Review by SSpectre

"No tagline can hold all the positive things about Metroid Prime. It single-handedly justifies owning a Gamecube."

Metroid Prime

The Good:
+ Outstanding exploration-based gameplay
+ Combat is challenging and varied
+ Beautiful, polished, and meticulously detailed
+ Scan visor, among other things, is a brilliant idea
+ Lots of replay value via additional power-ups

The Bad:
- Controls take a little getting used to

If there was still any doubt left in my mind after playing Super Metroid that Metroid was anything other than the best series Nintendo has ever produced, Metroid Prime has soundly shattered it. It's a shining example of how to correctly transition from 2D to 3D, and how to change a beloved series without ruining it, which are two things developers tend to fail miserably at.

The core gameplay is still intact. You're still wandering alone through a dying world whose every inhabitant generally hates you, you still upgrade your abilities through found power-ups, and you're still given complete freedom to explore while you search for both the game-progressing power-ups and the extra ammo and health expansions. Everything else is different.

For starters, it's first-person. Now of course, the instinctive reaction to that by Metroid fans is usually disgust at being lumped in with the stereotypes of general stupidity and hyper-masculinity that have become associated with the FPS genre. But thankfully, it's not like that at all. If Metroid Prime is an FPS, it's one of the most intricate, mature FPS's ever made. Obviously the game is also in 3D, which adds a little more realism to how you explore, in addition to being very pretty. That's right, no more doors stuck in walls fifty feet above any form of floor.

The extra dimension also allows for an unbelievable amount of detail – in visuals and in gameplay. You'll see individual pieces of machinery as you explore through rubble, schools of small fish react to your shots while underwater, and fog steams up your visor as you move through it. More importantly, power-ups are hidden in inventive ways that use all of your abilities in turn. All of this detail is assisted by the third advancement Metroid Prime makes: the scan visor, which is one of the best ideas to come out of gaming in a long, long time.

The inspired power-up lets you scan your surroundings – enemies, objects, surfaces, anything – and accrue a crapload of information on each one. At its most basic, it's just used to activate switches and tell what the hell something is. At a little more advanced stage, it's used to dig up information on enemies and determine weakpoints. And when the developers are really on the ball, you can walk into a room, scan a few things, and know exactly what happened in there before you entered. Useful entries are stored in your logbook for future reading as well. Where a lesser game would simply hand you a glossary and say, “Learn things”, Metroid Prime gives you the tools to construct your own glossary from observation and says, “Be immersed in our world.”

The scan visor is essentially how Metroid Prime tells its backstory. Without it, the extent of the story you get is that series protagonist Samus Aran tracks her long-time enemies, the Space Pirates, to the planet Tallon IV, where she finds them working with a highly radioactive/mutagenic element called Phazon. So basically Super Metroid on a different planet and with mutants – nothing groundbreaking. With it, you can find special “lore” entries from both the Space Pirates and the Chozo (an ancient race that built Samus's power suit and colonized Tallon IV), which detail life on Tallon IV and the Space Pirate experiments, and foreshadow future bosses. It gets especially interesting as you start to confront the Space Pirates, and their lore begins to vent about how much they hate you and what operations you've disrupted.

The story isn't the only thing that's been borrowed from Super Metroid and then fleshed out. Most of the power-ups are old favourites, so expect to have beams and missiles as your primary weapons. You'll use some movement-enhancing abilities too, most importantly the Morph Ball, which lets you roll into a ball to explore small corridors (especially satisfying since it lets you see the details close-up), but also the Space Jump Boots (a fancy way of saying “double jump”) and the magnetic rail-traversing Spider Ball (a fancy way of saying “awesome”).

But Metroid Prime avoids the pitfall of being “Super Metroid with new enemies” that Metroid Fusion ran into, by introducing a variety of new power-ups. There are thermal and x-ray visors that allow you to find hidden items, solve puzzles, and tackle enemies in new ways. There's also the new “beam combo” system, which combines charged beams and missiles for ridiculously strong attacks. Old abilities have gotten new features too, such as the wave beam now activating disabled circuitry, and the charge beam sucking in health pickups. Impressively, almost all the tools at your disposal get equal use in both exploration and combat.

Metroid Prime does have its fair share of combat, if the last few paragraphs of my exploration- and scan visor-praising led you to believe otherwise. The enemies are all wildly varied, including such things as burrowing insects, armoured Space Pirates vulnerable to only one weapon, Chozo ghosts that fade in and out of corporeality, and a hulking half-mantis, half-plant that's also half-puzzle, half-boss.

It uses a pretty unorthodox control scheme for a console shooter; the C stick changes beams instead of aiming, and the L button controls a very important lock-on function. Indeed, this is the game's only significant fault. For the first few hours you may find yourself accidentally walking into lava or switching to the power beam instead of looking up. Thankfully, the game's difficulty curve is bloody perfect, so by the time you're facing the major threats, you'll be well adjusted.

The game actually makes a determined effort to be appealing to all challenge levels. The lock-on system which at first may seem like a cheat ends up alleviating many of the control problems faced by console shooters, and allows the combat to focus more on dodging and timing, as opposed to just blasting everything in sight. In addition to an optional hint system (optional being the operative word, there – something Fusion didn't quite grasp), There's also an unlockable hard mode which adds some replay value alongside the many, many logbook entries, ammo expansions, and health expansions.

I may have gushed a little too much about the detailed environments and gorgeous graphics in general, because it occurs to me now that it overshadows the game's excellent soundtrack, which expertly switches from moody and atmospheric when exploring Space Pirate-operated locations, to peaceful melodies for the snow-covered Phendrana Drifts, to an upbeat, exotic song when returning to the Tallon Overworld with newly-found power-ups. Sound effects convey a great deal, too. Hearing a giant, Phazon-mutated Space Pirate laugh from all directions after he turns invisible will send you frantically searching around the room in fear. Conversely, the subtle hum of a nearby power-up will have you frantically searching around the room with enthusiasm.

Actually, I take it back, it's impossible to gush about any aspect of Metroid Prime too much. It's atmospheric, innovative, diverse, and bursting at the seams with small merits. If you're one of the people that picked up the controller, complained about the control scheme, and then never touched it again, then I pity you. Because this is one of the greatest games ever made.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 08/17/10, Updated 10/01/13

Game Release: Metroid Prime (US, 11/17/02)

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