Metroid Prime – A Retrospective Review

(This review is based on the Metroid Prime Trilogy version for the Wii.)

Along with the Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda series, Metroid could be considered one of the “big three” intellectual properties of Nintendo. Despite that, the series was the only one of this group not to receive a game title on the Nintendo 64. When Metroid Prime was announced for release in 2002 on the GameCube, having been developed by a small Texan studio named Retro Studios under the watchful eye of Shigeru Miyamoto, it came with a significant change of gameplay. The change was controversial at first, but soon accepted, and the Metroid Prime series was expanded to a further title on the GameCube, a title on the Wii and two titles on the Nintendo DS. In 2009, the home console Metroid Prime titles were gathered together in the Metroid Prime Trilogy collection, which featured gameplay enhancements to the GameCube games to bring them in line with Metroid Prime 3: Corruption.

As stated above, Metroid Prime is a first-person perspective game incorporating details of the first-person shooter genre, the action-adventure genre and the three-dimensional platformer. The player plays as Samus Aran, an intergalactic bounty hunter who has previously been involved in the infiltration and destruction of the home planet of the Space Pirates, an alien species bent on controlling the rest of the universe, and who are responsible for the destruction of Samus’ own planet.

Having escaped from Zebes, Samus receives a distress call from an abandoned space frigate above the surface of Tallon IV. While exploring the spacecraft, Samus discovers that it belongs to the Space Pirates, some of whom have escaped Zebes and are conducting experiments with a mutagenic and radioactive substance known as Phazon. Destroying one of the Phazon-induced specimens on board the Frigate Orpheon and causing the spacecraft to self-destruct, Samus manages to escape before the crash-landing, chasing the reborn enforcer of the Space Pirates known as Ridley down to the surface of Tallon IV. However, Samus’ powered armour suit has been damaged during the escape, and she must regain her capacities while discovering the secrets of Tallon IV and preventing the Space Pirates’ plans with Phazon.

The original GameCube version of Metroid Prime owed quite a bit to the first-person shooter genre, but limitations of the control system meant that it didn’t play quite like the first-person shooters that were present on other consoles at the time. The Wii version uses updated controls, allowing analogue free-aim with the infra-red sensors of the Wii Remote in addition to the already-present lock-on controls from the original. This makes the game slightly easier, but also makes it less frustrating and more akin to the rest of the first-person shooter genre.

While the controls have changed, the rest of the game stays mostly intact as it was in 2002. The Metroid Prime Trilogy version of Metroid Prime takes influence from the PAL and Japanese versions of the game, cleaning up some exploits found in the original NTSC version, removing some of the plot holes and notably adding an extra routine to one of the closing bosses, along with making it substantially harder in its second form than the NTSC version.

Metroid Prime‘s starting interface includes the Combat Visor, which is used to fight opponents in the visible spectrum, along with the Scan Visor, which represents the biggest change from the standard first-person shooter genre. The Scan Visor is used to analyse the environment, giving details on the weak spots of enemies, environmental hazards and interesting details about the surroundings. More visors can be found throughout the game, giving perspectives in different electromagnetic spectra.

Joining the analysis equipment is a wide assortment of weaponry. The early part of the game allows you access to a few choice pieces of hardware, including the Charge Beam, a powered-up version of the rapid-fire Power Beam which Samus carries in her arm cannon, the Missile Launcher, the Morph Ball, a device which shrinks Samus into a metre-wide ball which allows access to tunnels, along with the Morph Ball Bomb, which allows for attacks while in this smaller form. All of this apart from the Power Beam is removed from you during the end of the prologue, but as the game progresses, these weapons are returned and joined by more powerful weapons, including the electrical Wave Beam and the powerful Super Missile.

