Having never played the original Metroid, Metroid 2, or even the SNES version, I might feel a bit alien to the experience I've had with Metroid Prime. Fortunately, I hear there was not much of a story in the previous versions. Perhaps they should have gone with that idea here. The background story is not so much experienced in this game as it is read, through various Chozo translations and data terminals, and it did not long hold my interest. Nevertheless, the game does provide some exciting gameplay, and deserves a place among the classics.
The game is a shining example of a new twist on an old game. It's the type of gameplay that, were the technology available in the late 80's, would have been made. It is a platformer at heart, but retains key characteristics that set it apart from the rest. Like the previous Metroids (so I've read), you will find yourself able to move freely about the world, only encountering "blockades" at certain locations. These blockades are only opened or bypassed using special abilities Samus obtains throughout the game. This enables the player to feel like he is free to do what he wants, yet does keep the game in a rather linear progression.
Of course these special abilities are one of the trademarks of the Metroid franchise. They include the Power Beam, Ice Beam, Wave Beam, Plasma Beam, Super Missles, Morph Ball, Spider Ball, Phazon suit, and several other items/powerups. The sense of accomplishment when retrieving one of these new powerups is nothing less than satisfying, and I often found myself saying during a late night game, "just one more before bed..." It is the type of game that may be difficult to put down, however frequent save points will allow you to do so.
The world itself is incredibly huge. It's broken up into several smaller locations, each connected to one or two others by means of an elevator. There is a single load time for every location, but you may never notice it. Instead of a loading screen, the developers ingeniously feature cinematic views of Samus riding the elevator--something I neglected to even notice the first few times I changed locations. The elevators are the ONLY means of travel between locations, however, and it could sometimes become very frustrating to travel to another location by means of elevator--walk--morph ball--walk--elevator--swim--morph ball--elevator, etc. The amount of travel in this game really does become quite tedious, especially considering the enemies all respawn once you exit an area. You'll find yourself fighting the same enemies in the same areas many, MANY times before finishing the game. This is my only major qualm with the game, and it is overshadowed by other better features.
Sound, however, is not one of those better features. The soundtrack consists of roughly six different songs (one for each location), and they very well could have been music straight from the SNES. The loop is short, the music sounds like MIDI, and it's altogether not too exciting. Combine this with the fact that the only sounds you'll hear for the rest of the game are your weapons firing and enemies screaming--not a SINGLE word of dialogue spoken the entire game--and you might want to play a CD in the background.
But here's one of the better features: the boss fights. If you miss the old days when video game bosses were BOSSES--cool, tough, exciting people and creatures--then this may be your game. Like the recent Zelda series, these bosses are extremely noteworthy and require a specific strategy to beat them.
The game helps you along the way in two key ways. One is your HUD (heads-up display). You're able to scan basically anything you can interact with--creatures, doors, switches, data displays. Scanning creatures will most often tell you the weakness, and in effect, which weapon to use against it. The information can sometimes be cryptic on bosses, however, it is still an aide.
If you're used to Halo-style controls--basically the standard FPS control scheme today--, you may have a bit of trouble, like me, beginning the game. The controls are more akin to Goldeneye 007, where the control stick maneuvers the feet, and while holding R, the control stick moves the head. The reason for this configuration is obvious. You'll obtain so many powerups and weapons along the way that the rest of the buttons are needed for other moves. However, not being able to actively strafe was somewhat of a dissapointment. The movement was the only part of the controls that I found difficult, though, since the rest of them you will learn as you gain new abilities, make the learning curve extremely gentle.
The game itself will give you around 15 hours of gameplay. This can be shortened or extended depending on your style of play and whether or not you will attempt all the extra "goodies" like Missle Expansions and Energy Capsules. As for myself, I simply got these things as I came to them and never actively searched. They're not terribly difficult to come by, and some are extremely easy to retreive.
Chances are that if you've got a friend who owns this game, he/she has told you to play it. It is surely a Nintendo classic, and the franchise seems strong. At its current price of $20, how can you not afford to buy it? Or pick up a used copy like I did for a mere $9.