The Metroid games just weren't that popular in the land of the rising sun, that’s why it’s been so long since we’ve gotten the pleasure of playing as the shoulder pad-enhanced vixen Samus Aran. Apparently, Texas-based developer Retro Studios just couldn’t stand it anymore and set out (and succeeded) at making the best Metroid experience ever (in the world). It's no secret that the United States is the redheaded stepchild of the videogame industry when it comes to release priority schedules -- the other third-world countries are just distant twice removed cousins. But finally, thank the Chozo, Samus is back and better than ever in this stunningly-stupendous, amazingly-brilliant, 3D-licious game, Metroid Prime.
Retro Studios brought Metroid into the 3D realm without sacrificing the trademark feel of the previous games. Just ponder that fact for a moment. Usually a 3D makeover for a popular and established 2D sidescrolling franchise results in disaster, mediocrity or at best, adequacy. But Metroid Prime breaks those unwritten rules and not only manages to get it right, but goes above and beyond even the highest of expectations.
The biggest worry I, and a lot of other pre-hitherto non-believers had about Metroid Prime prior to its release was whether it would survive the transition to a FPS style of play. That concern was still present for me during the first hour of play, but it wasn’t long before I realized that Metroid Prime is basically Super Metroid to the 10th degree. Suffice to say, I was in arm cannon heaven.
Metroid Prime takes place after the events that led up to the destruction of Ridley, Kraid, and Mother Brain. This time you’ll don your power suit on Tallon IV in an effort to rid this once-pure world of the same Space Pirates who invaded SR388 to plunder the energy of the Metroids way back when. I’m not making this up. Tallon IV was once the habitat of The Chozo, a birdlike species with amazing technology, intelligence and appreciation for all forms of life. But when the Chozo began to prophesize the decline of their species, which coincided with the rise of a great evil, they knew something was afoot, something big. Years passed, and while time feigned hopefulness, their expectations did not. No, seriously. A great meteor crashed into Tallon IV, saturating the planet with an extremely harmful substance known as Phazon. The plants and animals that didn’t die mutated into hideous forms. The Chozo, with their advanced understanding of technology, attempted to harness this energy, this “Phazon”, but despite their best efforts they were unable to do so and their species quickly degenerated.
And then the Space Pirates came. Noticing the enormous energy emissions from Tallon IV due to the Phazon-infused meteor that struck the planet, they realized that they might be able to channel this mysterious substance into an ever-supplying source of energy. The Space Pirates swiftly invaded Tallon IV, retrofitting their advanced technology to adapt to the Phazon. Upon further experimentation, they realized that the Phazon’s unique ability to mutate was unlike anything they’d ever seen, and to further their research of it, combined the poisonous substance with the indigenous life-forms of the planet.
Unbeknownst to the Space Pirates, Samus Aran was secretly tracking their indiscretions and being of Chozo blood herself she was profoundly spurred to set course to Tallon IV, and to obliterate the Space Pirates and their firebrand intentions, quite permanently as it were.
Like every other Metroid game, Samus starts with 100 health units - but strewn throughout the game are energy tanks that will give you an additional 100 units of health permanently, should you find one. The energy tanks are plentiful enough to make your health upgrades pretty consistent but they are also hidden in a manner that will require some thinking and experimentation to obtain. Missile expansions work the same way. Each missile expansion that you find will increase your overall missile carrying capacity by five. Missiles expansion packs are by no means scarce in Prime but you’ll definitely want to keep an eye out for them since you’ll be required to use them en masse’ later on in the game.
Samus will obtain four unique visors, all of which provide a different perspective on her surroundings. Switching between visors is simply a matter of hitting a different direction on the d-pad. The combat visor is your standard heads-up display - lock-on reticules, and other features like a threat assessment meter, mini-map, and radar can be seen at a glance with this visor. Other than the combat visor, the most used visor in the game will be the scan visor. By switching to this perspective and looking at different enemies, objects, or environmental anomalies, you can bring up detailed and well-written information that is actually as useful as it is fun to read. The scan visor is particularly handy to use on bosses that require a specific method of action to destroy.
The thermal visor allows you to see things in the infrared spectrum, useful in darkened areas where enemies can only be detected by their heat signature, it is also useful for finding hidden power conduits or anything that emits any kind of heat or energy. The x-ray visor gives Samus the ability to look through walls, track optically camouflaged enemies, and view otherwise-invisible things.
While combat isn’t Prime’s main focus, any Metroid fan will tell you that it does play a crucial role in the proverbial Metroid experience, and despite the transition to 3D, Metroid Prime is happily no exception. You’ll come across myriad foes on your journey, some familiar (albeit so graphically enhanced that they may induce a double-take) and others completely new, but they all have one thing in common: they are all uniquely interesting and painstakingly detailed.
