Review by Mariner
"The best of both worlds"
Yep, it's yet another Metroid Prime review. Many people have commented on how it is the greatest game ever, lavishly heaping praise on every last bit. Many took their time gushing over the smallest details or how innovative the game was or how its perfect and all the whiners complaining about it being first person were all wrong. Others blasted the game, complaining about the controls or the scanning or whatever. But cut out the hype. Ignore the hyperbole and the bashing, and look at the game itself. Is it as good as some people say? Well, yeah. Very much so. But why?
Or why isn't it bad? First of all, it should be noted that much of the complaints are mere personal preferences as opposed to actual flaws. Like the controls, for instance. Those expecting a first person shooter complained about the lack of Halo style controls, claiming the game would be much better with dual analog sticks or whatever. Yet look at them, with quick weapon selection and an emphasis on the lock-on targeting. Remind you of something? Like, say, Zelda? See, Metroid, especially Prime, is very much like Zelda, as it is an adventure game at heart. Enemies are mere obstacles in the way, not the actual focus of the game. Instead, you are exploring the land, looking for the next major item or secret. And in that sense, a simplified targeting system and quick weapon/visor switching makes perfect sense. You need to change visors and weapons quickly to deal with puzzles and obstacles in your path, and you need to downplay the focus of action. Solution? Zelda controls. The button mapping in this game is perfectly suited for the style of the game, and those who do not see that aren't seeing the same game I am.
The scanning aspect also gets a lot of flak. And that is somewhat understandable, as constantly looking around and reading stuff can be kind of boring. But the solution to such a problem is simple - don't do it. Very few items need to be scanned throughout the game, and you can happily get by ignoring computer terminals without any problems whatsoever. The game moves by quicker, the tediousness is ignored, and everyone's happy. The vast majority of scanning acts as either extras for those interested or as hints for the unexperienced. So why is this considered a flaw?
Quite the contrary, I consider the scanning to be one of the most brilliant aspects of the game, as it is an ingenious way to move the story along. Rather than being spoon-fed cutscenes and a cookie cutter story, Retro decided to let the player discover the story for themselves. For those that want to, a plethora of information is available within Pirate computers or Chozo Lores. And rather than give all this information to you and connect the dots for you, they force you to find everything and piece it all together. You slowly start to understand what happened to the Pirates after Metroid 1 and what they are doing here. You also learn what happened to the planet and to the Chozos, not to mention how it all ties together. It is far more fulfilling this way, learning what's happening on your own. It's also more realistic, as it feels like the information is for Samus' benefit, not yours. Just watch as the story unravels, as vague hints are explained later on, as guesses are confirmed or corrected, or as questions are answered only to provoke entirely new questions. Not only are you exploring the game, but you're also exploring the story, and such a concept is rare in the videogame world.
Besides, some of those scans are just downright entertaining. Tell me you didn't smile when you read about the Pirate's attempts to copy Samus' morph ball.
In any case, you can see the storyline progressing even if you don't read the scans. As you move through the game, the pirates will realize that you're around and will start to actively search for you. You move from merely exploring the overworld to penetrating deep into the pirate bases, from following a certain enemy to focusing on reaching the hidden crater, and from merely cleaning up the work from Zebes to stopping a weapon nearly as grave as the metroids themselves. Unlike the other Metroids, there's no clear mission from the beginning, yet you will soon realize what your mission should be. Yet there's never a definite moment where this occurs; never a turning point. And that's part of the charm of the game. It flows, naturally, from beginning to end. Despite the nonlinear setup and despite the clear goals to obtain, you are naturally and smoothly progressing both in plot and game, creating a seamless and immersive experience.
An interesting side effect of this is that the difficulty of the game progresses far better than any other I've seen. In the beginning, the pirates don't know you're here. Thus, all you do is fight simple, dumb animals with obvious moves. Yet as you move through the game, you'll have to fight the pirates, who evade, gang up, run, hide, fire, charge, and do all sorts of mean and nasty things. In most games, hit points and attacking power of enemies are all that improve as you progress, making twitch skills the only thing that's important. Yet here, you not only have to have better reflexes and be more observant when you move through the game, but you must fight more intelligently as well. The beginning is simply a warm up, preparing you for the trials ahead. And it works perfectly too - the first time I played this game was trying it out a bit somewhere in the middle, an area only moderately difficult. Yet I found my skills were less than adequate and died numerous times. Yet when I replayed the game, actually starting from the beginning, by the time I got to this area I found I was skilled enough to get past it completely. It is such a natural progression, something I rarely see in games.
