By Drew D. / January 19th, 2017
|Original Release Date||Nov 17, 2002|
I personally can’t think of a smoother transition from 2D to 3D than Metroid Prime. Not only did Nintendo and Retro Studios achieve a conversion so many others failed at, but they accomplished this seamless evolution with one of the most beloved series in gaming. On top of that, Metroid Prime stands out as one of the greatest action adventure games to date, delivering a flawless production full of awe and adrenaline.
Before its debut, fans of Metroid had their doubts about Metroid Prime. Super Metroid was an overwhelming success and is still regarded as one of the best 2D action adventures ever. The devs at Retro Studios had their work cut out for them, as it was their task to replicate everything that makes Metroid brilliant, add the necessary elements for it to function in a 3D environment, and also create a story, mechanics, and gameplay capable of standing on their own. Add in the news that the game would be in first-person and you had a situation where skepticism abounded.
However, Retro Studios truly produced a work of art with Metroid Prime. It possesses all of the traits that made its predecessors great, it introduces an entirely new way to experience the power and superiority of Samus, and there is such an astounding amount of creativity to the puzzles, battles, and exploration that I find it impossible to imagine the execution of Metroid Prime any other way. If I were to try and reimagine any of its parts, those ideas would fall short of what the devs delivered. It all works so perfectly that it doesn’t even feel like a first-person shooter at all and calling it one almost seems like a mistake (or an insult) simply because of how much that categorization fails to describe this masterpiece.
Metroid Prime is the first of a series of Prime games that take place between Metroid and Metroid II that introduces one of the most intriguing threats Samus has ever faced. This new enemy is called Phazon and while at first it just seems like a substance that possesses radioactive properties, it turns out that Phazon is far more complex. I love how Retro Studios even introduces Phazon as mere ore, mined on the planet Tallon IV, but then throughout the game they reveal just how dangerous it is and what secrets it’s hiding. Although the devs take the concept of Phazon’s hidden potential to new levels in later games, in Metroid Prime, Phazon is still a legitimate antagonist. In this game, the planet Tallon IV is being unnaturally transformed by Phazon. It’s at first unclear how Phazon came to the planet and just how dangerous it is, but the story is unfolded as Samus collects the various lore and data entries left by a colony of Chozo that recently succumbed to the Phazon’s toxicity. Stealing data from the Space Pirates, as they conduct their own research, also helps color in the story, as they begin to learn of Phazon’s manipulative, evolutionary properties. The planet’s indigenes are infected, the Pirates are conducting their own live experiments, and the Chozo failed to contain this spreading menace. So of course, Samus takes it upon herself to face off against the most dangerous enemies she has seen to return the planet to its once peaceful existence. With the story and the intuitive ways it’s delivered, a very deep, impressive narrative is told that invokes palpable terror and urgency.
Even with such an engrossing story, gameplay is the defining element of Metroid Prime and the devs deliver a flawless product. As I mentioned earlier, Metroid Prime is set up like a first-person shooter in that you view the world through Samus’s visor, beam cannon at the ready. However, we are quick to learn that this game is far more than aiming and shooting. In the initial portion of the game, we are shown how some of Samus’s classic abilities function in 3D. Using the morph ball pulls the camera back from first-person to third-person and allows a new level of navigation and exploration through narrow areas. The jump, double jump, and grapple beam all allow Samus to clear major gaps and obstacles, while also providing innovative platforming more common to action adventure games. Samus’s agility is shown off through quick strafing, performed by locking-on to an enemy and tapping left/ right and jump. Speaking of the lock-on, most shooters lack a full lock-on. However, it is very necessary for Metroid Prime. In past Metroid games, enemies have a hypnotically wide and varied set of movements. That has been brought over to Metroid Prime, since it is such a defining component of Metroid’s challenge. The lock-on is vital to keeping up with the pace of enemies; paying homage to the 2D games while not affecting the challenge or treacherousness of these baddies. Something else I was very impressed with was the tractor beam functionality of the charge beam. In a 2D world, when you defeat an enemy and they drop items or energy, you would walk or jump to collect them. However, that doesn’t work so well in first-person, especially if these items are floating all around and you are in frequent need of them. This simple solution speeds up gameplay and makes what could have been a chore a very natural means of collection. I think this is what demonstrates Metroid Prime’s superiority; just how natural, logical, and seamless gameplay has been made for us players. The devs give such a polished end product that it feels like this is how Metroid has always been.
Another example of this intuitive, sleek gameplay comes with the different visors and beam weapons. The scan visor in particular opens the game up completely, allowing players to interact with almost everything in the world around them. It’s through the lens of the scan visor that much of the story is revealed, as this visor translates both hacked data and written text. More than just reading text, the scan visor can really do anything from collecting data to revealing hints, download maps, activating switches, unlocking doors, power up or down areas for access, and the list goes on. This level of interactivity is key to the brilliance of this game. The other visors also add to the level of immersion players will get to experience when sweeping areas for clues to puzzles, or unraveling the story. For example, you may use the scan visor to locate a panel used to unlock a door. However, it’s not receiving power so the player will need to switch to the thermal visor to find the charge point and fire the wave beam to electrically power up the panel. With some of these puzzles, you may need to utilize several different visors and beam weapons to identify, power up, freeze, or melt different panels, switches or obstacles to proceed. It’s all incredibly clever and never difficult to the point of exhausting. The degree of interactivity and design that went into this game demonstrates that not only is this an action adventure, it’s a damn fantastic one.
The devs really went all out as the aesthetics of Metroid Prime are in league with the excellent gameplay and story. The environments are full of detail and purpose that further serve the story and create a tone full of feeling. The Chozo technology integrated throughout the planet’s natural life conveys the efforts of symbiosis, yet its decayed state also alludes to the Chozo’s demise. The changes in nature from less contaminated areas to more toxic environments is shown through the mutated, dilapidated appearance of the vegetation all around. All of these details encapsulate feelings of dread and torment, as the very planet suffers. I believe the artists did an excellent job of creating that atmosphere of life seeping away through their level of detail. However, it’s not only the spectacular visuals, but the superior audio that adds to the overall tone. The soundtrack to Metroid Prime is incredible. Each track fits the environment or event perfectly. From the soft, slow track playing as you explore the serene Phendrana Drifts to the fast paced, dynamically driven remix of Ridley’s theme, each piece of music not only fits the situation, but contributes its own impact. A personal favorite is the boss theme for the Thardus battle. Thardus is an extremely dangerous, bizarre amalgamation of Phazon and animated rock. Its appearance, attacks, and behavior are illogical and the soundtrack is just as unsettling, yet the jarring feelings of alarm and jeopardy it instills matches up perfectly with the stone colossus. There is no rhyme or reason to this creature or its power and the soundtrack conveys just that with its own measures of harsh volume and dynamic articulation. Needless to say I was very impressed, which was all the more evident with the strong sense of satisfaction and relief I felt after beating the behemoth. Visuals and audio together forge a fundamental part of the game that strongly contributes to the final product in such a way that it would be a disservice were it presented any other way.
Metroid Prime was an instant classic when it debuted, bringing a long awaited addition to the Metroid series. It was fully worth that wait, as the devs gifted players an experience overwhelmingly satisfying throughout. Superior gameplay paired with the unraveling of a vivid, intense story amplified by invigorating aesthetics makes Metroid Prime a game worthy of the love, respect, and awe it so rightfully deserves.
GameCubegcnMetroidmetroid primeNintendoPhazonPrimeRetro StudiosSamusSamus Aran