The original Metroid was one of the first games I played when I got my Nintendo Entertainment System. That was over 15 years ago, and back then it was a milestone in adventure games. Keep in mind that this was during an era when most adventure games only involved horizontal scrolling, and Metroid’s vertical depth added a unique addition to the mix.
While it went unnoticed in Japan, Metroid was a huge hit in the States, and went on to span a GameBoy sequel, as well as the Super Nintendo successor, which expanded everything about the original game. I regret to say that I never had the opportunity to play the SNES sequel (a result of me being a Genesis owner), but thanks to emulation, that will eventually change.
Even for those who have played the SNES version, it is still an eight year hiatus for the series, and with the jump from 2D to 3D, it looked as if a next-gen Metroid sequel would never happen.
Flash forward to E3 2001. During a video demonstration of their new GameCube system, Nintendo pops up a small video teaser of a possible Metroid remake. Interest catches on quickly. However, not all is good news at first, starting with the fact that it would be a 3D first-person perspective title (as opposed to the classic 2D), and continuing with the fact that an American second party, Retro Studios, will be in charge of the development.
Now I’ve seen what the wrong development house can ruin a franchise. I don’t need to go any further than the PlayStation 1 versions of Contra to prove my point (thank God Konami got it right when Contra was developed for the PS2), and I’m sure the legions of Nintendo fanboys would agree with me if their beloved Metroid franchise would end up butchered.
I am pleased to say though that butchering is not the case here, as the new Metroid Prime follows the mold of great classic remakes of Contra: Shattered Soldier and Rygar: the Legendary Adventure, and shows that GameCube owners FINALLY have a strong title that is original to their system.
Prime takes place between the NES classic and its SNES sequel. After destroying the Mother Brain on SR388 and revealing a female identity, bounty hunter Samus Aran receives word that the Space Pirates are stationing themselves around the planet Tallon IV. It seems as if the pirates are interested in mining the rare material Phazon, which is known to have strong mutation capabilities.
Samus investigates an orbital base surrounding Tallon IV, but after a self-destruct device is activated, she is damaged during the escape, causing her to lose all her special attributes acquired during her previous mission. Add to that a foe she thought was dead, the flying beast Ridley has returned, and it all adds trouble for Samus.
The first thing that will be noticed about Prime is that most of the game takes place from a first person perspective, but don’t automatically misjudge it as a FPS. Think of it more as a First Person Adventure. Granted there are key moments of hunting down pirates, but the game centers more on exploration. Samus’ visor can be used as a key source of information. There are fout visors available (two of which can be used right from the start). Aside from the normal Combat Visor, the Scan Visor is used to search for clues, research, and to locate critical weaknesses. Later on, a Thermal Visor can be applied to search for heat sources of enemies and switches, as well as an X-Ray Visor to locate invisible items.
In addition to visors, Samus also can acquire four different beam weapons. Starting with the standard beam (which eventually can be upgraded to a Charge Beam), there are also Wave, Ice, and Plasma flavors available, as well as upgrades to her power suits (Varia, Gravity, and a special suit which will come as a surprise in the end), double jump boots, grapple beams, bombs, missiles, and the Morphing Ball, to name a few.
Upon exploring this world, it is so tempting to just take in the beauty that this game has to offer. The graphics might be a little on the basic side (no special features such as the fur shading seen in Starfox Adventures), but that is just fine for me. Running at 60 frames per second with no slowdown whatsoever, the most impressive feature is knowing that you’re seeing everything right from Samus’ eyes. The only exception to this is when in Morph Ball mode, where the game does go to the third person perspective that Metroid fans know and love, but everything else is shown right from her visor.
The coolest image is when firing a Charge beam at point blank range, and when it explodes, you can actually see Samus’ reflection, and not just a static image either, but a blinking, moving, real-time facial representation of our heroine. It is just gorgeous to behold.
While the audio is basic as well (there is no dialogue, all the action is shown through Samus’ visor), what is played is breathtaking, particularly the music. Metroid fans will be surprised when they land on Tallon IV, and they hear a remake of the original Brinstar theme. Considering the original composer helped write the soundtrack, it is no surprise that the new game sounds as great as the original.
Metroid Prime can usually be beaten in about 20 hours, which is an adequate time frame for an adventure of this stature, but to get 100% of the items, it could take longer. In addition, when combined with Metroid Fusion on the Game Boy Advance, many hidden secrets can be unlocked, including of all things, the original NES Metroid!
Eight years is a long time, but as far as Metroid Prime is concerned, it was well worth it. The GameCube finally has a title worthy of a system purchase, not to mention a potential Game of the Year candidate.