Last week, having finished off Super Metroid at last, I decided to pull out my disc for Metroid Prime and give it a spin. Prime had been one of my favourite games for quite some time, and soon it became clear that nothing much had changed in that respect as I powered my way through the game to complete it 100% in just a couple of days. Exciting, thrilling and wonderfully immersive are some words that come to mind, but they don’t even begin to describe the fun I have when playing this game today.
While many fans of the Metroid series prior to Prime may have worried at the prospect of a first person shooter ruining a well-established favourite franchise, I had no such concerns. My first experiences with Samus had come with Super Smash Bros on the Nintendo 64, so Prime just looked like another awesome shooter with some exploration elements. Upon picking it up for myself, I found something much, much deeper – a game which catered to both my urges of wanting to survey every last nook and cranny of a vast-yet-barren alien planet, as well as my need to blast creepy foreign creatures into oblivion. While I run the risk of sounding cliché, Metroid Prime really was one of those games I struggled to put down which left me salivating for more even after all baddies had been blasted and all the upgrades collected.
After the success of Metroid Prime, some key members of Retro Studios moved on to pursue careers with other companies. While this isn’t an uncommon occurrence in the industry, it became clear to me after playing through the second and third installments of the trilogy that there was something missing. Prime 2 and 3 remained great games as both first person shooters and explorative adventures, but there just wasn’t the same amount of care put into crafting them which caused a trilogy that had initiated with a big bang to slowly fizzle out later on. When I realised the two sequels lacked the same punch as the original, I was able to reflect on just what had given Prime its soul, made it such a fantastic experience and allowed it to stand above other shooter and adventure games on the market at the time.
A gripping introduction was the first part of Prime that made it so memorable, and was something I felt the sequels fell just short of. Introductions can be tough to get right in action games, as there needs to be just the right mix of simple tutorials to get the player comfortable with the controls as well as action to keep them interested. In Prime, this entailed the exploration of a defunct Space Pirate ship, partially destroyed by an onboard experiment gone wrong. As a player, I found myself really intrigued as I trekked through the eerie ship to discover just what had occurred, the weakened enemies and rubble aboard the ship serving as an excellent masked tutorial to get me used to the gameplay.
The introduction of Echoes, while keeping the same sort of spooky and isolated feel, didn’t manage to capture the same level of excitement as the original. Prime 3, on the other hand, didn’t mask its tutorials quite as well and forfeited the signature isolated feel of the Metroid franchise for the entire introduction by placing you onboard a Federation Gunship in the presence of other humans and bounty hunters. To its credit Prime 3 was the only game of the trilogy which didn’t strip you of your weaponry after completing the introduction, but otherwise neither Prime 2 nor Prime 3 felt like they had quite as strong introductions as the first.
The combat in Metroid Prime is simply superb. The weapons are all very balanced in their use throughout the game and nicely varied with the effects they have on enemies and the environment. While finding a new beam weapon can be exciting due to it unlocking new areas of the game to explore, each successive weapon will make you feel much stronger than before and the effects they can have on previously-difficult enemies will make you feel unstoppable. Sheegoths, as an example, are formidable foes which can take a few charged shots and/or missiles to defeat after finding their weakpoint, but return to them with the plasma beam and you’ll be able to disintegrate them into thin air with a single charge shot. While their actual uses may be limited, all of the additional beam-combos are really neat additions that provide some nice extra options during combat, dispatching enemies quickly and looking awesome at the same time.
All of these factors come together to provide a really strong shooting experience which took my preference over the later two Prime games mainly because of the variety of options available to the player when fighting your foes. Prime 2’s beam weapons felt a little generic and not so ground breaking or special, whereas Prime 3 got rid of most weapon options in favour of a simple, all-in-one stacked beam and combat that usually just consisted of entering a phazon-infused hypermode whose novelty wore off too soon. While the main focus of Prime was to retain the explorative gameplay of its 2D predecessors, its combat was an integral component of the overall experience which remained exciting and fun throughout the entire game.
Exploring the world of Prime wouldn’t be so fun if the game was devoid of good environments, and it’s clear that this was something the designers sought to get right from the very beginning. Prime has your typical ice world and lava world, as well as jungle ruins, an underwater wreck, underground mines and a secret laboratory for you to explore. They’re all very fascinating locales, but what really stood out for me was how the designers were able to intertwine the right amount of natural beauty from the planet of Tallon IV as well as all of the intriguing pirate and Chozo technology housed upon the planet when creating these environments. All of Tallon IV’s inhabitants, whether they be friendly or foes, worked together to give the environment a life of its own, a sort of soul which felt alien yet believable at the same time. The game’s world was so wonderfully immersive it was incredibly easy to pass up the option of quitting at each save point, just because of the level of intrigue you had as a player in not knowing exactly what you might discover lying hidden in the next room.
The music of Prime lent itself largely to this feeling of immersion also. Not because the tracks were fantastic stand alone tunes you could remember and hum to yourself ten years later, but because they managed to fit the environments they were assigned to and really help in setting the overall mood of the area you were exploring. I can’t recommend Prime’s entire soundtrack to everybody as quality listening material for the iPod on its own, but in the context of the game itself the music was perfect. I’m unsure if I can put my finger on why exactly I feel the music worked so well, but a theory I have pertains to the way the soundtrack sounded so foreign and alien-like. There were all sorts of sound effects and instruments used in the background of each track that I just hadn’t heard used in that sort of way before, but it worked because I was so heavily convinced that it just fitted the atmosphere of Tallon IV.
I could go on for hours in my praise for Prime as a whole, but there’d be little point when I could be spending that time reliving my time on Tallon IV. If this blog were to have any one purpose, however, it would be to encourage everyone out there to grab Metroid Prime, pop the disc in and play. Whether they be returning to the world of Prime again or whether it be a brand new thing, Prime is one of those gaming experiences of this decade, nay, all time which should not be overlooked.