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Metroid Prime

Review By:  Josh Fishburn

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:  2-5-03

From deep in the heart of Texas at Retro Studios, Inc. comes an unlikely creation. A fusion of Nintendo and Retro has crafted Metroid Prime, a sublime evolution of the Metroid series that manages to create a first person adventure game that retains the magic of all the Metroid games to precede it. It creates a spectacular atmosphere and backs that up with great gameplay and a very well paced quest. With events taking place after eradicating Mother Brain on the planet Zebes, Prime has our hunter heroin for hire Samus chasing down a distress beacon from a derelict space station above the planet Tallon IV. Upon arrival, Samus does some exploration, runs into Meta-Ridley (an enhanced version of Ridley from the first game), and evacuates the exploding space station to track Meta-Ridley to the planet’s surface.

Soon we learn that this planet was inhabited by the Chozo race; the same race who raised Samus from a little girl into a mature warrior; the same race she inherited her powerful battle suit from. The Chozo were a previously technological race who shunned their tech roots in favor of spirituality after seeing the evils brought on by unrestrained technological advance. After the Chozo settled on Tallon IV, a great meteor crashed into the planet, sending waves of dangerous radiation called Phazon across it. This radiation poisoned the planet wherever it occurred, killing many species and mutating others. After being defeated by Samus in the original Metroid, some of the Space Pirates fled to Tallon IV to take advantage of its huge Phazon energy resource for their research. By the time Samus arrives, the Space Pirates have developed a full research station on Tallon IV and are infusing various creatures and soldiers with Phazon with frightening results.

This story sets the backdrop for the great gameplay and atmosphere that the Metroid series is known for. Prime is easily one of the most impressive updates to an existing series that I have ever played. It creates a unique first person action/adventure game out of what used to be a two dimensional action/adventure/platform game. Even better is that the transition feels virtually seamless: You become Samus. You view the action through Samus’ visor, which has interchangeable visor types. The two initial visors are scan and combat. The scan visor allows you to obtain information on your environment by scanning everything from vegetation to Chozo lore to enemy creatures. This scanning is a large part of the game, especially towards the beginning, as it gives you information about how to attack certain enemies and activates switches and platforms. Scanning Chozo lore also opens up bonus image galleries that contain some awesome CG images and sketches. The combat visor is self-explanatory: this is where you will be spending most of your time during combat. The other two visors are Thermal and X-Ray. These you will find later in the game and give a different view of the action, allowing you to see things (enemies, platforms, etc.) that you would not be able to see in your combat or scan visors.

Your visor also includes a heads up display that shows your energy, weapons capacity, and selected weapon. The gameplay in Prime is spot on and I never really felt limited by the first person view, even while platform jumping. Time was clearly spent making the gameplay simple and easy to control. Samus moves quickly and smoothly, and the controls for switching visors and weapons is intuitive and quickly becomes second nature. Soon into the game you will acquire the Morph Ball which when activated provides the game’s only third person perspective. Thankfully this controls like a dream. Once again, it is clear that Retro spent some serious time perfecting this. The transition between the visor and Morph Ball view is just as smooth as the rest of the gameplay.

What would great gameplay be without great levels to match it? The developers succeed immensely on this front, with expansive environments as well as suffocating tunnels to keep things interesting. The game opens up on the Tallon Overworld, a lush green environment teeming with plants and waterfalls. The Chozo Ruins is a fantastic stone world with broken down stone tunnels, relics, and sand. You journey to the core of the planet in the Magmoor Caverns. My favorite, however, is the Phendrana Drifts, a beautiful snow and ice covered section of the planet ideal for the Space Pirates to refrigerate their research specimen. Although the levels are pretty standard (Snow, Lava, Industrial), here they come alive much more than before. The third person perspective is also utilized well in the game. Adding to the tunnels found in the previous Metroid games, there are also half-pipe sections throughout the game. Once you acquire the Boost Ball powerup, you can shoot up the sides of these to gain access to previously unattainable areas. The tunnels are much more exciting to go through in 3D. Not only is the Morph Ball impressive looking, but there is a very roller-coaster like feel to the whole experience. On top of simple tunnels, there are also entire rooms dedicated to the Morph Ball, using blocks and other similar puzzles to reward you with an item…or the exit. After getting the Spider Ball upgrade, you will have access to a plethora of magnetic rail tracks placed throughout the planet. These rails run on the walls and ceilings and are a thrill to ride on. The beauty of this game is that it takes a simple powerup like the Morph Ball and transforms it into an important and exciting gameplay addition.

