Remembering the GameCube: Metroid Prime (GameCube Review) by Ryan M.
Developer: Retro Studios
System: Nintendo GameCube
Release: November 17, 2002
October 29, 2011, by Ryan M. - When Metroid Prime was first announced at E3 2001, many gaming publications and fans were eager to play Samus Aran's first venture into the 3-D plane. Emotions shifted from excitement to concern however, when Nintendo turned over development of the project to Texas-based Retro Studios. The perspective of the game also took on a dramatic change; players would control Samus in a first-person, behind-the-visor viewpoint. In an era where Halo had only recently kicked off the first-person shooter trend on consoles, fans were understandably worried about the future of the Metroid franchise. Handing over the keys of a sci-fi, adventure-based series to a little-known Texas developer at the onset of the FPS craze seemed nuttier than Samus charging through fire and magma without her Varia suit, and the shift to first-person did nothing to allay the fears of fans. Fortunately, Metroid Prime proved naysayers wrong: instead of becoming a shallow shooter like many concerned, the title perfectly translated the Metroid experience into the third dimension.
Samus Aran is tasked with investigating the destroyed Frigate Orpheon for Space Pirate activity. Some events ensue, and ultimately Samus encounters Ridley, alive and well thanks to cybernetics and, in true Metroid fashion, loses the majority of her suit upgrades and abilities. Once the Orpheon is destroyed, Ridley escapes and heads for Tallon IV with Samus in hot pursuit. At this point, the player is given full control and must explore Tallon IV, uncover the nature of the Space Pirates' presence, and destroy Ridley once and for all (although that's pretty much impossible.) The main storyline is fairly simple; there's little plot development, no dialogue, and a fairly rudimentary premise. This opens up the world for the Metroid franchise's greatest hallmark: exploration. Samus' suit will often place markers in certain sections of the world to indicate where the player should travel to acquire upgrades; but you are still granted the freedom of travelling wherever you wish. Of course, there are areas that are locked down and cannot be accessed without upgrades, but again, the title is not pushy about progression and encourages exploration and progression at your own leisure.
Every game has defining element, be it story, level design, difficulty, etc, and Metroid Prime is no different. Initially, fans were cautious of Retro Studios's decision (at Miyamoto's insistence) to switch to a first-person perspective, but this choice ultimately brings the most powerful asset of the title into the forefront: atmosphere. This sensation of atmosphere sets in the moment you begin exploring the Space Pirate Frigate Orpheon during the tutorial; traversing through the ruined and destroyed rooms, littered with the bodies of dead creatures inspires a type of horror reminiscent of Ridley (no not that Ridley) Scott's classic, Alien. However, the most powerful moment of immersion occurs the instant Samus arrives at Tallon IV, the primary setting of the game.
The above picture is not Ridley Scott.
These sensations of immersion are all thanks to Retro Studios stellar art direction; from the architectural remains of the once grand Chozo civilization to the very monsters that dwell within the planet's heated core, everything seems strangely alien, yet filled with a powerful mystique, a yearning to be explored or discovered. The visor is also also aids this immersion; rain splashes onto the visor, water rolls off after surfacing from beneath a lake, and ice coils and freezes over the visor, obscuring vision. Even bright light affects the visor in varying ways: looking directly at a brilliant light source will blind the player, but firing off a charge shot in the right place will flash Samus' reflection across the visor. There's an immense attention to detail and sense of polish throughout the title, something that would become a hallmark of Retro Studios' work, but at the same time everything still manages to come together into a cohesive experience.
Controlling Samus in first person was certainly different from what Metroid fans were previously accustomed, but simple and fluid nonetheless. The analog stick was used for traditional movement, while the B and A buttons were assigned to the Jump and Shoot actions. A charge beam could be used if the fire button was held down for a brief period; allowing for a more concentrated, stronger blast from the arm cannon. In Metroid Prime, however, the charge beam also functions as a magnet of sorts, allowing Samus to draw in health and missile powerups dropped by defeated enemies. Retro Studios saw fit to use only one analog stick for movement, instead relegating the C-Stick as a method of switching between beam types. Movement feels weighted and clunky, even turning around can feel stiff at times. Samus is also incapable of looking upwards without the player first coming to a complete stop, holding the R button, and then using the analog stick to turn her head. The heavy movement can be off-putting and clumsy at first, but most players should adjust after a half hour or so. And all things considered, Samus is wearing an extremely heavy suit of armor; so it stands to reason she would have some trouble turning her head.
Some moments still look gorgeous now.
Combat initially sounds as though it'd be an issue without a second stick to manage the camera to keep track of the surrounding action, but Retro has remedied any potential problems by taking a page from the Zelda franchise. A cleverly used lock- on system, triggered with the L-button, allows the player to keep track of enemies and their surroundings. Some weaker enemies can be defeated by simply blasting away, but many stronger foes are not so easily dispatched. Some enemies have weak points, which first must be exposed and targeted with lock-on. Bosses in particular are no simple matter; randomly blasting away will not get you anywhere. Instead, Retro opted to make each boss function as a giant puzzle; figuring out exactly how the bosses tick and how to damage them is great fun and puts a nice twist on the traditional boss formula. For example, an early boss in the game, Flaaghra, is a giant plant invulnerable to Samus' weapons. However, shooting solar panels around the room cuts the plant off from sunlight and reveals its weak spot at its roots, which Samus can then bomb for massive damage.
