Review by xXILoveRikkuXx

"A Prime reason to own a Gamecube."

Has it really been 8 years since the last Metroid game appeared on the SNES back in 1995? While it may seem surprising that Samus and co. missed out on an N64 title she’s finally back for her debut outing on the Gamecube in a genre-twisting blend of exploration and first person shooting mayhem. The strange mix of game play styles may deter hardened fans of the series at first, but upon closer inspection all the elements that make Metroid are present and correct. Claustrophobic exploration, epic adventuring and of course plenty of alien life forms to dispose of. While there were doubts over how this game would turn out after the development of the game was handed over to relative newcomer Retro Studios rather than being developed by Nintendo itself it’s fair to say that frankly, Metroid Prime couldn’t have turned out much better than it has.

Visually the game is up there with the best of them, even giving the unrivalled graphical feast that is Resident Evil 0 a run for it’s money. Textures are of a suitably high quality with everything from the craggy rock faces of the outdoor locations to the gloomy, metallic nature of the interior environments mirroring reality itself to uncanny effect. Light pours through gaps in the ceiling reflecting off your suit, while rain drizzles down your visor obscuring your vision as you navigate the massive levels that make up the planet of Tallon IV. As you make your way through the game you will find yourself in abandoned spaceships, deep-sea research labs, dimly lit mines and icy cold mountains. Each area is detailed to no end and filled with equally detailed enemies determined to hinder your progress. As well as the enemies, Samus herself has been stunningly rendered and although you won’t see much of her as you are playing due to the first person viewpoint, cut scenes scattered throughout highlight the lavishness of the female bounty hunter.

The story picks up somewhere after the first Metroid game on the NES and finds Samus infiltrating an orbital research station after following an army of Space Pirates, inhuman creatures that want to use Metroids for their crazy experiments, to a space base somewhere in the far reaches of the galaxy. After she lands it is up to her to figure out what has happened and this then leads her to the mysterious planet known only as Tallon IV. While the story may seem simple and easy to follow it is the game play of the series that has always pushed everything forward, not a strong narrative that seems to be the main focus of many of today’s games whether they’re an RPG or not.

As I mentioned before, at first glance the game play may look radically different when in fact it is pure Metroid albeit with a completely different viewpoint. However while this may lead the majority of games players to splash their cash entirely on the notion that first person viewpoint + shooting = first person shooter, they will be sorely disappointed when they get home, remove the shrink wrapping and pop this into their Cube only to find that they’ve come across a rather different beast. Pushing the boundaries of conventions to what must surely be the limit in this hardware generation, Metroid Prime takes all the ingredients that define Metroid, adds a little FPS, a little Zelda and mixes it all up in order to create what can only be described as a ridiculously unique experience. Whether you’re scanning for clues, swinging across chasms with your suit’s integrated grapple beam or blowing away the many creatures that inhabit the planet, the game never fails to impress thus keeping the adventure varied and compelling until the very end.

Picture the scene. You have just navigated your way through a small tunnel resembling some kind of jungle and a door blocks your way. As you approach the door the ground at your feet starts to rumble and the earth beneath you shoots up. You frantically dash out of the way just in time and as you look back you see a small creature covered in armoured plating having just emerged from the soil. It turns to face you and you know what needs to be done. With a quick tilt of the C-stick you bring out your plasma cannon and immediately start charging it in order to inflict maximum damage. It charges towards you as you side step the monstrosity with precision but your visor is covered with dirt, the demon having unearthed it as it dashed past. Stunned you see the monster turn towards you again and you release the beam you had been powering previously. The armour adorning its body deflects the attack and it ricochets, hitting the nearby wall. Scanning the monster with your helmets built in radar you discover the enemies weak point. As it charges past again you shoot it in the back, the only part of its body that is exposed. The creature falls to the ground dead. Surveying the surrounding area you discover a crack in the southeast wall. Switching to morph ball mode with a simple tap of X, you roll into a ball releasing a small bomb. The wall partition crumbles revealing a small slot big enough for the ball and you enter. Releasing another bomb, the charge causes electricity to flow to the door causing it to open. And the next step in your journey begins.

