Stepping out of your Hunter spacecraft, you survey the surrounding environment of Tallon IV. The weather is miserable and your spirits are dampened somewhat by the steady drumming rain that pours down and bounces nonchalantly off your arm cannon. Your scan visor indicates that your current area is relatively safe, so with a few tentative steps your journey commences…
So begins Metroid Prime, possibly one of the finest games this reviewer has ever witnessed.
Gamestyle, like so many others was more than a little intrigued when it was first announced that Texan based Retro Studios would be charged with bringing one of Nintendo’s most wanted characters kicking and screaming into the new millennium. As time went by and rumours (both fact and fiction) escalated, it seemed like Nintendo had one big stinker on their hands. Suddenly though, E3 2002 appeared with a playable demo and everything appeared to be on track, the final result is even better.
Following on from the original NES adventure (and not Super Metroid, as many originally thought) the dreaded Space Pirates are once again up to no good. Discovering an abandoned planet previously occupied by a race of bird-like creatures called the Chozo, the Space Pirates have begun to mine a cancerous element called Phazon. The pirates are splicing their DNA with the dreaded substance and also trying to domesticate the Metroids for their own fell purposes. Samus Arun is having none of it though. Having finally tracked her enemies to Tallon IV, she is determined to wipe them out once and for all.
Metroid Prime initially starts off on a seemingly abandoned space station circling Tallon IV. Like Ocarina of Time’s Kokiri Forest, this is the perfect training simulation to get used to both the many aspects of your space suit and the game’s future challenges. Your first mission however, is to overcome the initially unusual control system. While firmly placed in the 1st person perspective, Prime is a platformer through and through. As a result Strafing and looking around are carried out by holding down either the left or right shoulder buttons and not the conventional duel analogue system of many First Person Shooters.
Scanning is another important aspect of your training. Your visor is able to scan your surroundings and will reveal many hidden secrets. From activating lifts and turning off gun emplacements, to discovering the past history of the Chozoa, everything is only a quick download away. While initially cumbersome to use, it soon becomes second nature and incredibly important once you arrive on the planets surface. Last and by no means least, you have one of the finest maps ever created for a console game. Intricate in design but incredible in its depth, it is a complete joy to use and will become as necessary as any other of your abilities.
No sooner have you gotten used to your suit though, everything is cruelly taking away from you. Landing on Tallon IV in your new, practically weaponless state, your work is cut out for you from the very beginning. Cautiously exploring your surroundings (and this game is about exploration more than anything else) you soon find various paths blocked by insurmountable obstacles. Like every single Metroid title before it though, it is not long before abilities are regained and previous dead ends explored. Gamers new to the series may object to the endless toing and froing, however they are missing the point. Metroid has always been about accessing your surroundings in new and exciting ways, via your newfound abilities and this is replicated ten-fold in Prime.
Undoubtedly, one of the coolest features of your suit is the Morph Ball. This amazing device allows you roll around to your hearts content. The view sensibly shifts to the third perspective and you are soon able to access even more of the game. Even the Morph Ball has its limits though, so if you want to get the very best from it you’ll need to track down a few extra features (the abilities to lay bombs and magnetically stck to rails being just 2 of them.)
The main advantage of exploring the world is that everything is so incredible to look at. Upon first entering the Chozo ruins, you’ll immediately be gobsmacked by the sheer richness on display. Wind and attacking monsters whip up sand. Ancient, shattered temples are awash with incredible texturing and attention to detail and gnarled, ancient trees snake their way in and out of the surrounding rock faces. You’ll sometimes find yourself simply admiring the view, completely lost in thought and wonderment. As impressive as your initial excursion to the planet’s surface may be, it pales in comparison to some of the later levels. Unimpressed cynics may say, “well there’s an ice level, a fire level and an underground level.” Tallon IV however, is so much more than that. Whether you are in the recently excavated bowels of the Phazon-enriched mines, or the icy coldness of the Phendrana drifts, everything is simply exquisite.
Detail throughout is also second to none. Charge your ice beam and a casing of ice will encrust your cannon’s nozzle. Walk through a waterfall or a steam vent and your visor realistically mists over. Fight in darkened surroundings and laser beams from your opponents will briefly display Samus’s startled face on the inside of her visor. These visual touches are just a few of the many that appear in the game. Indeed the amount of thought gone into the title’s look is phenomenal, God knows how Retro managed it, but the Cube’s graphic chip sings like a high-flying lark. With all this graphical trickery going on you’d be forgiven for thinking that something, somewhere had to give. You’d be wrong though, as Prime runs at a consistently solid 60fps (even when the screen is awash with plasma beams and multiple enemies.)
Your opponents, like the acquisition of your armaments get progressively tougher as you delve deeper into the game. While the majority can quickly be disposed by a few quick blasts from one of your 4 beam attachments (power, wave, ice and plasma) the Space Pirates you eventually encounter pose slightly more of a problem. Tough, agile and incredibly aggressive, they are a true test of the skills you have so far learnt in the game. Further more, the sneaky sods seldomly attack you fairly, using flying suits, cloaking devices and even power-cuts to their advantage. Luckily however, your visor is also equipped with both Thermal and X-Ray features, so even if your current display doesn’t help you out, one of the others will.
Even the Space Pirates and Metroids (coming in a variety of development stages) are a push over compared to the many bosses you may encounter. Consisting of gorgeously constructed cut-scenes and demanding full use of your newly acquired abilities, each and every boss is one to remember. Take Tardus for example. He’s an immense humanoid constructed from rocks. Able to form into a giant ball, he careens around the screen threatening to crush you. Your bullets harmlessly bounce off him and his defeat seems futile. Suddenly though an idea forms in your head. “What if I try using that” you muse. After a few close shaves, Tardus soon joins the other defeated bosses. Defeated by sheer skill and your rapidly expanding weaponry.
Like the aforementioned Ocarina of Time, the music in Prime takes tunes from the original games and remixes them with new compositions to get the best out of the latest hardware. Whilst familiar, they share enough differences from their predecessors to feel breathtakingly new and it’s a true credit to the series. Furthermore the actual designers have put a lot of forethought into their placement. One stage of the game had me stuck for some time, due to some trickily placed platforms. Rather than grind my teeth in despair or throw may pad down in frustration, the soothing score actually helped me through this difficult section. Now whether this was intentional or accidental, the fact is it worked brilliantly. It’s not only the score that is a masterpiece however; the effects throughout are also superb. While only using the Dolby Pro Logic II setup, the results are certainly juicy. Caverns ominously echo as you walk through them. Plasma beams hum in a continuously higher pitch until they are released and your Morph Ball sounds frighteningly realistic as it trundles over different surfaces.
Ultimately Metroid Prime has triumphed over adversity and become one of the pinnacles of gaming. Retro Studios have done the seemingly impossible (admittedly with help from Miyamoto and Nintendo) and have created the most perfect transition from 2 to 3d that I have ever seen. While hard to explain, the game just feels like Metroid and thus very, very, right. Whether you’re negotiating platforms (made simple thanks to a camera that pans down) or involved in the final climatic battle with Metroid Prime, you always feel as if you’re at one with the game. And surely that’s what gaming’s all about, isn’t it?