Metroid Prime Review

Review by: TJ Rappel

Original Publish Date: Pending

Final rating: Begrudgingly positive.

A couple years ago, when it was announced that Metroid Prime would be a first-person shooter (before they caught the backlash and started calling it a “first-person adventure”), I said some rather nasty, immature things about it here on the site. I do not like FPS games. I’ve played enough of them to know that they simply don’t appeal to me. It seemed to me that making Metroid into a first-person game would be against everything that made Metroid great in the first place, not to mention the simple annoyance that they were taking my favorite game series and turning it into my least favorite game format. Not only that, but Nintendo was farming the title out to a new American development company that nobody had ever heard of. Sounded like disaster from the word go, and I got pretty hot about the whole situation. Remember that?

However, you may also remember me saying that I would gladly apologize and eat crow if everything turned out alright.

Well…I apologize, and can I get some barbecue sauce with that?

Retro Studios, for all their alleged troubles that the gaming press reported on during the development of Prime, has pulled an awesome game out of the fire. Nintendo Co., Ltd. got their claws into it as well, with Satoru Iwata serving as Executive Producer, Kenji Yamamoto reprising his role from Super Metroid as music composer, and Shigeru Miyamoto also serving as a producer, among other NCL staff. Though not entirely without its share of problems, the game is polished, well-done, and most importantly, Metroid. So let’s get to it.

Visually, the game is quite stunning. Much has been said about Retro’s talented artists, and now we know why. Textures are very realistic, the enemies look great, and there are tons of cool special effects. You can see the bones in Samus’ hands when you use the X-Ray Visor; her gun-arm smokes after firing a long, rapid blast from the Power Beam. I like the shaky-cam effect when Samus takes an elevator to another area of Tallon IV. The Chozos have a sleeker, more regal look to them (but where are the sitting Chozo statues holding the powerups?). The backgrounds of the title and menu screens show the rendered innards of a Metroid, complete with icky cysts and pulses of energy, playing in sort of a stuck video loop to give it a creepy little touch. In short, they definitely paid attention to detail, and for a game like Metroid where one may spend hours just running around and checking stuff out, I appreciate it when the developers let us know they gave a damn.

Sound & Music
I enjoyed Prime’s audio throughout. In the introductory area, the music is minimal and really shows off the sound effects of Samus’ footsteps and weaponry as well as those of the environment. Later on, the sound effects become important clues as the enemies’ noises surround you. Tentacles slice through the air with a whipping sound, cannons fire their beams as the sound rushes past Samus’ head, and the Space Pirates “speak” in scary death-metal growls. When I first started playing, I kept noticing an ominous, low humming in some areas — it didn’t dawn on me until a little later that this signaled the presence of an item or weapon upgrade, and it became an important part of gameplay. The sound is integrated well into the experience.

As for the music, it’s a mixture of old and new. Familiar themes such as Samus’ theme and the Lower Norfair theme from Super Metroid, and the good old “item grab” and “Samus appears” jingles make their return. And when Samus first landed on Tallon’s overworld and I heard an atmospheric new version of the Brinstar theme from the original Metroid swelling up in the background, it almost brought a tear of joy to my eye. Along with these tunes are plenty of new compositions, and most of it is done in classic Metroid fashion, with moody, throbbing electronica and simple melodies. Boss battle music is appropriately frantic, some of it sporting a more industrial feel. Nintendo would do well to release a soundtrack CD for Prime.

The big question is, of course, does it play like a Metroid game should? Well, yes and no. Structurally, Prime is set up much like previous Metroid games, with a handful of large “worlds” interlinked by elevator systems. Some obstacles and goals in early areas cannot be reached without powerups gained from later areas, which means backtracking plays a part in the Prime experience. Samus may travel anywhere you wish at any time, provided she’s got the tools to do so. So far so good.

However, I felt that some of the backtracking and running around was done just for the sake of making you do it, without a logical or efficient path being cut through the game. Hidden items and weapon expansions seem scattered a bit haphazardly throughout the worlds with little regard for the natural flow of the game or the strategic thinking that past Metroid games required to find them — something I like to refer to as the “Metroid instinct” which Metroid veterans have developed by now (which I also talk about in my Fusion review). Maybe it’s just that I’m not used to having to study in-game maps for a Metroid game again; it’s entirely possible that this feeling will fade with subsequent plays as I absorb the game further and develop a better route through it. Prime definitely has the potential to get better with age and experience.

I have mixed feelings about the weapon system. On one hand, I think the weapons are very cool, with the classic Power, Ice, Wave, and Plasma Beams returning. They’ve given each weapon different characteristics, which is fine, but that Ice Beam is way too slow, both in its movement and rate. The beam upgrades/combos are powerful, though it would have been cooler if they made them more unique, like the hidden charge combos in Super Metroid, instead of just another massive blast attack from each. Finally, although I can see how switching among the weapons to find the right one for the job at hand offers certain gameplay opportunities, this system seems more akin to Mega Man than Metroid; I prefer the earlier Metroids’ options of combining any or all of the Beams at one time.

