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Rewind Review - Metroid Prime

Metroid Prime begins the series of first-person shooters set in the Metroid universe and it does it remarkably well.

We now arrive at Day 5 of my rewind reviews on the beloved Metroid series. Last time we looked at Metroid Fusion a 2D Metroid on the Gameboy Advance system that marked the end of a eight-year hiatus of the series. In that review I mentioned that Fusion did not arrive alone, for on the same day Metroid Prime was released on the Nintendo Gamecube console.

Metroid Prime stands as the first game to receive a higher score than the fan-favorite Super Metroid, and is often refered to as a game that redefined the series. Fans of Super Metroid have been quick to label it as the 3D equivalent of what they consider the perfect Metroid experience, and if Metacritic's 97 score can be taken seriously then it is with good reason.

But does the game truly stand the tests of time? After all, it was not difficult to show that Super Metroid did not survive the Rewind Review treatment as well as fans thought it would.

Today we will rewind the clock to 2002, and revisit Metroid Prime on the Gamecube (as well as its Metroid Prime Trilogy port) to see if the game truly stands up to the praise it still receives. As with all Rewind Reviews, Metroid Prime will undergo a review process through the eyes of a 2015 critic. No nostalgia glasses, no excuses, no rationalizing hardware limitations, and no sparing myself from angry fans and readers. Nothing will excuse this game from anything that we - as modern gamers - would expect from the genre today. Now let's make the transition to 3D to blast some Space Pirates with Metroid Prime on the Nintendo Gamecube.

The Plot

Metroid Prime - unlike Metroid Fusion - does not stray from the series' formula of not using cutscenes or narrated skits to portray anything resembling a story. Instead Prime takes more inspiration from Super Metroid by keeping all story within the gameplay. This of course was a decision made by the developers after-the-fact as evident by an unused introductory monologue found on the game's ISO file that can be found here.

While the game does not offer much in terms of a traditional narrative, many of Super Metroid's "story through gameplay" tricks are present, as well as a handful of in-game cinematics that take place during key moments. A new trick of telling a story that is unique to Prime is the ability to scan objects, computers, and so on. By doing so players can find out more about the environment, some backstory, as well as brief bios about creatures.

From the scans and cutscenes we can piece together the following about the story: Samus Aran intercepted a distress signal from a Space Pirate frigate that had managed to escape Zebes after the events of Metroid. Not a single passenger survived the disaster that struck the frigate; however, there were signs of genetic manipulation using an unknown substance known as "phazon." This phazon caused extreme changes to any bioform's physical and mental state, resulting in the frigate being overrun. 

While the Varia Suit has handled everything from being dragged along a wall to walking through lava in Norfair, getting knocked into a wall is its one true weakness. Take note, Ridley.

After Samus destroys the Parasite Queen, the creature falls into the reactor resulting in a timed escape sequence in which players must traverse the frigate in reverse.

During Samus's escape, she spots her old nemesis - Ridley - escaping to the world below with the aid of some newly acquired cybernetic upgrades. This prompts Samus to pursue the creature, but as she turns the last corner toward the elevator she loses all the upgrades she found in Metroid as a result of an explosion (which is arguably the weakest excuse for her powers being taken away in the entire series) before escaping in her gunship.

With nothing more than her original Metroid NES Power Suit, Samus must reclaim her powerups while exploring the various areas of Tallon IV

After landing on Talon IV, Samus begins exploring in an attempt to regain her abilities, while simultaneously trying to find the whereabouts of Ridley. While exploring the Talon Overworld, Chozo Ruins, Magmoor Caverns, and more, Samus discovers something much more sinister.

A strange meteor known to the Space Pirates as a "leviathan" brought massive amounts of phazon to the planet, corrupting everything from the creatures to the ghosts of the Chozo that once lived here. Considering that the Space Pirates have been researching and using phazon for some time, it can only be assumed that Samus's next logical step would be finding a way to cure the planet of its phazon corruption as to prevent them from gaining a powerful weapon against the Galactic Federation.

Start of Spoilers

To be honest, there's not really much to spoil in terms of plot, however, I will add in a spoiler's warning regardless.

After searching for the Chozo Artifacts, Samus enters the Impact Crater, coming into contact with a creature known as Metroid Prime (didn't see that coming, did you?). The creature steals her Phazon Suit, and after a narrow escape Samus leaves Tallon IV in search of her next mission.

End of Spoilers
The log book provides a great number of short stories that fill in the gaps in the core narrative

Despite trying not to give too much away, I honestly have given away just about everything the game has to offer in terms of core narrative. However, the true story is in the scan visor's logbook.

I cannot go into enough detail about how ingenious the use of the scans are since they provide players with a great understanding of what happened prior to the game's events (both in the series and within the game's narrative) without breaking the game's pacing if players actually don't want to bother with it. It is actually quite difficult to summarize how effective this is within the confines of a review, so you - as readers - will have to take my word on it, look it up in a wikia page, or play the game for yourselves to understand. All I can say is: good job Retro Stuidios on this one.

