Metroid Prime Review

Ah, Metroid. How I remember in my younger years how much time I put into these classic titles. First Metroid on the NES, with its wondrous password saving feature, and then on the SNES, which is arguably one of the best games of all time. Now, 8 years later, we finally have a sequel that harkens back to its roots.

Originally there were quite a few complains when the ravenous Metroid fans found out that Retro Studios was going to do Metroid in 3D, but after playing through this game, I have to say that this game feels exactly like how the 2D Metroid titles played, except in full 3D.

Amazing. Outstanding. Impressive. To say that this game is visually amazing is an understatement. Locked in at a very solid 60fps and supporting Progressive Scan, this game is a sight to see. But what makes it so good to look at? Let me explain.

First off, this game just feels alive. The non-hostile monsters just wander around, enjoying their lives before you walk in and waste them. Little details like grass are displayed where it should be. Environmental effects like rain and lightning are used to their utmost to enhance the realism of this world. Things like steam and smoke cloud up your vision as it should. Things like computers can explode in a firefight, and you could ‘accidentally’ destroy a chamber holding the latest creature to be analyzed so it can terrorize the locals.

Next up on the graphical list are the monsters you’ll be fighting. You’ll find many of the classic Metroid monsters scattered around for you to kill, except this time they are in perfect 3D. From the little Zoomers to the flying Shriekbats, they’re all there, and they’re ready to do everything in their limited power to get rid of you. Classic mainstay bosses from the older titles also make an appearance, and to put it nicely they look fantastic in 3D. The polygon counts on them are very high, and they are well detailed. Needless to say that any Metroid fan will get a smile on their face as soon as they recognize the critters they are killing.

Continuing on with the graphic detail is the overall view of the game. As this game is done in a first-person format, Retro Studios decided to go all the way and visualize how Samus Aran would see the world from her viewpoint – through her visor. Amazingly they pull it off perfectly. Her visor details everything you need to know – her energy level, remaining missiles, current visor and weapon selection, etc. And since you’re looking through her visor, you get the weaknesses as well – it can fog up from exposure to steam, you’ll see a distorted view for a second as you jump out of water, raindrops will splatter on your view, and you’ll get electromagnetic interference when you approach the more robotic enemies. One has to mention the different visor modes though – you’ll start with your basic visor that shows what a normal person would see. Then you’ll upgrade to a thermal visor, allowing you to see the world based on heat signatures, which not only looks amazingly realistic, but it can overload as well based on your surroundings. Eventually you’ll end up with an x-ray scanner, allowing you to not only see things invisible to the naked eye, but to allow you to see through shallow walls.

And finally we come to the bosses. Without giving anything away, I just have to say that not only are they amazing to look at, but most of them are absolutely huge and wonderfully animated, and all of them equipped with enough weaponry to make your average army look weak.

There are some negatives though, but these are so minor they don’t make much of a dent in the overall score. First off, yes, there are some low-resolution textures here and there. For the most part you won’t notice them, and if you are looking at a wall from point blank range, odds are that you shouldn’t be there. Also, the frame rate can drop under insane combat situations. However, in order to do this, you’ll have to be in a huge room, face 3 or more creatures, and have at least 6 wave beam shots arcing through the air. In other words – it really won’t happen.

Wow. Your ears will be in for a treat when you play this game. Not only does it sport some of the best soundtracks that I’ve heard in quite a bit, but it uses sound effects to its fullest to draw you into the game.

First off, the music. Starting with the title screen and continuing until you finish the game, you’ll be listing to some outstanding musical tracks. While quite a bit of the music could best be described as ‘mood music’, events like boss battles and such throw out a very upbeat track designed to pump you up. The music will even change rapidly at times, based on what is going on around you. Best off all is the inclusion of some heavily changed (but easily recognized) themes from the older titles. If you enjoyed playing the other Metroid titles, and remember the music from ages ago, a smile is guaranteed to appear upon your face as you remember some of these classic tunes. Ultimately, if there was a music CD I could buy of this game, I would do so in a heartbeat.

