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Metroid Prime

Review By:  AJ Middleton

Developer:  Retro Studios
Publisher:  Nintendo
# of Players:  1
Genre:  First-Person Adventure
ESRB:  Teen
Online:  No
Accessories:  Memory Card, GBA/GCN Link Cable (Metroid Fusion)
Date Posted:  2-4-03

I never was a big fan of the Metroid games back in their hay day. It wasnít until the announcement of the newest installment of the series that I got the chance to play the original Metroid and Super Metroid. The original didnít hold my attention long, and Super was great, despite the headaches it gave me. Regardless of my Samus-less background, and the fact that many hardcore Metroid fans let out moans and groans when it was official that the new game would be a first person shooter, I decided that I would want the game anyway. Well, my decision was a good one. The now famous Retro Studios have made Metroid Prime one of the best games of 2002.

Letís start at the beginning- literally. Unlike the intros of other games, which feel the need to go on for twenty minutes about some boring history or the main character eventually finding his way to the plot, Metroid Prime gets straight to the point. You immediately find yourself with the standard powerups in the middle of a space station. You may even wonder if the game glitched and loaded another file onto your memory card by accident. Primeís intro serves as a training area, complete with getting the player acquainted with the controls as well as presenting elements that will come up later in the game, such as locked doors, the Grapple Beam, and even bosses. On top of that, it sets up the actual start of the game. Primeís introduction is a great hook that will reel the player in without a doubt.

Ah, the first-person shooter element. How did this controversial aspect turn out? Great! Believe it or not, you donít have to be a FPS fan to like the game. The constant 1st person perspective not only is unique, but it almost seems as if the Metroid series was just waiting for the opportunity to let the player go behind Samusí helmet. After all, Samus mainly shoots her enemies, right? And what better way to do that than with a FPS? The perspective also adds a sense of realism that you couldnít get from the 3rd person. Instead of Samus jumping, itís you jumping. Samus doesnít get hit by a blast, you do. By taking away the watching of Samus and actually becoming her, there is no gap between the player and the game action. Even the switch to 3rd person in the morph ball doesnít fully take away this feeling. But hey, it does bring some comfort to the veteran 3rd person lover. In all reality, donít let the FPS aspect turn you away; it is executed so beautifully that the player tends to forget that this is no ordinary adventure game.

The 1st person element is the gateway to other features in Prime that enhances its realism and complexity. The prime example (no pun intended) are the visors. Of course, there is the standard Combat Visor. It now allows Samus to lock on to her enemies, increasing accuracy. Samus also has three special eyepieces that are crucial to progress through the game. The Scan Visor serves as a way to get information about everything in the adventure, from power-ups to plants to enemy weaknesses and even to the plot. Also, the scan visor is the only way to gather information for Samusí logbook of enemies, items, and hints.

Next we have two visors that definitely add a new layer to the game- the Thermal and X-Ray. The Thermal makes all things that give off heat glow shades of red and orange, just like a real set of thermal goggles. Itís helpful for finding invisible enemies and hidden power sources. The X-Ray Visor allows you to see through breakable walls as well as spot certain enemies. With having to find sources of heat and hollow areas, things quickly become a bit trickier. Both of these just make the game seem that much more real.

Of course, as already proven by the Thermal and X-Ray Visors, Prime contains an unbelievable amount of detail. When Samus walks through steam, for example, drops of water appear on the visor. When she emerges from water, you see drops fall from her helmet. You can even see the heroineís faceís reflection in her visor when a bright flash goes off. Upon switching beams, you might even notice the normal Power Beam convert itself into its 3 other upgrades. Going back to the Thermal Visor, the shade of red depends on how much heat the object gives off. Through the X-Ray Visor, you can even see the bones in Samusí hand. The detail is simply amazing, and at times you might even ask yourself "Why did they even bother?" The graphics themselves are amazing, from Samusí reflective suits to the agile and gruesome Space Pirate squads. The amount of detail in the game mixed with the smooth and stunning graphics is eye candy to any gamer.

With the great visuals, itís amazing how smoothly the game plays. Youíll forget that you are not running a cartridge, because little to no loading time is required. Prime loads when going to a new level, which is masked by a short FMV, and when going though the logbook, which can use the excuse of the visor recalling the data. Still, the loading time never interrupts the experience. However, there is an infamous freeze bug that floats around Prime, and although rare, it may stop your game at the most ill timed moment. Itís known to strike while riding an elevator to another level. There is no remedy for this nuisance, so Samusí only weapon against it is to save whenever a Save Station is around. But again itís not common at all, so donít worry about it too much.

