The Gameplay

First location on Talon IV
First location on Talon IV

Metroid Prime is the perfect transition of the Metroid franchise from 2D to 3D. The world is one large interconnected map with secrets and items to find, with many different environments. Expect backtracking, a trademark of the series. During your first visit to many of the locations, you’ll see areas you cannot access until you acquire an item much later in the game. Metroid Prime encourages you to search every nook and cranny and to get creative with the use of your weapons. The weapons you use are more like tools used to traverse the world, as you’ll be using them to solve puzzles more often than you’ll use them to fight enemies. Items include the classic Ice Beam, Super Missiles, Power Bombs and yes, even Samus’s trademark Morph Ball. A first for the series, Prime introduces different visors that allows Samus to get a new perspective on exploration, such as the x-ray visor that allows her to see through certain objects and walls, and a thermal visor that allows her to track enemy heat signatures even if an enemy isn’t visible normally. Metroid Prime features combat, but like the 2D Metroid games, killing enemies is usually more for convenience than it is necessary to beat the game, and the more intense battles are usually with boss monsters. More often than not, you’ll be able to skip fighting anything just by avoiding enemies and making your way through the room. But there are sections where your progress will be blocked by a locked door until you defeat all the enemies in the room. The difficulty of the game mostly depends on the amount of secrets and collectables you go out of your way to find. If you put in the effort to find every Energy Tank, and Missile Expansion, you’ll have more health and missile ammo and an easier time fighting enemies. Metroid Prime also features multiple difficulty modes for those looking for a challenge.

Story

Spoilers: There are Metroids in this Metroid game
Spoilers: There are Metroids in this Metroid game

To preserve the atmosphere of isolation and loneliness, Metroid Prime features no dialogue. Instead, the story is told through scanning objects and the environment with your scan visor, where data logs are stored. The further you progress, the more you learn about the original inhabitants of Tallon IV, the origins of the Phazon, and impact Phazon has had on the inhabitants. You also learn more about the purposes Ridley and the Space Pirates use it for, and the progress they make studying the dangerous substance. Scanning these data logs works because it doesn’t break the atmosphere and gameplay. For speed runners or for those who have played the game before, scanning the data logs is unessential and can be skipped entirely. But for those who wish to dig deeper into the Space Pirates plans and learn more about Tallon IV before the arrival of the Phazon, the story is there for the player to piece together.

Music

Metroid has always been known for its great music. Prime has a wonderfully creepy soundtrack and makes perfect use of its musical score through the entire game. From the title screen all the way through the credits, the music does a wonderful job setting the tone for the game. There’s a healthy mix of new tracks and remixes of older themes, and musical styles usually fall within the creepy sci-fi/electronic and synthesized orchestra categories, and each of the tracks suits their respective environments and battles perfectly.

The Little Details

Metroid Prime does everything it can to convince you that the world of Tallon IV is real. The artists at Retro Studios really know their stuff. Water ripples as your Morph Ball rolls around in a pond,. The reflection of Samus’s face in her visor appears when the lighting conditions are just right. Plants sway in the wind. Ice quickly forms over Samus’s arm cannon when her Ice Beam is fully charged. The echo of Samus’s arm cannon firing when you are in an enclosed area. All of these little details and more just create an amazing atmosphere of isolation and loneliness. Retro does everything they can to make you feel trapped on this world with Samus.

What Doesn’t:

Even objectively, it’s difficult to find something wrong with Metroid Prime, so what I’m about to list are just nitpicks and possible annoyances, and aren’t necessarily huge faults.

Graphics

The scenery isn't bad for a 12 year game
The scenery isn’t bad for a 12 year game

Metroid Prime was originally released on the Gamecube in 2002, and it shows. There are noticeably muddier textures compared to more modern games, and some polygonal edges on many objects. But even so, Metroid Prime is artistically beautiful and manages to craft an atmospheric world despite being 12 years old, and it isn’t enough of a problem to take you out of the experience.

If you can manage to find Metroid Prime Trilogy on the Wii however, the version included on that disc has a higher resolution, widescreen, and higher quality textures.

Controls

Locking on is essential during boss battles
Locking on is essential during boss battles

While there’s nothing inherently wrong with the controls, they aren’t your conventional FPS controls. Both looking around and moving are mapped to the left control stick because swapping your weapon is mapped to the right stick. This might sound like a problematic control scheme on paper, but it was actually designed around platforming and locking onto enemies, rather than aiming. So those used to aiming to fire at their targets in standard first-person-shooters may find the controls restricting or awkward at first.

It’s also worth noting that the Wii version of the game included on the Metroid Prime Trilogy disc is upgraded with the ability to aim by pointing the Wii remote at the screen, and still allows use of the lock-on system.

Load Times

elevatorprime

There are a few areas where progress will be halted for a few seconds (or longer depending on the size of the next room) while the next area loads. However, the load times are cleverly masked with cut-scenes (such as Samus waiting in an elevator taking her to the next area), or by doors that “malfunction” until the next area loads, as not to break the immersion. Wait times can be noticeable, but are never really long enough to become a major annoyance.

Final Score:

Masterpiece

10 out of 10. This game is why Retro Studios is my favorite game company. Whenever I hear that they’re working on a new project, I get very excited. Metroid Prime put Retro on the map and has proven that outsourcing first-party franchises to other game companies isn’t always a bad thing. Metroid Prime is without a doubt my favorite Metroid title and has earned a well deserved spot in my mind as one of the greatest games ever designed.

It’s just a shame that in an effort to outdo Retro, Nintendo thought co-developing with Team Ninja was a good idea.

Has daddy issues apparently
Has daddy issues apparently
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