"A "Prime"' Surprise for one who Dislikes FPS"

I have to hand it to Nintendo: as of late it can seemingly do no wrong, even when ''it'' doesn't make the games. As anyone who reads my Zelda Kaze no Takuto (Wind Waker) review can attest to, my initial thoughts towards that game were anything but those of good feeling and anticipation. On the contrary, at the time I could care less about what happened to such a kiddy title, or so I thought. Indeed I was wrong. And so too, it seems, am I wrong with Nintendo-or should I say Retro Studio-'s Metroid Prime, the latest installment in a long situated, however not long winded, series. Although the game released last November, I didn't get my hands on it until around February 10 (2003) as I only have an imported Gamecube and thus had to wait for my Datel Freeloader software to arrive which would let me play domestically released titles. (Yes, the ''irony'', I had to WAIT to play such 'exotic' titles as Metroid Prime and the likes).

Before I begin a formal evaluation of Metroid Prime however, I feel that-as with Zelda-it is necessary for me to establish those thoughts which I had before formally playing the game. To give the reader a basic summary: I do not like first person shooters, and thus I did not like Metroid Prime. I don't care what people said, claimed, or offered, I could not and would not believe that Metroid Prime was anything but a first person shooter (hereafter referred to as 'FPS'). One of the largest turn offs for me actually was the look of the game itself, that of a first person perspective from inside Samus Aran's visor. I did not care for the ''true to form'' look of the visor (why couldn't the view be flat like all other FPS games? Why did it have to curve with her visor), nor did I care for the stupid little readings that cluttered the screen. I wanted a 2-D Metroid game, plain and simple. In all honesty, the only excitement I felt towards anything Metroid last November was in waiting for [Metroid] Fusion to release.

Sometime in early January, I visited a friend's house who got Metroid Prime for Christmas. I remember the first thing that disgusted me was the game's box; how Nintendo of America felt so concerned with shelf space that it actually decided to put Gamecube games in a ''full sized'' DVD case. (Anyone who has an imported Gamecube game will know why I'm complaining. The imported games come in a clear plastic shell not much larger than a small paperback book, accessorized with a slip case ''box'' that fits over the plastic shell.) Moving on however, he told me that since Christmas day, he could NOT put the game down. I didn't believe that for a second, as I couldn't see how anyone could like Prime that much, let alone speak so highly of it and claim it to be a perfect installment to the Metroid series. Nevertheless, after much insistence on his part about trying the game out (after all, I had only came over to show him Breath of Fire V on my imported PS2), I finally gave in and tried the game out. Refusing his offer of free food (as it was dinner time; it should be noted that I am in college and thus this took place during Winter Break), I started a new game of Metroid Prime and feared for the worst.

Indeed the ''worst'' is what I encountered. While I constantly proclaimed how much I liked the music (pretty much the only thing Nintendo of Japan did for the game in theory), I found the game to be utterly appalling. I got stuck in the very first area as I could not get the 2nd set of power cells to open. By the time my friend had finished eating dinner with his family, he came back up stairs and laughed in amazement at how I couldn't do something as ''simple'' as scanning the nearby terminal to activate the power cells needed to open the gate. A short while after, I arrived at the boss of the intro area where I didn't fare that well. I turned off the game before it could finish me off however. That was the last time I ever wanted to play Metroid Prime as I hated it.

And yet this small tingle of enjoyment remained with me. I decided at a later date to order a copy of Metroid Prime and have it ship with my Datel Freeloader whenever that would ship (which turned out to be a little over a week ago). I had a copy of Metroid Prime (Import) on order, and imagined I would end up playing that instead since Datel constantly delayed the release of it's multiregional access disc.

When Metroid Prime arrived a short time ago, I remember turning it on and hearing the amazing music that I kept pining over at my friend's house. Then I realized I had to start the game and actually play it...Armed with a keen sense of direction (or at least the ability to solve the ''riddle'' of that first scanning terminal) I soared past the first screen of the game and into the Space Station. Even then however, I still did not enjoy the game. I found it annoying at how many things there were to scan in the station. Every screen had seemingly a dozen items to examine. I became quite annoyed (I don't know why, but these kinds of things are like RPG NPCs for me; I need to talk to them all in order to feel comfortable...obsessive compulsion perhaps). Indeed I almost died leaving the Space Station because I spent too much time looking for new things to scan on my way out...