This is a typical section of game in which you will have to use Samus’ built in abilities to confront the games many tasks. A multitude of weapons, upgrades and items await, each one granting a new path through the game. With these tools you are able to access previously blocked rooms and corridors in order to discover the multitude of secrets that the game hides from you as well as continuing your mission. It’s these features of the game that keep you playing, you’re always looking forward to when you’ll fight the next boss, when you’ll get a new ability and when you’ll be able to reach that room that you know holds something you want. But you’re never sure exactly what that thing is until you get it. And that’s exactly what this game is. It’s your game and you make the experience your own.

Of course none of this would matter if the controls were sloppy but this isn’t the case as the Gamecube pad, as strange as it may seem is very accustomed to this style of game. While it may handle terribly on more conventional and restrictive FPS games the controls map themselves incredibly well to the cunningly designed joypad. The control stick moves Samus while the C-stick changes between the 4 different weapons depending which way it is tilted. This weapon changing system is very well implemented as in this type of game the C-stick (or right analog stick in comparison with the PS2 and the XBOX) would normally be used for looking around a la Halo. The D-pad in a similar style to the C-stick rotates around the 4 visor modes and in my opinion is a stroke of genius as it really makes full use of all the buttons on the pad. The large A button is usually required when you want to unleash a bit of damage and can be held down in order to charge a more powerful attack. Y fires missiles (not only used for damaging enemies…) whereas X puts you in morph ball mode (something I’m sure most Metroid fans will be familiar with) allowing you to squeeze through tight crevices or lay a conveniently placed bomb. Lastly Z calls up the map (a good choice on the developers part) and the left shoulder button is used to strafe around the dynamic 3-D areas or lock on to enemy hostiles. To be honest there couldn’t really be a better set up and after half an hour or so you should be right at home with the controls. But. There is one slight problem with the controls. What problem you ask? Surely I just said that the controls were nigh on perfect. Well, not quite. The R button although practical can sometimes cause a few problems. You see this is due to the fact that R is the ‘look’ button. What this means is that if you want to look around the environments you have to hold the R button down and search with the control stick. This of course means you are unable to move while looking or in some cases unable to move your weapon to shoot in different directions while running. This could have been avoided if they’d used the typical twin analog stick set up but like I mentioned earlier it doesn’t work so well with this pad and would also disable the brilliant weapon changing system. The enemy lock on system goes some way to rectify this problem but doesn’t quite do it although it is a valiant effort.

So are sumptuous visuals, classic game play and beautifully refined controls enough to warrant a purchase? Well yes but wouldn’t you like a bit of aural atmosphere thrown in for good measure as well? Oh you would? Well then you’ve come to the right place. Sound is one of the strongest areas of the game and really makes the whole experience that little bit more pleasant when you look at the package as a whole. Music accompanies the action almost flawlessly. Thumping industrial for interior cavern? Check. Pleasantly soothing melody for evergreen wilderness? Double check Chilling tune for icy cliff. Triple… wait. No. That doesn’t work.

Sound effects are great as well, monster cries do there job, the weapons all sound different enough (they haven’t just reused the same sounds for all the weapons) so you can really tell that the people at Retro really cared about giving a well rounded game rather than excelling in many areas and failing in a few others. Above all, sound is frequent without being intrusive and parallels the already stunning, visual presentation.

Amazingly on top of all these accomplishments the game doesn’t stop there. Length and replay value are both covered as the game provides you with a meaty 15 – 20 hour single player run through along with numerous extras and upgrades hidden within. It’s a fair statement to make that this game will keep you occupied long after you’ve purchased it whether you want it to or not. Some may complain that there’s no multiplayer option (I don’t care what any of you say, it just wouldn’t work) or that its intentions come through as confused. Well guess what? I don’t care. You need this game. Not only is this a contender for best Gamecube game so far, it’s a contender for best game ever. Period. Well at least until Metroid Prime 2 comes along. ^_^

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 02/09/04

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