Any good bounty hunter needs a multitude of weaponry in order to tackle a mission and Samus' suit is the Chozo equivalent of a Swiss army knife. The players have a total of four different beam weapons at their disposal: Power, Wave, Ice and Plasma along with the traditional missiles. In addition, every beam weapon can be used in conjunction with missiles to create a supercharged beam combo, after collecting the appropriate power-up of course. These beam weapons aren't exclusively used for fighting however, and each of the beams has unique, crucial uses outside of battle. For instance, the Wave Beam's' charge shot is capable of homing in on targeted enemies making combat easier. At the same time though, the Wave Beam'electrical properties can jumpstart certain machinery, provided Samus can find the "outlets" that need to be powered on. Samus' Morph Ball mode is also explored to an entirely new level: bombs can be used to trigger Bomb Slot switches and the Spider-Ball allows the bounty hunter to travel on magnetic rails. These systems enable Retro to construct several tricky puzzles that require some smart thinking outside the box to solve.
Peter Parker, eat your heart out.
Beam weapons are useful, but another essential part of Samus' equipment are the multiple visor upgrades found throughout the game. Initially, Samus comes equipped with only two visors: the default combat visor and a Scan Visor. While different visors (Thermal and X-Ray) will be acquired as the player unravels the mysteries of Tallon IV, the Scan Visor is by far the most useful. Upon switching over to the Scan Visor with the D-Pad, the player will be given the ability to target and scan plants, creatures, items, and even some architecture for information. The sheer amount of scan-able objects throughout the game is staggeringly high, and is a testament to Retro Studios OCD-like attention to detail.
Once scanned, data on certain items, creatures, and the like will be entered into Samus' Logbook. The Logbook functions as a self-compiled encyclopedia of sorts; kind of like an intergalactic PokÚdex. The entries can generally be categorized under five sections: Creatures, Research, Pirate Data, Artifacts, and Chozo Lore. Creatures is essentially a bestiary that catalogues Tallon IV's numerous plants and animals. Research details technology and architecture while Artifacts tracks the number of Chozo Artifacts the player has collected. It's alos worth noting that the scan visor will notify you on how defeat enemies. This is not a major issue, but players striving to beat the game on pure gamer instincts might want to refrain from reading any Logbook boss entries until the battle is completed.
Scan entries also provide some killer artwork.
The Pirate Data and Chozo Lore sections are the most unique sections the Logbook has to offer. Throughout Tallon IV, Samus will find records chronicling the history of Chozo colony that mysteriously vanished, and databases detailing Space Pirates experiments and their motives on the planet. This section in particular gives Metroid Prime an incredibly rich and enthralling backstory while the Logbook as a whole fills Tallon IV to the brim with life and personality. Again, the Logbook is only a cog in a machine aimed to deeply immerse the player into the atmosphere and world in Metroid Prime. Filling the Logbook to 100% is totally unnecessary to beat the game, but rest assured that completionists will find a little reward for accomplishing this daunting task.
15/15 - Immersion is the name of the game and the soundtrack goes to great lengths to embody the soul of the environments. Every section of Tallon IV, from the menacing flames of Magmoor Caverns to the frozen beauty of Phendrana Drifts, is perfectly personified by the their songs. Even the title music is an outstanding remix of the traditional Metroid theme than manages to capture the mystery, terror, and wonder of the game all at once.
19/20 - The graphics themselves still hold up quite well and were cutting edge at the time of release. However, one of the key reasons the graphical design still holds its own against many newer titles is due to Retro Studios' stellar art direction. The art design brings everything to life, even more so than the music.
24/25 - Metroid Prime is a first person adventure title, and its important to understand exploration comes first. Combat, with the exception of bosses, can be almost entirely avoided if the player chooses, and the deep backstory can easily be ignored if the player is disinterested. An average playthrough amounts to around 20 hours, but the desire to hit the 100% may be incentive for some to replay the game.
37/40 - The controls are smooth and easy to adjust to, although the clunky movement and lack of camera control may be a small entry barrier for some players. Puzzles are fairly difficult, and enemies have patterns and tricks that usually prevent players from relying on the traditional strategy of blasting away at random. Beam, visor, and suit powerups allow Samus to traverse through a variety of environments, although the Screw Attack is MIA. Logbook data fleshes out Tallon IV into a living, breathing world. Load times are virtually nonexistent, although occasionally the game will experience a few hiccups during a door opening, causing the player to wait a few seconds before a door opens.
95/100 - Metroid Prime is perhaps the epitome of not judging a book by its cover. Exploration and puzzles is the name of the game, despite its first-person perspective, and combat is secondary. An occasional loading issue, the cumbersome (at least initially) controls certainly take some getting used to, but these are merely chinks in the power suit, so to speak. This title receives the highest recommendation, especially for fans of adventure franchises like Zelda, and is worth every second of your time.