Here we are, kids. This is the big one. Metroid kind of skipped the N64 generation for console releases, after having releases both on the original Nintendo and the Super Nintendo. Well, there were plans for a N64 Metroid game, but they were scrapped. Anyway, Metroid came back with a vengeance on the Gamecube, in 3D for the first time. Released in November of 2002, it is the first time Nintendo handed off one of its first party titles to a non-native third party studio. Retro is based and operates out of Austin, Texas. So, how does Metroid Prime 1 work as Samus Aran’s first foray into the 3D world?
In a word? Excellently. I think the easiest analogy is comparing it to The Legend of Zelda. If you look at A Link to the Past, and Ocarina of Time… They really feel quite similar. I mean, there are obvious differences of course, but by and large Ocarina of Time feels like a A Link to the Past took a step into 3D. Many items are similar, like the hookshot and the hammer (which would later become Zelda staples… kinda). The Fire and Ice Rods were consolidated into Fire and Ice Arrows. Going into the future in Ocarina of Time is kind of sort of like going into the Dark World in A Link to the Past. There’s a few light world dungeons, then more dark world ones (a few child dungeons, more adult ones). There’s interactions in both worlds required to progress the story… The list goes on and on. The point I’m trying to make is that while they are quite clearly different games, it’s clear heavy inspiration was drawn from one to the other, and it arguably helped propel the 3D game to greatness. Likewise, this happened to Metroid Prime, except with Super Metroid.
Instead of offering a comparison-fest, suffice it to say that Metroid Prime took nearly all that was good in Super Metroid, and adapted them very well to a 3D environment, while simultaneously making it better. The gameplay in Metroid Prime is done in first person. As an aside, I’m want to note that I played Prime 1 (and am working on Prime 2) via the Wii version. So my frame of reference will be from that. Anyway, all the action happens in first person, through Samus’s visor. As often happens in Metroid, you lose all of your powers in the beginning and have landed on a hostile planet. Your goal is to get your powers back and kick some space pirate ass. And boy, does that happen by the bucket load in this game.
The first major way I think Prime made a very spectacular switch to 3D is the combat system. For starters, you’re not confined to a 2D plane, so threats can approach you from all sides. I think this gave more license for Retro to make normal combat actually fairly difficult. In the other Metroid games I’ve played, combat for the most part was fairly easy except for bosses and a few enemies here and there. In Prime, the regular enemies definitely got souped up. They’ll be a thorn in your side from the beginning to the end of the game, and that is awesome.
Some systems were made more linear as compared to Super Metroid. For example, Super Missiles are not their own separate entity but instead use 5 of your regular missiles to fire. Additionally, instead of combining beams as you did in Super Metroid (and Zero Mission and Fusion) instead you have several beams that you can switch to on the fly. The system offers some cool strategic situations when you’re besieged by multiple enemies that are only susceptible to certain beams and you have to fight them all off within a time limit… I’m looking at you, Omega Pirate! You also get several visors (such as X Ray, which was an ability in Super Metroid) to help you navigate the vast areas you’ll encounter. Additionally, you get a bunch of cool exploration powers like space jump (which in this game is just a double jump… for obvious reasons, an infinite jump would be less desirable in a 3d game) and morph ball from the older games, and new abilities like the spider ball (to ride magnetic tracks in morph ball form) and boost ball.
All in all, the gameplay is classic metroid gameplay. You explore, you kick ass, and you get the hell off an exploding planet. Samus certainly has a penchant for blowing up whatever planet she’s on. One point I will praise Metroid Prime on is how they kept a lot of abilities quite relevant as you play through the game. You’ll be switching your beams all the time as you get them, and none of them are really rendered obsolete. Your normal shot isn’t really as good as the others, but it’s the only way you can fire super missiles, so it’s quite good for that alone. Additionally, your other powers are used quite often, and there’s a ton of secrets to find and collect by using your powers in inventive ways.
The graphics are spectacular, too. They look fairly realistic, but there’s a clear stylistic edge used in the colors and designs of areas and enemies… I can’t really explain it. One example I can offer is that when the Halo 4 trailer hit the screen in E3 this year, a lot of people the style to Metroid Prime. It had something to do with the yellow and kind of how futuristic some of the new weapons looked. That’s the best explanation I can give. Besides that, everything looks very good. The areas are all very distinct and have their own feel to them. And of course there are some really neat visor effects in the game. Before Prime 1 came out, a lot of people were touting its graphics as being awesome due to the cool visor effects, such as it misting up at points and water dripping off. I have to say, they still look pretty cool. Though it feels a little restrictive on gameplay sometimes, well, that’s how it’s supposed to be. The effect I love the most is how you can’t really see anything when your suit gets shocked with electricity. Very neat effect.
The music in this game is great. There’s a lot of excellent tracks. Some classic metroid themes (such as the one on Talon Overworld) and the newer tracks are equally stellar. Particularly Phendrana Drifts, definitely my favorite track in the game. One thing I really enjoy about the music in this game is how they complement and accentuate the areas they’re in. For example, the metroid main theme is the theme for Talon Overworld, and it’s the first area that you land in. That made Talon kind of feel like home, something like “Oh, this is a metroid game and I can easily tell.” Magmoor Caverns music feel more intense and kind of hurries you through the area. And Phendrana Drifts is very calming. All of the areas have distinct feels and the music really helps set that mood. As a parting note, I hate the Chozo Ghost music with a burning passion.
As far as the replayability is concerned, it’s probably a blast. Of course there’s the gameplay timer and item collection rate that’s standard to the Metroid series. Besides that, I think more than any other Metroid game, Prime 1 is just fun. I mean, the other ones are cool and fun, but Metroid Prime 1 has stellar gameplay that would really make a second run fun to go through, besides getting a better time and a better item collection rate. Insofar as sequence breaking and cool tricks are concerned, Metroid Prime is kind of an odd one. There are a lot of cool breaks and tricks, but Retro clearly took notice. Consequently there are several releases or versions of the gamecube disc, each successive version having some tricks taken out. To my knowledge, the Wii trilogy version is the most neutered insofar as speedrunning tricks are concerned. So if you’re looking for that kind of cool stuff, I’d recommend trying to get an early version gamecube disc, though good luck finding it.
Developer: Retro Studios
Available on: Gamecube, Wii
Genre: First person action-adventure
Release date: November 22nd, 2002 (Gamecube), August 24th, 2009 (Wii)