In my life, there are two types of games: ones that get me, and ones that don’t. My enjoyment of a video game is a tad more finicky than the average player, as my expectations revolve around not only the core gameplay, but the impact the game has on my emotional fortitude. Most often, this comes down to the story or characters that are involved within a particular game. While one can debate the importance of these aspects, as evidenced by the games I most cherish, story and/or character focus tends to give the games that I play an extra push that leaves a lasting impression. Of course, games can also rely too much on these aspects, leaving a mess of a product trying too hard to appeal to every interest the gamer has in mind. Sometimes, the most subtle exposition gives meaning to the epic of adventure.
Insert Metroid Prime, Nintendo’s first attempt at a first-person Metroid game. This was the first game within the franchise I had ever played, knowing Samus Aran only from Super Smash Bros. My first contact came when I was visiting my cousin, who had just gotten the game. I watched him escape from the Space Pirate frigate and struggle with the game’s first boss. Despite whatever doubt may have been floating in the back of my childhood mind, it was love at first sight. I wanted to play it. I needed to play it. Soon enough, I was begging my mother to buy it for me, and eventually the day when I got my hands on a copy of the game came, and I never looked back.
I have gone through and beaten this game, 100%, three or four times in my life—most recently about a month ago. I know this game like I know the back of my hand. The areas, the data, the order of key items; all of these are things that I know by heart via repeated playthroughs. One would think that with all of this background knowledge that the sense of exploration and intrigue would disappear completely. To some extent it does, especially during my second 100% playthrough last year. The quest to accurately describe my feelings for a game so entwined with my childhood naivety and the impact it had on me remains a true mystery, even at the writing of this review. At times, I find the game a modern masterpiece, with immense attention to detail and absolutely perfect control and durability. Other times, it’s a slog of going from one place to another without any sense of freedom. Prime is so unbalanced within my objective qualifications that it becomes difficult to feel entirely comfortable with the heaps of praise I could give the game.
This all changed with my last playthrough, as I’ve found the justifications to marvel at this game’s ability, polish, and intellectual intrigue, while also bashing it for the things that make it less than the irrefutable best. This is likely the most time replaying a certain subject before knowing my true opinion ever, so take note that everything I say is not just objectively right, but established by way too many revisions.
One thing about Metroid Prime that becomes more impressive as the years roll by is how well it still runs and how good it still looks. The Gamecube is often the butt of many performance-based jokes, but this is one very notable exception. Back when Nintendo brought their A-game in developing first-party content, Metroid Prime emerged as a gold standard for performance and innovation. Even now, I find myself overwhelmed by how amazing the game’s graphics hold up. I would argue they look better than anything Metroid-related Nintendo’s released since Metroid Prime 3. It goes a long way in creating an atmosphere of dread and suspense, much like the opening sequence.
What is likely the greatest compliment one can give to a video game is that it works wonderfully. Glitches though it may have if exploited, the game is a carefully crafted diamond that very rarely lags and very rarely gives one trouble with control or camera distinction. Button input is solid and the gameplay remains a fluid rate of sixty(?) frames per second. In terms of power, Metroid Prime is among the best the Gamecube, and all of Nintendo, has to offer. The game itself is an occasionally thrilling and consistently entertaining work of build-up and climaxes. The assortment of weapons and items provide a number of ways to play the game and combat the enemies within an area, as well as explore places originally out of reach. Whether fighting, scanning, or exploring Tallon IV, the game is an archaeologist’s dream combined with the precision combat that the franchise is known for.
But as said in the first paragraph, core gameplay isn’t all that makes a game for me. Thankfully, Metroid Prime is one game that passes the category of narrative or character intrigue, but to what extent? The concept of the Scan Visor and all of the information provided to the player is somewhat up for debate as to whether or not it really adds to the game. I’m sure many would gladly state that it was a good idea and adds another dimension to the world-building of Tallon IV, but the execution is somewhat on the fence. Scanning everything in sight somewhat breaks the flow of the game, and while the player is getting more information about the environment, one could end up scanning and reading more than they are actually playing the game. Not only this, but scanning various things gives the player the answer to all of their questions, threatening the sort of “Isolation” vibe that so many adore from this franchise. It makes the game considerably easier, as weak points are given away and vantage points become noted. And should the player decide not to scan and spoil themselves to these things, they are still depriving themselves of that world-building it provides as well. This is somewhat balanced by the importance of a scan distinguished by colors of red or orange, but one can’t know what they’re going to find nevertheless.
