"Good. Very Good. But not Good Enough."

Metroid is one of Nintendo’s classic game series, having made it’s first appearance on the NES, another on SNES and a few more on both the GameBoy and the GameBoy Advance. Like most of Nintendo’s, flagship titles, there is a basic gameplay innovation that has carried through to each of the series’ different incarnations. For Zelda, it was adventure in a fantasy setting, for Mario, it was platform action and basic puzzles, and for Metroid, it was platform action combined with exploration in a platform atmosphere. Though those descriptions can be said to be a vast over simplification due to each series constantly evolving play mechanics and appearance, the basic premises have always remained true despite which system the game appeared on.

Metroid Prime, one of the best GameCube games on the market at this point in time, continues the trend started by its earlier versions; the basic gameplay revolves around three key ingredients, a shooter-type combat mode, puzzles combined with a platform setting and exploration. The game has yielded large amounts of admiration, and for good reason! It is fun and very pretty. When comparing the original NES game to it’s GC version, one is simply blown away by how far graphics and game design have come in little over a decade.

My mother, having heard from a computer game store salesman that this game had gotten rave reviews, purchased this game, as well as a Platinum GameCube for Christmas. I actually wanted Zelda: Wind Waker, but since that was not out at the time, I was more than happy with getting the GC and a new game to boot. After playing it for little under a month, I feel that I have enough experiences with this game to write a review of my own.

Though every game magazine and most of the reviews I have read rate this game with a perfect score, I believe a ten out of ten should be reserved for a game that meets three requirements: 1) it should be fun 2) if there is a story, it should be entertaining and 3) if there is no story, the gameplay should make up for the lack thereof. Though Metroid Prime is a very good game overall, I don’t believe a perfect score is in order.

Let me explain.

This game has been touted as having about 30 hours of gameplay on average, and I myself (who never was in the habit of staying up into the wee hours of the morning trying to get every item, level and cutscene available) am about to enter the final stage of the game with about 20 hours on the clock.

After experiencing beautiful graphics, myriads of different puzzles and a variety of challenging bosses (though the Ultimate Trooper really didn’t give me that much trouble), I started the long trek back to a save point. Going through a waterfall, droplets of incredibly detailed water appeared on my visor (one of four different visors at the stage of the game im in, actually), and the equally well rendered foliage brushes Samus’ power suit as she walks from a final defeat of the Elite Troopers, towards the final stretch of the game.

What am I feeling right now? Excitement? Suspense? Thrill? Not really. I’m actually feeling bored, and I’ve been feeling that way for the majority of the game. One of the reasons is because of the scan feature that the player is required to use repeatedly in order to get a perfect score in the game. You’ll find yourself standing in a room for about five-ten minute holding that L button just so you can read a small window of information. Most of which is repetitive. In addition, you must also scan enemies to get a perfect score in the good ol’ log book. So while the enemy is smacking you around with energy blasts, you’re torn between pulling out your weapon and fighting back to save your life or waiting the vital seconds it takes to complete the scan on the enemy in order to get a good score.

Another reason for the aforementioned boredom is the disgusting amount of backtracking that is in this game. Saying this game is heavy on ‘exploration’ is an understatement. What you really end up doing is walking from one area to another over and over again to open doors or get to locations previously inaccessible. This can mean making a trip from Phazon Mines to the Startup area; a process which can take 25-30 minutes, depending on what areas you decide to go through. And this 25-30 minutes isn’t the most amazing time you have ever spent either; enemies continually repopulate rooms you have formerly cleared, so rather than feeling accomplishment when you beat a boss, I ended up groaning mentally and thinking “Now I have to go through all THAT again”.

The last point I want to make is the fact that, at times, the game was challenging, but not fun. In fact, the challenge level of some of the rooms is so high, I found myself wishing these enemies I’m wasting my time killing would either stay dead or that Samus could get into her gunship and just start blasting them from the air.

