Review by Suporuko

"Despite naysayers predicting failure, Retro Studios has done the previsously thought impossible."

The Metroid series is one of the several classic Nintendo franchises that has stood the test of time with memorable characters and creative, unique game play. This is a review of the 5th iteration of the series, Metroid Prime, developed by Retro Studios for the Game cube. There has been quite a bit of controversy over this game from its announcement up until release. This being because it is the first foray into 3d for the Metroid series, breaking away from the 2d plat former mold and taking a likeness to a first person shooter. Now that the game has been released and I have thoroughly played it, I can assure you that Retro has masterfully crafted a gaming experience that is not merely worthy of the Metroid name, but further defines it.

Story 8/10 Metroid Prime takes place right after the events of the Metoid 1. Here Samus stumbles upon a Space Pirate frigate orbiting around the planet Tallon IV while on her way back to the Galactic Federation. When she investigates she finds that the Space Pirates have been, while she was on Zebes, experimenting on a number of different creatures, including metroids, with a strange mutative agent called Phazon, found on the planet below. Naturally Samus runs through the frigate busting some pirate heads together, and ends up narrowly escaping when the ship self-destructs. She then goes to the planet surface in pursuit of Ridley (who also narrowly escaped) where she finds a large pirate research station, the remnants of an ancient Chozo civilization, and quite the interesting back story to the Metroid universe which I don’t want to spoil. I almost feel that the story deserves a 9 for the very clever presentation and the fascinating alternate perspectives it sheds light on. In the end though, it just isn’t involved enough with what Samus is doing right at the moment in game (Although it can be argued that Metroid games aren’t supposed to be like that in the first place).

Game play 10/10 Despite the perspective, Metroid Prime is quite different from your average first person shooter, and quite like your average Metroid game. Rather than focusing on romping about, blasting away hordes of enemies you’ll spend most of your time exploring, solving puzzles, collecting items and abilities, and learning about the story through use of the scan visor (more on that later). The basic premise is that you explore the game world room by room, looking for power ups and fighting enemies. All of them can be used in different ways to access areas you couldn’t previously, encouraging you to pay strict attention to your environment so that when you do get what you need to access that certain spot you couldn’t before you will remember it. This also means that you will do a fair amount of back tracking through areas you have already been to, one of the major aspects that people new to the series have trouble coping with. I find this type of game play to be quite refreshing as it challenges my intellect (mostly memory) just slightly enough to add a sense of satisfaction to finding secrets. I also found the back tracking was somewhat enjoyable rather than boring and seemingly unnecessary. This could probably be attributed to the lovely overall presentation of the game that compensates for any monotony.

One of the more interesting power ups you will find is the morph ball, where Samus can roll up into a little ball and do all kinds of things, mostly with the addition of extra power ups. With the new 3d perspective though the morph ball is actually very fun to use for it controls much like Super Monkey Ball does and the numerous extra power ups for it create many interesting applications to the puzzles in the game. As for Samus’s weapon arsenal, she gets four different beam weapons each with different effects. She also gets missiles that can be fired alone or combined with a charged up beam shot to make one of four combo attacks (depending on what beam you use), all of which are very powerful. Most of Samus’s other power ups from previously released games make an appearance as well. There are also a few new ones like the beam combos mentioned above. I am truly astounded as to how superbly these elements have been implemented.

Probably the most important of the new additions to the series in Metroid Prime are the visors. Samus gets four of them all told each with a different purpose. The two you start out with are the combat and scanning visors. While the combat visor is just the normal default view the scanning visor is allows you to scan things in the environment for more information. This is used not only as a way to learn about the enemies you face and to find a strategy to win in boss fights (which are also quite nice), but also as a way of giving you hints to get to a secret areas. Most importantly, it gives you the back-story to the game in little bits and pieces when you scan certain things. This has to be one of the most creative plot devices I have ever seen. The other two visors are heat vision and x-ray which are the same as the combat visor but are used when fighting against certain enemies and bosses as well as a puzzle or two.