The sound effects are just as well done as the music, providing crystal clear samples to your ear. From things like your footsteps to others like the noises the various critters across the levels make, everything is very well done. As you continue to play, you’ll realize what exactly you’re facing from the noise they are making before you actually encounter them. Little things that most won’t notice are included as well; the quiet noises your suit makes as you cycle through your different visors, the noise of babbling brook, the hiss of a nearby steam vent. All of this is there to draw you entirely into this game. This game also supports Dolby Digital Pro Logic II, allowing you to know where something is coming from thanks to positional audio.

As this is a ‘first person explorer’ according to the designers, you don’t get to use the traditional dual analog controls like most shooters would use. Instead, you just use a single analog controller to move around, allowing the other two controllers to select between your different visor modes and your weapons.

Personally I have no problems at all controlling Samus this way, and when you think about it, there is no better way to pull it off while still retaining the easy functionality of being able to switch weapons and visor modes in an instant. Especially considering that the gameplay is built around being able to do just that…

The controls are simple though – A fires, B jumps, X turns changes you to/from morph ball form, and Y fires missiles. Left analog moves you around, while L locks on and R gives you free look mode. The digital pad changes you from one visor mode to another, and the right analog changes weapons. After a small learning curve due to you not having dual analog support to move around, you’ll get used to the controls, and learn why the designers set it up this way.

One thing to keep in mind – Samus is inside of a large bulky suit, keeping her from being able to look up and down easily (contrary to the older titles). Due to a lack of dual analog movement, the only way to look straight up and down to target something is to hold down the R button for a long period of time. While one might think that this puts you in a vulnerable position, keep this in mind – short of a very short list of rooms, you have no reason to look straight up or down. Out of that list, there are only 3 rooms that I can think of where that would of kept me from taking a tad more damage than I would of taken otherwise. And out of that, the control issues for aiming can be solved easily – get the heck away from your opponent. Samus was never one to take on enemies at point blank range. If you back up, and then jump while looking upward, you tend to be able to lock on to any enemy above you in a matter of a single second, two at most.

Ultimately, could they have converted the controls over to a dual analog type control? Yes. Would it of drastically changed the gameplay of this title? Yes. Did Retro Studios make the right choice in choosing this control scheme? In my opinion, yes.

Metroid Prime starts out simply – You are Samus Aran, interstellar bounty hunter. Your mission, which you’ll be forced to accept if you buy this game, is to track down the Space Pirates and their legions on the planet Tallon IV. Something is lurking in the depths of the planet, and only you have the power to figure out what.

Starting off with about a third of your powers, you explore a station high above Tallon IV. While short to explore, this place is basically your tutorial mode of sorts, and it allows you to fool around with some of Samus’ advanced technology for a bit, as in true Metroid fashion, you’ll start with absolutely nothing once you begin the true game.

This game has some great pacing in it. As said before, you start with nothing, but with each new ability you obtain, more and more of the world is available for you to explore. It’s sorta like having a puzzle in front of you – as you dig through the mess of pieces, more and more of the entire picture is revealed, until finally you connect that one last piece, allowing you to see your hard work, or in this case, the ability to go wherever you want to on this planet.

Okay, so my analogies are a tad unusual. But look at it this way then – you get one ability, which unlocks a few sections of the world, allowing you to get a few powerup items. It also allows you to continue onward towards your next ability, repeating until you finish the game. This formula worked very well on the older Metroid titles, and it works perfectly here as well. You’ll always have something to look forward to, and you’ll always have options open to you to explore.

This brings me into what some might consider a negative – the backtracking. In true Metroid fashion, you backtrack into older areas. Quite a bit. Some of it is optional (you find a ton of powerups this way), but for the most part it’s mandatory as you simply don’t have the abilities to get the required items in question the first time you visit an area. Also in Metroid fashion monsters will respawn almost as quickly as soon as you leave an area. This is necessary though because otherwise the world would be an extremely barren place by the time you’ve gone through half of the game. As far as I’m concerned these issues are a staple of the Metroid series, and nothing more.

