The next installment in Nintendo's much-heralded Metroid franchise is on display at Nintendo's booth at E3. While there's just one playable level included in the E3 demo, we were able to get a good feel for the gameplay mechanics and the level progression.
Regardless of what Nintendo calls Metroid Prime, it's very much a first-person shooter. As the demo begins, Samus Aran's ship sets down on an enormous space station. In order to get into the space station, you must blast a series of orbs that will unlock huge bay doors. Shooting Samus' beams is accomplished with the A button, and holding the button will charge a shot until it's released. Firing missiles is as easy as tapping the Y button. Holding the R button allows you to freely look around and manually target. If you don't wish to manually target, you can tap the L button to cycle through available targets. In certain situations, a grapple beam icon will flash on the screen, and it can be used with the L button as well. Movement is controlled with the analog stick, and you may strafe with the B button while locked on.
Swapping weapons is accomplished by tapping up or down on the C stick, and Samus has a variety of visor types that can be changed using the directional pad. The combat visor is the most commonly used visor in the game, and it shows your health level and the number of missiles remaining and includes a 3D map in the top right corner. A full-screen version of the map can also be accessed by pressing start. The other visor included in the E3 demo is called the scanning visor. It allows you to open doors by locking on to a lock apparatus and then holding L until a meter fills. Samus may morph into her ball at any time by pressing the X button, and you have full control over the ball's movement. While morphed into the ball, you can drop bombs by pressing the B button. Some sections of the level required that you blow up debris blocking hallways with the missiles and then morph into the ball to skirt through the debris.
The gameplay is a nice mix of shooting enemies, unlocking doors, riding lifts to new sections of a level, morphing into Samus' ball form, platform jumping, and solving puzzles. Jumping is accomplished with the B button. The jumping sections weren't as prevalent as in past installments in the franchise, but they weren't terribly difficult to negotiate. At the end of the playable level, there is a boss fight with the queen parasite. The alien is surrounded by blue protective plates, and you must fire through the gaps in the plates to land shots. As the alien nears death, the plates begin to spin--making it all the more difficult to land shots.
From a visual perspective, Metroid Prime is one of the most impressive games of this generation. The game plays from both a first- and third-person perspective, though the third-person view is only used while Samus is morphed into her ball form. The transition from one perspective to another is smooth and slick, with Samus gradually becoming transparent until the view switches to her visor. But the attention to detail is Metroid Prime's most impressive trait. Charged blasts will blur the area around them as they soar down corridors, lighting can be seen on the gun, and Samus' armor is environmentally mapped to reflect the surroundings. Enemy blood will splash up on Samus' visor, and the animations for enemies are incredibly smooth. Some of the smaller enemies will attack in herds, with literally dozens of them crowding the corridors at once. Transparencies are literally everywhere, as many walls can be seen through, while reflections and particle effects round out an otherwise stellar visual experience. There are some aliasing issues in the playable demo, but that's really nit-picking the game's visuals. Despite all the visual trickery involved in the game's graphics, the playable demo is locked at 60 frames per second and runs like greased lighting.
We played through the entire playable level of Metroid Prime and came away incredibly impressed. The gameplay has managed to stay true to the series' heritage while remaining varied, the visuals are some of the best of this generation, and the art design is more than convincing. Look for much more from GameSpot on Metroid Prime from the show floor as E3 continues throughout the week.