Until recently, I was only a casual fan of the Metroid series. I absolutely loved Super Metroid, and I enjoyed the Game Boy Advance titles. I played the original Metroid quite a few times when I was a kid, but I never owned it, and I had never completed the game until about a month or so ago. I picked up and played through Metroid: Other M recently, and had some pretty strong opinions about the story, but otherwise really liked the game. When the Cartridge Brothers announced Metroid Prime as the Cartridge Club game of the month for April, I knew it was time for me to finally finish this game. I’ve owned a copy since it was released back in 2002, but I only ever got as far as the end boss, then gave up. I hadn’t even given it a real chance again until last month. I initially tried to play the game on the Wii U with my shiney new Metroid Prime Trilogy I downloaded the day it was released on the eShop, but the motion controls turned me off immediately. This review covers the Gamecube version of the game.
Metroid Prime takes place immediately following the original Metroid. Samus receives a distress signal from the Space Pirate frigate that is sitting in orbit of Tallon IV. She boards the frigate to find that the Space Pirates have been genetically modifying their own race, and the experiments have backfired. After defeating the parasite queen, Samus escapes the frigate before it explodes. Before boarding her ship, she sees what looks to be Ridley, the dragon like being she killed on Zebes, flying above the doomed ship. Samus follows Ridley to the surface of Tallon IV, where she explores the planet to stop the experiments the Space Pirates are conducting on themselves, Metroids, and the highly radioactive substance known as phazon.
The story is mostly told through Samus’ ability to scan computer monitors in Space Pirate bases and ancient tablets in Chozo Ruins. This is all told through text crammed into a small text box. A lot of people boast this as a great way to involve yourself in the story only as much or as little as you want. I’m a huge advocate of story heavy games, but with a game like this, I’d rather just take in the atmosphere of the setting and play the game. I’m not too interested in reading little blurbs and journal entries and the like, as I feel it kills the pacing of the gameplay, but I see the value in including this type of storytelling, and I appreciate that it was included.
Travelling through the different areas of Tallon IV was incredibly fun. Each area had it’s own feel, looked great, and had excellent music to accompany it. Metroid Prime still looks great today. It’s amazing how powerful the little Gamecube really is. This is probably one of the best looking games of the generation it was released in. The textures don’t sport a high resolution like more recent games, but you have to take into account that this game was released 13 years ago, and it still holds up. The overworld is lush and green and everything feels so alive. The Magmoor Caverns give you a sense of danger everywhere you step. The Phendrana Drifts almost make you want to bundle up just because everything feels so cold. On top of the awesome environments, Samus looks amazing. Her HUD fits perfectly with the game and just looks like something that you would actually see if looking through her visor. There are incredible visual touches like the arm cannon freezing up when you charge your Ice Beam, and Samus’ reflection in the visor when bright lights appear onscreen. I still can’t get over how good this game looks and how easily I was able to get immersed in such an incredibly detailed world.
The soundtrack just adds so much to the atmosphere of the game. This music sets the mood for each area, and helps immerse you into the world that you are exploring. It’s not only atmospheric, but it also brings some very humworthy melodies. This is something a lot of games today haven’t been able to accomplish. Sure, some of the modern soundtracks sound great and add atmosphere to a game, but they just aren’t very memorable or noteworthy. My favorites are the second Tallon IV overworld tune, and the second Phendrana Drifts theme. There are also a ton of pieces that are remixed from previous Metroid games, such as the theme from Magmoor Caverns, which originates from Norfair in Super Metroid.
After playing countless modern games that use dual analogue sticks to control your character, Metroid Prime’s control scheme was a little tough to get used to at first. Using one analogue stick for movement in a 3D space is dated and less than ideal. Stating this, you do really get used to this after a short period of time, and by the end of the game, you’re moving around the battlefield like a metroid killing, bounty hunting, boss. Switching between different weapons is also a bit clumsy at first, but because of the level design, you get so used to it, that it’s hardly a concern by the time you start facing waves of enemies that will require you to change your beam types on the fly. This point in particular is a huge strength of Metroid Prime, you do not gain abilities that become useless later on in the game. Even your initial weapon, the power beam, sees practical use in the very late stages. Every weapon and item you collect has a use, and it makes the game an incredibly balanced experience that you don’t see a whole lot in games of any genre.
While this game looks like a first person shooter, it really is the “first person adventure” that Nintendo billed it as when the game was released. You will see plenty of action, such as skirmishes with space pirates, metroids, or huge boss enemies, but not the waves and waves of enemies you’d expect to see in a game purely based around shooting. There are tons of puzzles and platforming elements that you’d come to expect of a Metroid game, and the game executes these perfectly. You’d think jumping from platform to platform would be tough in a first person viewpoint, but the developers really nailed it. It’s smooth and you’ll almost always feel confident of the jumps you make. I could go on and on about the different aspects of gameplay that really help this game along, such as the morph ball, the different types of visors that will help you see the world in different and interesting ways, the optional super weapons, the way backtracking is handled by opening shortcuts for you to use with your new equipment, and the varied and exciting enemies that have you using different weapons and tactics to defeat them. The gameplay is damn near perfect.
As great as this game is, I do have a few minor gripes. First, I would have loved to have seen a spring ball mechanic added to the morph ball. This would have made traversing several areas a bit smoother without having to switch back and forth between morph ball Samus or using bombs to hop, both actions that take a bit of time to complete. Second, the scan results are in such a small window that it’s a bit of a pain to have to read through each and every one. A bigger text box would have helped. Lastly, the final area has a very sharp spike in difficulty that honestly brought out the raging gamer side of me. The area leading up to the final boss was incredibly frustrating the first few times I had to travel through it. If the final boss kills you, you have to make your way up the small platforms while dodging dive bombing phazon infused metroids that are really hard to kill without using up power bombs. It was a test of patience that I didn’t really enjoy, but after finally defeating Metroid Prime, it was an incredible feeling of accomplishment.
I was very happy to finally play through and finish this fantastic game, and if it weren’t for the Cartridge Club, I don’t know that I would have ever gotten back to playing it. I highly recommend Metroid Prime for any gaming fan. Fans of side scrolling action and adventure games like Super Metroid will enjoy this game, and shouldn’t be put off by the first person point of view. I’m not a huge first person shooter fan myself, but I thoroughly enjoyed this game. I would expect fans of that genre will also enjoy Metroid Prime, broadening the appeal to a mass audience. The game is 13 years old, but still holds up well, if you get used to the initially wonky controls, which you will. Now I’m excited to tackle the rest of the Metroid Prime series, so I’ll have more thoughts for you on those games in the future! Thanks for reading!