Two things that really left me breathless on more than a few occasions were the graphics and special effects in the game. The graphics are excellent, and the very subtle special effects are introduced like the clues in a good movie: gradually. They do not assault your senses at the outset, leaving nothing to surprise you with later. Some of this is based on the actual game because some of the powerups are not accessible until later in the game, while others are based on their subtlety. For example, flashes of light in front of your visor will cause Samus’ reflection to appear on the inside of the visor. The first time this happened I was confused: What was that? The second time: Did that really happen? The first time you step out of your ship on Tallon IV rain is falling. At first you see raindrops glancing off of your cannon. Now try looking up. The raindrops realistically land on the visor and run off. Throughout the game you will see birds flying high above you while outdoors. Not until half way through the game did I realize you could shoot them! There are many more great applications of the graphics, but suffice it to say that they create an incredibly immersive feel. Although I could not test this, those of you who’s TVs can handle progressive scan are in for a special treat because this game supports it.

Speaking of the atmosphere, the sound and music in this game are phenomenal. The music for each world fits perfectly, from the ominous beats of Magmoor Caverns to the new age sound of Phendrana Drifts. Some of the worlds have beautiful remixes of music from previous Metroid games. Magmoor Caverns is especially memorable. A couple times I found myself playing this game with headphones and just stopping to listen to some of the music. The sound is also great, with monster growls and a believable ambiance in each world. There’s not much more to say about it other than that it rocks and complements the game greatly.

There were only a few times that I felt bored playing Metroid Prime. In a fairly linear game like this, pacing is paramount, and this game is paced very well. The way I played through it, I can separate it into three "acts". The first act is quite short and involves some fighting and a lot of scanning. The second act basically encompasses fighting, collecting all the powerups, and scanning when you find a new area. The third act is a sort of treasure hunt for all the Chozo relics that will eventually gain you access to the Impact Crater where the final battle takes place. The first and third acts are a little slow, with a lot of action in the second act. This works out very well; just as the monotony of lots of scanning gets to you, you’ve pretty much scanned everything available and can focus on kicking some Space Pirate butt. Scanning DOES get monotonous though, and those are the few times that the game lags a little bit. It is not necessary to scan everything, but I felt that I needed to because there are bonuses based on how much stuff you can scan. Overall though, the pacing is great. The game took me about 17 hours to complete on the first run-through, and I netted 76% of the powerups. For a game like this, that is a good length, especially with a hard mode opening up after winning the game for the first time.

The extras available with the GBA-Gamecube cable are also worth mentioning. By beating Metroid Prime and connecting to Metroid Fusion, the Fusion suit is available in Metroid Prime. From what I played this is a cool addition but nothing more than a cosmetic change. Even better is the ability to play the original Metroid on your Gamecube by linking up after beating Metroid Fusion. The game records your progress by "remembering" your password whenever you start the game.

Highs:

  • Great atmosphere
  • Awesome gameplay, complemented by great first-person platform jumping
  • Cool extras if you have Fusion and the GBA-Gamecube link
  • Great special effects
  • The best original soundtrack I have heard this year

Lows:

  • Scanning everything is tedious
  • Scanner is not as seamlessly integrated into gameplay as the other visors
  • Gameplay is fairly linear

Final Verdict:

This is an easy game to recommend. After a LONG hiatus, Nintendo decides to take a big risk by messing with the core Metroid form and comes out with a big winner. This game had a lot riding on it, as Metroid fans are some of the most rabid video game fans I know. The result is nothing short of amazing. As soon as the game booted up (with a fantastic menu system) I knew I was in for something special. Crank the volume up on your Pro-Logic II system if you have one, because the sound and music rock. I enjoyed every minute of this game, more than any other game this year, but I still have one thing on my mind after completing it: it could be a little more open-ended. The concept of Samus as a bounty hunter has not been fully explored. I think it would be wonderful to see a spin-off from the main story line that has Samus deciding which bounties to pursue and deciding which of many planets to go to. This is not a complaint, just a dream for the future. To be sure, I have nothing big to complain about with Metroid Prime.

Overall Score: 9.5

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