Full Review: For this game alone, it's prime time you bought a Gamecube
Eight years ago, the Super Nintendo saw the release of one of the greatest side-scrolling action adventure games ever devised. It rivaled the likes of Castlevania and was also a sequel to two other games of the same name that were released a few years before on the first console created by Nintendo, the Nintendo Entertainment System and Nintendo's first Game Boy system. The game had an excellent balance of combat, exploration, and features that kept it fresh and original despite its rather basic nature. Certain circles cherished this game like no other and further heralded its late creator, Gunpei Yokoi, as one of the greatest videogame artists of all time. That game, as you should all know by now, was known as Super Metroid.
When the Nintendo 64 was announced, many fans of the series expected a sequel in a vein similar to those from the Zelda series. They expected the same spooky atmosphere and game play techniques from Super Metroid only refined into a totally immersive 3D world of intergalactic planets, creatures, and futuristic weapons. Instead, gamers faced disappointment as no sequel was announced or even suggested in the console's five year life span. However, good things come to those who wait and now, eight years later, fans of the series finally have a new installment to call their own, released exclusively on the Nintendo Gamecube and created by a subsidiary of Nintendo, Retro Studios. This masterpiece is known as Metroid Prime.
Chronologically, Metroid Prime falls in the series just after the first Metroid and before Metroid II, which was released on the Game Boy. The game unfolds much like that of previous Metroid titles where you are a fearsome female bounty hunter and scourge of the dreaded Space Pirates named Samus Aran. As Samus, you are employed by the Galactic Federation and it is your task to find out what the Spice Pirates are trying to accomplish while in orbit around the Chozo planet, Tallon IV, and stop them at any cost. From here on out, the story is rather thin from start to finish, but the game does unfold in a very impressive format centered around context rather than cut scene after cut scene of dialogue, but I'll address that a bit later.
A little after Metroid Prime was first announced for the Gamecube, controversy stirred. It was said that it would carry a first person perspective that is vastly different from earlier Metroid games which were based in two dimensions. Although the perspective is that of an FPS, it by no means feels like one. For starters, the analog sticks on the GCN pad are not used solely for Samus' movements. In fact, the ability to strafe or look up and down is not detrimental to moving through the map, but both can be done by holding the L and R triggers respectively. Holding L locks onto the enemy closest to the center of your heads up display (HUD) and keeps the enemy within Samus' primary view as long as you hold the trigger. While you are holding L, Samus can jump, strafe, and side jump all while maintaining a lock. Holding R brings up the targeting reticule which allows you to manually target enemies from a stationary position in any direction. Given the style of the game play and the way combat unfolds, the control scheme is almost perfect. The only problem is when Samus can't lock onto certain enemies rendering the whole control scheme useless. The times that it happens aren't often and it's only one enemy out of the total eighty in the game, but it's worth mentioning regardless.
The other 20% of the game is spent in a pseudo 3rd person view when Samus rolls into a tiny bowling ball. The ability to roll into a ball may be odd to those who have yet to play any Metroid games, but anyone who has sampled Super Monkey Ball will feel right at home here. The control is incredibly slick and the camera angles are very stylish for each instance that it's used. What's best about the Morph Ball is each instance that it's necessary to use it since the majority of them play out like extreme roller coasters or tricky, yet amazing, side scrolling mazes of tunnels and tubes. They even kept the bomb jumping intact from previous Metroid games and it performs extremely well with the new perspective.
Another big issue that spawned from this transition to 3D was the inclusion of platform jumping. Platform jumping has always played a huge part in the Metroid series and almost all jumping done in FPS games is cumbersome, imprecise, and utterly horrible in every sense, giving fans a reason to be concerned. In Metroid Prime, jumping is handled as easily, if not better, than in the 2D games. The amount of air that you receive is perfect and the double jumping is absolutely superb since it can be done at any point after the first jump and gives you just enough air to reach far away platforms. One missing jumping aspect from previous Metroid games is Samus' notorious screw attack, which is based on a jumping kick of sorts, but honestly, it isn't detrimental to the game's success in any capacity. In fact, Samus even looks down slightly when you jump far enough into the air making the need for shadows when you jump unneeded. The way that Retro pulled it off is indescribably beautiful and each FPS that has any jumping elements in them should take note and see how it can be done well from this title.
