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Metroid Prime Trilogy (Wii) artwork

Metroid Prime Trilogy (Wii) review

"Even after all these years, Metroid Prime is still the second-best game I’ve ever played, yet its style of play caters to a very specific taste that, understandably, not all gamers will gel with. Replaying the three games in the aptly titled Metroid Prime Trilogy, I noticed that as the series progresses, it seems increasingly eager to expand its audience. The original was a thing of quiet, delicate beauty, and yet by the third installment we’re teaming up with a band of mercenaries..."

Even after all these years, Metroid Prime is still the second-best game I’ve ever played, yet its style of play caters to a very specific taste that, understandably, not all gamers will gel with. Replaying the three games in the aptly titled Metroid Prime Trilogy, I noticed that as the series progresses, it seems increasingly eager to expand its audience. The original was a thing of quiet, delicate beauty, and yet by the third installment we’re teaming up with a band of mercenaries to defend a military base from waves of space pirates being shuttled in by dropship, and then pitted in a boss battle against an angry Ridley while falling down the galaxy’s longest vertical shaft… and that’s within the first hour. While much on the surface has been kept intact throughout the series, re-experiencing the saga all at once forced me to re-examine what the first game did so well that its sequels fell short of.

Those who would call the first Prime “boring” – probably the same people who would label it a shooter – don’t appreciate its design-first mentality, which puts as much focus on its setting as it puts on the things that inhabit it. Tallon IV might just be the most perfectly designed game world of all time. It is by no means an open world – it's fairly linear, as there's always a fairly specific objective and nearly as specific a way of doing it – but the weaving, crisscrossing and overlapping of its many parts gave the feeling of genuine exploration. It would unveil bits and pieces to the player at once, the “big picture” being something we could only grasp once we’d invested the required effort.

What many people don’t realize is that Tallon IV was the game. Completing Prime was a matter of familiarizing yourself with every nook, cranny and facet present in this world. Knowing the shortcuts and having a general sense of where you still can’t go makes it that much more rewarding when you’re given a new tool and are then left to puzzle out exactly what you’re supposed to do with it. You remember dead ends, obstructions and locked doors, and every time your inventory is expanded, you want to re-explore the places you’ve already been just to see what you’ve missed. For as overly tangential as Prime’s world looks at a glance, try turning off the hint system – which all-too-conveniently tells you exactly where you need to be going – and watch with amazement as you naturally come to your destination anyway. The game just flows. There’s no better way to describe it.

As you near the endgame sequence, you’re told that the final dungeon can’t be accessed until you retrace your steps and – through a few vague clues – track down twelve ancient artifacts, each of which you passed multiple times throughout the quest without even realizing it. This may sound tedious to some. The reason no one ever complains about it, however, is that if you’ve made it that far into Prime, such a development will probably delight rather than frustrate.

In comparison, series fans are certainly within their rights to dismiss Metroid Prime 3: Corruption for not being a “real” Metroid game, and for certain, storming a well-fortified pirate fortress alongside a platoon of Federation troops is a far cry from wandering the lonely landscape of Phendrana Drifts. But combining its newfound emphasis on action with a more tightly focused design principle allows the game to form an identity all its own, even with your classic Morph Ball mazes and platforming bits thrown in for good measure. It’s by no means a classic, but it’s perfectly enjoyable on its own terms. Echoes, the glaringly awkward middle man of the trilogy, wasn’t so fortunate.

Corruption eventually allowed us to jump from one planet to the next in Samus’s gunship, thereby dividing the game into actual levels which complemented its linear design. Echoes, on the other hand, segments itself without trying, largely due to the inclusion of an actual overworld. The first game had an “overworld,” too, but in name only; it was no more a central hub than any other region on Tallon IV, all of them intertwined in a massive, interconnecting network of places. Compare this to the planet Aether, every region of which branches from its overworld and feels like a dead end. We’re still being led from one place to the next, of course, but the joy of exploration – even the illusion of exploration – is missing. That bait-and-reward pattern of understanding the ever-expanding game world is gone. Aether is just like any other video game setting, a place in which to do things we’d already done in Prime, only without that game’s freshness.

It differs from Corruption in the sense that it still feels like it's trying to recapture the glory of the first Prime. We're still presented with a single, enormous world, albeit one lacking in movement.

The idea of throwing in a “dark” alternate universe was also ill-conceived, as it’s neither a new idea nor one that benefits the series’ play style. At least a quarter of your game time is spent on Dark Aether, where all atmosphere drains away in favor of a gloomy, dreary and altogether unattractive setting that slowly saps away at Samus’s health, an unwanted sense of urgency that ensures these segments rob the series of both its beauty and its tranquility, if only for brief interludes at a time. The core gameplay elements have been kept intact in Echoes, but it was never the battles or the puzzles that impressed me about the first Prime. While mechanically perfect and generally entertaining, the sequel lacks its predecessor’s flow, its keen sense of pacing.

All three games are breathtakingly beautiful in ways that transcend technology, and that’s an important aspect to preserve – those who always admired the beauty of these games should buy this set just to enjoy them in true widescreen at last – but a series of missteps ensure that Echoes doesn’t even come close to matching the extraordinary balance its predecessor struck. The same can arguably be said for Corruption, but at least that game felt more like a standalone entry in the series than an imitation.

