Review by mikecullerne
"Slip in behind Samus Aran's visor for the adventure of a lifetime."
Taking a 2D gaming franchise and making it successful in 3D has become somewhat of an art with many classic, ‘old school’ gaming franchises being bought to life on our more modern consoles. Over the years Nintendo have become the masters of this transition producing memorable 3D games from popular 2D franchises, the best examples being Super Mario 64 and the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. The improvement of technology has helped to make these developments and as such game designers can express their ideas, stories and worlds in ways that were never thought possible.
When Nintendo announced that the Metroid series would be making this step there were more than a few eyebrows raised but that was nothing compared to the outrage that proceeded when they announced that the game would be a first person shooter. Nintendo could have avoided the controversy if they hadn’t used the words ‘first person shooter’ because the game that Metroid Prime finished up is far from being a traditional first person shooter, in fact the game plays more like a first person adventure – having more in common with the great Legend of Zelda than Bungie’s Halo or Eidos Interactive’s Timesplitters 2. The title focuses heavily on exploration, finding power ups, learning about the gaming environment and sticks closely to the classic Metroid formula. Except it’s in 3D.
The early second guessing of newly signed second party Retro Studios was soon put to rest when the game was released last year in America and the decision to move into 3D needed no words to justify, people just played the game and they understood why the move was made. Metroid Prime is the best GameCube game currently available in this country and you will be hard pressed to find anything better on any system at this point in time. The absorbing graphics, the breathtaking graphics and the spine-tingling music and sound effects all add up to one staggering adventure. Be warned there are plenty more adjectives to follow in this review but they are well justified when describing Metroid Prime.
Metroid Prime follows on from the first Metroid on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and for the first time players go behind the visor of bounty hunter Samus Aran as she searches out the hideous space pirates who intend to build an enormous space army and take over the universe. In her hunt Samus ends up on Tallon IV and her adventure begins. Stripped of your power ups, you start your adventure with almost none of your weapons or special abilities and many of the areas are tantalisingly out of reach. So as you explore the huge world of Tallon IV you can begin to earn back your ‘power suit’ features. After you begin reuniting with your weapons and abilities the area available for exploration quickly multiplies and the world of Tallon IV becomes an incredibly large place.
From the moment you begin there is a lot to do and it’s hard to find time initially to do all the things you want to. There is always something to solve, a power up to discover or a new area to explore. Meanwhile as you dart across the planet the intense combat situations add a nice shot of action into a classic exploration title. As I mentioned earlier this is certainly not a classic first person shooter and the attacking system features a lock-on targeting arrangement, which works in nicely with the exploration side of things. And for those that are worried that there will not be enough action fear not, there is plenty of fodder to deal to and it comes with plenty of variety. Like previous Metroid games the enemies resurrect after you leave the area so planning your way ahead can become quite important and it encourages good health and ammunition management.
Finding an enemies weakness is key and a great way to do this is to scan them. Doing this will give you information on the enemy and combining this with the knowledge you have already learned about the game will help you to defeat whatever stands in your way. You can scan many things in the Metroid world learning all about the world and environment of Tallon IV and this simply adds to a very interesting story that rivals the likes of Eternal Darkness, Resident Evil and Metal Gear Solid.
The whole Metroid series has had an enthralling storyline bringing together elements of fear and uncertainty to add a strong sense of camaraderie with our protagonist, Samus Aran. The complexities and depth of the Metroid story reach their fullest in this instalment and the visuals that Retro Studios were able to create don’t leave very much to the imagination.
Tallon IV is one gorgeous place. If it was real I’m sure people would be flocking to the planet in their thousands, it’s just that good. One could talk at great length about how beautiful this game is but as the saying goes, a picture tells a thousand words so check out the screenshots below for some glorious examples of the in-game graphics. Naturally I can’t go on without saying a few words on how wonderful the visuals are. The game runs smoothly at 60 frames per second and it never drops, no matter how many enemies on screen or however many of the incredible visual effects are being displayed, the graphics engine just keeps on giving and you can just keep on taking. Such technical perfection is rare in any game so Retro Studios can be proud of themselves.
