Let it never be said that Nintendo, is not or has never been, a scary judge of talent. Since the original game conception of Metroid Prime, both Nintendo and Retro Studios (new game developer) have been catching flack for two things ? one, an FPS Metroid, and two, that the game was being handled by a brand new “American(?!?)” game studio.
Fans of the Metroid series ? which totals the majority of the game market today ? have been begging Nintendo for a follow up to the super-hit series that had its debut on the NES back in the day. However, due to the decreasing interest and popularity that has become the life of 2D-gaming, Nintendo laid in wait for a system which they felt they could do the series justice for some serious 3D-Action.
When it was announced that the new Metroid title, properly titled Metroid Prime, was to become a First Person Shooter (FPS), the whole of the gaming community — around the world no less — took a puke in unison. Immediately, the inevitable feeling that we gamers had been betrayed set in on us. “What in gods name are they thinking?” screamed adamant gamers. Not only did they risk damaging the reputation of the Metroid moniker, known as one of the best game series of all time, but they were handing it off to a brand-spanking new company that had barley broken in their britches.
But here we are after Metroid Prime’s release, and there is not one shout of anger, nor a clamor of injustice amoungst the crowd. Right now, we’re all sitting quietly in our own corners of the world, glued to and drooling at all that is the magnificence of Metroid Prime. Right now, as you read this, there are numerous dumb-founded stares and many minds left in the turmoil wondering how they pulled it off. But one only need to think one word for the answer, Nintendo.
So forget the rumors, forget the prejudiced cries and pangs of unrighteousness, forget it all, this is the game of the year. Nintendo has really been out of the running for a long time, but this title more than makes up for their lack-luster efforts these past few years.
From the start, Metroid Prime pulls the player into a magnificently orchestrated and continually unfolding high quality sci-fi story. The themes of the worlds and the areas within them are but filled with perfect remnants of previous Metroid games. From the moody music, to the atmospheric conditions, to the wonderful character designs, to the initial cleverly deceiving game puzzles and the perfect balance of increasing difficulty; Metroid Prime is currently in a league all its own.
It was felt that successfully bringing Metroid to the 3D realm would be a near impossibility. Knowing the previous titles, with their complex and ever intertwined maps, fantastic fighting system, and ingenious 2D equipment-based puzzle designs, a follow up to the series would have been a lost effort. But what we have here is just that; it’s a Metroid title, tried and true, that succeeds as a sequel in its own right, but most importantly, it’s a damned amazing game the broadens the art of game development to a level we have never seen.
So the saga continues, or in this case reverts; Prime takes place before the original Metroid’s story begins. From the moment you start it up, the aesthetic beauty and perfect rendition of the Metroid atmosphere engulfs you as a player. After a drool-worthy FMV, the game opens up with Samus exiting her ship as the grandiose fem. fatale pirate-hunter we’ve all come to know and love. With the full range of devastating arsenal, we’re about to cause some havoc; that is until we have it all stripped away after her power suit has taken damage. So after a crash landing on a nearby planet, we’re left to discover what exactly is going on, to gain our favorite weapons/abilities back (i.e. morphball, charge beam, super bomb, plasma beam, grappling hook etc…) and a few new ones.
The story unravels without the game explicitly telling or showing it, but develops through an ingenious onscreen visor feature integrated into the controls, that urges players to scan all things in the world they’re in: dead, alive or inanimate. With what begins as a seemingly almost infinite number of scanable items, the story and underlying plot of this mysterious world begin to unravel. Everything from old artifacts, to wall scriptings, to personal alien journals, create a story for this planet of devastatingly paramount proportions. The scanning system also helps to tell you all about the world in which you play, about the types of enemies you will be/are fighting, their weaknesses and the environments in which they live.
Notably, Retro Studios has taken great measures to perfect every detail of this world, from the miniscule ambient noises to the waves of grass, from the visor affects that yield frost, condensation and rain to the ever-responsive control scheme. Prime isn’t a game to be played, but experienced. The levels are filled with a bright color pallet that specifically fits each area of the world in which you travel. Some levels are filled with grey dreary rain, but lush plant-life, causing a uniquely organic feel, where some levels are dust-filled wasteland ruins that, while look and feel thoroughly unique from all the others, still carries a level of appropriateness which fits so perfectly into the idea of Metroid, it’s nearly unexplainable. A number of areas will force you to stop and look around in awe at the jaw-dropping impressively constructed Prime worlds.
