Rating: T (ESRB) / 12 (PEGI)
Metroid Prime was released in the US in November 2002, and in Japan and Europe shortly after. That makes it the 10th anniversary of the game. Ten years, and it has hardly aged at all.
Metroid was always a series that had a reasonable fan base, never particularly a record breaker, but a solid enough member of Nintendo’s catalogue of franchises. Whilst the NES and Gameboy Metroids were decent enough games, it was with Super Metroid in 1994, that its popularity increased. Taking elements from the previous games but improving on its visuals and atmosphere, Super Metroid was received with critical acclaim. But because it was so good, expectations for the series increased and it created a massive issue for Nintendo. How it could be bettered and what direction the series could take from there? This meant we didn’t see Samus Aran for another eight years.
The next Metroid game had been mentioned as a release for the N64, and more specifically the 64DD, which would have allowed for a much bigger game. However, nothing ever materialised. Producer Shigeru Miyamoto stated he couldn’t create any ideas that would better Super Metroid, and there were also issues surrounding the N64’s analogue stick and how it could be used to control Samus. At this point, Metroids best game, was creating a sense of caution for anyone eager to return to that universe and continue Miyamoto’s work.
Retro Studios were a relatively new developer in the late 90’s, and were overseeing several projects for N64’s successor, the GameCube. It was Miyamoto himself who pitched the idea of Retro Studios taking on the Metroid series, and it turned out to be a stroke of genius. Prime was originally conceived as a third person adventure game moving it away from its side scrolling platform roots, which would have been fine on the N64. But at that time, the first person shooter was becoming the number one game genre, not necessarily in Japan, but certainly in America, which held Metroid’s primary fan base. Whilst the game moved to a first person perspective, it would be unfair to label Prime as a first person shooter. It was, and still is, much, much more than that.
Taking place between Metroids 1 and 2, Prime begins much like every other Metroid game. Space Station in distress, Samus answers the call, and ends up on a planet ripe for exploring, but forgetting any of the equipment she had picked up from her previous adventures. From the moment she lands on the planet Talon IV, that world is yours to explore. And thankfully, exploration is still the main focus of the overall gameplay. Searching every part of each area of the planet is totally necessary, as certain areas can only be accessed with certain power ups. Its a clever mechanic which has now been done to death, but with Metroid Primes move to first person, it meant the increased gunplay, added a new angle to the tried and tested formula. The layout of the game is nigh on perfect, at no point does it become a chore to explore and find new weapons or abilities, as new areas are teased at certain points of the map, only to deny players the chance to explore further with a new type obstacle. Level design is high on the list of Metroid Prime’s main achievements, but to be fair, we haven’t even scratched the surface yet.
As mentioned previously, Prime is now ten years old. Nintendo has knocked out another two consoles in that time, and we now all have lovely shiny HD TV’s. Its a massive testament to Retro Studios then, that Prime is still one of the best looking console games ever made. The world of Talon IV is one of the most varied visual backdrops ever seen in a game, and viewing it through a third person perspective would have somewhat spoilt that. From a first person perspective, the world becomes a visual treat and makes for a far more immersive atmosphere. Atmosphere is a word that often gets mentioned when people talk about Metroid. These days we see Samus interacting with Universal Police and military types, but both Super and Prime saw Samus very much on her own, with little to no interaction with any other living creature that didn’t require a good arm cannon blast. Again, the first person view helps to increase that feeling that you are Samus, and that you are on your own. Atmosphere is not easy to create when there is random music playing away in the background, but this is another area of the game which is well handled. Action heavy moments present heavier and more prominent music, whilst quieter areas are pitched to the point that it feels like the music is almost coming from the walls, creatures and world itself, rather than being artificial, much of the score feels like its part of the world you are exploring. Prime’s score was actually the only part of the game which Retro Studios did not create in house which is odd, as it compliments the game perfectly.
The GameCube was not blessed with the biggest games catalogue, but it does have its fair share of AAA titles. But without doubt, Metroid Prime is the best game that graced the system. It spawned two direct sequels: Echoes with its light and dark gimmick and the Wii’s Corruption, with added waggle, but neither game could match Prime. What Retro Studios achieved with Prime was and still is, quite staggering.
You can find copies of Metroid Prime on eBay for reasonable prices these days, not dirt cheap, but certainly not for excessive prices. A Metroid Prime Collection was also made available for the Wii, but to truly enjoy the original, it needs to be played on the pad it was designed for and without the unnecessary Wii movement controls.
Rating: T (ESRB) / 12 (PEGI)