Arriving on Tallon IV, I still disliked the game, mostly because of the dozens upon dozens of items to scan. But then all of a sudden, something came over me. Hearing that familiar theme music from Zebes, I began to smile. And indeed it was at this point (much as when you first see Link in Wind Waker) that I fell in love with Metroid Prime. It became my mission thereafter to complete the game 100% regardless of how much time it took me.

I don't quite know what makes Metroid Prime so enjoyable, but it just is. In truth, the game really is nothing more than a glorified FPS, but it's done in such a way that you never feel that you're playing a Doom/Quake/Unreal ''clone'' but instead are playing Metroid, just in 3-D. For the life of me I can't understand what makes Metroid Prime anything BUT a FPS, as the game revolves around blasting things and such just like any other FPS. Maybe it's the ''grandeur'' and scope of the game that FPS don't have? For whatever reason, Metroid Prime feels MORE like a recreation of its ancestors than *ANY* Zelda, Mario, or other title Nintendo has sought to bring into the next dimension. Metroid Prime's nostalgia factor goes far beyond just the music and sound effects; it's as if the game itself is a retelling of Samus' most impressive adventure ever, just looking at it in a different way. In truth there was never a single point during my playing the game that I felt Prime was anything other than a Metroid installment.

It's hard to say what Prime's largest draw is...there is just so much to like about it. The sheer variety of weapons and items, the innovations, the HUGE environments just begging to be explored, the fascinating bits of story and details that can be examined, the constant search for hidden alcoves, items, and data files...there is just too much to like about the game. Retro Studios managed to make one of the most impressive adventures I've ever experienced. And it's not a walk in the park, either. Metroid Prime is by no means a difficult game, but it's sure as heck not easy, either. Bosses require multiple playthroughs for the most part, thanks in part to their steep challenge, and thanks to a spread out network of save locations, you constantly have to watch out to make sure you can make it to the next rest sanctuary. In a sheer fit of genius, Retro opted to have areas evolve with Samus. Instead of encountering the game weak monsters as you back track, progression is instead met with increased monster resistance and presence. Where you once may have seen only poison mushrooms, you may later be surprised to encounter massively armed creatures that are anything but sedimentary.

Adding to the excitement is the perfect balance of item/weapon separation. As is the Metroid ''formula'', you can never access everything from the get go. Instead, you must play through the game, simply staring in awe at the ledges, doors, and crevices that exist all around you, for it will not be much later until you will be able to solve the mystery of what lies beyond them. And therein lies one of the best aspects of Prime (or any Metroid game truthfully), because of the myriad of branching paths and alternative routes, you never, ever feel bored or annoyed at having to back track. Each time you revisit an area you can-for the most part-discover some new section or detail that was once previously inaccessible, but that can finally be explored. Additionally, the presence of alternative routes allows for shortcuts and such to alleviate any unnecessary traveling.

What helps to make Metroid such a Prime experience is definitely the amazing graphics. Despite viewing the world through Samus' visor aided eyes, the world is nonetheless vibrant, detailed, and jaw dropping. There are so many environmental effects and graphical details that one would be truly hard pressed to play through even an hour of Prime and not find something to stare at in awe. Even the various weapons are fun to use, both in their different attack elements and in their projectile appearances. Whereas the Power Beam fires a single burst of energy, the Wave Beam launches three electrical pulses towards your target. Indeed there are times whereby you will become so immersed in your surroundings that should a monster pop out of nowhere, a Biohazard (Resident Evil) type of shock may occur. I can think of quite a few instances whereby everything seemed to be going smoothly when all of a sudden I turn around and see a monster right in front of me.

Adding to the already impressive experience is in no small part the truly breathtaking musical score. In truth, I feel that Nintendo Co., LTD blessed Metroid Prime with the finest musical compositions ever to make it out of their offices. Prime's music is just amazing; truly epic and truly fitting. Each environment has its own music, and at times the environment's music will actually change as new events occur. I can not recall another Nintendo game whereby I actually had to put down the controller because I wanted to hear more of the music before leaving the area. Words can not describe the nostalgic factor touched upon at hearing fully orchestrated versions of now classic (Metroid) themes. Even tunes from Super Metroid have managed to make their way into Prime, however the new ones to be heard are every bit as good as the old.

