Yeah, it’s a little late. Just shut up and read.
This game has been a long time coming. With a little help from Nintendo, untested developer Retro Studios has brought Metroid into 3D quite successfully. Metroid Prime isn’t a perfect game, but it is beautiful, extremely fun, and the best adventure game available so far on GameCube.
Metroid Prime brings its series into the third dimension as successfully as any attempt yet. Due to its trademark atmosphere, complex platform jumping, and often cramped environments, Metroid must have been a particularly difficult experience to transfer into 3D. You wouldn’t know it from playing the game, though. Practically all of the franchise’s signature moves, items, enemies, puzzles, and everything else have been seamlessly brought to life like never before.
The exploration is key, and I really can’t express how well this aspect of the game has been realized. Metroid Prime gives you a huge, continuous world to explore, with little direction other than subtle clues about what item you need to unlock which door. It’s up to the player to mentally catalogue inaccessible places and go back to those after obtaining new abilities. There is a simple hint system if you prefer more guidance, but this feature just shows you the next important location; it’s usually not at all clear how to reach said location. In short, if you don’t like exploring, don’t buy Metroid Prime. The newly released Metroid Fusion will be more up your alley.
The primary motivation to explore is gaining new powers for Samus. Retro has done a good job in making sure that the upgrades have multiple uses, especially purposes other than simply opening special doors. Most new abilities can immediately be integrated into your combat or movement style, while others make it more convenient to get from one place to another. Every upgrade grants access to numerous previously unreachable places, both necessary and optional. Getting a missile expansion is more satisfying than ever, not because missiles are more useful than in previous Metroid games, but because the 3D environments allow for so many creative new puzzles and secret passages that lead to the missile expansions.
Let’s get the complaints out of the way. First, Metroid Prime is filled to the brim with coding bugs. My first copy of the game froze several times, at various times and locations. I exchanged that disc for another, and the second one instead brought up an error message at seemingly random moments, telling me to reset the system. In approximately twenty-five hours of playing time, I’ve had Metroid Prime freeze or crash nearly a dozen times...and this is far from an isolated incident. The grappling beam is also quite buggy; one grapple point won’t let me rotate while swinging, and once the beam’s “buzz” sound effect continued to play continuously after the swing was complete. The “buzz” played over the game’s regular music and sound effects for several minutes, until I found a save point and reset. It is truly a shame for an otherwise highly polished product to ship with this many coding errors, some of them critical. Let’s hope that future shipments of the game will be bug-free.
The game’s other problems are less easily fixed. Samus simply moves too slowly. Her walking speed is acceptable but still not quite optimal. The turning speed is far too slow, and it can often be a problem in fast-paced combat situations. Finally, the jumping is also just too sluggish. It’s tough to criticize Prime’s jumping mechanics, because they work remarkably well for a first-person game. Dependability is certainly not the issue. In fact, all of these complaints amount to very little in context of the game’s control, which is otherwise flawless. The problem is that Samus doesn’t feel as agile and acrobatic as she does in the 2D games. Considering how well every other element from the classic Metroid games was developed into this 3D universe, it’s a bit upsetting for a big fan like me to find that now Samus moves more like a tank than a superhero. Perhaps I’m exaggerating, but this is certainly one (of the few) things Retro could significantly improve upon in the next game.
Metroid Prime is one of the best showcase games yet for GameCube. The framerate almost never strays from sixty frames-per-second, even with the screen full of enemies, level geometry, and weapons fire. The art design does an excellent job of keeping the Metroid feel while expanding greatly on how this series will be visually defined in the years to come. Insane details abound, and the artists clearly had fun with the Thermal and X-Ray visors, both of which produce striking new ways to look at this lush world.
The sound also sets a new standard. Music is more prominent than in past games, but it is still used mostly for setting the mood. A few of the areas employ very conspicuous tunes that are meant to arouse emotions not normally associated with the Metroid series. It’s a bold but entirely successful move from the sound designer at NCL. The sound effects are equally brilliant, always clear and perfectly positioned. I’ll never forget unleashing a swarm of Metroids on a squad of unsuspecting Space Pirates; I couldn’t see the battle from my safe location, but I could hear every grizzly detail.
Finally, the Morph Ball deserves special mention. This bizarre and nearly silly feature absolutely makes the game. Retro Studios has taken a classic element of the Metroid series and not only brought it into a 3D world but given it tons of new significance within the level design and story. More importantly, this little thing is just absurdly fun to use. Its physics make controlling the Morph Ball a challenging venture, but the rewards are abundant. Most of the game’s best puzzles and secret paths involve a mastery of this ability. That’s not to even mention the short side-scrolling areas, which are a fantastic way to break up the combat action and exploration. More than any other facet of the game, the Morph Ball took my wildest and most demanding expectations and trounced all over them.
By now it should be clear that Metroid Prime is a classic game. Casual gamers, hardcore gamers, and Metroid fans alike will be utterly delighted with what Retro Studios and Nintendo have achieved. This is a must-buy if ever I’ve seen one.