Metroid Prime (GameCube) review
"Let's just say - it's about damn time. Metroid, long the ignored bastard red head of the Nintendo all-stars, has finally been redone for the next generation of video gaming. The Mario Brothers, the Legend of Zelda and Donkey Kong had been getting next-gen titles for years. Sonic the Hedgehog and Final Fantasy had gone on to huge success in the next-gen systems of the Nintendo 64, Playstation and Dreamcast. Metroid, Metroid II: The Return of Samus and Super Metroid had long been considered among ..."
Let's just say - it's about damn time. Metroid, long the ignored bastard red head of the Nintendo all-stars, has finally been redone for the next generation of video gaming. The Mario Brothers, the Legend of Zelda and Donkey Kong had been getting next-gen titles for years. Sonic the Hedgehog and Final Fantasy had gone on to huge success in the next-gen systems of the Nintendo 64, Playstation and Dreamcast. Metroid, Metroid II: The Return of Samus and Super Metroid had long been considered among the best titles on their respective systems. What took so long for Metroid to get a facelift?
Whatever the reason, the completely unknown company known as Retro Studios finally took it upon themselves to create Metroid Prime. Originally slated to be a Nintendo 64 release, it was ultimately decided the game was too huge to be released on the Nintendo 64's limited cartridge format (a limitation which had giving Nintendo problems for years, and was a contributing factor in Squenix's move to produce games on the Sony Playstation). And so it was pushed to Nintendo's tentatively titled Dolphin. Diehard Metroid fans eventually began to despair that they would ever see another release in the series, until we finally got it. Metroid Prime on the Gamecube in November 2002.
Metroid titles have always had a traditional concept - large areas filled with hundreds of secret passages. Some passages lead to riches, others to dead ends and traps. Retro did a wonderful job of reproducing this theme in a 3-D format, even if they did opt to leave out the dead ends. Every single path leads somewhere, though frequently you need items you won't obtain until much later in the game to actually travel to the end of the road.
A war has been raging between gamers since this game was launched - is it a First-Person Shooter or a First-Person Adventure? The game contains an overwhelming amount of run-and-gunning, it's true. But it also requires just as much exploration (a hallmark of Adventure games), and the lack of ammo capacities in all four of your weapons does not encourage players to be conservative in their use of stronger weapons (a hallmark of FPS titles). I prefer to think of it as an Open Ended Shooter. An item must be obtained, which in turn gives you access to another area with another item, which in turn leads to another are with another item, and so on and so forth. The way the game is designed, however, is far from linear. Much backtracking is required, especially the further you progress in the game, and the more of the planet's surface you explore the more routes into older areas you can discover. There is literally five ways to get to the same place, some longer but easier, others shorter but more grueling.
Speaking of the planet's surface, this is where the series takes a big step apart from its predecessors. Metroid, Metroid II and Super Metroid all took place (for the most part) in caverns underneath a planet's surface. And though Metroid Prime does contain some cavern exploration, the overwhelming majority of the game is on the surface of a rich, vibrant planet. The different areas lead from the borders of a jungle, to the ancient ruins of a great Chozo city, to the molten caverns beneath the planet, then onto the icy borderlands and a Space Pirate Base, a crashed spaceship submerged in a massive lake, and finally a space pirate mining facility. Each area is as large as they are diverse, and each has their own unique feeling associated with it. Long tracks dot the Magmoor Caverns, walls crumble and disintegrate in the Chozo Ruins, and futuristic technology abounds in the Phazon Mines.
I should hardly need to mention Samus' legendary abilities, but I will anyway. Her amazing power suit grants her the ability to jump much farther then a normal human and survive indefinitely underwater and in space. Her right arm doubles as a gun which can be modified to fire different kinds of energy, and most famously she can morph into a perfect sphere and access small tunnels. The way the Morph Ball is implemented into the game is simply ingenious. Rolling into the morph ball increases Samus' speed considerably and moves the game's perspective to the 3rd person. Rolling into small tunnels, fissures and cracks (and there are a lot of these) will turn the perspective once again into a side scrolling view, giving a very classic Metroid feel to the 3-D environment.
Grappling Hooks, four different morph ball upgrades, four different kinds of power suits and four different visors round out Samus' arsenal, and each is brilliantly crafted to interact with the environment. Boost Ball upgrades let Samus gain speed in half pipes, and Spider Ball upgrades let Samus attach to magnetic rails. The X-Ray Visor lets Samus see through walls and see hidden enemies, and the Thermal Visor distinguishes between hot and cold. Perhaps most useful of all is the Scan Visor. Using the Scan Visor allows you to register enemies, locations and objects into the Power Suits internal computer. Doing so will reveal information about the environment and enemy weaknesses.
