Metroid Prime: 3D is the right of all sentient beings.
When I did a mini-review of Metroid Prime for my Leisure Junkie column in Weekender magazine (listen carefully and you can hear me blowing my own trumpet) back in April 2003, I wrote this:
“Every console has its own ‘killer app’ a game so good it’s almost worth buying the machine just to play the game. With the release of Metroid Prime, the GameCube has finally struck software gold. Improving on a classic franchise whilst still innovating and keeping both casual gamers and hardcore ninty freaks in phazon enriched heaven. Challenging without being frustrating, alien yet beautiful this perfectly crafted classic will have you exploring into the wee hours looking for that last chozo artefact or weapon upgrade”.
Over four years have passed since then with a direct sequel, Metroid Prime 2: Echoes on the GameCube and now the new Metroid Prime 3: Corruption on the Wii. Does it still hold up as a ‘killer app’ or was I just kidding myself to make up for the dual disappointment of Super Mario Sunshine and the Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker? I’ve fired up the old GameCube to find out.
‘variant suits needed to traverse’
Ok, first off is the bad news. This game will involve a lot of backtracking. This will come as no big surprise to anyone who has played any Metroid game before but even by these standards, it’s gruelling as new mission objectives appear on opposite sides of the world map and your new items open previously blocked paths and locked entrances. This is compounded by the fact that Samus’ 3D map doesn’t really work and planning your path to your objective will often lead to frustrating moments when you can’t proceed because you haven’t acquired a certain item be it the grapple beam, space jump or one of the many variant suits needed to traverse certain environments.
If you’re wearing the right suit and have the right items to traverse your route you’ll still need to fight off near constantly respawning enemies from dumb cannon fodder bugs and wasps to phazon pumped cyborg space pirates packing more firepower than the red army on parade day. Destroying them isn’t all that difficult with the games very generous lock on function that’ll let you draw a near prefect bead every time combined with the scan visor hints and obvious ‘shoot here’ weak spots you can drop all but the biggest bosses in no time at all.
‘Ridley the airborne cyborg dragon monster thingy’
The controls, apart from the lock-on feel very constricted and having grown used to the now standard twin sticks control scheme of left-to-move and right-to-look using just one stick for movement and having to hold a button down to free-look reminds me of (now) old school 3D shooters like Doom or Dark Forces. However, within the brief of making a 3D version of Super Metroid it works, although that was pretty much the height of Retro Studios’ imagination and as such every feature can me traced back to the SNES version be it your x-ray scope, grapple beam or morphball (and that was a rip off from Turrican).
Having bitched about this game for almost the whole article, you might think I don’t like it, but you would be wrong. Metroid Prime was and still is a great game. The faults I have listed will soon become trivial once you get into the game and it starts offering up more freedom of play with new visual modes for your visor and other practical items like the freeze beam that you can use to make enemies into temporary ice platforms to make bigger jumps.
‘combination of morphball, laser and missile’
Classic set pieces are plentiful within the game be it when you have to scale a huge tower to recover an artefact or your first encounter with the phazon phantoms. Phased creatures that only appear for brief periods before becoming invisible again. The key to their defeat lies in finding the x-ray scope to track their movements and take away their adavantage. The varied bosses many of whom dwarf you with their size require a combination of morphball, laser and missile attacks before expiring. These all lead to the final confrontation inside the planets core and of course being a Metroid game there is an epic battle with Ridley the airborne cyborg dragon monster thingy.
As with most things, the love I have for this game is in the little details. Steam on the HUD or seeing Samus’ eyes reflected back at you when there is a bright flash of light or a streak of lightning arcs across the visor. Spot effects like wind, lens flare, ambient lighting cast by moving fireflies, dew from waterfalls and even clouds of particulate matter underwater. It all comes together with the music and gameplay to make possibly one of the best games of the last generation.
Its just such a shame that the sequel Echoes was such a mess. So stay tuned (as it where) to see if Retro Studios can make up for it with Metroid Prime 3: Corruption on the Wii. My first impressions are: they can.