Also of an issue is the game’s story. Or to some, the lack of it. Unlike just about any other game out there with a well-developed story, this game doesn’t throw it in your face. Instead, you’ll be forced to scan just about every new place you enter to gather the story. See, it seems that these Space Pirates kept rather interesting logs of everything they are doing to this planet, and to the creatures they find. I can only think of one other series that has done this (the System Shock games on the PC), and it was done very well in those titles. As for here, most of the log entries contain a wide range of things, from nicely detailed findings from the Space Pirates, to topics dealing with what creatures/bosses you’ll be facing shortly, with others detailing simple things like about not eating certain rations, to others with a more humorous topic (Do Not Feed the Metroids). As you get the feeling that the areas that you’ve been exploring have been lived in for some time, you’ll get more and more dragged into the storyline, until you actually become worried as to what exactly they’re talking about.

On to other things though. The level design in Metroid Prime is fantastic. Never do you feel like you’re just wandering around some random hodgepodge of platforms thrown together for you to jump around on. Each level has its own little touches as well – from the intertwined branches that make up the bridges in the Chozo Ruins, to the frozen icicles in the Phendrana Drifts, each level has its own little features that make them stand out from each other. See a castle in the distance? Odds are you’ll find a natural looking path leading up towards it.

Now with all this detail, one has to worry about loading times. Don’t worry, Retro Studios has you covered in this aspect as well. Short of a loading sequence when you travel from level to level (which one can consider a cinematic instead of loading time), you’ll be able to travel across the entire world without a single pause to yank you out of the immersion this game gives you. There are a few hiccups to this though – as the game loads in every room you visit, there are times where the door itself that leads to the room in question doesn’t open. Basically the game is trying to load in the new area behind your back, and the ‘malfunctioning’ door is how the game covers itself.

Finally, on to the boss fights. What’s a Metroid game without the bosses? Just like in Super Metroid, you’ll face absolutely huge bosses who possess the power to wipe you out if you are caught napping at the controls. Most of them require a combination of skill, dexterity, and the ability to know when to switch weapons/visor modes in order to beat them. Best of all is that they are a ton of fun to fight. Personally I’d love to replay the second to last boss fight as that one was so impressive, but I’ll be forced to wait until I trek through the game in order to fight this guy again.

The best part about this game though is that it’s fun. This game is an absolute blast to play, and it’s a title you’ll be playing for a long time. I know that I’ll be going through this one more than once, the same that I did for both the original Metroid and Super Metroid.

Is this game worth your $50? Heck yes. Not only will you get about 20 hours of outstanding gameplay the first time through, but you can spend even more time getting the coveted 100% completion rating. Once you finish the game the first time though, you’ll unlock a hard difficulty mode, which as one would expect, is quite a bit harder. Both difficulty modes, when completed with a 100% completion, open up some very nice looking image galleries, allowing you to look at preproduction art for the game among other things.

Best of all this game hooks up with the Game Boy Advanced through Metroid Fusion, allowing you to not only get a new suit to look at, but to get a whole new game. Once you’ve finished Metroid Fusion, you’ll be able to unlock the original NES Metroid on your Gamecube. While this game looks like junk compared to today’s standards, it’s the gameplay that counts in the end, not how good it looks.

For those who were interested, in my first run through the game, I finished the game with 92% of the items found, and right around 16:20 in play time. Getting the rest of the items would of taken probably another hour or so. Personally I intend to challenge the game’s hard mode, and I’m going to attempt to find everything as well to open up the little extras included in the game.

Ron Burke is the Editor in Chief for Gaming Trend. Currently living in Fort Worth, Texas, Ron is an old-school gamer who enjoys CRPGs, action/adventure, platformers, music games, and has recently gotten into tabletop gaming. Ron is also a fourth degree black belt, with a Master's rank in Matsumura Seito Shōrin-ryū, Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do, Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance, and International Tang Soo Do Federation. He also holds ranks in several other styles in his search to be a well-rounded fighter. Ron has been married to Gaming Trend Editor, Laura Burke, for 21 years. They have three dogs - Pazuzu (Irish Terrier), Atë, and Calliope (both Australian Kelpie/Pit Bull mixes).
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