Gameplay

The Beautiful: (Wii/Wii U Version only)
Once you play Metroid Prime with a Wii Remote, and have the benefits of widescreen and progressive scanning, you will be hard pressed to go back to the Gamecube version of the game

Please understand that while I did play the original Gamecube version in my youth, the Wii version is simply superior for one reason, and one reason alone: motion controls. Metroid Prime: Trilogy or Metroid Prime: New Play Control! both highlight what the Wii Remote was born for - first-person shooters.

Never in my entire life have I enjoyed a first-person game as much as I did the Prime series, and the motion controls provide everything that Metroid Prime lacked in its Gamecube release, namely the ball jump (which really helps in terms of keeping the game flowing) and free aiming (which removes a lot of the difficulty from the original lock-on system). For more information, read the section on "the bad".

The Good: (Both Versions)

This game adds a lot to the Metroid series that was not there before, the biggest change - of course - being the transition from 2D to 3D. Whereas many companies could have simply taken Super Metroid and gave it a third dimension side-scroll treatment, Metroid Prime actually much more.

By adding the previously mentioned scan visor players are more immersed in the game by understanding not only a slew of information that would have been otherwise impossible to attain without narration, but also by providing players with more of what Samus sees. While the later point extends to the variety of visors overall, the scan visor is the only one that actually presents us with information that we would expect Samus to see, even in the 2D games while fighting the rather imposing bosses. By presenting players with information via the scan visor, as well as biological scans in the images on either side of the HUD, players feel more like a bounty hunter, learning about their opponents before deciding on the best way to defeat them.

Another feature that caught my attention was the use of multiple beam weapons. No longer are all beams used simultaneously, instead they are each used separately by equipping them in real-time using the d-pad (or the "-" button in the Wii version).

By doing so we once again avoid the ice-plasma-wave-charge beam of death, and move more into the realm of secluded beams. While this also results in some enemies having a single weakness that feels a bit shoehorned in for the sake of forcing variety in gameplay, it is ultimately better than having a single, overpowered beam.

The grapple beam has its own button!

While you may miss a platform once or twice during a run due to the first-person perspective, everything feels as though it was your fault since the controls are spot on. Movement speed is carefully calibrated on the analog stick, and jumping does not feel too floaty or heavy at any time (save for underwater until you get the Gravity Suit).

The Morph Ball is also an interesting method of traversing the landscape thanks to the ball no longer feeling like a circular version of Samus, and instead feeling more like an actual weighted ball of metal.

Enemy variety once again returns, this time with a roster of 79 different creatures that are out to kill you. Thanks to the 3D perspective these creatures boast a stunning array of interesting weak-points whether it be behind them, underneath them, or some other odd direction in addition to whatever weaknesses we've come to expect over the course of the series.

Bosses in particular are more impressive than ever since being inside Samus's suit makes enemies such as the Omega Pirate feel as though they are actually towering over you. It is a feat that no 2D Metroid to date has ever been able to emulate.

The map screen is fully functional and does a good job of relaying information

One last notable feature is the addition of "points of interest." Similar to the game's sister title Fusion, Prime provides players with hints as to their next goal by receiving "incoming transmissions" from the gunship about every ten minutes.

This prevents one of the main issues that I found in Super Metroid, namely wondering where the heck you are supposed to go unless you found that one little tiny crack that you would have never spotted otherwise. While this feature arguably makes the game slightly more linear, the number of sequence breaks that are available in the Gamecube version in particular will give players at least some feeling as though they are pioneer explorers scouring the world for the first time.

The... Subjective?

I must get this out of my system: Metroid Prime is Super Metroid 3D. There, I said it.

The reason I say this is that literally every single item in Metroid Prime is from Super Metroid. In fact, the only arguably "new" item acquired in Metroid Prime is the Thermal Visor, and even that is merely an excuse to add in invisible enemies to the game, something that could have simply been blended in with the X-Ray Visor. Other upgrades exist as well, but they are completely optional and not required to beat the game (in fact, they're just about useless as weapons). 

If the purpose of weapons such as the flamethrower is to simply eat up your missiles, then they are indeed effective. Otherwise, they provide nothing to the game worth noting since the elemental power beams are more than enough to dispatch all foes you can find in the game.

Ultimately, this is not a factor that plays for or against the game in my final rating. I just think that anyone who believes the game deserving of anything higher than an 8 rating should understand that Metroid Prime does not do anything remarkably profound for the series in terms of its core mechanics. Metroid Prime does not distance itself far enough from the formula to warrant a higher score.

The Bad: (Both Versions)
The Omega Pirate is a beast of a boss, but feels more like a regular enemy that has more health

The game lacks difficulty. While bosses towering over me was a daunting experience, defeating them was not. What Metroid Prime suffers from in terms of bosses (at least several of them) is Legend of Zelda Syndrome, namely the "Three-Hit Rule." Give or take some bosses in Prime, most function in a way similar to a Legend of Zelda boss: avoid its main attack, break its armor, do the damage-dealer, repeat. Some bosses have features such as minions that will fight alongside it or some form of defense, however, the greater bulk of them follow this formula.