The game begins when Samus receives a distress call from a Space Pirate Frigate orbiting the planet Tallon IV. Arriving at the scene, Samus explores the ship and receives a less-then-warm welcome from the Space Pirates aboard, all of whom are near death. Reaching the core of the ship, Samus discovers the source of the Space Pirates' troubles: a large parasite has taken control of the ship and taken up residence in the power core. Samus defeats the creature, but also destroys the core in the process. Samus flees the ship, which begins to fall towards the planet and burn up in the atmosphere. On the way out, Samus sees an old foe: Ridley, who had supposedly been killed in Samus' previous adventures in Super Metroid. Now somewhere between monster and machine, Ridley flees the ship when Samus does and flies to the surface of Tallon IV. Samus, knowing how dangerous Ridley is, follows. On the surface of the planet, Samus finds more Space Pirate installations and uncovers the terrible secret behind their presence there.
What begins as a good old fashioned bounty hunt for Ridley escalates into a fight for the entire galaxy. Metroid Prime has an excellent story if you take the time to look for it. Most of it is found in the form of Chozo Lore and Space Pirate Logs, so finding and scanning as much as possible is very important to fully understand the game's lengthy back story. The tale of the rise and fall of the Chozo empire and the secret mission of the Space Pirates is more then worth the price of admission.
The game has a simple control scheme, which is useful since the gameplay is so varied. You never find yourself scrambling for the proper button in the heat of battle. The Joystick controls movement, while the D-Pad chooses visors. The C-Stick changes weapons. B jumps, and A fires your weapon. Locking onto enemies and targets is easy with the L Button, and the R button gives you manual control over where you aim. This control scheme has one flaw: there is no real way to sidestep without targeting something first. This feels very weird at first, especially to FPS veterans, but you get the hang of it with persistence.
One of the best things about the game is the graphics, which is actually quite interesting since many GCN titles which began development on the Nintendo 64 are graphically sub par. Everything in the game feels very real and alive, from the Space Pirates to the indigenous wildlife to the ever-present Metroids. The Chozo Ruins actually look like the ruins of an ancient alien empire, the molten Magmoor Caverns look as though they were carved out by burning lava. The effects of the environment on Samus' suit are even apparent; rain splatters on the visor, and explosions at close range reflect Samus' face back at her. There is nothing here for graphic whores to nitpick about.
Like the graphics, the sound is absolutely outstanding. The metallic clanks and crunches of Samus' suit are always present and sound very real, as are the grunts of exertion from our heroine. Each enemy has their own unique sound set; careful listening can identify enemies before you even see them. Each weapon sounds exactly how you would expect it to. The Ice Canon sounds cold, the Plasma Beam sounds blazingly hot. The music is excellent, featuring large numbers of remixed versions of classic Metroid tunes, and each is as memorable as ever.
Metroid Prime comes with a modest amount of extras, most of which require what I like to call 'Needless Extra Stuff' to access. Connecting the GBA game Metroid Fusion to the Gamecube while Metroid Prime is running will give you access to two bonuses: The ability to use the alternate Fusion suit in Metroid Prime, and the option to play the classic NES game Metroid. Picture galleries can be accessed by scanning everything, and a harder difficulty level is opened once you complete the game once. The Extras are sparse and none are terribly exciting (unless you're really into classic NES games), but the main game itself has enough meat in it for this to not be much of an issue.
The main adventure itself is modestly long. To beat it the first time most players average about ten to twelve hours, twice that to find everything. The game's basic difficulty level has a few tricky moments but isn't too grueling, but this is supplemented by a harder difficulty level unlocked by beating the game on the Normal difficulty level. When it comes to replay value, Retro succeeds in honoring old Metroid games once again: Completing Metroid Prime over again is simply a joy to do, the game is so much fun. And given the open ended nature of the game, you can beat it in any manner you wish. Find everything for the Maximum Completion, or find nothing for Minimum Completion. Find ways to access areas without using items, otherwise known as Sequence Breaking. Just trying to beat your own best time for completing the game is great fun all its own. Personally, I beat this game twice in one sitting and would've gone for a third if it wasn't 3 AM.
Gameplay: 9 out of 10
Story: 4 out of 5
Controls: 7 out of 10
Graphics: 5 out of 5
Sound and Music: 5 out of 5
Extras: 3 out of 5
Game Length, Difficulty and Replay Value: 10 out of 10
Overall Score: 8.6 out of 10
The Good: Metroid Prime features two difficulty levels and lots to find and do in an already modestly large game. The original Metroid is included if you have a GBA-GCN Link cable and the Metroid Fusion game cartridge. Metroid for the NES is just as hard as it always was, too.
The Bad: The game requires you to find, and then read a great deal of scannable objects to get the full story. Not only is it disorienting when you miss a scan, oftentimes the scans are found out of order on purpose. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but having to look for the story is definitely a minus, even if it is a small one. Many of the bonus features require “Extra Stuff” to access them.
The Ugly: Some scannable creatures, most notably bosses and a few Technological objects, but also a few standard enemies, can be missed entirely and never seen again. This, obviously, sucks if you're not paying attention.
Before the release of Metroid Prime, there were very few other games out there which came with the distinction of 'Best Reason to own a Gamecube.' Anyone with a Gamecube who does not have this game is depriving themselves of one of the best experiences on the console, or any console for that matter. Never before have we felt more like truly being lost on an alien world. Games have come close, but never achieving the point of immersion achieved in Metroid Prime. It's a Player's Choice title for good reason.
Community review by mrshotgun (March 15, 2007)
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