So now, after countless hours (the game clock is a bit off …I think I spent more than 20+ hours playing) gathering weapons, armor upgrades, energy tanks, chozo artifacts and scans, I realized that I really didn’t care. The reason for this, was the basic lack of a story. By this time, we’ve all seen the ‘-insert random number here- mystical items must be found and returned’ story so many times, we have been programmed not to think to ask if retrieving said items can take the place of an actual storyline and dialogue. I don’t think it can.

In the end, what is really exciting about Metroid Prime, was the point in the story where Samus starts meeting up with enemies who have created new armor based on her suit schematics. A few scan entries appear that detail how the Space Pirates hope to defeat her, what is being done to find and destroy her ship and what new enemy troops are being trained in the hope of taking her down. I find myself thinking, ‘Now why couldn’t the game focus on the basic background story-she is a bounty hunter. It makes more sense that she would find herself exploring looking for the creatures she is hunting, than looking for yet some more ancient/magical artifacts’. Metroid falls flat on it’s face in the story department. I found myself trudging through the game, rather than feeling a need or desire to continue on, in order to get upgrades and the like. It’s a GAME, shouldn’t I get some sort of enjoyment from playing it? I realized that technically, this game is perfect, but actually, it is a very good attempt, with much room for improvement.

The story is nonexistent, and if made more detailed, one wouldn’t play just to get that item to get to yet another boss battle and another item. This is a three-dimensional world, and we have a heroine that doesn’t even SPEAK over the course of the game. Despite having tons of cool accessories, we just don’t CARE about Samus. Perhaps this is a weakness we overlook in all the flagship titles, but somehow Zelda 64 and Mario 64 seemed more effective at making me want to step into the character’s world and root for them. When Samus drops into a lava pit and burns alive, I am mad that I have just wasted twenty minutes of my life trying to get the missile upgrade rather than upset that I’ve maneuvered the main character into certain death. The generic story presented in the game is rather bland, and undetailed.

The gameplay doesn’t make up for the story, either. The controls are arranged wonderfully, and I could switch between visors, guns and morphball mode in a moment. However, I would often fall off platforms because unable to see the jumping angle. I have to reiterate a point other reviewers bring up, First Person shooters don’t work so well with platform jumping. Nevertheless, many of the jumps are manageable, if forethought is taken into planning for them, and falling many stories down after mis timing your jump does not kill our hero. It is my opinion that this game could have done better in a Third Person mode similar to Zelda 64, with an option to switch the First Person if the player so chose. Combat was fast and furious, but dodging enemies in first person is a lot harder to manage than the dashing interface would lead you to believe. What ends up happening when you come up against multiple enemies is that you try to strafe with the L button, locking you in a single view as you move from left to right, and then you have to turn again in order to reestablish a good shot on the enemy (all this while you are being pelted with blasts). As a result, you don’t feel particularly slick or cool during shootouts; you get more fun seeing the variety of ways enemies can be killed with the combination of your weapons than the actual process of combat itself.

The bottom line: the game is challenging, with incredibly designed graphics, good scenarios and an average story but it misses that elusive quality that can be defined only as ‘fun’. When it comes down to it, screwing up the courage to play the game again in either normal or hard mode seems more like a process than in entertainment. I had a lot of fun fighting the bosses, especially mid bosses, like the Chozo Spirits and the Elite Troopers than actually going through most of the game. When I beat the game, I doubt I will bother playing it again, but it was very fun. I recommend buying it if you enjoyed previous incarnations of Metroid, but this game could turn into a big disappointment for players who don’t think backtracking constitutes exploration.

It’s good. Very good. But not good enough to come as close to perfect as some would have you believe.

Breakdown:
Story 5/10
Gameplay 7/10
Control 9/10
Graphics 10/10
Sound 10/10
Challenge 8/10
Thrill 6/10
Replay 3/10
Overall 8/10


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 01/22/03, Updated 01/22/03


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