Metroid, now one of Nintendo's most highly-prized franchises, had lay dormant for eight long and arduous years. The reason is uncertain, although their unfortunate occurrence may have been partially aided by less than stellar sales of Super Metroid, particularly in Japan. It was passed over entirely for the Nintendo 64, which would have been somewhat suitable for a three-dimensional foray into the world of bounty hunter Samus Aran. But it wasn't until the release of an even more improved 3D system, the GameCube, that the Metroid franchise was revived. (Okay, there was also Metroid Fusion for the Game Boy Advance around the same time, but we're not talking about that one yet.) And where Metroid went was an entirely new direction for the series, one likely unexpected by gamers of the time.
First-person shooters have never been Nintendo's forte, but that's the new direction of Metroid Prime. Having said that, it was also the first game of the series not developed internally, It was instead shuffled over to Retro Studios, a relatively new developer who put all other projects on the backburner to focus on this wonderful opportunity. The result of a new perspective on the franchise was exactly that: a new perspective. Never had we, the gaming public, had the ability to see the world of Planet Zebes through the eyes of Samus Aran... at least, not until Metroid Prime came along. I'll be honest, though: I am far from an expert on first-person shooters, especially outside of the PC realm. Whenever I get my hands on a console shooter and try it out, I'm immediately befuddled by how rotten the controls feel. They are more often than not the complete opposite of natural, and it makes an otherwise exuberant experience turn sour. I am not the type of gamer who can play Halo or Call of Duty for hours on end, not because I think those games are terrible, but because I often feel as though the game has control over me, not the other way around. But those are seriously hardcore examples, delivered under the guise of realistic warfare and excessive complexity to ensure the maximum "war" experience.
Metroid Prime is NOT that type of game. Instead, it looks to cater to both those who loved the platforming adventurism of the Metroid games of olde while introducing a new genre into the mix. Metroid Prime doesn't try to be overly complicated. Its relative simplicity and almost too fluid nature makes it an instant candidate for novices seeking entry into the epic world of console-based FPSes. This is not to say that Metroid Prime's controls are perfect -- that would be untrue. Sure, the first-person platforming was (mostly) a solid experience with almost flawless execution, but the classic Super Missile has never been more awkward to pull off than in this title, for example, and the art of "halfpiping" can lead to oesophagus-jarring moments. But considering how poor I am at an FPS solely because of its control scheme, and also considering that this is my first completed FPS on a console to date, Retro Studios must have done SOMETHING right.
The game also keeps true to all the abilities that made Metroid and Super Metroid (and perhaps even Metroid II: Return of Samus for Game Boy) so memorable and enjoyable. (Err... okay, I lied. Metroid for NES wasn't as enjoyable, at least not when I replayed a bit of it a short while ago.) Samus Aran can still use her classic Power Beam, as well as other eventually-obtained add-ons, such as the Ice Beam and Plasma Beam. Multiple suits are a must, and are very much present to keep you from feeling the negative effects of certain environs. She can still collect Missile Expansion packs to increase her maximum missile retention -- 49 of them in all -- and Energy Tanks to help keep her alive (and you definitely will need those). The double-jump and grappling beam make a re-appearance. And, perhaps more importantly, the Morph Ball is back, complete with little bombs. The Morph Ball is actually used quite frequently; it's one of the few times, aside from in cutscenes, that Samus is seen from a third-person perspective, and from a side-scrolling perspective as she traverses the occasional convenient ball-shaped passageway between areas (often requiring impeccably and almost impossibly timed explosions to propel you upwards to a platform). Actually, use of the Morph Ball is a mixture of fun and frustration. The newly-added ability to follow Spiderball tracks along walls and ceilings is a joyous experience. Using the boost ability to have to halfpipe your way up curved surfaces à la any competition involving Tony Hawk, is pure hell. Leave skateboarding techniques to skateboarding games. I told it to Spyro, and I'm telling it to Metroid. Stop, drop, and don't roll! Lastly, different doors require different weapons to unlock them, as has always been the way. Very few of the enemies, aside from that dastardly space pirate, Ridley, come from Metroid lore. Gone is the potbellied Kraid and even -- dare I say it -- Mother Brain! Instead, get ready for some all-new challenges with some more crafty killers. Thank goodness for a lock-on feature, or I'd be dead.