While this is not a problem per se, it does call for this section's existence since it is not typical of a Metroid game where most enemies are designed to take a beating while performing a certain routine. There is also the matter of each boss only having one method for victory, something that seems to have been lost in the transition to 3D.

Another small issue is the return of the indomitable Gravity Suit. While it only prevents 20% of damage (drastically less than any other Metroid so far), Metroid Prime also sports the lowest damage done by enemies in the series. Unless players set the difficulty to the higher settings, Metroid Prime is more about exploring and less about combat difficulty. Honestly, the game is easy.

The Bad: (Gamecube Version)
The pain of Metroid (NES)'s bomb jumping returns, making simple tasks like this a five-second affair

Controls. The inability to bomb jump, aim freely, and move with dual-stick control makes Samus feel more like a tank and less like a cyber-soldier. Locking-on to enemies while fighting feels unnatural, and while it does not break the gameplay it does break immersion since Samus's aim becomes as steady as - once again - a tank.

Considering that we were flipping around, wall-jumping, and running around at the speed of sound (okay, maybe the speed booster doesn't go that fast) it doesn't feel like I am playing as Samus Aran. Instead I feel like I'm playing as Samus's overweight cousin (or maybe one of those Federation Marines who seem to have a habit of just standing in one place while shooting in Prime: Corruption).

While the game is ultimately designed to work around this issue - and does so extremely well - I feel that it is worth mentioning for those who are considering buying the game for the first time and deciding between the Gamecube or Wii/Wii U versions.

Presentation

This game is beautiful, no lie. While I cannot speak so much so for the Gamecube version due to its output limitations, I can say that the Wii U port of Metroid Prime: Trilogy has aged extremely well for a game developed in 2002. After almost 13 years, Metroid Prime's art style has allowed the models to transcend the limitations of the hardware, providing cleanly cut flat-faced levels that have highly detailed textures that do not show their true quality unless you bring the camera to a point-blank range.

Character and creature models are also well designed, and while their textures are visibly poorer when viewed up close (such as the cut scenes that play upon starting or resuming the game from a save point) Samus herself looks good enough to suggest a PC game at medium settings.

Samus's arrival on the Pirate Frigate looks beautiful in 1080p on the Wii U

The atmosphere feels very real, for each area keeps to a certain theme that works. The Chozo Ruins feel as though they were once lived in, each part of the temple looking like an actual advanced civilization lived on Tallon IV. The Magmoor Cavern's mechanical/lava theme shows what the Space Pirates are willing to do in order to survive. The Phendrana Drifts make you feel isolated among all the ice and snow. It is simply a beautifully designed world that truly encapsulates what a space exploration game should feel like.

A neat detail that is often overlooked in terms of presentation is the visor itself. While we all take it for granted at this point that a helmet gets stains on it if splashed by mud or rain, this game takes things a step further. What I noticed in this game - and what a lot of modern first-person games still don't do - is that the HUD moves with your eyes. I don't mean this literally as it would be impossible, however, it does move to where your eyes ought to be. For example: if I am panning the camera right, my eyes are logically going to be closer to the right hand side of the screen. The HUD is there. The motion is barely noticeable during gameplay, but it makes a world of difference in a game where knowing which visor, which beam, and how much health you have is important.

Audio in Metroid Prime is by far the greatest in the series. While the music is not as ambient as it has been in some previous titles, it certainly earns its place as having some of the most alluring. I say alluring simply due to the fact that I always felt a drive to keep moving forward when tunes such as the Magmoor Caverns theme (a remix of the Norfair Depths theme from Super Metroid) or the Chozo Ruins themes were playing. Sound effects are also very crisp, and the arm cannon actually sounds like one thanks to the Gamecube's modern sound devices. Each missile sounds satisfying, every enemy destroyed sounds like an actual creature, and just about everything in terms of sound design are nothing short of Nintendo's seal of approval.

The Verdict

While Metroid Prime's Gamecube version has some minor flaws, both versions of the game are undeniably an experience worth having. What stops me from giving Metroid Prime a 10 (which I know many fans would expect) is simply that it does have its flaws in game design, particularly in the Gamecube version. It also does not distance itself from Super Metroid enough to warrant a 9 score which is reserved for games that change up the formula or provide enough of a new experience that the game feels "fresh."

That being said, I would recommend this game to anyone who is not too invested in Metroid's lore, or anyone who simply wants to play a good exploration/first-person shooter. Much like Half-LifeMetroid Prime is a prime example (sorry) of what a first-person adventure game should be. By providing immersive gameplay features, an amazing soundtrack, and great controls, Metroid Prime reinvents the Metroid series without straying too far from its roots.

What are your opinions on Metroid Prime? Do you think I am a bit harsh for not giving the game a 9 on the grounds that it does not do enough to reinvent the series? Voice your opinions in the comment section below!

Be sure to check back on this article, or the GameSkinny front page for future reviews as we make our way from the original 1986 Metroid on the NES to the 2010 release of Metroid: Other M. See you next mission!

Reviews in this Series:

Our Rating
8
Metroid Prime begins the series of first-person shooters set in the Metroid universe and it does it remarkably well.
Published Jul. 14th 2015

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