When you pop in Metroid Prime, the opening sequence is a bit similar to Super Metroid where Samus is placed on a derelict station where enemies instead of friends are dead all around the base. As she progresses, the story unfolds slowly and the game forces you to use all your current tools and controls in a light tutorial of sorts with a few on screen windows that appear as you progress. Once you have a grip on the controls, the game opens up and you are transported down to Tallon IV.
On Tallon IV, it's Samus' goal to seek out some artifacts that have been left behind by the long departed Chozo. These artifacts repair and augment the damage to her suit incurred from the explosion aboard the Space Pirate station. These artifacts are centrally the miniature goals within the game and are based on your inability to reach certain areas without them. For example, certain doors can't be opened without certain weapons and certain areas can't be explored without the right tool. As such, the game forces you to venture into new territory to acquire these weapons and then backtrack to explore other areas you had to skip over. Backtracking has become a videogame issue ever since games moved from 2D to 3D over the past few years, but in general, the Metroid series has always handled the process quite well. The only time in Metroid Prime that it actually becomes daunting is at the beginning of the game when you are forced to spend one to two hours exploring and finding everything. After these moments, the game really takes shape and unfolds briskly and beautifully in an orchestra of graphical and mechanical brilliance, unmatched by any game released this generation thus far. You can progress forward and go from room to room blasting everything in site, but it also allows you the opportunity to explore every room based solely on your game play style. Both cases are very rewarding and appeal to the slow and calculating as well as the fast and furious.
Speaking of blasting, the combat in Metroid Prime is awesome. Because of Samus' auto targeting abilities, she can literally wipe out a room full of enemies in no time. All the while dodging fire and melee attacks. Some enemies may be more susceptible to one particular weapon than another, but the game gives you the option, particularly in the first half of the game, which weapon to use based on your preference. For instance, the Power Beam fires rapidly, but is weaker in comparison to the ice cannon which can freeze most enemies on contact, but fires at a much slower rate. Players can also use an array of missiles and super missiles that drain your missile quantity depending on type. Some missiles can be used to shoot a powerful electric beam while others can be powered up to fire one tremendous explosive blast. All of these weapons are not handed to you at the start of course, but each one will be welcomed into your arsenal for its own particular attributes.
Of course, good weapons are nothing unless you have highly intelligent foes to use them on. In this regard, Metroid Prime never disappoints. The game has an amazing AI routine that improves based on your tactics and weapons of choice. When you first encounter the Space Pirates, they're almost a push over since most of them can be defeated using your standard Power Beam, but later in the game, the Pirates adapt to this weapon and your typical tactics, making you have to switch up with missiles and different cannons. The AI also tends to utilize your weapon of choice to their advantage. If they notice that you are attacking them with a weapon that isn't harming them, they will charge in and attack with highly damaging melee strikes. The same goes for when they attack in packs as they circle around you while you concentrate on one of their brethren and take advantage of your weakness. One gripe about the ice cannon is that when it freezes enemies that are in mid air, they don't immediately fall to the ground but instead remain suspended. It's a small complaint, but it would have been much more realistic, not to mention cool, if they fell and shattered on the pavement.
One of the new features introduced in Metroid Prime is Samus' visors. Samus has a total of four visors, thermal, combat, x-ray, and scan and each is used to excellent effect. The thermal visor is used in areas where the lights are all turned off and your only other solution is to follow heat signatures in floor panels and attack enemies that generate moving heat signatures. The most used visor, other than the combat visor of course, is the scan visor. The game itself has a massive amount of items that can be scanned as you progress. Enemies, walls, panels, elevators, weapons, power ups, ships... you name it and these scans provide the context that was previously referred to. Scanning panels for example can reveal information about Chozo lore or Pirate activities in the area, unfolding the story and later unlocking hidden extras. The text scans themselves are very informative and tell Samus about weaknesses in certain enemies, the purpose for the Pirates presence, and even the placement of your next hidden item. The amount of text may actually sway a few people that enjoy shooting more than they do reading. However, it honestly feels more like an interesting distraction from the action rather than a hindrance.
