Insanity Prevails' Metroid Prime Review
Excellent transition to 3D FPS
Classic Moves implemented well
Well crafted environments
Unique control system
Jumping is occassionally awkward
Too much backtracking for 100% completion
Samus Aran has been missing a grand adventure for a whole generation, with her only home console appearance since the SNES being a fighter in the Super Smash Brothers game. However, Retro Studios have taken the unusual step of changing the game into a first person shooter of sorts for her first Gamecube outing. Time to see how this fares.
Graphically it is amazing. The environments have been crafted with an immense level of detail. The rocky cliffs actually look like rocky cliffs. But the game doesn't stop at mere textures. Visual effects like running water or dust clouds are also rendered perfectly. The effects of the special visors also bring in a new look. The foggy x ray visor and the colourful thermal visor. The effects look natural enough as you would expect, and work hard to create an immersive world.
Yet MP doesn't stop there. Retro have even gone so far as to include things as your visor steaming up as you move through steam jets and getting covered in ice when falling victim to a chilly attack. Or leave Samus idle for a few moments and she'll start looking around and mess with her arm cannon. It's neat touches like this that makes you appreciate the visuals even more.
Perhaps the most ingenious concept though in terms of visuals is the HUD (Heads Up Display). Games tend to have various icons and stats plastered all over the game screen. While vital in knowing how your character is doing they don't exactly look natural. MP takes the clever route and designs the onscreen display as a computer feed via Samus' visor. It actually looks natural except when using morph ball mode (due to the camera moving back to a third person perspective). An excellent job by Retro in creating a very believable visual experience.
The music used in the game perfectly compliments the style of the virtual world Samus explores. None of them are the type of tracks you'd want to stick in the nearest music system to listen to for hours, but rather they help build the lonely isolated mood the Metroid games are well known for. Slow calm music tends to be the order of the day, and really I don't think anything frantic would work all that well all over the place.
Sound effects are similarly used to great effect. Creatures growl as they move around the areas while some roar when they spot potential prey. Alarms blare out and machines can be heard feverishly working away. If it's meant to make a noise you'll hear it. Even Samus herself will cry in pain if hurt or gasp for air. That aside, Samus follows the traditional Nintendo concept of silent protagonists by not really talking to anyone, which is fine as players can imagine her vocal style. That and there's not really anyone to talk to as anything alive usually wants to see you dead.
The reason for this quest is a pretty simple one. Samus intercepts a distress signal and goes to help out. She arrives at a silent space frigate that appeared to have taken some heavy damage already. She disembarks from her own ship and investigates, but soon finds herself under fire from the few space pirates survivors.
After killing the aggressors the ship is destroyed, but Samus and a pirate escape. The pirate heads for the nearby planet of Tallon IV, and Samus gives pursuit. Unfortunately she loses track of him and chooses to land on the surface in order to search for him on foot.
So far it's pretty standard stuff. The initial backstory isn't likely to blow anyone away but it does provide a strong reason to go around shooting stuff. Prime differs from many of its competitors though by how the story is developed. Very little of the plot is revealed through key cutscenes or dramatic events. Instead the majority of the information is uncovered by Samus herself. Scanning various objects, such as computer terminals or enemies, can reveal data, some of which relates to the occurrances on Tallon IV. Important story information is downloaded to Samus' log, meaning the player can access the information anytime after having found it. Of course, this does pose the concept of the player actually missing parts of the story if they miss key data points, but it does encourage players to be fully aware of what is around them at all times.
The start of the game doesn't actually start out too promising. There's only a few targets to shoot at that pose virtually no problem at all, the route is kept to a strictly linear fashion and puzzles are rare. Fortunately this appears to be a mere warming up phase, and things quickly improve vastly when you reach your first boss at the end of the frigate.
Combat comprises a good part of the gameplay, and MP does this wonderfully. At first you'll face no more than pretty basic enemies. Oversized bettles that try and ram you or wasps that buzz around. Such creatures have little offence ability and die quickly but can still be dangerous enough in numbers at such an early point for the careless gamer. As you progress though these creatures thin out and are replaced by more threatening enemies. You'll start facing things like flame throwers and laser fire. Defences and mobilty increase as well. Even "basic" enemy encounters can become difficult firefights.
While some of these enemies can be dispatched with simple mindless firepower many have specific strengths and weaknesses. Natives of the icy Phendrana region are quite resistant to icy attacks but fire isn't something they can handle well. Others may require more than simple beam fire, like some beasts need to have missiles fired at their rears or small pests can only be killed by morph ball bombs. Learning about the enemy and figuring out the best way to kill them is an important element and prevents Prime from descending into mindless firing.
Boss fights take it to a different level though. They naturally possess much better offence and defence than the common enemy as well as possessing many different attacks. As per usual with bosses you must uncover their weaknesses and then exploit them, all the while working hard to avoid their efforts. Some bosses can take a while to defeat too, providing an excellent challenge. Needless to say, the game is littered with bosses, and a neat touch here is that later on some of the earlier bosses actually return as standard enemies.
Of course, fighting enemies is made such a joy in no small part thanks to the control system. Those used to the usual FPS control scheme may be in for a shock though. Unlike other FPS games there's no way to free aim while moving. This game instead uses a lockon system to target enemies, allowing the player to keep them in view and circle around them, although players can still free aim while standing still and holding R. Other controls are logically placed. That big green button lets rip with the arm cannon, your primary method of killing stuff. B to jump, Y to fire a missile, X to switch to morph ball mode. Visor changes are mapped to the D Pad and beam types likewise to the C stick, allowing for fast changes. It's all also very responsive and fluid too. Samus moves exactly as you want her to.
