Metroid Prime impressions

Nintendo shows off more of Retro's upcoming Metroid game.

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At a media event today Nintendo reps displayed a build of Metroid Prime that featured four previously unseen levels of the game. In addition to showing off the game's extremely impressive visuals, the new levels gave us a better idea of the kind of gameplay to expect out of the final product. While it looked as though this 3D update of Metroid was going to eschew some of the gameplay elements found in the 2D games, we're pleased to report that Metroid Prime appears to keep it good and real for the fans.

The first level was set in a snowy Chozo area filled with space pirates. Exploring the cavern interior--which was beautifully rendered, thanks to clean textures and impressive effects on the ice crystals--reinforced the importance of using Samus' visor to scan your surrounding area. The scan points you encounter in the game will offer information that is useful in your adventuring. The points will be broken up into two color-coded varieties. Red points will denote mission-critical information, while yellow points will offer extra information that will prove useful for discovering the myriad of secrets crammed into the various levels. One of the first scan points in the cavern was a cluster of crystals that blocked entry. Scanning the blockage revealed the type of weapon that would be best suited for breaking it down. However, scanning isn't a cure-all for every obstacle you encounter--in some cases your scans won't reveal anything. If Samus hasn't acquired an ability or activated a necessary switch, your scans will be tantalizingly vague. More importantly, the level gave us a look at Samus' double-jump, which, as you'd expect, comes in very handy.

Deeper into the same level Samus encountered a baby sheegoth, which reminded us of the "shrieker" creatures seen in the last two Tremors films, but obviously done with a better budget. A quick scan of the creature revealed that it possessed a hard shell that deflected shots fired at it. Killing it required some well-aimed shots to remove the shell, at which point it dropped like a fly after a few shots to the dome. Following the encounter with the baby sheegoth, we got a taste of some of the puzzles in the game. Scanning various items in the next area revealed a variety of statues, one of which was an exact copy of another. Bombing the statue revealed a morph ball slot that was activated by Samus rolling into her ball form. The area beyond the puzzle called to mind an Indiana Jones movie, as a single item rested on the far side of an empty chamber. As Samus made her way through the chamber, it was possible to see objects and creatures frozen in the transparent ice underfoot. Before reaching the item, a cutscene popped up and introduced an adult sheegoth that was much larger than the babies seen earlier and sported a nasty set of crystalline spikes emerging from its back. A scan of the creature revealed a very unpleasant development in the sheegoth development cycle: The baby's hard shell turns into the aforementioned spikes, which absorb energy and let the sheegoth fire very painful blasts of energy. However, along with the bad news, the scan data revealed that when the sheegoth fires its blasts, it vents the excess energy through gills on its neck. Switching to the thermal visor made it possible to see the gills, which were the creature's weak spot. After a hail of carefully aimed weapons fire, the creature dropped and Samus gained the wave beam to a piece of music that should be familiar to the Metroid faithful.

The second level shown was the interior of a space station, which housed a space pirate research center. A holographic map room area showed off some unique gameplay elements and graphical effects as Samus made her way to the map room. In terms of gameplay, the representative showing the game pointed out how a moving energy pulse that blocked Samus' way into a corridor had the same energy signature as the wave beam. Scanning the pulse again hinted at how to take out the obstacle--in this case it involved Samus firing a powered-up blast from the wave beam. An interesting visual came from the energy pulse--it caused static to cloud the view from Samus' visor when it got closer. In the map room itself we were treated to another demonstration of the importance of the morph ball slots. In this case there were two separate types: The first was a standard slot that required Samus to roll in and bomb the slot, which allowed new slots to appear. The new slots required Samus to use the spin move from the ball position, which pulled back struts from the holographic projector to make a new part of the level accessible. When the projector was freed and the holographic representation of the solar system came into view, Samus was able to get a better view by getting a little higher in the level on the new set of platforms made accessible using the spinner slots. It was possible to scan the various worlds being displayed. According to the data, Zebes was apparently a good candidate for subterranean construction. While exploring the level, we also encountered space pirates, which showed off one of the many little touches in the game--when the pirates fall, their bodies will react to the environment. For example, if you down a pirate at the top of an incline, the corpse will slowly slide down until it hits a flat surface.

The third level shown was set in what appeared to be a ruined temple and featured a dramatically different look from the cold metal interiors and icy caverns we'd just been shown. The weathered rock interior of the area featured diffuse light coming from holes in the roof and scattered flocks of butterflies flitting about. The level demonstrated some slick uses for the morph ball. The level's goal, an item pickup, was shown in an impossibly high area. After dropping down into an area that was impossible to jump up from, things were looking bad for Samus. Fortunately, a quick change into the morph ball and some creative use of the concave walls in the surrounding area made for some Tony Hawk-style gameplay--Samus used the area as a half-pipe and boosted back up to her starting position. A quick scan of a nearby switch revealed how to uncover a morph ball switch and opened up a spider ball track that was accessible via the same type of morph ball boosting.

The fourth level shown featured a boss fight against a creature composed of energy and rock, called Thardus. The battle showed off how integral scanning and proper use of Samus' various visors will be toward success in the game and how smoothly it all works together. When Thardus initially appears, Samus' weapons cannot lock on to it. Scanning the creature hints at the need to examine the creature with a different visor. Switching to the thermal visor reveals its weak spot. While using the thermal visor it's possible to attack the spot and then expose an area Samus' weapons will be able to lock on to. In a nice touch, the thermal visor will overload when the weak spot is exposed and flood the visor's view with white light. The long battle was impressive, thanks to Thardus' attacks, which included firing rocks, curling up into a ball and rolling around the battle area, summoning a snowstorm to obstruct Samus' view, and firing waves of ice that would freeze Samus, which resulted in a nice ice effect on the visor.

From what we saw today, Metroid Prime is looking incredibly sharp. The impressive visuals are being complemented by some very slick gameplay elements that blend old and new. It will also feature connectivity with Metroid Fusion, but details have yet to be revealed. We'll have more on the game soon, so stay tuned.

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