Review by kristina kim
"Samus's first outing in the third dimension is more frustrating than it is rewarding"
Metroid Prime arrives at last, the continuation of one of the most beloved game franchises Nintendo has to offer this side of Mario and Zelda. Prime strays away from other games in the Metroid series by plunging into heretofore-uncharted waters: the 3rd dimension. While Prime changes the perspective from which Metroid is played, what it does is try to retain those classic gameplay elements that gave it a place in the heart of gamers everywhere.
From a technical standpoint, Metroid is quite impressive. There is so much detail that one could sit for literally hours just fooling around with the various elements of Samus's visor and weaponry. The game blazes by at a supposed 60 FPS, and whether or not that figure is accurate, moments where the game will stutter are rare. There's so much ''wow'' factor that the graphics can be rather distracting; every time a new world is opened up, that desire to explore and progress through the game can sometimes be circumvented by the desire to just take a look around at the amazing surroundings of the game; to scan enemies to observe even the tiniest graphical details; to see how painstakingly rendered every enemy was.
But I digress. The real element of achievement here isn't how the developers at Retro Studios used the power of the Gamecube in ways that many other consoles have yet to master, but what exactly they did with those graphics. Many past Metroid enemies make a triumphant return, this time fully rendered and even more beautifully realized in 3D. The environment isn’t just spacious and beautiful, it also has personality.
Then there's the little things; the intro that's a cool rip-off of the intro from Fight Club; how the background warps when you fire a charged shot; how water trickles off your visor when you rise out of water; how condensation or steam builds up in either extreme cold or hot; and how much alien guts get splattered across your visor.
The world of Metroid translates surprisingly well to the third dimension; the atmosphere of this game is so incredible, to view it from any other perspective would rob it of it's grandeur.
There's one thing that all Metroid games need: the classic Metroid theme. Deep. Ominous. Hypnotic. Many other classic Metroid themes (including the classic ''game start'' and ''found a new ability'' music) return, including remixes of tunes from Super Metroid.
Every musical score is typical Metroid fare: perfectly befitting to the environment as well as the situation, and totally unforgettable. Every tune is hum able and does not wane on the nerves; not the first time, nor each subsequent time it is heard.
The sound effects are all what they should be; they sound like what they are (a gigantic ball of plasma being fired, a missile chasing after an enemy), and they sound like what weapons in previous Metroid games have sounded like.
The Metroid series is so endearing because of the unique and many-times copied gameplay formula it offers; the game takes place in one large, continuous world, where the player has so much freedom it's almost terrifying. The open-ended nature of the game can be quite shocking to newcomers of the series, as it's something that few games ever offer. There is an element of linearity when it comes to progressing through the game, but there are times when multiple paths lay open before you. There's no real ''goal'' in the game; exploration, discovery, and finding secrets are ends to themselves. And while that may appear to be a rather shallow goal in and of itself, it's not a task that is so easily completed. The player must have mastered their abilities to gain access to a new weapons upgrade or a health expansion.
Regardless of what Shigeru Miyamoto would have you believe, Metroid Prime is indeed a first-person shooter. While there are many exploration and adventure elements, being labeled a FPS doesn't necessarily negate it's merits. However, being a FPS it does do several things wrong.
The control can be quite frustrating at times. Although dual-analog control schemes for FPSers on consoles aren't the most comfortable nor the most natural, they are extremely functional. Prime limits your control by mapping both Samus's special visors to the D-pad and her different weapons to the C-stick (the right analog stick). While it's handy to have most of your special abilities at your immediate disposal, there aren't any times in the game when it becomes absolutely imperative that you switch weapons or visors in an expedient fashion. In order to look up or down, you must hold the R-trigger, which limits your ability to move. In order to strafe, you must hold down the left trigger, which limits your ability to strafe and rotate simultaneously. While having a more arcane control scheme that only lets you move and look along a 2-dimensional plane may be forgivable, the game can be frustrating because there are countless moments when a dual-analog control scheme would have been suitable.
There are many enemies in the game that have the ability to fly very quickly both above and below your field of view. The game does sport a lock-on mechanism that allows you to move while centering your view on enemies, but it can become frustrating because many enemies have the ability to move out of your field of view. Accessing the free-look leaves you completely open to attack while you gain a bead on your enemies. Fighting enemies isn’t as tedious as it could have been, were it not for the fact that enemies respawn after you’ve killed them. To it’s credit, enemies do become easier to kill with the later weapons, but for the first half of the game it can become quite frustrating. There were several boss fights where I wished for a dual analog control scheme; one boss in particular required you to aim upwards for the majority of the fight as well as constantly circle around him.