That's not to say the game's too easy, of course. I played on the easier difficulty level and still managed to die numerous times. Those bosses can get pretty darn tough. But it's not as in the ''gee this is impossible I need tons o' luck'' way. They're similar in design to Zelda bosses, with set patterns and ways of beating them. A little practice, and they should be no problem. And that's the way it should be - analyze, practice, and then win. This isn't Contra; you shouldn't need to be twitchy and lucky to progress through the game. Just stay calm, collected, and fire away. As it should be.
Y'know, the entire game reminded me of Zelda, and definitely in a good way. With such a massive overworld, the same sense of slowly uncovering it all, gaining new tricks, going back to earlier places to use old tricks, and simply looking around the massive settings was complete. The best of the Zelda and Metroid worlds is used here, and I for one was never bored with any backtracking or item searching. It was fun merely roaming around looking for that extra missile expansion or energy tank, just as it was in Super Metroid or searching for pieces of heart in Zelda. You never know when a little something will catch your eye and cause you to find something cool. You never know which of your ideas will work or which will make you look foolish, and that's all in the fun of the game. I love doing this sort of stuff, and I loved it here.
And, unlike Super Metroid, it's almost impossible to get completely lost. Usually, the way to go is obvious, or at least can be found by a little experimenting. The clues (which are optional) are very helpful, and I felt that the game moved at a faster pace because of that. It was a nice gesture, and one I kind of like. Sure, some might prefer the maze-like original Metroid, but I like Prime's way better.
Another aspect which reminded me of Zelda is the sheer attention to detail. Simply put, this game is gorgeous. Not that it has an amazing number of polygons or anything, but all of the little things just work together to really draw you into the game. From the rain droplets that fall on your visor on Tallon Overworld to the bug goo if you stand to close when they explode to the static caused by electric enemies, these gimmicks were just so cool. Just wait until after an intense battle, and watch smoke rise from your cannon and heat waves distorting your vision. Or the warped view that occurs while firing a super missile. But don't discount the beautiful overworld, with gentle waterfalls, moss covered walls, and aging trees. Don't ignore the enemies, classic creatures redone in all their glory and new creatures joining them. Retro has one heck of an artistic staff, which could quite possibly be their strongest aspect.
Besides, some stuff is just extremely cool. Watching a certain second-to-last boss confront me made the entire experience more than worthwhile, as he just looked darn impressive. Easily one of the best boss fights I've ever seen.
And yet, despite the sheer volume of things done right, I can't in good conscience reward this game with a 10. There were just a few things that bugged me and, despite being minor, are things that make this fall just sort of being a perfect experience. Despite the second-to-last boss being magnificent, the final enemy was a bit of a letdown. It just didn't seem to be designed very well and, quite frankly, looked out of place. By the same token, the metroids were a bit of a let down as well. These are supposed to be the scourge of the galaxy, and when I first met one I was starting to get worried. Yet they're a bunch of pushovers, despite looking cool, and were disposed of without a problem. What a letdown.
The music was also a bit of a mixed bag. Sure, the classic theme used on Tallon overworld was an excellent rendition, and the heart-pounding return of Norfair's music in Magmoor was more than appreciated, but some of the rest didn't click. Phendrana and the Chozo Ruins just weren't that exciting, I wasn't a big fan of the title screen remix, and I missed the Chozo theme. Still, Magmoor does make up for it, mostly.
But most importantly, it seemed the game didn't stray far enough away from its routes at times. A sense of deja vu pervades the game, as it tends to lift certain tidbits directly from Super Metroid. Do we really need another wrecked ship? And although the inclusion of Phendrana and Chozo Ruins was nice, the overworld and Magmoor felt a bit too much like Brinstar and Norfair. The worst offender would have to be the final leg of the last enemy. C'mon, that was done already. Obviously, Retro wanted the game to stick as close to the Metroid series as possible in order to not piss off fans, and that's all well and good. Yet the secret is to stay close to the spirit of the games (which they did, of course), and not to lift things directly from the past (which, sadly, they also did).
Yet, in the grand scheme of things, these barely matter. Metroid Prime is an extremely fun and absorbing title which kept me completely interested all the way to the end. All the cool little extras, the fun weapons, the backtracking and exploring, the juicy tidbits, and impressive enemies push this game further than most others. It blends Super Metroid's brilliant gameplay with a mix of Ocarina of Time, clearly the best of both worlds. It is immersive and fun with barely any drawbacks. So yes, there's more here than just the hype. Much more.
Final Score - 9.3
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 05/12/03, Updated 05/12/03
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