As interstellar bounty hunter Samus Aran, you’re called to investigate the activities occurring on a derelict Space Pirate vessel that has activated a distress signal for reasons unknown. Once aboard, you become aware that the Pirates in your proximity have suffered as a result of their own attempts to play God. Experiments gone wrong result in Samus having to destroy a Parasite Queen equipped with abilities it should not have. The resultant destruction from the battle and crossing paths with an old friend (or rather a new friend, as Prime is a prequel to all but the original game in the series) forces Samus to evacuate and descend upon the surface of Tallon IV. The adventure begins.
Prime’s visual feats are matched by its gameplay, and then some. The first person viewpoint could fool the uninitiated into expecting your typical run ‘n gun fare, but those hoping for such will surely be disappointed. Metroid Prime, much like its predecessors, provides a world that must be analyzed, examined, and explored. For every minute spent pulverizing an enemy, you’re likely to spend five on seeking the best way to navigate your environment, jumping to reach depth defying heights, and rolling through claustrophobic tunnels to reach your destination.
The game world is complimented by the fact that nearly every gameplay staple of the Metroid series is present. The boost jump, morph ball, grapple beam, and more must all be used to successfully complete the challenges presented. More impressive is the fact that classic conventions have been adapted to 3D space in exceedingly clever ways. There will be several instances where Samus, in ball form, will have to utilize concave surfaces as a half pipe. In Tony Hawk-meets-space fashion, momentum, gravity, and speed increases will all be needed to reach seemingly unreachable areas. Similarly ingenious methods are required with the grapple beam and other devices.
Retro also did a splendid job in adding new abilities and power-ups that fit in so perfectly, you’d wonder how you could get by without them. The most noteworthy of these additions is the spider ball. After obtaining this power-up, Samus’ morph ball is turned into a magnetic marble that can attach to certain rail surfaces. This makes the environmental exploration even more intriguing, and one sequence in particular feels like “Marble Madness” on steroids, with hot lava and gas-emitting enemies thrown in for good measure. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to think that with such practical implementation, fans could expect some of these new abilities to join the trademark ranks for any subsequent 3D installments in the series.
Prime’s only ultimate faults are its lack of control scheme options and series conventions that some have always disliked. Strafing and free-look movement are only possible with the use of the shoulder buttons. It can become and annoyance at times, but it’s never as bad as it sounds. Using a targeting and lock—on system similar to that found in the 3D Zelda games often negates the practical use of those two movements. In fact, the circle strafing and ability to maintain your aim on a target during the more difficult encounters in the game proves to be advantageous. Overall, the control scheme present works much better than a traditional dual-stick configuration would have, but the choice of which to use should have been left up to the player. Having the ability to switch between the two would have resulted in the best control a first person console game could possibly attain.
The amount of backtracking and the presence of always re-spawning enemies can be a love/hate affair. While some may find the need to visit locations more than once and the emergence of an enemy you killed long ago to be tedious, others can enjoy the new exploratory skills afforded to Samus and the constant challenge of intelligent enemies. How these two factors impact the enjoyment factor of the game is ultimately up to the player.
The bottom line is that Prime’s strengths and minor faults are both a result of Retro doing an extraordinary job in maintaining the gameplay elements that the Metroid series is known and loved for. No small feat by any measure.
Metroid Prime excels graphically in every area that gamers have come to expect, and in several areas that most take for granted.
From a strictly technical standpoint, the game delivers in every imaginable way. Every meticulously detailed environment, daunting foe, and stellar effect is rendered for your viewing pleasure at a consistent sixty frames per second. It also doesn’t hurt that once you’ve booted your Gamecube up, the game is completely devoid of loading times. So no matter how heavy the action gets or how large the environment you are traversing is, there is simply no break in beauty.
The game can also be ranked among the best based on its artistic merits. While most first person games strive for a sleek, sterile look, Prime provides a portrait of the vacant planet known as Tallon IV. Once inhabited by the bird-like Chozo race, you’ll see through Samus’ eyes a beautiful world that has ultimately suffered from the ill-effects of an asteroid collision, and the evil force that came along with it. Stunning sculptures and architectural marvels are marred by hairline fractures. A lush grove is bisected by a crashed Space Pirate vessel. A wide canyon is utilized as a mining station for the mutagenic poison known as Phazon. And the winter wonderland of the Phendrana Drifts has been turned into a containment facility for the least liked life form in the galaxy. Every technically feat in the game is matched by an equally impressive setting.
Lastly, and most importantly, Prime’s graphics are employed in effecting gameplay in ways that most games simply overlook. The attention to detail becomes apparent when you acquire a new visor that allows you see a new platform or power switch that you were previously oblivious to. Many of the enemies you encounter will be blind Samus’ naked eye, and nearly all of the monumental boss fights in the game require the use of a special visor or simply a keen eye for detail in order to survive. The use of special effects can also punish you, as you’ll become temporarily blinded by your own visage when light is reflected in your helmet, or when the heat-detecting thermal visor is used in areas that are “too hot to handle.”
From the moment Samus boards the Pirate’s derelict space station to the very final blow, Metroid Prime is a sight to behold.
Metroid Prime succeeds in providing an enormously fun experience in more than one way. The pacing is excellent, and the sequencing of exploration, combat, and mind-racking puzzles is perfect. Even when confronted with a puzzle you can’t quite figure out, an area you can’t seem to find, or a nemesis you can’t manage to kill, you simply will not be able to stop playing.
The lack of a conventional narrative may leave some wondering what “the point” is, but the almost biblical storyline is presented in a far more rewarding form: the gameplay itself. How much you discover, how much you learn, and how much you accomplish is ultimately up to you.
The exploration and combat that the game consists of provides more classic moments than some entire franchises have to offer. Enjoyment is the aspect that matters most, and it’s just one of the many areas where Metroid Prime is a superior game.
What many expected to be an overwhelming disappointment has turned out to be what many will regard as a classic. The impossible task of taking one of 2D gaming’s holy relics into 3D has not only been accomplished, but exemplified.
Metroid Prime’s strengths are so overwhelmingly impressive that its minor faults quickly become an afterthought. It’s quite simply a remarkable game, and a stunning achievement for a first effort from Retro Studios. A title that no gamer should miss.
The owner and editor-in-chief of Darkstation.com. I've been apart of the website since 2002 and purchased the website in 2010. Owning and running Darkstation is a dream come true. I love video games and I love writing and talking about them even more.