Finally, you can probably expect to get a solid 20-30 hours out of this game, and it can most likely be played a second time through or so before it gets old. All in all, Metroid Prime’s game play is amazing as it can be very simple and straight forward yet complex and engrossing at the same time, all while maintaining the classic Metroid game feel in a drastically different perspective.

Controls 8/10 Complementing the game play, the controls are also quite different from those of your average first person shooter. One of the main complaints about the game has been that the controls are not customizable and far too unconventional, but I personally got used to them just fine. Instead of using the dual analog setup, the control stick is used for forwards/back wards movement and turning, while the c-stick is for switching weapons instead of additional movement. Strangest of all, you use the L button to “lock on” to enemies, then left and right on the control stick become strafe, much like Z-targeting in the N64 Zeldas. The controls as they are, are just about as functional as the dual analog style, only different. The only significant limitation is that you can’t strafe normally which can feel like losing a limb to someone who is accustomed to strafing just as often as going forwards/back wards and turning. All things considered, the controls work great, but not perfectly.

Graphics 9/10 The graphics are wonderfully done. The texture work is good, without really any of the situation where some textures are very nicely done while others are badly done. Samus herself looks outstanding and well detailed, and makes one almost wish that the game were in third person so that one could admire the character model more often. Enemies and bosses are nicely done as well, with plenty of detail and animation. The Space Pirates that wear jetpacks, for example, are very impressive in detail of how they fly around and the smoke trails they leave.

The game’s environments are definitely varied; especially the Chozo ruins were every room seems to be full with little details like worn down stone and overgrowth. The very first outside area there (the one right before the main plaza) has an absolutely stunning dust blowing effect when you first enter, but its shame that you don’t see things like that more often. Sometimes it feels as if Retro Studios out of nowhere teases you with just a little taste of genuinely amazing eye candy but then takes it away just as quickly. Other areas though, seem to be a little blander with fewer details than in the ruins, with some exceptions. The only real significant disappointment graphics wise is the water. I don’t know why but the water just isn’t up to standards for this generation of games. It seems devoid of details and effects.

As for the “inside the suit” perspective, the HUD is masterfully done with easily readable gauges for just about everything you need. There is even a radar circle that I noticed once at the beginning of the game and read about in the manual yet never used though out my first play through the game. Retro also did a great job of fitting in little details to remind you that you are actually looking through a helmet visor. Everything from rain drops to green goop to steam and condensation to lava running down in gooey clumps to even seeing the reflection of Samus’s face when there is a bright flash of light. Heck, there are even some enemies that cause electrical interference with your visor (read: lots of static) when you get too close! All of these little things really show that Retro put a lot of thought and attention to detail into this game, and shows just how capable of a developer they really are.

In the end, the graphics are very well designed but a few nit picks and just a little inconsistency in the attention to detail department keeps it from a perfect ten.

Sound 8/10 The sound is all around nicely composed. Everything from laser blasts to explosions to the screams of agony when you fry a pirate with the wave buster, sending him 20 feet into the air all sound quite impressive. A few effects like the sound of the morph ball rolling across tile are, dare I say, just about perfect and really stand out. As for the music, there are some re mixes of classic tunes from series that are quite nice but just don’t quite hit the spot. The new songs are all quality productions and fit the game very well, but only a select few of them evoke the “creepiness” notable in past iterations of the franchise. The sound is all around, lovely, but really not too particularly special.

Overall 9/10 Metroid Prime is a game of amazing quality. That’s all that really needs to be said about it. No matter if you are considering game play, graphics, sound, or anything else, this game performs very well in every category. It warrants to be at least tried if you ever get the opportunity. A warning though, some people quite dislike the style of game play presented in this game, so it is probably best to make sure that you can cope with the nuances of a Metroid game before purchasing. For nearly everyone though, Retro Studios has done the previously thought impossible: to make a Metroid game in the first person perspective and manage to maintain the classic game play and style that made it such a wonderful series in the first place.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 01/16/03, Updated 01/25/03

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