Review / Test:
Like most GameCube hits, Metroid Prime's story has been a troubled one. In its case, the concern wasn't coming from a peculiar graphics style, neither from a N64 long-delayed port nor from harsh critics, though there've been some of those too, it came from the developer Retro Studios. Metroid Prime has been a long and difficult journey through cancellations (Thunder Rally, the highly promising Raven Blade and maybe more), laid off personnel, worrying rumours, unsatisfying gameplay tests and the usual angry player. This time, the minority of angry players called it sacrilege to turn Metroid into a first person view 3D game. They said it would betray the original Metroid style; they probably forgot how succesful it had been for Mario and Zelda in the past, and, anyway, Prime showed them how wrong they were.
In the end, Retro Studios, under the command of Nintendo, delivered a high quality product which would soon become a best-seller and a GameCube favorite, wiping away bad rumours, bad words and bad omens. And Metroid Prime had a fantastic asset: it played exactly like a Metroid game but in a first person view. If you know the previous Metroid games on NES, Game Boy or Super Nintendo, you know how true this statement is. The game starts on a Space Pirate's ship, Samus goes to investigate what happened after she received a distress signal. Once there, things accelerate and events force her to go to the planet Tallon IV where the real adventure begins. Until then it almost looks like a remake of Super Metroid, there's even an exhilirating emergency escape. However, it's when exploring Tallon IV that you realize Metroid Prime is deeply faithful to the series.
It obeys the same mechanics: you start with nothing but a plain laser and have to do a lot of exploration room by room to collect items protected by enemies or obstacles that can only be overcome by a specific item. Basically, a very linear principle: explore, find an item, use it, explore more, find another item, etc... It works well for most, but it doesn't necessarily become addictive to all. In that sense, this explains why Nintendo tried to refer it as a First Person Adventure, because it doesn't play like other games, especially not like a FPS except for the view. The proper acronym would FPM, First Person Metroid, because that's exactly what it is. That's also where stands its weakness: it's just a Metroid game, and Metroid is not appealing to all kind of audience. Many will love it, others will enjoy a true FPS better. Personally, I still prefer Goldeneye, Perfect Dark and the Turok series on Nintendo 64 to Metroid Prime. I think these games convey the fun quicker and better.
But what Metroid Prime does well, it's to create an atmosphere and to use visual effects as its skilful servant. Despite what's been said, graphics and sounds of Metroid Prime are not so terrific. It gives a very mixed impression, some things are very well done, some are less. The music is a good example, there are some very nice tunes mainly thanks to effects like drums, harp and men chorus (in Magmoor Caves, the artifact temple...), while others are shockingly poor. One track in the Chozo Ruins just sounds like a crappy music of a Megadrive/Genesis game (Hulk !), same goes with tasteless techno beats in Phendrana Drifts.
Graphics are very good to make the world of Tallon IV comes to life but they sort of lack identity, power. Only a few places have something special about them; entering a new room rarely gives you a thrill of expectation, even slightly, like it does in Zelda. The fact that the whole game is divided into rooms, altough it's following a Metroid tradition, is also frustrating. One of the most enjoyable things in the Turok series is the freedom and the wide open space. You don't feel this at all in Metroid Prime, it's a more claustrophobic experience like Eternal Darkness but it doesn't suit it so well. The texturing is not that remarkable either, it is nicely done with the Phazon and a few other elements but there's nothing much eye candy. The architecture as a whole lacks grandeur. The surface of water is bad, reminiscent of Turok. Don't get me wrong, technically there is a lot of graphical work on the game, many things are very detailed more than in any other GameCube titles, but it also makes everything very confusing to look at. For the sound, effects seem pretty weak in comparison to what you'd expect sometimes (shots) and not everything is properly translated into a sound (spacecraft).
