Celebrating All Things Metroid

Welcome to Save State, where Metroid kicks die hard. If you were hoping that the last entry would be the end of Metroid coverage in this column, I regret to inform you that your hope was misplaced. Playing the remakes of Metroid II: The Return of Samus, AMR2R and Samus Returns, wound up getting me interested in revisiting the 3D Metroid games, and to see how well they stood the test of time. It’s been over a decade since Metroid Prime Trilogy released on the Wii, which was the last time I had ever played through the games.

Super Metroid is one of those classics where the conventions it set defined an entire genre and it is still, to this day, one of the finest pieces of game design that’s ever been written to a cartridge. Metroid Prime took a lot of the 2D formula and to make it work in three dimensions, and while many look favorably on the first Prime, you heard less and less about the series as the second and third games released on their respective consoles. So, for this entry of Save State and partly to sate my thirst for more Metroid prior to Dread’s release, I revisited Metroid Prime Trilogy and will now gush about what I, personally, felt the series did well, and what I feel was poorly conveyed.

When Metroid Prime released, I was but a wee lad who had hardly interacted with first person games on consoles beyond when a friend brought over their copy of Goldeneye for the N64. I had not even played Super Metroid up to this point, but one day, while in a store, I noticed a familiar face on the shelf of Gamecube games. Samus Aran, a character I knew mainly from Super Smash Bros and that one Gameboy game (Metroid II) that I lost at elementary school, was staring at me from the shelf. That was the one game I requested for Christmas that year- I just had to know what Samus was up to, nowadays, even though I would continue to mispronounce her name for decades to come (I still call her “Sahm-us” like the Smash Bros announcer from Melee. Sue me).

Metroid Prime was, quite frankly, unlike any of the other shooters I had played up to that point. It wasn’t raunchy, like Duke Nukem. It wasn’t gratuitously violent, like Doom or Unreal. The control scheme was slow and methodical, and didn’t make me want to pull my hair out like playing Goldeneye when your friend only picks Oddjob. The goal of each location wasn’t simply to murder everything, find keys, and get to the door at the end of the level. There were no dumps of exposition by voiced characters. You were just… alone.

That feeling of isolation as you explore the planet Tallon IV is practically unrivaled. Samus goes to the planet in order to investigate Phazon, a unique mutagenic material that the Space Pirates are obsessed with. While exploring, the player can find data entries showing the original inhabitants of the planet, the Chozo, and how their civilization fell after the arrival of Phazon on their planet from a mysterious meteor. Almost all background details and lore in Metroid Prime is optional- players can scan enemies, objects, and terminals using Samus’s visor to read data entries, but if you hate doing that, you don’t need to.

The controls of the original Metroid Prime are something I remember quite well, but the Trilogy edition of the game spices things up a bit: Being a Wii game, motion controls were fit into the first two Prime games, to make them match control schemes with Metroid Prime 3: Corruption. Pointer controls for aiming were a great way to utilize the Wii’s primary controllers, letting players make precise incisions in Trauma Center: Second Opinion, or giving players the ability to lock on and strafe, but have more flexibility to hit other targets in the Prime games. You move around with the analog stick on the nunchuck and can free aim and fire with the remote’s pointer controls, but you still have the ability to lock onto targets so you can strafe around their attacks while dealing damage, which is a great change, though it did take some getting used to again.

The 3D space of Metroid Prime is utilized insanely well. The free aiming controls allows players to quickly make their way through shooting puzzles while still giving you a lock-on feature for while you’re in combat. Most of the puzzles you encounter while exploring, in any of the three Prime games, will be relatively simple in nature or might require a power up that you have not yet found, but occasionally you’ll find one that’ll stump you until you have a brilliant eureka moment that lets you push on to the next area. The Prime games go all-in on atmosphere and exploration, and almost any time you acquire a power up, you’re free to backtrack to find new health tanks, missile tanks, and the like.

Everything flows well with you exploring, collecting new power ups and abilities that let you explore further, and then you’ll finally encounter a boss who will typically check your skill with a new power you’ve obtained. Many of the bosses, across the entire series, will involve dodging attacks until an opportunity presents itself to allow you to cause damage to the boss. In the case of the first Prime game, while fighting a large, mutated plant monster, an opportunity might arise in which you can shoot down some mirrors that are redirecting sunlight to the poisonous creature, causing it to fall over so you can freely damage it. This might seem esoteric, but the Prime games always hint at the weaknesses of bosses should you seek it out- using the Scan Visor, you’ll see the phrase, “That which fouls the waters seeks the sun.”

Knowledge is power in the Prime games, more so than most other skills, as it doesn’t matter if Samus has the Wave or Ice Beams if you don’t use them at the appropriate times. Exploring across Tallon IV, you’ll acquire a Thermal and X-Ray Visor, Plasma Beam, a gravity-defying Spider Ball power up that lets Samus cling to surfaces in Morph Ball mode, and plenty of power ups from previous Metroid games such as Super Missiles, Power Bombs, and more, and you’ll utilize every one of them to take down the ultimate boss of the game, Metroid Prime, a Metroid that wasn’t just mutated by Phazon, but somehow grew to thrive in it.

Of course, merely defeating such a creature couldn’t be that easy. Metroid Prime is the name of the entire trilogy for a reason, and in its unsuccessful attempt to take Samus down with it at the end of Prime, it managed to absorb some powers of her suit and remade itself in Samus’s image. Metroid Prime 2: Echoes takes place on a planet called Aether that is going through a state of transdimensional flux. The optional lore-seeking players can perform is available once again in Echoes, but the difficulty of the game has been turned up to accommodate returning players.

