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Metroid Prime

I’m always a little skeptical when a game is a 3D reboot of a 2D series, but there have been enough good examples of this for me to give Metroid Prime a shot. It’s a very solid entry in the metroidvania vein of games, which could be good or bad depending on your outlook. Personally, I am not a fan of that type of game unless it deviates from its roots enough to become something more than a generic room-by-generic-room exploration complete with numerous instances of backtracking.

Samus kneels after landing on the ground from a jump.

Prime’s greatest accomplishment is its environment – the graphics are absolutely excellent without being insanely detailed – they have the sort of polish that allows for an environment which is much more than the sum of its parts. And this is a consistent trait, one that allows for excellent environments throughout the entire game. Not only are models good, but the various effects that are seen throughout the game are very aesthetically pleasing, from rain that bounces off your weapon to the world’s visual distortion that occurs when a fully-charged shot is fired. Prime has some of the best usage of effects I’ve ever seen in a game. I could list them all and how great they are, but it’s enough to mention that the various visors one uses add even more clever effects, and things like seeing Samus’ eyes in her helmet’s reflection and having her HUD momentarily disabled from electricity based attacks make environment manipulation and combat that much more fun and exciting to participate in. One problem with these effects is that while they are implemented very effectively and do not feel like they’re too much, their high quality is almost distracting. Perhaps I’m simply the type to notice such things, but they both add infinitely to the immersion factor and happen to take away from it all the same.

A cylindrical boss towers above the player.

All of these graphical nuances are great as superficial traits, but what helps separate them from other games is their assistance in telling Metroid Prime’s story. Coupled with items to scan that tell pieces of the story through text, the true story is the complete world that the player is immersed in. It’s easy to see how anyone could potentially be bored by a such a concept, and I don’t think it would be easy to enjoy Prime without accepting and appreciating this. There is history and evidence to be found everywhere, and while there is a fair bit of combat, this is where most of the gameplay lies. For the most part, this optional part of the game is where all of the gameplay is, and it’s best experienced by reading the environment as one progresses through the game. This isn’t possible on subsequent journeys through areas that have already been explored, which is what makes going back through environments so weak. I can’t stress enough what a great concept for a game this technique is; it’s both easily ignorable and the most stimulating part of the game, and it is constantly present; it’s something that the player is immersed in from beginning to end, with every landmark another piece of a tale that can be interpreted as the explorer sees fit. The presence and locations of enemies are also a part of the environment. When first playing the game I used to annihilate most of the enemies in my path, but as I played more I grew to respect the environment more, and in turn, leave those creatures who were not immediately harmful to their business. There is no benefit to destroying the wildlife on Tallon IV other than for resources, so when not in need it seemed most appropriate to leave well enough alone. On top of this, the wildlife seemed as much a part of the environment as any static object, which is saying something; normally, one would see a moving being and look at it as an enemy or other NPC to interact with, but the wildlife did indeed seem like part of the landscapes after traversing past it more than once. This provides some benefit to the backtracking, because I wouldn’t have been able to consider any of these things if I had only gone through a room with enemies that aren’t very dangerous once.

Snow falls over a snow-covered landscape.

But a Metroid game would not be complete without its backtracking, and Metroid Prime has its fair share. This can sometimes be fun, as every once in a while an unexpected event or enemy will show up, but for the most part you’ll have to look at the same exact environment and enemies on your way through to that one room you can now get into because you have the one weapon you required to do so. I can handle this once or twice, but near the end of the game I was tired of the environment, appealing though it is. I also found myself slightly disappointed with the game’s map system, although it seems fairly high quality. There are sometimes issues with perspective confusing what room you’re looking at on the map, and for a metroidvania game it can be a problem. I do think that the developers did about as good as they could have given the game’s complex environments. One thing I continually wished for was an easy way to follow an elevator between different environments while looking at the map, to get a more dynamic idea of how everything connects together at a high level, because as it stands each area is a separate map. A system to plan out a route that your in-game HUD could help you follow would be neat too, but that’s getting out there. However, to be honest, I passed my destination a couple of times unintentionally.

Metroid Prime is one of the GameCube’s finest, and it would be a shame not to give it a shot. I’ve never played another game quite like it; telling a story through an explorable environment is a concept that games in particular have the potential implement very well, and I can’t imagine Metroid Prime’s execution being much better.

Notes

This review is based on the Wii’s Metroid Prime collection, which provides Wii-based control of Samus as opposed to the GCN controller. The game is entirely playable on the GCN, however, the Wii control makes the game much easier to maneuver, and also provides a widescreen ability that I’m not sure was present in the original. A couple of the effects are lost by the dynamic nature of the Wii controls and the usage of a different engine, which is a shame, but for the most part the game is intact and shouldn’t be disregarded on the Wii.

Thanks to Squall234 from the Video Game Box Art community for the image.