The Metroid series has been a fan favorite since its introduction on the NES. Exploring the expansive alien worlds, always looking for the next item to allow you access to new areas, and avoiding the life-sucking metroids has entertained gamers for years. Super Metroid, the third in the series, is thought by many (including myself) to be one of the greatest games of all time. Ever since the introduction of the N64, gamers have been begging for a 3D update. Finally, thanks to Nintendo's newest American development house, Retro Studios, gamers got their wish.
Metroid Prime takes place after the original Metroid, but before Metroid II: Return of Samus. Everyone's favorite female bounty hunter, Samus Aran, receives a distress signal from a station near the planet Tallon IV. Through a series of events, she ends up on Tallon IV, which is where the game really begins. You must explore the planet and find out what those pesky space pirates are up to this time.
This is my only real gripe with the game, so I'll go ahead and get it out of the way. I think it would have helped if there were beginning and ending cinema scenes to give the story a bit more structure. Now there IS a lot of story in the game, much more than previous games in the series, but it's more subtle in that as you go along you read the space pirate's logs and the Chozo lore. This really explains what's going on behind the scenes, and those parts are very well written, so I suggest you scan and read EVERYTHING. It will enhance your enjoyment of the game. However, I still think a strong beginning (like the monologue in Super Metroid) and ending would have helped the game tremendously. Nonetheless, everything in-between is most excellent.
The game is quite beautiful with incredible art design and very fluid framerate. The game is in first person perspective, so you are seeing everything through Samus' visor. The developers used this for some very cool effects. There are several different visor modes including thermal vision and X-ray vision which both look really cool. What is most noticeable about the graphics are all the little details that are included in the game. For example, if there is an explosion nearby, you will see Samus' face reflected in the visor. Fully modelled, with moving eyes and facial expressions, but you'll only see it for an instant. When you get near certain electrically charged enemies, they will interfere with your visor causing a very impressive static effect. When in the X-ray mode, if Samus moves her hand in front of her face, you can see the bones in her hand. It's this attention to detail along with the incredible atmosphere created by the art design that makes this one of the best looking GameCube games to date.
The music was composed by Kenji Yamamoto of NCL who also did the music for Super Metroid. In fact, there are several themes that return in remixed versions, including the classic 'Game Start' and 'Item Get' fanfares. All somewhat ambient and electronic, the music fits the environments quite well. The sound effects are excellent as well, and although there's no voice acting, Samus will grunt in pain when she gets hit, and scream when she dies.
This will throw some people off if they're not expecting it. It's been said ad nauseum on the internet message boards, but here it is again: This is NOT a traditional first person shooter. It is an action platformer with shooting elements. So if you're expecting dual analog shooter controls, it might throw you off.
The control stick is used to move forward and backwards and turn from side to side. If you see an enemy, you can use 'L' to lock-on to that target. THEN you can use the control stick to strafe around them. The 'A' button is used to shoot you beam weapons, and you can hold 'A' to charge once you get that upgrade. 'Y' is used to shoot missiles. Shooting missiles is a little slower than in previous games, but you can just hit 'A' again and you're back in beam mode. 'R' is used to look around and aim at things above or below you, which once you see them you can lock onto with 'L'. 'B' is used for jumping. There is a lot of jumping in this game, just like the previous Metroid titles. It works surprisingly well for a first-person game, but there were still many times where I either over or under compensated when jumping to a platform. 'X' is used to go into morphball mode, which is just like the old games. You can then hit 'A' to set a bomb. There is also an upgrade that will allow you to have a speed burst with 'B'. The D-pad is used to switch between visors, and the C-stick switches between beam weapons. 'Z' brings up a very nice 3D map, and Start brings up the pause screen which has all your options and a 'Log Book' feature which contains all the information you've collected by scanning items.
The main focus of the gameplay is exploration. You find an area you cannot reach because you need a suit upgrade, then you go and look for the upgrade. There is quite a bit of backtracking and the enemies respawn, like in previous games, so you won't be bored while going through the tunnels. There are quite a few puzzles along the way, but most of them are pretty easy to figure out by scanning objects. The scan visor is a big part of the game, as it gives you information about enemies, objects, and lets you read the pirates logs.
The game is about the right length, in my opinion. The first time through will be about 13 hours in game time, which is longer in real time because of time not counted when you die, scan things, etc. There are different endings depending on what percentage of items you collect, and there is a 'hard mode' you unlock after beating the game, which makes all the enemies tougher to beat. So you'll definitely want to play through a few times. Of course, I've played through Super Metroid so many times I've lost track, so I'm hoping this game will be the same way ;).
T - Teen for Violence. You kill a lot of alien critters and there is a little bit of blood. Also, some parts of this game are very dark and kind of creepy, so it might scare the kiddies.
Some thought it couldn't be done, but Metroid has successfully been translated into 3D with stunning results. The game is truly impressive, immersive and lots of fun. Definitely Game of the Year, and one of the better games I've played in the past few years. Go buy it now. If you're a Metroid fan, don't walk, RUN. ;)
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