Everything players love about Prime 1 is present in Echoes, with the caveat that it’s harder. Due to the “two worlds” nature of Light and Dark Aether, players will be forced to venture into zones that have damaging dark vapor that quickly drains Samus’s health. With the air of Dark Aether being caustic to Samus for a significant portion of the game, I also found myself wanting to grab as many energy tanks as I could, just to give me more time to explore and mess around while in those zones (before getting the Light Suit).

The “Hell run” sections of Echoes put a fair number of players off, but the level design accommodates for it well. Even more challenging is a boss fight players undertake while under the health drain of Dark Aether, putting you to a strict time limit that can make you sweat a little. Contrary to Prime 1, however, Echoes has a number of cutscenes that will give players additional information about what’s going on, including a new antagonist who chases you to the corners of planet Aether- Dark Samus, perhaps better known by the name Metroid Prime.

Each Metroid game has to take away Samus’s abilities for some reason or another. In Prime, it was the result of a technical mishap after taking a large amount of damage in the prologue zone, but in Echoes, Dark Samus takes the abilities of your suit and will even use them against you at different points of the game! Similar to the SA-X enemy of Fusion, Dark Samus will hassle you periodically throughout the game, all the way until the final boss fight. The lore of the planet Aether is interesting, the combat is more challenging than the first Prime, and puzzles and secrets abound to interest the player. When I was much younger, Echoes was not my favorite Prime title, but returning to it years later, I can look much more favorably upon it.

Clearing Prime 2: Echoes leads you to Prime 3: Corruption, which has a fair deal more cutscenes and voice work than the series ever had before it. This game introduces a group of Hunters and concludes the story of Dark Samus and Metroid Prime, and introduces an incredibly satisfying mechanic all the while. At the start of Prime 3, Samus and several of the other Hunters are corrupted by Phazon, but thankfully they survive and are given new suits that keep their corruption at bay and allow them to use a powerful state called Hyper Mode, within limits.

The new mechanic in Echoes was a dark vs light environmental design where being in Dark Aether would constantly drain Samus’s health- in contrast, Corruption allows Samus to spend her health to get a big boost in power, but being in the Hyper Mode state for too long will cause Samus to become corrupted, and you only have a few seconds to vent the Phazon by attacking or you’ll suffer Terminal Corruption and it’s game over. Getting hit by enemy attacks later in the game will fill Samus’s corruption gauge, as well, which can be both a benefit and a detriment. If you’re already in Corrupted Hyper Mode, getting hit by Phazon-based attacks can give you even more power to fire off Hyper Missiles and the like, but obviously if you overload you can wind up causing an inordinate game over, so you need to be careful and not get greedy while fighting.

Beyond the introduction of an at-will Hyper Mode (it’s not just for final boss battles anymore!), Corruption features the same gameplay as the first two Prime games, and has a more balanced difficulty than Echoes, leaning toward easy. Or, perhaps, Corruption only seemed easy because it was played right after Echoes, which I found way more challenging. That said, while Echoes did a poor job of directing the player where to go on a number of occasions, Corruption will flat-out show you objective markers to indicate where on the map you needed to go.

Admitting, objective indicators can be a turn-off to some, but didn’t really impact my play experience since now I knew where not to traipse and could freely backtrack and use the gunship grapple beam I just acquired to find more goodies. The areas of Corruption are also split up into different planets you visit- this actually benefits the game’s overall visual design, as each planet can be a vastly different alien world with its own exotic visual flair and not be limited to a singular, cohesive design philosophy to which the previous two games adhered. Of course, since you can sometimes have NPCs talking to Samus while you adventure, the feeling of isolation the player may have experienced in Prime 1 or Echoes is completely absent in Corruption. The third game in the Prime series incorporates more narrative elements into its design (possibly taking cues from Metroid Fusion, which was the 2D game that had the most dialogue up to that point), which is by no means something that makes the game worse, just different.

Corruption is the game that tries to incorporate all of the elements that Metroid games tend to talk about- the Galactic Federation, that Samus isn’t the only bounty hunter in space, and the like. After experiencing the first two games back-to-back, Corruption’s approach seems novel in comparison, and after seeing Other M’s attempt to show the player more of the universe and characters that aren’t Samus Aran, I think I can appreciate Corruption’s approach much more, now. Corruption tried a lot of new things for the Prime series’ finale, and I think I appreciate it much more now than I did when I was a younger man. I mean, Prime 3 is the game that lets players finally call in Samus’s gunship to remove obstacles or perform a bombing run, which is cool because you rarely ever see her gunship function as much more than a save point. It is worth noting, though, that the application of firing gunship missiles at locations is somewhat inconsistently applied.

Part of the fun of Metroid games is reaching a location you can’t cross, only to wonder, “Will I get the Grapple Beam? Where is the Screw Attack?” These kind of questions drive you- players should be instilled with a want to acquire new movement options and weaponry that will open new paths, which will allow you to acquire even more items. This is present across all three games, and while I might not recommend playing all three of them one after another, you can’t go wrong with playing any of the Prime titles because they’re all still extremely good. The original Prime game is likely still my favorite, but both Echoes and Corruption have stood the test of time quite well, and the Wii Trilogy versions of Prime 1 and 2 make moving around and exploring much faster than the original Gamecube editions since you don’t need to hold extra buttons in order to aim up or down.

This column will likely run after Dread releases, but it’s been a lot of fun returning to one of my favorite series over the months of September and October. It has also been quite a lot of games to talk about, but it’s a great series that earned its place in the annals of great game design for a reason. That being said, I think we’re long past due to save and close out this week’s edition of Save State, so until next time, keep your Metroids primed and hunted!

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