As mentioned before, the scan visor is essential to gathering info about the plot. Actually, the scan visor is the KEY to the plot; something that is installment of the Metroid series actually has. In the past, the Metroid games have had a general plot that could be summarized on the back of the box. Prime, however, starts you out with very basic information. Samus follows the Space Pirates to the old Chozo home of Tallon IV, where pirates are using the poison known as Phazon to their advantage. Through the scanning of walls, computer screens, and other objects, youíll learn about the planet, the Chozo, and the plans and accomplishments of the Space Pirates, making the plot fill itself in quite nicely. A downside is that the scanning can become a pain after a while, but the information gained is bound to keep you wanting to learn much more.

As long as the Metroid vet can ignore or even forgot the 1st person perspective, they will see little difference between Prime and Samusí earlier adventures. Prime definitely stays true to the series. You are placed in a world that you must find your way through. There are a variety of ways to go, but the correct path is determined by the items you have. The world map takes on a past layout of colored, hive shaped areas. The music spans from ominous themes to upbeat and jazzy rhythms. Hey, if you listen closely, you might even hear some familiar themes. The player will rediscover classic weapons, such as the Charge, Wave, Ice, and Plasma beams. The trademark Varia Suit and Gravity Suit also make reappearances. Other returns include the Save Station, Map Station, Morph Ball, Morph Ball Bombs, Power Bombs, Missiles, the Grappling Beam, and the Space Jump. Of course, there are new features to help out the old equipment, such as two new Morph Ball upgrades, like the magnetic Spider Ball; beam charges, which include the old Super Missile; and a shiny and toxic new suit. However, despite the return of nostalgic old elements and "stellar" new ones, any Metroid fan, or even any Super Smash Brothers enthusiast, will notice the glaring absence of a very famous upgrade: the Screw Attack. Sadly, Prime lacks the move that is now synonymous with Samus herself and that the Smash Brothers series has made famous. Its nonappearance is not enough to miss the game, but it IS enough to lower Primeís rating by a previous Metroid fan.

Besides the lack of the Screw Attack, one more element of Prime is annoying, and that is the drop of difficulty. Primeís perspective makes fighting more complex and adds a new dimension to exploring, but it took it away from other things in order to do this. For example, thanks to the Scan Visor, boss weaknesses can easily be discovered and exploited. The adventure itself is less difficult than that of its predecessors, much in part to the hint system. First off, I got stuck in Super Metroid way more than once, which was the number of times I was seriously stalled in Prime. And when I didnít know where to go, the hints that "Samus' visor" offers easily guide you in the right direction. Yes, they helped, but deep down inside, I would have liked to search for the right path myself. The good news is that this feature, which can be quite annoying at times, CAN be turned off. Nevertheless, the adventure itself still isnít a Metroid, but itís no way a simple walk through the park either.

Oh, and you canít forget the end of the game. The final battles are intense, surprising, and satisfying. As usual, you are required to go to a different area for the final showdown. And you canít forget about the endings! Yes, as always with Metroid, there are three different endings that can be obtained. However, the endings in Prime depend on how much of the game has been completed, not on time. How much reply value does Prime have? A lot. After beating it once, you gain a feature that basically screams "Play me again now!" Also, youíll want to play again to see all of the endings and get all of the items and scan data, which will result in unlocking four image galleries, one of which contains something that returning Metroid fans have probably been waiting for ;-). Besides the actual after-game rewards, there are the personal challenges, such as beating the game in as little time as possible. Again, a short time will get you nothing in Prime itself, but it still can bring personal satisfaction to the player.

And if you have Prime and Metroid Fusion for the GBA, more after-game bonuses are yours! Use the GBA to GCN link cable, beat Prime, and you can play as Samus wearing her Fusion suit. Beat Fusion, link up, and the original Metroid for the NES is yours to play on the GCN. Neat, huh?

Highs:

  • Highly anticipated installment of the Metroid Series
  • Innovative 1st person gameplay
  • Stays true to the series
  • Many classic Metroid elements mixed with new features
  • Amazing detail and realism, thanks in part to the new visors
  • Smooth and crisp graphics
  • Little loading time
  • Memorable music makes a return
  • Interesting plot development
  • Plenty of replay value
  • Links up with Metroid Fusion for more features

Lows:

  • No Screw Attack
  • Rare freeze glitch
  • Not as difficult as past installments of the series
  • Scanning can become a burden at times

Final Verdict:

So Retro Studios comes from nowhere and, despite tons of doubt, brings Metroid to GameCube in full glory. Metroid Prime fits in nicely with the rest of the series even though minor plot holes pop up because it takes place after the original Metroid (donít ask.) Prime is an overall fun and quality game that is bound to get hours of playing time from the adventurous player, previous Metroid or FPS fan or not. Itís truly a work of art and a Nintendo milestone. However, I issue a warning. If you are the gamer who needs to be constantly guided in the right direction and hates exploring, save Samus the grief and just donít play the game. Honestly now, who really wants to hear complaints after risking their life to save a planet?

Overall Score: 9.0

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