Where visually, many of the areas will only remind you of journeys long past, as you continue to see inaccessible little holes, ledges, experience heat damaging areas, swamps and the like, you won’t be able to help but have flashbacks to the days of Metroid and Super Metroid. One only needs to remember areas you couldn’t quite access because you didn’t have the right upgrade or weapon, but you knew then as you will know here, that those places will lead to someplace much larger and more involved.
As you continue your journey to acquire the rest of your gear, keeping with the Metroid tradition, you’ll be able to access more and more of the world. Retro has developed a largely 3D version of the involving labyrinth we have come to love in Metroid games. The Prime world consists of interlocked points between areas that branch and backtrack over other parts. Once you’re able access to small sections that you couldn’t before, you’ll only come to see more sections that you can’t access until you have another certain weapon, ability, suit, or visor; acquiring more power-ups to only acquire more power-ups, ending only when you’ve got everything. Backtracking is a main gameplay element in Metroid series, and it’s no different in Prime, but you’ll have no problems doing it here because of its expert design and execution.
The first-person gameplay aspect of Metroid Prime makes for a more personable experience and has been pulled off better then anyone has ever seen on a console. The gameplay resembles exactly what the Metroid game series has always been about and carried in spades, adoring action combined with highly entangled atmospheric levels, plat-forming and intense/purposeful exploration.
With Metroid Prime, Retro has defied all sense of what is possible with a first-person game. They have turned away from traditional FPS controls to bring us a control and combat system that has its remnants based more in the world of Zelda then in Quake. The right stick controls both direction and movement, but a unique lock-on system allows Samus to strafe around her enemies as fixed targets, requiring less need for precision controlling — not to mention less fiddling with the camera, which is a pain on a controller — while making the experience less annoying, more smooth and amazingly intuitive. Combine this with a quick method of switching weapons and different visors using the d-pad and c-stick, and your experience just got a whole lot cooler.
Jumping, similar to Metroid games a decade past, is another integral part in Prime’s gameplay scheme. This provides for an unusual need of awareness for environmental hazards, unseen in other FPS games. The thought of plat-forming in a first-person game is generally a quick sign of stupidity on the part of a game developer. The system here, however (which is even better once you get double-jump), is amazingly well integrated, useful and appropriate for this Metroid title. It simply can’t be stressed enough that this is a Metroid game in its purest form. The more play time that is logged the more one becomes consumed in the massive worlds which only exemplify the purity of Metroid-esque goodness.
And what would a Metroid title be without the appropriate intelligence and aural treatments? Whether it’s footsteps through vegetation, gun blasts, explosions, uniquely beastlike screeching, running or stampeding, Metroid Prime is filled with an abundance of ambient noise that works perfectly with the balance between its ghostly mythic-like instrumentals which grace tension-filled areas, and the more energetic, electronic influenced rhythms that occur during battle. The sound in itself can often preempt danger, but most often, simply adds to the never-ending creepy atmosphere that exudes from every crevice, cranny and nook of Primes digital world.
The level of excellence only continues as the AI develops with the progression throughout the game. Enemies come in packs from all directions, galloping, flying and shooting, all moving in complex ways. The bosses are huge and fantastically creative, making for some of the most remarkable boss fights seen since Super Metroid. As a result, players will have to use very specific methods, pieces of equipment and every bit of attention they can muster without blinking to defeat them. Because of smart enemies, in combination with eerie music, perfectly lit yet mysterious levels, Metroid Prime never leaves a moment without tension; even the empty rooms feel abnormal and uneasy. The best part is that Prime carries you effortlessly with the action, tension and exploration the whole way through the game. No one portion is over-emphasized more then another, it is this value of consistent excellence that gives Retro an “A” grade for this title.
Streams and smoke come from your blaster, reflections of Samus’ face flash on the visor, snow falls, dust kicks up, explosions are extravagant, maps are skillfully intertwined, you’ll die more often then you’d like, enemies drip, drool and scream, what else do you want? The character animations are incredibly smooth, the is lighting perfect, the explosion and particle effects are impressive enough to only leave you with the need and unbearable wait for more mass destruction. The level of graphic inventiveness is only topped by the ever enjoyable gameplay. Even with all this said, every intricacy of Metroid Prime as a whole can’t be defined into words, so the rest you’ll have to experience for yourself. If ever there was a game that filled the requirements as one of those “must have” titles, Metroid Prime is certainly it. Go pick it up or spend the rest of your life wishing you had, that’s your choice…