They can also be proud of the artistic effort put into the title. If ever there was a case for video games to be considered as art this is most certainly it. The variation between the areas of Tallon IV is impressive and everywhere you look there is something unique to admire or discover about the planet. One of the highlights is the Magmoor Caverns with its gorgeous lava corridors, not to mention the incredible glow of the lava on the surrounding rock surfaces. It feels like Retro ripped open the Earth’s crust and twisted it with their imaginations into their own labyrinth of fire and rock.
As our heroine interacts with her environment she can create plenty of glorious effects herself. Admiring the skeletal structure of foes looks almost too realistic with the use of the X-Ray visor. Other effects like condensation building up on her visor are noticeable when Samus moves around a spring or waterfall and there are still more water effects as you look up to the sky as it rains. Weapons like the ice and wave beams light up a whole area as they are fired and the lighting engine works wonderfully well to support the smaller effects that are happening at the same time. The depth and perfection of each little visual effect is amazing and it adds an unmeasurable amount to the experience.
Samus herself looks amazing. The power suit accurately reflects the lighting around her and she is rendered almost flawlessly throughout the game, as are her adversaries. There are plenty of ‘mini bosses’ and ‘bosses’ in the game and they too look gorgeous and each is obviously crafted with a lot of artistic love. The designers have worked hard in creating each one so you can admire and then destroy it the best way you can – and at every stage everything looks just right.
To make sure the music and sound effects were up to the high standard of the rest of the game Retro turned to insiders within Dolby mixing the title in Dolby Pro Logic II making the game sound the way the developers wanted it to. The musical score has a similar feel to Super Metroid (as most of the game does) and I wasn’t at all surprised when Nintendo bought back Kenji Yamamoto to compose the soundtrack for Metroid Prime. Each musical piece compliments the unique environments of Tallon IV but there is always an underlying theme of chilling mystery and this creates some very tense moments as you explore the surface of the planet.
On top of the musical layer there are also many sound effects that are as individual as the aforementioned visual effects. The sound of hot water bubbling or lava flowing through a passage... Then of course come the blasts of weaponry and the clanking of the power suit as Samus goes about her business of defeating the space pirates. The more expensive your surround system set-up the more you will get from the game as picking up some of the more subtle effects may be a little difficult on just your TV speakers but the overall effect is still mind blowing.
Since the release of Metroid Fusion many people fell back in love with the Metroid series and for good reason. It brought back to life the series and in many respects was just as good as the brilliant Super Metroid that I have talked about so much. As a bonus you can use a GBA/GCN link cable and unlock certain bonuses on Metroid Prime with your Metroid Fusion cartridge. The main unlockable is a complete emulation of the original Metroid on NES and it’s certainly a blast to play after all these years.
Many regard Super Metroid as one of the finest games ever made and I believe that Metroid Prime is the perfect realisation of the SNES title in 3D. From the moment you drop the disc into your GameCube and power up you are sucked into the world of Tallon IV and it’s hard to escape. There is so much to explore, so much to discover and enjoy that you can spend hours and hours just studying the world around you rather than working towards your goals. The combat setup is brilliant and while most of the time it doesn’t move you any closer to your goal taking out enemies with your various weapons is simply glorious and the artistic effort for Retro Studio’s makes it all the cooler. The clashes of ice and fire, air and water, earth and machine are all wonderfully captured both aurally and visually, at times Metroid Prime is too good to be true. Twenty to thirty hours of minimum gameplay can easily be stretched into forty or fifty with the inclusion of extra difficulties, bonuses and the GBA connectivity add-on. This is an experience not to be missed – an absolute must have for any GameCube owner. Ask no questions, find a copy, play it. Then play it again.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 04/22/03, Updated 04/22/03
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