The prime time of your life.
Wow. I have to say, Nintendo releasing Metroid Prime Trilogy on the Wii U eShop is one thing, but pricing it at £8.99 in its first week of sale? Even at its now full digital price of £17.99, that’s still a damn good deal considering physical copies tend to go for five times as much on sites like eBay and Amazon. Now, while it’s not a brand new Metroid game we’re dealing with here, being able to acquire three of the best first person adventures around so cheaply just adds to the ever expanding list of reasons to own Nintendo’s glorious gaming box.
Wii U swooning aside, let’s look back on the first in the trilogy, Metroid Prime. And my word, what a way to get started…
A Shocking Return
When a new Metroid game (the first home console game in the series since Super Metroid at that) was announced for the Nintendo GameCube way back in 2001, fans of the series the world over collectively filled their trousers with smelly excitement. They filled them even more, albeit this time with potent nuggets of dread, when it was revealed Nintendo had handed development to the then unproven Texas-based Retro Studios. Further fear was instilled when we learned we’d be controlling Samus Aran from behind her space pirate blood-covered visor. Yes, they’d turned our beloved side-scrolling exploration fest into a first person shooter… and we loved every second of it.
It didn’t take long for fans to realise the shift to a first person perspective was in fact beneficial to Metroid; it just worked so well. Fundamentally, Prime presented us with the tried and true Metroid formula: explore a large open world in search of upgrades to make Samus stronger, so that she might access even more areas and secrets off the beaten path, and delve deeper into the world of Tallon IV. As this was Samus’s first outing for quite some time, Retro Studios decided to play it safe with Samus’s power-ups. You have the Ice, Wave and Plasma beams, Super Missiles, Power Bombs, Grapple Beam, Varia and Gravity Suits. There’s very little new here outside of the optional missile variants, which is a tad disappointing, but it does show that Samus’s usual arsenal works just as well in a 3D space.
Eradicating the Pirates, One Goon at a Time
Metroid Prime takes place between the original NES title, and its Game Boy sequel: The Return of Samus. Convinced she saw the last of the space pirates after defeating Mother Brain (and after washing that ugly green dye out of her hair), she’s surprised to find a pirate vessel orbiting the planet Tallon IV, which neighbours the original game’s setting of Zebes. Upon docking with the vessel (known as the Orpheon), Samus finds that it’s been overrun with parasitic creatures and that Ridley, her ever-intimidating pterodactyl nemesis, lives on through the power of cybernetics.
As the parasites cause the Orpheon to crashland on Tallon IV, Samus chases Ridley to the planet’s surface, eager to remove him from the galaxy once and for all. What she finds is a planet very much controlled by the space pirates, mining the planet dry of a dangerous resource dubbed Phazon. Thus, Samus finds herself thrust into a dangerous series of objectives: kill the pirates, take out Ridley, and find the source of Phazon before they can spread it across the galaxy.
Tallon IV is big. Each of the game’s five areas takes roughly ten minutes to traverse from one end of the map to the other. As such, it’s filled with all sorts of secrets. The level design is quite frankly excellent, and Retro managed to find some very interesting ways to hide missile expansions, energy tanks, as well as tons of lore that serve to not only flesh out Tallon IV, but also the overall series. Here’s where one of the game’s best features comes in…
The Scan Visor totally worked within the context of Metroid, and served to present Retro’s deep passion for the franchise…
Metroid Prime saw the debut of Samus’s Scan Visor; a tool that she could use to analyse objects and enemies to learn more about them. While a lot of this was (well written) flavour text, scanning enemies, bosses and certain objects recorded them into your Logbook for further reading. The strange thing is, it totally worked within the context of Metroid, and served to present Retro’s deep passion for the franchise. Logs were mostly kept short, none taking longer than a couple of minutes to read through, but each felt like a previous nugget of information that helped the player understand the world better, and grow evermore immersed in it.
So Pretty, Yet So Familiar
So Tallon IV is rather large and filled to the brim with interesting lore and scenery. But it’s also one of my main complaints of the game, and why Prime is actually my least favourite of the trilogy. Yes, I prefer both Echoes and Corruption to Prime. I’ll get to that at a later date, I promise. But for now, there’s a simple reason why Prime isn’t quite as engaging for me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a fantastic game worth playing through multiple times, and I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t. But now that time’s passed and those rose tinted specs have been plucked from my face, I’ve learned to appreciate the later games more for their variety in world design.
Tallon IV has the most cookie cutter of level types. There’s the rainforest-like Tallon Overworld, the dry deserty Chozo Ruins, the lava-filled Magmoor Caverns, and the frozen Phendrana Drifts. And given the sheer amount of backtracking one has to do in Prime, in my opinion, a lot of these areas lose their luster fast. It’s rather cool and a little unsettling travelling through the sunken Orpheon for the first time, but each subsequent time it’s simply a chore; a means to an end. Yes, I know Metroid and backtracking go hand in hand, but the slower pace of Prime does not lend itself well to this.
There are also some enemy types that are vastly overused, namely the flying pirate troopers and the Phazon corrupted Chozo ghosts who appear later in the game. They’re not tough to deal with and go down with one well-placed Super Missile, but man they’re annoying.[blockquote_right]It’s rather cool and a little unsettling travelling through the sunken Orpheon for the first time…[/blockquote_right]
Lastly, the one thing that really slows this game down is the Chozo Artifact hunt that you must do to access the final area of the game. This is something that all the Prime games are guilty of (and it’s actually worse in Echoes) but this is where a lot of the backtracking occurs. My guess is Retro saw it as an incentive to collect as many hidden upgrades as you can before the final few boss fights, and these naturally help immeasurably. However, I just think both Echoes and Corruption’s level design lend themselves better to hoovering up collectibles that were previously unreachable.
Samus Aran’s Finest Hour
Complaints aside, Metroid Prime is still one hell of a great game. Arguably the GameCube’s first killer app, it continued to be incredible in the Metroid Prime Trilogy collection on the Wii. Graphically, the game holds up its bold, expressive visuals 13 years on, and the soundtrack is quite frankly one of the best ever composed, a trend that would continue into both Metroid Prime 2 and 3. While many fans would say Super Metroid remains the crown jewel of the series, and they’re not neccessarily wrong, Metroid Prime was vastly ahead of its time, and arguably still is to this day.