As said earlier, the strenght of Metroid Prime is in the visual effects, mainly in the helmet: the steam, the droplets of water, the splashing goo or the reflection of Samus Aran's eyes, all this is great and original. There are also different visors: scan, thermal and x-ray. Nice, but are they really useful or are they just gadgets ? The scanning, which is used to compensate the absence of dialogues by searching for datas is not such a great idea. At first it seems cool, you can analyze everything like some cheap Terminator, but it becomes tedious to look around for scanning and to read long texts which, unlike Eternal Darkness, are not interesting and use lots of words to say nothing much. It's far more exciting to look for missiles, bombs and energy expansions, because they are well hidden and are quite rewarding. Such a reward system would have been better in The Wind Waker than the mass of useless coins.
The most addictive in Metroid Prime is definitely the whole exploration process. Shooting, the key element of FPS, is just one aspect of the process; that's why Samus's weapons is not going to blow you away, there are 4 beams plus the missiles, you can load each and combine the beams with the missiles for a blast shot. All shots are rather cool though nothing unforgettable like Turok's or Joanna Dark's weapons. Like the rest, the control is particular with a good and a bad side. The bad side is that it's sometimes confusing to play, many actions are required like changing views or rolling, so it's no surprise you got all mixed up when meeting some enemies, bosses especially. But there's a good side, and the good side is everything you do, you do it fluently and precisely. No matter how complex the action is, simply shooting or double jumping swinging on the grapple beam or turning into a ball, it's as easy as snapping your fingers.
The ball shape is, as usual, really fun to use, and actually even more than usual. There are many mini-mazes just for it, often in 2D overview, all of them being very enjoyable because short, scattered and well designed. As Super Monkey Ball already proved, to be a ball and rolling is a lot of fun. In Metroid Prime, it gives a great deal of diversity thanks to ideas like the Spider Ball tracks. Another positive feature of the game is the main character design and the graphical attention to it. Samus's armor during the brief real-time cut-scenes shines with metallic reflection and the ball shape uses efficiently some gorgeous real-time lightings. Common enemies are not as good as that, few are really impressive and they are not always well outlined because of low polygon counts. Enemies could have been much better than they are, some are coming straight from the past Metroid games and it's maybe not such a good idea. Bosses are too common as well, some machines, a mutant plant, a stone giant... in that case they are far from the crazy looking organic bosses from Super Metroid. Both enemies and backgrounds lack originality. Perhaps that's what we can expect the next Metroid game to change.
The GameCube is often described as a console for hardcore gamers. It perfectly applies to Metroid Prime, a rich and difficult game. It will take some time and some skill before you defeat bosses like the terrible Meta Ridley, collect all the items and get 100% in your log book. You will be well rewarded with a new difficulty mode, different endings and, of course, the Game Boy Advance connection. The best use so far of connecting one GC title to one GBA title is between Metroid Prime and Metroid Fusion, it gives you access to some great bonuses, including playing the full NES version. The treat is even bigger for European players who get a harder game; the question is whether or not this additional difficulty was really useful and has been put in the right areas...
Metroid Prime sold well and got excellent reviews. It's definitely a good game but does it deserve all this more than other GameCube titles ? Not in our opinion. For Samurai Nintendo, Super Mario Sunshine and The Wind Waker, though not as well balanced as Metroid Prime, remain more entertaining than Samus's adventure. Moreover, even if I'm not a huge fan of Metroid in general, I must say I really enjoyed Super Metroid at the time. I played it through several times. I know I won't do the same with Metroid Prime. Compared to Eternal Darkness, a fantastic addictive adventure, Prime seems a bit boring, repetitive and not very creative. These words will probably seem hard and the comparison merciless, hopefully they will counter-balance some excessive rave reviews without taking away the qualities of Retro Studios' game. Metroid Prime does not match the highest expectations but it surely has a lot of good things to offer among which: stunning effects, a long, tough challenge, a great overall presentation and a work of high-quality standard. Depending on the player, one might love it, one might just like it. And that's it.
Samurai Nintendo thinks this game is not suitable for children (it's scary and violent)