I am one who enjoys scanning, and I scan everything. Even the most mundane of information becomes something I can use to piece together the process of the story prior to Samus’s arrival on Tallon IV. And by scanning everything, I feel I have enough to criticize some of the writing within the game. Two important scanning material include the Chozo lore and Pirate data, two different tellings of the events before from two different perspectives. Comparing the two, the Pirate data is far more interesting in its detailing of events, as the Chozo lore feels too one-dimensional in its spirituality to remain interesting. Of course, this also paints the culture of the Chozo in general. The Pirate data is a lot more involved, more grounded in practicality and dedicated to pinning information down to the period. Their almost obsessive attention to detail is prevalent with their organization and constant research and development. This is reflected within their writing, as well, which has enough objective jargon to paint them as an intelligent species dedicated to obtaining power at all costs without sounding cliché. Overall, these hidden notes provides an in-depth look at the events that lead up to Metroid Prime, along with “humanizing” the evil Space Pirates and holy Chozo race.
The adventure set forth upon Tallon IV and before on the Pirate frigate has somewhat of a linear feel to it, despite what some may argue. Generally, one can’t go and find items of their own whim, needing to get one item to get another and so on. The one thing about the game that could be accessed “wrong” is the first Chozo artifact, one of many key items necessary to open the final area in the game. Official guidebooks will direct these artifacts as only available after Space Jump Boots, but one can easily access the Temple with only Missile Launcher, which is the first acquired item in the game. Some would chastise the game for not being lenient with its progression of item collecting, among the likes of the original Metroid or Super Metroid. However, I feel even with this linear style, the amount of exploration and simply going to find each key item id fun enough to forget that one is, essentially, running on a straight path.
The collection of these aforementioned Chozo artifacts can be a pain to some—I’m inclined to agree with this to some degree. I prefer when a game can smoothly transition the game’s progress so that the player can collect key items along the way to other more important items at that point. Metroid Prime does this very sparingly, forcing the player to go back to areas already explored so that they can find that one room again where they needed that one item to retrieve that other one item. One with knowledge of the game (such as myself) may not be hampered too much by this backtracking, but inexperienced players will likely struggle to find the specific room and specific condition to find the artifact. Perhaps cutting the amount of total artifacts would help, but also to tiptoe the artifacts along the story instead of out of the way.
Samus as a character was never really a scene-stealer. Prior to 2010, she hardly talked outside of Metroid Fusion and remained a relatively unknown figure, being simply the eyes of the player. In Metroid Prime, she has her first chance to express herself as a character through body acting. Though not the most expressive bounty hunter, there are a number of scenes that play that show Samus’s facial expressions and tense defensive mechanisms. In a term, she’s “badass,” but I’d rather see it as a sort of experience in her profession. She’s trained enough to be able to understand the in and out’s of the dangers she faces and how to combat any situation. Even outside of this, she shows a very, very slight amount of humanity, most hinted by her removing her helmet at the endgame should one complete the game with a high enough item acquiring percentage. More of these scenes are shown in subsequent sequels, but there’s enough in the first installment to launch the idea.
Scenes most memorable within Metroid Prime come when Samus is knee-deep in enemy territory, particularly with Space Pirates. The Research Center in Phendrana Drifts, Phazon Mines, and the Space Pirate frigate in the opening are all immensely memorable, though vary in terms of enjoyment. Phazon Mines is somewhat of a crap shoot in terms of difficulty and exploration. The Research Center and frigate, however, are just compressed enough and evoke a particularly dark mood to make the run not only memorable, but also somewhat scary. These scenes are, debatably, the best for the mood of the game’s genre of Action/Adventure. Constantly on the edge, with a destroyed/darkened area looming with oodles of information and world-building at one’s disposal, they’re the high points of an already sky-high experience. One constantly cites the franchise’s consistency with mood and immersion, and Metroid Prime has a little of everything. Gloomy, spiritual, dark, and desolate. Emotional impact is an understatement.
While I still have a huge backlog of games to finish and critique that linger upon the distinction of masterpieces, Metroid Prime is currently the frontrunner of receiving the title of my favorite game ever. It simply has too much nostalgic value to have me not regard it as a personal favorite. It also helps that the game is genuinely great in many categories. Shame as it may be that there is enough wrong with the game to limit it below a perfect score, I still find a massive amount of entertainment value in playing the game over and over again. Each experience isn’t quite like the first, not even quite like the second. It does, however, retain the intrigue and, ultimately, fun of being exactly what video games are meant to be created for. It has all the heart and soul one can appreciate from a game dedicated to showing the power of imagination and insanely hard work that can come from the right team. Here’s to you, Nintendo. And to you, Retro Studios. Thank you for creating one of my all-time favorites.
Final Score: 9.5/10
The rating for this title and more can be found on MyVideoGameList.
(Gameplay screenshots courtesy of ShadowMario3 and The Super Gaming Bros.)