But fighting isn't all there is. Exploration is also a key element of the Metroid series, and Prime certainly does not disappoint here either. There are a variety of environments to explore on Tallon IV. Generally speaking they cover all the basic types you'd expect (fire, ice, technology, grass) but the areas are so wonderfully constructed that it's a joy to behold. Cliff faces, suspended platforms, concealed alcoves, tunnels, waterways, expansive chambers. There is simply so many places to reach and find. Even better is that it's not entirely linear. Feel free to wander off and explore. In fact, Prime encourages it, as powerups like energy tanks can often by found off the beaten path.
Furthering this, Prime continues a trait carried over from past endeavours. All environments have areas inititally blocked off from Samus that usually require some form of ability Samus doesn't have yet. Those with a good memory wil be rewarded when they later gain such an ability and remember past areas previously inaccessible. This means that even if you explore every reachable inch of an area the first time you arrive you'll still have other parts that open up to you later on. Just because you can't get there now doesn't mean you can't ever.
But not all exploration is done in first person. Shortly after landfall on the planet Samus earns the morph ball upgrade, which offers a completely different experience by itself. A quick tap of the X button switches between the normal bipedal mode and this morph ball mode. The camera also pulls back so you can see ball Samus clearly. Samus' offence abilities are now limited to small bombs and much later power bombs that offer Samus' most destructive offence capability (although usually ineffective against bosses themselves), but her significantly smaller size allows her to reach into small gaps and passages that normal Samus cannot reach. Making clever use of her bombs as well as further ball upgrades does an excellent job of expanding the exploration aspect. A dead-end may not be the end as you're encouraged to look around for any place Samus could conceivably access.
The controls of the morph ball are obviously notably different from the usual first person controls but nevertheless are still best descrbed as responsive and fluid. Her actual movement is a little looser here, which shows excellent attention to detail as one would expect a moving ball to be less steady than two legs (though quite how a ball manages to move around isn't exactly explained). That said, it still manages to be perfectly controllable so there's no problem. A and Y are still used for weapons, unleashing small bombs and power bombs respectively, although this time you don't need to aim them at anyone as Samus just drops them where she is. Morph ball upgrades earned later involve boosting with the B button and clinging to rails with the R button. Everything works very well.
In Morph Ball mode Samus can't naturally jump, and no upgrade allows for a direct jump command. Instead Samus gains height in another fashion - bomb jumps. Samus can't get hurt by her own weapons, but the small bombs she drops actualy propel her into the air. The concept is not only clever but easy to get used to. There's also a more advanced double bomb jump that's harder to master but immensely satisfying when you manage it and successful use is needed to collect some of the game's extra powerups. Thankfully it isn't needed for the main quest so less experienced gamers need not worry about it.
Sometimes such exploration is impeded by puzzles, and Metroid comes up a winner again. Puzzles will initially perplex you and involve some clever solutions. One such example are electrical conduits that have to be energized to activate them. Lucky that one of Samus' weapons she gains fires electricity then. That said there are also some of the mundane type, like activating computer terminals. Some may even be obvious as to how to do them but challenging to actually do them, such as some areas involving morph ball slots and timers, making the player reach each slot before the timer ends.
Of course, sometimes a player may find themselves seemingly hopelessly stuck, but Retro have catered even to this. There are two elements in the game to assist progress. The most used one is the scan visor. Samus can't fire while using this but she can scan many items in the vicinity (and I mean many). Some things will give clues (scanning enemies is the key to learning their weaknesses). Others will record data to your log that helps explain the story. Others will "activate" stuff (like lifts or gates). Of course, not everything is helpful but it's a nice touch that even that which doesn't help progress through the game still has some interesting tidbits about the game's backstory. Reading intruder reports abou you from enemy terminals is quite a cool aspect.
There's also a hint system in the game. Take too long to move on and a hint is delivered, as well as marking on your map where you should be going. This is somewhat important as sometimes it's not immediately obvious that you need to backtrack a bit for an important upgrade. For the hardcore gamer the hint system can be turned off so it doesn't get in the way if you don't want it to.
The game does have some bad parts too. Juping in a first person game tends to be somewhat awkward, and Metroid Prime is no exception. Sometimes it is too hard to jump accurately because of the first-person perspective due to the whole problem of not being able to see your own feet. Fortunately difficult precision jumping is kept to a very low amount so even this doesn't get in the way of anything.
Backtracking also tends to have an impact. Generally this has little effect on the main goal as there's relatively little actual backtracking, since times when you need to move back to an older area is usually accompanied by a new alternate path back to said area. However, 100% completion is a different matter as you'll find yourself going back through older areas multiple times tracking down the extra items around the place.
That said, these nitpicks are really minor and shouldn't damage the gameplay too much.
Another thing to mention is the linkup options. Most games have ignored this option but by linking Metroid Prime to the GBA Metroid Fusion you can access fusion suits in Prime and the original NES game too. It isn't much and rather pointless considering the linkup isn't used for anything the disc alone couldn't have done but it's nice to see Retro Studios actually trying.
Retro Studios have done the Metroid series the greatest of justice. This is definitely a game no Gamecube owner should be without. What few faults exist have so little impact that the gameplay shines through as a real winner. It's challenging and fun and quite a fresh take on the FPS genre. Retro Studios, congratulations on successfully bringing the Metroid series into the 3D realm.
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