Prime also commits the cardinal sin of first-person shooters: platform jumping. Despite what many other reviewers would have you believe, the platform jumping in Prime is just as bad if not even more flawed than other FPSers. FPSers are notorious for having frustrating platform jumping (when they’re included in the game, that is) because it’s difficult to a) judge the distance of a jump and b) determine when you’ve left the platform you’re currently standing on and when you’ve arrived on the platform you’re jumping to. There is a bevy of platform jumping to be had in Prime, and a large portion of it becomes the most frustrating aspect of the game. While there are no one-hit death pits, there is usually some hazardous material lining the bottom of every pit, and while it won’t kill you, if you fall into it over and over again it will. Every jump can be tried again and again, but it quickly becomes frustrating to have to lose energy falling into lava or radioactive waste and then having to start all the way from the beginning. The platforming aspect of the game is also hampered by the controls; there are times when there will be vertical platform scenarios that must be traversed, and you must stop and alter your view to determine where to go next. Prime could have done without the platform gameplay.
There’s also a great deal of tedium in the game. Being a FPSer I wish there was more action (although due to the control scheme combat can be frustrating) and less simply wandering from one long passageway to the next. Granted, it follows the same formula as Super Metroid, but the pacing of a 2-D side-scroller is totally different from that of a FPSer. Constantly backtracking is a royal pain as it can take several hours to completely track every item down near the end of the game. Furthermore, having to make the same difficult jumps in the game over and over and over again becomes not only tedious, but extremely annoying.
The different visors that our heroine will utilize in the game are all very cool, but they weren’t implemented well enough and they aren’t quite as practical as one might think. The Thermal Visor allows you to see hidden heat signatures in a predator-like view, something that comes in handy in several puzzles as well as fighting invisible enemies, but it completely hinders your view of your surroundings. Everything that isn’t glowing white-hot is completely dark, with only a faint outline. The X-ray Visor allows you to see through some hidden objects as well as enemies that may “cloak” themselves, but the visor suffers from the same problem the Thermal Visor does; it limits your view of your surroundings which can become frustrating in combat situations when using the X-ray Visor is necessary. The X-ray Visor also allows you to find secret walls and passageways, although the distance you’re able to see along the Z-axis (right in front of you) is not as far as with the normal visor. Tracking down hidden items and passageways with the X-ray visor can become tedious, as you’ll have to comb every wall and cranny of the game. The X-ray visor lets you see straight through hidden walls, without any indication that it’s not an illusion; so to really make full use of it, you’ll have to constantly switch between the normal visor and the X-ray visor to make sure you haven’t missed anything.
Samus will utilize many different weapons in the game, and although many of them are interesting, not all of them are practical and can even be frustrating to use. There are four standard weapons, each of which must be used to open specifically locked doors, allowing you to progress further in the game. It’s a minor gripe, but you must shoot each weapon-coded door with it’s respected weapon every single time you want to open it, whereas in previous Metroid games it was only necessary to open a door with a special weapon once. Each weapon also has an add-on that allows it to be fired in combination with a missile, making for some rather interesting weapon combinations. While the beam-missile combos can be pretty cool there are only a few moments in the game when you’ll really need them. Also, it can be frustrating to have to use beam-missile combos as you’ll have to charge your standard weapon and then fire your missile weapon. Normally, not such a difficult feat but in the heat of certain boss battles, it can be murder on the hands to be holding down the fire button while staying locked-on to the enemy as well as jumping, dashing and dodging all at the same time. Better improve your dexterity if you want to succeed in Metroid Prime.
The most important innovation that Super Metroid had was it’s auto-map function; it was one of the first adventure games to include a map that showed in good detail the outline of a level. Prime carries a similar map function, although it’s actually very poorly designed. For one, it’s too complicated and too detailed to be used on-the-fly; it also reveals most secret passageways and hidden spots. The most serious mistake it makes above all is that it doesn’t mark rooms where items are. In Super Metroid, the map would mark rooms that had an item within it, whether explicitly displayed or hidden. Without revealing the exact location, it left it up to the player to attempt to find it, as well as making exploration less tedious by giving the player hints. It can be quite frustrating in Prime to be constantly searching for the last few items with no idea of where they might be hidden or if you’ve already passed them by.
It’s ironic that although Prime’s main boast is it’s jump to the third dimension, some of the most challenging and outright fun moments that harkens back to previous Metroid games are the 2-dimensional bomb passageways. Several times in the game you will roll into a narrow passageway with the morph ball and the view will switch to a 2-dimensional cut-away. Here you’ll have to learn how to perfectly time using your morph ball bombs to time jumps that will allow you to gain secret upgrades or simply reach the end of the tunnel. These moments are few and far between in Prime, but they’re the most intelligently designed and challenging without being frustrating.
So while Prime doesn't quite live up to the expectations that I had for a Metroid game, it is nonetheless a good, solid, adventure game on it's own merit. There's some nostalgic value to be had to see Samus rolling up into her morph ball once again, traversing claustrophobic passageways; but i fear that longtime Metroid fans simply won't be pleased by the quality of gameplay that simply can’t match previous games in the series. The average player will clock in at 20 hours, the most for any Metroid game to date, but most of that will be filled with first-person action-platform gameplay, and not scouring the uncharted depths of a mysterious planet in search of hidden treasure. Take Metroid Prime for what it is: one of the most immersive, atmospheric, and quite simply, fun, games to date; just don't come expecting the same level of gameplay as Super Metroid.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Originally Posted: 11/23/02, Updated 06/17/03
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