Metroid Prime – Game Review

Related: Metroid Prime 2: Echoes (sequel)

Metroid Prime Hunters (DS spin-off)

Similar: Bioshock

Batman: Arkham Asylum

 

Platforms: GameCube, Wii, Wii U

Genre: First-Person Shooter Action Adventure

Length: ~15 hrs. (20 hrs. completionist)

 

Positives:

  • Isolation.
  • Unparalleled atmosphere.
  • Interesting mechanics.
  • Unique gameplay.
  • Well aged visuals.
  • Haunting soundtrack.

Negatives:

  • Needs bigger mini-map.

I still remember playing the Metroid Prime demo kiosk at the local K-Mart before its release. There was a timer on the demo before it kicked you back to the title screen, so I would play over and over to get as far as possible (made it past the first boss). I have never had a demo hook me into a game as much as this – it certainly helped that Metroid Prime has the pinnacle of what a first level should be. No filler, all awesome – sums up the whole game, in fact.

To label Metroid Prime as a first-person shooter is misleading, for it shares nothing in common but the perspective with the common notion of an FPS. You won’t find 360-no-scopes or run-and-gun gameplay here. Instead, prepare for heavy exploration, unique combat, and atmosphere few games manage to achieve. Metroid Prime oozes atmosphere. From the way rain and frost affect your visor, to how the interface is integrated Iron Man-style within the game world, to that haunting music of alien mandibles clicking with anticipation, Metroid Prime pulls you into a world unlike any other. My favourite immersion detail is seeing your face reflected inside the visor after a bright flash – mind blowing for the time.

We play as Samus Aran, legendary bounty hunter, as she answers a distress call from a Space Pirate frigate, where experimental subjects have slaughtered the crew. There, she faces Ridley, her archenemy, and the fight eventually leads her onto the planet Talon IV. Alone on this alien-infested planet, Samus must track her enemy and deal with far more than she expected.

The isolation grips you right away. You quickly learn that everything on this planet will try to kill you and there is no one there to help. Expect to dive into murky lakes, roam canyons, delve into volcanos, and explore ruins as you uncover what really happened on Talon IV. Metroid Prime wants you to feel alone, one woman against a planet.

However, to even the odds, Samus has her signature power suit. Early in the game, much of Samus’s equipment breaks, leaving her with little more than the basic Power Beam, as is usual for the Metroid franchise. As you progress, you will find new beam weapons, each with interest effects – the Ice Beam, for example, freezes enemies after a charged shot to the mouth. Beam weapons can further be enhanced with a dose of missiles (also usable on their own). It is so satisfying to complete a charge just in time to blast a leaping alien point blank with a massive explosion, knocking them back.

The way aiming works is unique. As the second stick handles weapon swaps, you aim by holding a trigger to lock-on target. While locked-on, you will strafe instead of turn and you can do quick dodges to sidestep attacks. Use the other trigger, and you stand still, converting the movement stick into a free-view mode. This sounds strange, I know, and if it were a standard FPS like Halo, it would be utter rubbish. However, Metroid Prime was tailored for this control scheme and it works great. If this still doesn’t sound appealing, the Wii and Wii U versions allow free movement of the crosshair with the Wii remote at all times, while lock-on merely keeps the enemy in view.

Metroid Prime has more to it than combat, mind you, far more. Samus can scan the environment (useful for finding secrets) and enemies to uncover lore and weaknesses. At later stages, the visor upgrades with different vision types, my favourite being the X-Ray visor, which allows you to see through walls and into enemies. It still blows my mind how incredible the tech was to build this game.

Samus can also acquire various utility upgrades to help with traversal. Each new equipment find feels meaningful; you immediately get a sense that so much more of the non-linear world has opened up to you. Finding the Space Jump Boots, you remember that platform, just out of reach, which you spent ages trying to snuggle your way onto. Or all those purple doors that impeded your path, now ready to fall aside as you blast them with your new Wave Beam – yes, even the weapons play a significant part in the exploration and puzzles.

Puzzles! Throughout Talon IV, you will find many ingenious puzzles akin to an Indiana Jones adventure, though with a sci-fi slant. Your main puzzle-solving tool is the Morph Ball. Samus curls up and rolls around like a Sandshrew, fitting into narrow passages and scaling walls once upgraded. (Yet another dimension to exploration.) As with all of her equipment, the Morph Ball has uses in combat too. Nothing funnier than turning into a ball when in danger and zigzagging though a room of aliens trying to stomp you – “I am outta here!”

With such equipment, Samus feels powerful, truly like the galaxy’s best bounty hunter, yet the challenge has the right level of daunting anticipation. The difficulty, the balance between figuring out an enemy’s weakness and which weapon to use, keeping your surroundings in mind, all comes together for a tight combat experience.

If I had one complaint, it would be a need for a bigger mini-map. As is, it barely conveys information on which rooms are ahead, making you open the full map more than necessary, which matters in the labyrinth that is Talon IV. Still, minor issue.

Why Essential?

Metroid Prime is a unique game (barring its sequels). Even including Bioshock and Arkham Asylum as ‘Similar’ games above is a bit of a stretch. One may find elements common to other games – great feel of exploration or isolation, for example – but no game brings the unique combat, deep exploration (with plenty extra for those interested), and puzzles together, all wrapped in flawless atmosphere, like Metroid Prime does.

What about the Metroid Prime sequels?

Metroid Prime 2: Echoes adds more to Metroid Prime’s horror side; however, the new ammo system for extra Beam weapons reduces the strategic and puzzle elements, as you end up holding onto your ammo just in case instead of being creative.

Metroid Prime 3: Corruption introduces new characters, which is cool, but it loses the sense of isolation and it isn’t as dark, so the atmosphere is weakened. These are still fantastic sequels you should play if you enjoy Metroid Prime.

Recommendation: Whether you prefer the GameCube version or the Wii version (far cheaper as a Wii U download – Metroid Prime Trilogy is one of Wii’s most expensive games) depends on your attitude towards motion controls. Metroid Prime 3 showed off much of what motion controls were capable of in games, which was later applied to Prime 1 & 2. Either version, you are getting a great game. Do note the Wii & Wii U versions do not support GameCube control schemes, only Wii remote with Nunchuck.

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