All of these devices contribute to the exploration process, and most of them are required in some way or another to proceed through the game. Despite the first-person perspective and the inclusion of shooting mechanics, this game is not first-and-foremost an FPS game. The adventure component shows through, particularly with various components borrowed from Nintendo’s other adventure games. This is perhaps most apparent when it comes to the boss battles, which are treated quite separately from the standard enemy encounters, and require specific strategies to beat. The Scan Visor and the lock-on system are imperative for beating the boss battles, as is an appropriate knowledge of the boss movement sequences. As such, these battles play more like a first-person perspective run through a boss in the three-dimensional The Legend of Zelda games than a traditional FPS boss battle, and the game benefits for that.

The developers didn’t forget the Metroid series’ platforming elements either, as there are still a few platforming-style parts of the game. Samus’ jumping characteristics, including a reasonably long hang time and a lack of falling damage, serve to make this part of the game quite a bit more tolerable than other first-person games with jumping elements. Combining all of the elements of this game together into a cohesive whole gives an experience which is quite a bit different than other games in the first-person shooter genre.

One of the things which has notably remained from the game’s release in 2002 are the graphics. Despite the gap of almost ten years, the graphics in Metroid Prime still look impressive today, despite the low resolution and especially against the other titles on the Wii. Whether this is an indictment of the graphical standards of the Wii or more a reflection on the high quality of Metroid Prime‘s graphics in the first place, I’m not sure, but the graphical design and the level of detail make areas such as Magmoor Caverns and Phendrana Drifts still look impressive. There are some specific features which add to the quality, such as the water effects when Samus emerges from being submerged, and the reflection of Samus’ face on her visor after a bright flash of light, but a couple of the minor details in the GameCube version, such as ice freezing over on a charged Ice Beam, were removed for technical reasons.

Another element which has remained impressive almost ten years later is the sound and music of the game. The sound effects sound authentic enough to remain immersive, while Samus Aran’s (limited) voice acting is done by the now well-known voice actress, Jennifer Hale. However, the music is quite a bit more distinctive, with many tracks being inspired by Metroid, Metroid II: Return of Samus and Super Metroid tracks of the past, and others being original compositions. The soundtrack, composed by Kenji Yamamoto, combines immersive, catchy remixes of classic tracks for the environments with pounding, exciting tracks for the boss battles, and all-in-all works very well for the game. Particular highlights include the themes for Phendrana Drifts and Tallon Overworld, along with the remix of Ridley’s classic boss battle theme from Super Metroid.

I was deeply impressed by how fresh Metroid Prime still feels, especially a whole generation after its original release, but there were a few niggles which came from the adaptation onto the Wii controls. The addition of free aim is a godsend in some respects, making certain battles quite a bit easier, but playing with a sensitive infra-red sensor in one hand pointed towards the screen is not always a comfortable position to be in. While the projectiles and hitboxes in Metroid Prime are forgiving enough of slight deviations, sometimes it’s difficult to get your aim quite right because of small muscular tremors shaking your bead off the target. What’s more, the position that I had to adopt in order to brace my arm caused more fatigue than playing with the original GameCube controls that I was experienced to from Metroid Prime 2: Echoes.

Some experienced Metroid Prime players may therefore be wondering what the point is in getting the Metroid Prime Trilogy collection. To be honest, if you’ve played the GameCube version of the game, particularly the PAL localisation, you’re not missing much – it’s pretty much the same game with different controls, and the GameCube version still works on the Wii. However, if you’re new to the series, the collection is extraordinarily generous, providing three fully-featured games for a low price. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to get the game through retail outlets any more; the Metroid Prime Trilogy collection was a limited edition offer, meaning the only way to get the game is to buy a second-hand copy. In any circumstance, it’s still the easiest way to get all three games at once.

Bottom Line: Metroid Prime has managed to stay surprisingly fresh since its release. The motion controls can make the game easier, but can be frustrating to deal with at times.

Recommendation: If you’re a new player to the series, track down the Metroid Prime Trilogy collection. It’s worth the search, with an extraordinarily generous offer. Those who have played the games before won’t gain much more of an experience, though.

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