The control is another well done element of Metroid Prime. Despite some at times annoying problems with jumping/timing, the control could not be better. Samus responds as quickly as you can tap the buttons and thanks to an evolved lock on system, you can always make sure you're going to hit your target. All of the buttons on the Gamecube's controller are used, and all to perfection. Even while in Morph Ball form (upon which the game will change to a 3rd person perspective) the control is tight and responsive, and thus the transition is flawless. The game makes excellent use of the Gamecube controller and thus there is not a single awkward finger placement to be encountered. I really have to hand it to Nintendo, they sure do know how to design a product.

Serving as a guidepost to all those lost in the belief that Nintendo games are child’s play, Metroid Prime is by no means an easy game. Despite the plentiful amount of Energy Tanks (14 to be found in all) and the massive arsenal that Samus has, death is still inevitable. Bosses are a given, whereby sometimes it will take more than 5 attempts to overcome the monstrosity, however towards the end of the game the normal monsters can prove to be the player’s downfall should they get careless. It’s refreshing to see AI in the enemies rather than employing the practice of an all out melee assault. Space Pirates, for example, are highly intelligent and will actually try to ambush you if they can. Other times once they know where you are, they will hide behind walls and take cheap shots at you when you’re not looking. Annoying? Extremely. Realistic? Entirely. (Exactly how many times in real life can you think of a living stimulus that waits to react to you until you get 5 feet away from it? Heck, my dogs start barking before I even get in the house!).

To comment on the story of Prime would be a disservice to the player. Metroid Prime excels on so many different levels, but especiall the story. Instead of forcing itself upon the unwilling player, esentially all of Metroid Prime's text is user based; that is to say it is the player who decides how much to read, not the game. If you are someone who would prefer to just blast through the game without caring about the plot for a second, Prime will let you do that. On the other hand, if you are someone who (like me) wants to find out as much about the world as possible and scan everything, you will be rewarded for doing such (both in terms of fleshing out the story/scenario as well as by unlocking hidden art galleries in the process). Rest assured that those curious to take the time and learn about the going ons taking place on Tallon IV will not be dissappointed. Prime brings a new level of depth and scope to the Metroid universe, and is more than welcome.

As an added feature, those with Metroid Fusion for the Gameboy Advance (and a Gameboy Advance/Gamecube Link Cable) will find some welcome and impressive surprises should they choose to connect the two. It is nice to see that the Gameboy Link Cable can actually serve more purposes than for those who play Pokemon titles, and I hope Nintendo continues to make use of it in manners such as this in the future.

Metroid Prime stands as being one of the only games I’ve ever felt compelled to replay immediately after completion and play to perfection at that. Despite having finished Prime with an 86% rating, I nonetheless immediately restarted (on Hard mode no less) and did not stop until I had 100%. To be entirely honest, I’d play it again right now if I wasn’t so busy. It seems that Prime actually gets *more* fun the more you play it.

Thus, as anyone can see, I no longer feel quite the same as I initially did towards Metroid Prime. As with Breath of Fire V for the PS2, though my initial first minutes with the game were hardly what I would classify as fun or captivating, in almost no time at all I completely lost sight of those once doubtful and resentful impressions and became totally immersed in the game's world. Metroid Prime is *truly* a gem among games and is in fact one of the best Nintendo games, if not videogames in general, I've ever played. Retro Studios truly deserves a big pat on the shoulder for showing the world that just because you're a developer based in the United States, your product does not have to be inferior to that of something spawned in Japan. I look forward to Retro Studio's future projects (especially given that the company recently announced a sequel to Metroid Prime...I can only begin to count the days until that formal press release...). While I would hardly say that a game like Super Mario Sunshine is any reason to buy a Nintendo Gamecube, gems like Metroid Prime (and the soon to be released in America Zelda Wind Waker) prove that Nintendo does still have some fight left in it, and that its games are still quite a match to be reckoned with, *quite* a match indeed.

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 02/16/03, Updated 02/23/03

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