Surprisingly enough, Metroid Prime has graphics that add even further to this otherwise seamless experience. The frame rate is locked at 60 frames per second and the game plays smoothly no matter how many explosions are on screen or how many enemies are blasting away at you. The texture work is stylish and sports a very high resolution and enough graphical effects to adapt to changing conditions. What's even more mind boggling is how Retro managed to stream this entire world without ever needing a moment of load time. From what can be told, each door opens up when you get close to it revealing a whole new room right beyond it. The game almost streams the environments as you go through them without letting up. Each world sports a tremendous amount of detail and artistic beauty that makes them not only pleasing to blast through, but also to explore as well.
Although mentioning all of those stunning graphical effects should be more than enough reason to warrant a purchase, an even bigger reason would have to be the small details incorporated in the game. For starters, certain flashes of light and explosions will allow players to see Samus' face reflect back off of her visor in a mirror like sequence where she even blinks in unison when the flash is really bright, much like a reflection in a car window. Other details include steam precipitation that appears on the visor when passing through clouds of heated smoke and streams of water that flow down the helmet when Samus rises from a puddle of water. With the X-ray visor on, you can see Samus manipulate the switches inside her gun arm as she changes weapons, fires them, or uses missiles. Little details such as these make the game so much more immersive and much more fun to play.
Although the graphics, game play, and story all sound amazing, what would a Metroid game be without a stunning soundtrack. Believe me when I say that Metroid Prime lives up to previous Metroid games in music and sound effects and even surpasses them in certain areas. The music in Prime sounds orchestrated and is very moody, but there isn't a single lick played on an analog instrument. The game is actually done with a high class midi synthesizer instead. The result, besides using a rather low bar method to make the soundtrack as opposed to an orchestra, is still amazing nonetheless. Prime uses quite a few tunes from older Metroid games and remixes them for areas that are similar in atmosphere to make players of the series feel right at home.
Another new addition to the Metroid series is the use of Dolby Pro Logic sound. When hooked to a sound system utilizing such a codec, players will be drawn even deeper into the gaming experience. What's even more impressive is the fact that the audio is dynamic depending on your situation. Once you clear out a room full of enemies, the tense music fades and the ambient theme of the level picks up calming you down at the same time. It's not terribly new to gaming, but it does work quite well in Prime.
The game is also filled with a number of different extras making a second trip through Tallon IV definitely worth your while. Based on your thoroughness in completing the game, it rewards you with one of three different endings. Believe me when I say that achieving 100% is by no means easy as there are tons of items and extras that not only need to be found, but also every item in the game needs to be scanned from walls to panels to bosses to enemies. Without their scan data, 100% can never be achieved and bosses can only be scanned once before they are gone forever. Although this doesn't exactly make achieving a certain percentage much more difficult, but it definitely does make the game that much longer. Speaking of length, the game itself totals at least twenty hours on your first run through. This makes Prime the longest Metroid game to date if not the most thorough and most detailed.
Prime also has a few unlockable items stored within. The most sought after items are those that can be opened with a Gameboy Advance and a copy of Metroid Fusion and a Gamecube to Gameboy Advance link cable. First, you can unlock Samus' Metroid Fusion outfit in Metroid Prime and move through Tallon IV with it. The change to the new suit is merely aesthetic and seeing her wearing it in all the cut scenes is nice, but it's nowhere near as special as the other hidden item. This is a port of the first Metroid game made available for those nostalgic and hardcore Metroid players as a treat from Retro Studios. Despite all these extras, Metroid has no multiplayer to speak of. This may disappoint some people who were expecting such a thing, but truth be told, Metroid is a single player game through and through and it doesn't need multiplayer to increase its replay value or its worth.
Despite its rather deliberately slow pacing in the beginning and a few extremely minor flaws, Metroid Prime is superb. No, it's more than superb, its borderline orgasmic. If ever you needed a single reason to purchase any console, Metroid Prime is it for the Gamecube. In fact, if this game came with a $200 price tag, I would have gladly paid it without hesitation. This is the reason why I'm a gamer and I will forever remember this game, like those in the series that preceded it. Just go buy the game and forever be satisfied with your purchase.