Review by silverthornne
"What if it had been called something else?"
It's been a while since I had played a Metroid title since I don't own a GBA and haven't picked up Fusion, but when I got my GCN recently I knew which game to get with the offer. I really enjoyed Metroid, Metroid II for Gameboy, and Super Metroid on SNES so the choice was a no-brainer. And with this, Metroid enters the realm of three dimensions, but how did it fare in the transition?
Metroid Prime has a few important things to do in this category. First, it has to show a proper transition to the third dimension in its graphical presentation, it has to make the perspective feel right for those platform jumps that are so important in the series (this is also a function of the gameplay, but graphics are your cue to them), it has to provide a proper interface so you can have all the important information you need to play the game accessible without cluttering the view, and on the personal side of things, it is the first Gamecube game I play so it has to impress me.
Fortunately, it delivers quite appropriately in most categories except for some odd things about the environment. First, the very good, which is the overall presentation of information within the visor. You have a lot of readouts, but they never clutter the screen due to the well suited positions they chose for them. You also have control of how much opacity these information prompts have in case you would like it to feel even less cluttered by letting you see through them. The character graphics in the game are a bit of a mixed bag though. The Samus render looks just about perfect, but they certainly didn't seem to even make much of an effort on many of the enemy models. They do have a lot that are quite imaginative, and it's great to see so many of the old Metroid enemies (such as the Shriek Bats) rendered in 3D, but it all seems like they could have done better. The bosses are quite impressive for the most part though. The game also runs at a solid 60 frames per second for most of the time, with some slowdown from time to time, but nothing severe nor game breaking in any way. Unfortunately the environments just didn't have much of a punch except for some specific areas like the Chozo Ruins Fountain Plaza. The game also suffers from some distortion of graphics when you get close to objects, but most 3D games have that problem anyway. I would like to have seen steps taken against this though, as it has already been done in some other console games. Other places like the Magmoor Caverns, especially where the lava is, just look plain horrible. They could have done it much better. Time constraints? Per haps.
Awesome remixes of classic Metroid tunes, the return of that little musical tune when you get a new item. Overall, the music composition is quite good and enjoyable. Big props to them here. Very good audio from the enemies and environment as well, though sometimes I was wishing it had some of the old sounds (like the one that used to be heard when you laid bombs in the Morph Ball in older Metroids) but I can understand why they've replaced them. I really don't have anything negative to say here overall; it's just a very well done category within the game.
Now this is where I find myself having a difficult time with the game. On one hand we have classic Metroid gameplay taken to the third dimension. All the exploration, item gathering, learning new tricks for playing as you acquire some new item that enables that trick. All of that is in, and working wonders. They got the basics very right, and even the platform jumping is done quite well, which is a tough trick to pull off in a first person view title. But the control scheme is just not very efficient.
I know that some will immediately roll eyes at my criticism of it and immediately want to brand me as a heretic or some sort of fool for thinking so, since Metroid Prime is a ''First Person Adventure'' as opposed to a First Person Shooter right? That would all be fine and dandy if MP actually did anything deserving of its own genre; it doesn't do anything that Deus EX didn't do before, and Deus EX is hardly a new game. There's just as much exploration in both titles, and Deus EX adds in the possibility of having countless ways to solve problems. In MP, problems have just one solution. That's great; it keeps the Metroid tradition, and does it quite well (though I do long for alternative solutions - come on Nintendo and Retro, we can handle multiple ways to approach a problem, so do that on the next title). But it has intentionally crippled controls with no reason for them to be so. You control Samus with the left analog stick, moving back and forth and turning. The right analog stick (knows as a the ''C'' stick in a GCN) is used to select your weapons. For strafing, you need to hold the L trigger, and for looking up and down you need to hold the R trigger. You can also lock on to an enemy using the L trigger. I really do not see this as an effective control method for a first person title when you have 2 analog sticks available, and especially in the case of this game in which enemies can fly around you so fast and that so many attack by lunging at you. The lock on system helps, but it's not perfect, and I'd rather just have full control all the time.
The game is focused on the adventuring and not the shooting right? So was Deus EX, which controlled with a typical FPS setup (strafing on left, aiming on right), and which had much less obligatory fighting as you could solve so many situations without combat. Sorry, but the FPA thing does not convince me. I perfectly understand the need to switch visors fast, so they're fine being all available in the control pad as you need to call on them sometimes frequently doing different actions (you have the standard combat visor, one meant for scanning which is extremely helpful on some bosses and thus you need fast switching, a thermal scanner, an x-ray visor - you will find yourself sometimes witching them during combat to detect cloaked enemies - fast access to them is invaluable). However, fast access to the weapons just wasn't that important at all. They could have set up the Z button to cycle through weapons, or perhaps a shortcut to a sort of ''weapon select'' screen or whatever - remove the map function from it as that could have been accessed through the pause menu without any problem and make the Z button deal solely with weapons. That frees up the right stick and you would be free to play it in a more intuitive manner. As it is, it is never intuitive and just feels like they are restricting your control. Heck, keep the lock on feature too - no need to have removed it by making the right stick an aiming control. This system just doesn't work right, and I hope they do not use it again.
It's Metroid, in 3D! You'll continue playing it through to the end, and after it's over you'll come back to try to get that last % you left behind. Except that you'll probably not enjoy it too much because you're done with the game and don't want to wrestle with the control scheme again - at least that was my case. So you'll keep coming back to it while it lasts, but once it's over it's hard to consider picking it up again. A bit of a shame, but that's how it is for me.
Mostly excellent graphics, great game beneath it, but a horrible control scheme marring very good gameplay that's stood the test of time for all these years. I really have no idea how so many reviewers have given such extremely high props to this title considering that it doesn't do anything that Deus EX didn't do before (perhaps they just haven't played it), and the aforementioned title plays a lot better than this one. On the areas of graphical presentation, MP excels quite a lot with a clean and easy to use interface, very imaginative creature and environment designs that just don't look quite as impressive ingame but you can tell the effort that went into the concept stage. Would this title be one of the best games I've played if a month or two had been added to development? Probably, especially if during that month they would have added the option to use a 2 stick control scheme. If they had added multiple ways of solving problems as well, it would be a sure thing. As it is though, MP stands as a very good video game that probably would not have gotten such extreme recognition if it did not have the Metroid name attached to it.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 02/27/03, Updated 02/27/03
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