One other new feature that could not have been introduced prior is the inception of new visors. Samus now has the opportunity to see through different types of visors, and all of them are necessary for your survival. The X-Ray Visor, for example, allows Samus to see through certain "fake" walls and also to illuminate any invisible platforms (or even enemies) that could be of use. The Thermal Visor, on the other hand, serves to help Samus see oncoming adversaries when traversing extremely dark areas. As well, only certain buttons are visible only with this visor on. These create a welcome new element of strategy and exploration not yet seen in the Metroid series.
The actual plotline in this game is absolutely minimal -- but only if you want it to be. There are very few cutscenes, if any, in Metroid Prime, and those that are available only exist to show you Samus walking into a boss room and being confronted by a foe so large and frightening that the odds seem impressively against you. For those who prefer their storylines thin and the action high, Metroid Prime caters to that crowd. However, there is definitely a backstory to be found, but it only comes from Samus' ability to scan objects, computer records, etc. to learn about her surroundings and the logs left behind by the Space Pirates regarding their research with the Metroid species. Although I sometimes enjoyed reading all the blurbs about the planet, the problem was that there were TOO many items to scan. In a first-person shooter, it slows down the pace to a crawl when you stop in your tracks and have to read a novel's worth of material. (I exaggerate for effect, but you get the idea.) It is important, however, to scan enemies and items, because the game keeps a log of this information, and it can be very useful (especially during boss battles) to uncovering the keys to defeating your opponents. As well, you get special bonuses for collecting certain percentages of the scan data scattered around the world. Not overwhelming bonus materials, mind you, but for the completist and the Metroid enthusiast alike, it's a plus.
All of the environments are very well-detailed, and although they certainly cannot match with the scenery injected into many of the shooters today, everything has a sensation of authenticity to it, as though the surroundings genuinely belong to the Metroid universe. Granted, the game itself hardly feels like a Metroid game (aside from the remixing of some classic ditties), but the inspiration is fairly clear. As well, the enemies are as animated and lively as they need to be. Things that crawl upon mossy surfaces in constant rotation don't really need too much attention. It's when a boss shows up that you have the opportunity to truly be impressed. Admittedly, I am generally not "impressed" by many games. Interested, for sure, but impressed, not very. But when I had to fight that giant rock boss, using my Thermal Visor to help save the day, I don't know what it was but it was intense and felt more innovative than any boss I had encountered in years. Maybe it was his animation or perhaps the battle style, I don't know... But I felt alive at that moment! It's also the little details, like the reflection of Samus's eyes in your visor when light flashes, that best demonstrates the love poured into the design of Metroid Prime. Meanwhile, in the land of audio, it's a festival of sweet little beam shots all around. Music plays less of an integral role, opting more to serve as background ambiance, but it is there, often remixed from classic tunes in the series.
All in all, Metroid Prime is, essentially, the next generation of the series, resulting in the most difficult Metroid game at the time (maybe if they had put a few more save points in, I'd be saying otherwise...). Two more games were released to close the Metroid Prime trilogy over the remaining lifespan of the GameCube and the blooming years of the Wii (as well as a couple of misfit titles on the Nintendo DS), and so the Metroid Prime legacy has come to a close. And, of course, they did not lose sight of Metroid's roots, allowing players to unlock the original NES Metroid (if they have a copy of Metroid Fusion on hand, ready to link up, of course), so there's certainly good Metroidy value here. Nintendo has since worked closely with Team Ninja over at Tecmo for the subsequent evolution of the Metroid series (Metroid: Other M), the likes of which unfortunately polarized much of the fanbase, mostly by making Samus a big wuss. Still, we can look back fondly on Metroid Prime as one of the bright points in the series' timeline. Maybe Retro Studios should work on the franchise again. After all, they're not doing much since they finished Donkey Kong Country Returns, right?