Review by Ryan AK
"An amazing feat of game development that reinstates Metroid's authority in the gaming world."
Before I ramble and rant about Metroid Prime, let me give some back history on the Metroid series, the development of Metroid Prime, and the initial reaction to it upon its release. After all, to know where you’re going, you have to know where you came from.
Metroid Prime is a game that has been able to overcome incredible odds to become one of the perennial games on the Nintendo Gamecube platform. Being released in late 2002 (in the U.S.), it had been an eight-year drought of Metroid games since Super Metroid’s release in 1994. And Super Metroid was not just any installment into the Metroid series -Super Metroid was an amazingly well crafted side scroller for the SNES. Although not exactly hailed for its greatness back in the day, Super Metroid has become nearly unanimously loved and sought after in the current gaming world. In fact, It was named the greatest game of all time by the highly respected American gaming magazine, Electronic Gaming Monthly.
The biggest hurdle Metroid Prime had to overcome was the fact that it was going to be produced by the American developer Retro Studios, rather than by Nintendo of Japan. To most people, it seemed as if the next Matrix movie was going to be written and directed by an Eskimo in the middle of the Sahara desert – stuff like that doesn’t result in success. To complicate matters even more astronomically high, the game was going to be produced as a first-person shooter, a first for the Metroid series. During production, it was constantly being leaked out that the project was in disarray, and that Shigeru Miyamoto, who was overseeing the work done by Retro, was unhappy with its progress. In fact, it was rumored that the game’s first-person shooter format was a sort of “last resort” by Miyamoto, due to the fact that first-person shooters are supposedly easier to produce than third-person platformers. By the time it was released in November 2002, the gaming community was baffled as to what to expect from it. Those who have played it know the results - Metroid Prime beat the incredible odds stacked against it to become worthy of its Metroid pedigree, and proved to the world that the great experiment was a success after all.
Now that you know the history, learn why the method to the madness resulted in a success. So, without further ado, let the real review start.
Metroid Prime, as stated before, is a first-person shooter. It is, however, a FPS unlike any other, and the gameplay is certainly not your typical PC frag-fest, with heads rolling, talk of “PWNAGE”, and short game segments at a time. Instead, the first-person perspective is used to immerse you in the suit of the game's protagonist Samus Aran. Other than that, the game is pure Metroid, cut from the very same cloth as Metroid, Metroid 2: Return of Samus, and Super Metroid. You really feel as if you are in Samus' suit, on the strange alien world of Tallon IV. Most of the game revolves around targeting - targeting enemies, computer terminals, grapple beam targets, walls with text, etc. This system works amazingly well, and it fits the Metroid world perfectly, in my opinion. There are a few caveats that I have about the gameplay. For one, the world that is set before gamers is almost too immense. While the scope and detail of Tallon IV is very impressive and grand, the cost of this is that certain parts of the game can drag on and become rather boring, as there is an awful lot of backtracking to do. Samus is also not exactly fleet of foot, either, and her slow pace doesn’t help the times that the game drags on. The area map system, always important to Metroid games, is for the most part an excellent 3D map, but it can be hard to maneuver and understand. The world map, the map that leads to individual area maps of Tallon IV, is also a very strange beehive-style representation that is a little hard to understand. Also, the targeting does get to be a bit redundant after a while, and sometimes it feels as if you are just going around targeting anything that comes your way. Fortunately, in a game this immersive and atmospheric, none of these gripes really detract from the awesome experience that Metroid Prime is.
The controls, always a critical factor of first-person shooters, are fairly involved, yet they are remarkably well done. The Gamecube controller really feels like it was made for Metroid Prime, and vice versa. Funny thing is, it seems as if every Nintendo-published game seems to be made with the Gamecube controller in mind. Strafing from left to right is very fluid and natural, the aforementioned targeting becomes second nature after a while, and jumping is very easy to master. Changing various weapons on the fly, a Metroid tradition, is very well handled by the C-stick. Now that Samus is in a 3D world, turning into a ball is no longer a matter of ducking twice; it now is a simple press of a button. Once rolled up as a ball, an entirely new and purely fun experience emerges. The ball moves with incredibly life-like physics; using bombs to hop to higher targets, maneuvering through mazes, etc. is genuinely neat. I would love to see a game entirely devoted to the ball game engine, perhaps a puzzle game of sorts. Nevertheless, it is a very fun aspect of the game that adds immensely to the overall experience. I only have one bone to pick with the controls, and it is that, as stated before, the overall pace of the game is not exactly speedy, and I feel it could benefit from a slight increase in speed.
Metroid games historically have not been known to possess groundbreaking visuals. Metroid Prime, however, did have some of the best graphical effects in the console gaming world when it was released. The game has some very impressive light-sourcing effects, and various weapon blasts and sequences display some equally impressive particle effects. The environments range from gritty and eerie spaceships to lush, organic lands. Everything is highly detailed, with steams coming out of pipes, water flowing over hills, grass growing in fields, and snow covering icy worlds. The textures are very realistic, and seem to pop out at you wherever you go. Thankfully, the graphics do not suffer from pop-up, clipping, or draw-in. There is also no use of “fog” to cleverly conceal graphical imperfections. Adding to this, there is nary a hint of slowdown anywhere, even when the biggest, most graphically impressive bosses are on the screen. All in all, Metroid Prime set a new standard for graphics on the Gamecube, and subsequently for all console games in general.
The game is progressive scan compatible, an option that, with the right hardware, effectively doubles the resolution of the game, and makes the game play even smoother. I do not have the component cables and the progressive scan TV required to experience the game in this mode, but it should make an already graphically brilliant game that much more impressive.
Sonically, Metroid Prime is no slouch, either. The ambient music is cleverly composed, and seems to be mostly piano-based. Whereas Super Metroid relied heavily on fan fares with tinny sounds (read: stereotypical video game music), Prime has some genuinely good music in any realm, video game or not. When heard through a Dolby Pro-Logic II sound system, one can truly appreciate the effort that went into scoring the game with total immersion into this alien world. You can hear bits of music playing ever so softly in the background, and at the same time, you can hear the roars and shrieks of creatures behind you. I wish everybody who plays this game could experience it the way it was meant to be heard, in Pro-Logic II glory. The music that plays in Phendrana Drifts and the Chozo Ruins, areas of the game, is notably well done.
Metroid Prime has broken down so many barriers, and even stereotypes, that it probably will be used as an example of excellence for future risky game endeavors. When you factor in that its critics essentially doomed it from the get-go, panning it for its first-person perspective, its developer, and its apparent unworthiness for its Metroid bloodline, you realize that there really can be ingenuity in gaming today after all. I feel that it is a benefit to gaming because of many key aspects. One, it proved that first-person shooters can be original and methodical. Two, it proved that apparently “weak” American gaming development studios can succeed when given a daunting task. Lastly, it proved that Metroid could be brought into today’s gaming world, and that Metroid is here to stay. Metroid Prime 2 is now currently under development, and hopefully it will address the few concerns that I (and others) have about Metroid Prime. Cheers to a monumental achievement, and if you haven’t played Metroid Prime, go do so now.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 07/23/03, Updated 07/23/03
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