The layout of Metroid Prime’s organic-ey environments sometimes require that you navigate through small passageways and drains; this is where Samus’s morph ball ability will come into play. When Samus rolls into a ball, the camera pans out to give you a third-person perspective of the action, a’la Super Monkey Ball. By tilting the control stick, you can roll around in different directions. The further you push the analog stick in a direction, the quicker she’ll roll around. There are four different abilities that Samus obtains that are used in morph ball mode: bombs (she can lay three bombs at a time and they can be used to damage foes and propel Samus into the air in order to reach certain areas), boost ball (allows Samus to quickly accelerate in whatever direction she is rolling), power bombs (like regular bombs but much more potent), and the spider ball ability (allows you to magnetically attach to specific tracks, giving you access to new areas and otherwise-hidden power-ups).
Metroid Prime uses a trusty lock-on targeting system that allows you to trace the movements of a baddie with your blaster automatically. Luckily, this new addition to the series doesn’t come with much of a kickback as pressing the L-button is all you need to lock on to an enemy that is in your field of vision. Enhancements seem to come in fours with Metroid Prime. Four unique visors, four ball functions, and four types of power beams. You got the standard power beam, the weapon you’ll start out with that shoots energy balls in short bursts, the wave beam with its limited homing capabilities and three powerful waves of oscillating energy per round, the ice beam is able to freeze certain foes in their tracks, and the plasma beam that is the most powerful of the four beams but has limited range. Every beam can be charged to release a single devastating attack. Most of the beams can be coupled with missiles to execute even more powerful assaults, and they range drastically in payload.
Aside from visors, beam weapons, and morph ball abilities, there are two power suit upgrades. The varia suit allows Samus to survive in extremely hot temperatures and freely explore lava-infested areas without losing health. The gravity suit negates the effects of moving around under water. Without the gravity suit, Samus isn’t able to maneuver very quickly or jump very high when submerged. As Samus acquires these upgrades, her power suit will alter not only in ability but also in appearance, which adds something tangible to your continued exploits. The space jump ability activates boosters on Samus’s suit, enabling her to jump a second time while she is in the air or “double jump”, as they say. And to round out the barrage of ability enhancements, there is the grapple beam. Introduced in Super Metroid, the grapple beam is used to latch onto certain energy nodes. By moving the control stick around you can vary the swinging angle, crossing long chasms is a piece of cake when you use the grapple beam.
The information that Samus acquires by scanning different items, creatures, or research logs will automatically be filed into the log book, which can be accessed at any time by hitting the start button. From here you can scope out all sorts of useful info. The log book is divided into five categories of information: Pirate Data, which gives you insight into the Space Pirates research and their insidious intentions; Research, which contains information about how various types of equipment and items in the game operate; Chozo Lore, a collection of messages that were left by the now-dying Chozo race (Samus can decipher Chozo Lore by scanning and downloading the texts which are scattered throughout the ruins); Creature Data, a collection of information pertaining to the various enemies you will encounter; and the Artifacts section details the 12 Chozo artifacts that Samus must find before the final boss’s lair can be unlocked. This may seem like information overkill but the expertly-written text that is used immediately draws you in – you’ll pour over every piece of text that the game throws your way due largely in part to the literary quality of the various research excerpts and Chozo messages, mark my less-than-adequate words.
Visually, Metroid Prime is at the top of its class. Very few games even come close to matching Prime’s beautifully rendered universe. Every single room in the vast world of Metroid Prime is unique. No two rooms look remotely alike, which is astonishing when you consider the sheer amount of territory in the game. What's more is that the structures in Metroid Prime never repeat, believe me, I've looked, I couldn't find one single brick in the wall that repeats. Cool environmental effects include ice that builds up on Samus' arm cannon, heat waves that dissipate off her arm cannon after intense gun battles, an impressive rippling water effect when you shoot into h20, and as Samus emerges from a lake, water will streak down her visor and drip off onto the ground. You can even see Samus's reflection in her visor during underwater explosions; it's subtle but it's there, and it's awesome. It’s the little things like this that really immerse you into the experience.
Dolby Pro Logic II support is included for those with surround sound set-ups. The various ambient sound effects all around you give the impression of truly believable atmospheres. Every on-screen action is complimented by a huge arsenal of unique sounds - like the high-pitched screams of certain enemies as you blast them into oblivion or the sound of the power suit’s built-in boosters as Samus initiates a space jump. Music consists of an assortment of sweeping orchestrations that dynamically change depending on your location and impending enemy encounters. A lot of the music was actually borrowed from Super Metroid and remixed for Prime, a deserving nod to a terrific game.
Every time you sit down with Metroid Prime, the experience is always entirely different thanks to the ever-expanding environment and numerous enhancements that you'll consistently come across. It’ll take around 20 hours to complete the first time through, but there are a few surprises in store for those who reach the end-credits. Namely, the inclusion of the original Metroid game in its entirety, although in order to unlock it you’ll need a Game Boy Advance, link-cable, and copy of Metroid Fusion for the GBA. Once you download 50% of the Chozo scripts, an art gallery will open up. But these bonuses are just gravy and their presence isn’t required for incentive to play the game. Quite simply, Metroid Prime is currently the reason to own a GameCube.