There’s even more to this, though. The original Prime ran its course without a single line of dialog, and the narrative oddly benefited from it. Think of the circumstances. There are no supporting characters, and the villains are all monsters, many of them more comparable to rabid animals that need to be put down than full-blown antagonists. Prime did wonders to transport players into the mindset of Samus, because we’re in the same position she’s in: isolated and forced to work out the details on our own. The story progressed smoothly despite being set from the unbroken perspective of the observer, with players putting the pieces together by reading journal entries, studying Chozo lore and viewing the aftermath of events that concluded long before you arrived. It’s you versus the planet. That’s immersion, my friends. Narration or casual talk with a friendly AI counterpart – both devices that other Metroid games have employed – would have disrupted that.

By Corruption, they’d gone the full cinematic route, and in addition to abandoning the soft and delicate (yet ultimately far more effective) tone set by the first game, Retro had also – unbeknownst to us by that point – delved into territory they simply weren’t as comfortable with. The game’s many cutscenes are static, bland and uninterestingly choreographed; a huge space battle between two armadas during the finale couldn’t be less exciting to watch. And while there’s plenty of dialog, Retro made the perplexing decision to keep Samus a silent protagonist anyway, even in spots where it would have made more sense for her to talk. Samus has spoken in other Metroid games, so this stylistic choice is both dated and inconsistent, on top of missing the point altogether. The reason she never spoke in the first Prime was because there was nobody to talk to.

None of the complaints I level against the two sequels are deal-breakers – Metroid Prime Trilogy is a bargain, and all three of the games in this compilation are worth checking out to some degree. But replaying them back-to-back only reconfirmed my belief that the first Prime was a one-time miracle that even the people who made it will never be able to replicate. So while I’d like to recommend this collection to hardcore fans in addition to those who need to catch up on the series, what Trilogy ultimately does is remind us how brilliant the first Prime was and force us to compare parts two and three side-by-side to their predecessor, and that does no one any favors.

Suskie's avatar
Community review by Suskie (May 04, 2010)

Mike Suskie is a freelance writer who has contributed to GamesRadar and has a blog. He can usually be found on Twitter at @MikeSuskie.

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bloomer posted May 09, 2010:

Great review.
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Suskie posted May 09, 2010:

Thank you, Bloomer!
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bloomer posted May 09, 2010:

To add a few more words, it delivered the explanation of what the experience of playing Metroid Prime 1 was like perfectly. I always felt that would be hard to describe, because it's a pretty complex feeling... or maybe nuanced is a better word. It feels effortless, but to describe it requires like what you have done here.
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Suskie posted May 09, 2010:

I understand exactly what you mean, and that's part of why I had such a hard time writing this, especially since being able to accurately describe that experience played a huge role in noting where Corruption and especially Echoes went wrong.

I really enjoyed writing this, though. My reviews are typically too long (I'll say it if no one else will), so it was good practice to review three games in the space of one. And I'm actually happy with how it turned out, especially now that I've just gone back and proofread the thing. It's all tightened up now, hopefully.
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Fedule posted May 10, 2010:

Wholeheartedly agreed with everything said here.

I often hesitate to bring up Metroid Prime in "favourite game ever!" conversations, because I know that as soon as I do, I will be challenged to put into words the intangible soul that makes it such a great experience. I could write volumes about all the little bits and how they all interconnect, but I just can't ever seem to do the game justice. It's like trying to explain the Gaia Hypothesis to a militant atheist. Needless to say, you've managed to sum this up very well!

I also think it bears repeating, for emphasis, how beautiful Metroid Prime is, and how a game that was made in 2002 can hold its own, graphically, in 2010, against some of the best our current hardware generation has to offer, and the best criticism we can find is that some of the textures look a little blurry. Truly, this game was ahead of its time - but in a good way.
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Suskie posted May 10, 2010:

That's what I meant when I said the game's beauty transcends technology. I've played the Trilogy version twice since I bought the game last year, and it rarely clicks that I'm not playing a current-gen game, because the artistry on display is still fantastic. You're right about the textures (the visible pixelation on Samus's torso during elevator scenes always bugged me), but I'm not kidding when I say the main reason I bought this set was to play Prime in true widescreen at last. And if the game is ever re-released on a future high-def Nintendo console, I'll happily buy it again.

Anyway, thanks for the comments -- I'm glad this all came through for you. I'm happy enough with what I've said about Prime that I'm wondering if I'll ever review it individually now. I'm also glad I hit the subject of the story, which is something people don't talk about much when discussing Prime but which I felt was a vital detail.
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bluberry posted June 17, 2010:

you know what else is bullshit? they took out the title screens! i could (have) sit there stoned for half an hour watching MP1's title screen.

great review. agree 100%. though i've kind of come around on Echoes a bit, it's not nearly as strong a whole but there are parts that are better than anything in MP1. like the Quadraxis fight, in fact the bosses in general were way better. the powerup guardians were great. then MP3 just has fucking Gradius "shoot the core!" shit.
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zippdementia posted June 17, 2010:

Is there an option for widescreen or is it just the way it's optimized?
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JANUS2 posted June 17, 2010:

I'll add to the praise. Never played a Metroid game before, but I picked up the trilogy after reading this review.

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