The best thing, though, is that Prime is long — longer than any other Metroid game to date. Long as in, there won’t be any 51-minute records on finishing Prime like there is on Super. My first play through Prime took me almost twice as long as my very first play through Super Metroid did back in April ’94. Of course, you can still probably blow through Prime in say, 4-6 hours, but that’s if you rush, don’t grab 100% of the items, and you don’t bother scanning things. Scanning can prove tiresome at first, but when you begin uncovering interesting (and sometimes even threatening) scraps of information on the Space Pirates’ computer systems, that’s when Prime ceases to be just an action game and becomes an immersive, escapist experience. (Besides, unlike the other Metroid games, Prime’s multiple endings are not based on speed, but rather strictly on item collection rate. So take your time!)

As far as the game’s control is concerned, let me begin by saying I realize that many FPS fans have complained about Prime’s controls not being set up like a typical FPS. Well, that doesn’t make a lick of difference to me. I don’t play FPSes, therefore I’m not that familiar with how FPSes control, the standard FPS dual-stick move/look combination is not entrenched into my gaming psyche, and furthermore, I don’t care if it doesn’t control like an FPS. It controls like Metroid Prime. Deal with it.

I’ve always had trouble with first-person combat; it’s one of the reasons I don’t like the genre. Prime changes things up a bit by adding a lock-on feature, similar to Zelda: Ocarina. I like this better than free-aiming, but I still always seem to have a problem with getting ganged-up on by multiple enemies. I would kill for a way to do a quick 180 turnaround. And while we’re at it, a way to run (ala Super Metroid) would have been handy in some spots. Of course, none of that matters when a Space Pirate gets right up in your grill and starts punching you in the head. First-person close combat is the worst, but that’s just me grumbling.

As for jumping, it’s not as bad as I expected it to be, which is good, because there’s plenty of it. (It’s not as good as the old PlayStation game Jumping Flash!, which had the ideal first-person jumping system, but that wouldn’t have worked here anyway.) In fact, by using a combination of the R button (free look) and L button (lock-on), the player can tilt and hold Samus’ view down a bit, making it much easier to determine where she’ll land. However, the first-person format made it necessary to do away with both the wall-jump and, more importantly, one of the Metroid series’ most powerful weapons, the Screw Attack, in effect making Samus somewhat less versatile — indeed, less powerful — than in other games in the series. Furthermore, Prime’s “Space Jump” is really just a double-jump, rather than the ability which allows Samus to stay in mid-air indefinitely. Miyamoto once said they don’t like it if you call Metroid a jumping game, but with all due respect, come on — when four major Metroid powerups include the High-Jump Boots, the Space Jump, the Spring Ball, and the almighty Screw Attack, not to mention techniques like wall-jumping and the Shinespark, I’m sorry, but it’s a jumping game. I wish I could ignore the nagging feeling that some things are missing, but I can’t. Metroid without a Screw Attack is like Zelda without a Master Sword — it just ain’t right.

But is it FUN?
Yes. And that’s what matters. Despite my own personal difficulties in adjusting to a first-person format, and ignoring the times I’ve missed platform jumps and sent Samus head-first into pools of lava which nearly killed her, and ignoring certain Metroidy things which are missing from this game due to the format change, Prime still turned out to be a blast. It’s creepy and cool and you get to explore strange new worlds, solve puzzles, and slowly gain strength and new abilities for new ways to wreak intergalactic havoc, and that’s what we all love about Metroid. ‘Nuff said.

Aesthetically, Metroid Prime is definitely a Metroid game. They did a fine job taking the classic Metroid elements and putting them into a three-dimensional format, as well as in the creation of new enemies and environments. Good show on that count. As a gaming experience, Prime is pretty darn good for a first-person adventure. I can’t help but to be reminded of the astoundingly not-very-good Resident Evil Survivor, which I played through just because I felt an obligation as a Resident Evil fan to do so. Luckily, Prime is a far, far more enjoyable experience, and you shouldn’t feel obligated to play it just because you like the other Metroids — you should look forward to playing it because it’s a unique addition to the Metroid series.

Am I let down by Prime? Nah. Please understand — anything negative I’ve said about the game is not me trying to be a “Metroid snob,” or a stubborn old-schooler, or a rebel against just about every other review that has had nothing but good things to say about the game. Admittedly, I may have quite a ways to go in acquiring a taste for the first-person games. But one thing I’m loving about Nintendo right now is that they’re taking lots of risks and trying new things — making a first-person Metroid game, giving Zelda a funky new look — and I have to commend them for having the cajones to do so in an industry where too many companies play it safe and crank out more of the same. But do I think Metroid should stay first-person from now on? Definitely not. I think of Prime as an experiment that succeeds on many levels and doesn’t do so hot on others.They gave it a shot, and it turned out pretty well.

Heck, I’ll even say that I wouldn’t mind seeing Retro Studios take a stab at another Metroid title. They done good. But next time, I want to wall jump and screw attack in 3D and not fall off platforms because I can’t tell where I am. So when Samus says “See you next mission,” I hope we can actually see her on the next mission, too.