Samus Aran steps into 3D, and brings with her a great game with a few unfortunate blemishes.
Well, I got my chance after managing to snag Metroid Prime AND Luigi's Mansion off ebay, together, for $7. It should tell you something that I am writing this review shortly after beginning Metroid Prime 2: Echoes. Needless to say, I enjoyed Metroid Prime. But the game is far from perfect. But, instead of focusing on the bad first, let's discuss what this game gets right.
The story goes that, at an early age, Samus Aran's parents were mercilessly killed by Space Pirates. A young Samus was, if you will forgive the pun, taken under the wing of the Chozo Species - a benevolent race of bird people, with incredible wisdom about the universe. It is here Samus was trained, and raised, until she was old enough to fend for herself as a Bounty Hunter. She was provided with a Chozo Power Suit - protective armor that would greatly enhance her abilities, allowing her to interact with almost any environment without worries. Our story begins after Super Metroid, Samus having finally and completely exterminated the Planet Zebes, The Metroids it contained, the Space Pirates who killed her family, and their menacing leader, the Mother Brain. The Universe breathed a sigh of relief as one of the biggest groups of bad guys had been defeated at the hands of Samus Aran. But, things are never safe for long - a rogue group of Space Pirates, who, thankfully, weren't anywhere near Zebes went it exploded, are roaming about the Galaxy in search of a newly discovered energy source: Phazon, a cancerous mineral that constantly emits a mutagenic ionized radiation. The Space Pirates have discovered a very large source of Phazon: A Chozo Home world by the name of Talon IV. Worse still, these Space Pirates are carrying Metroids. With the intent of getting revenge on Samus Aran, the Space Pirates expose themselves and the Metroids to Phazon energy in hopes that it will give them the power they need to strike back. Unfortunately for them, things are about to go from bad to worse, in more ways than one...
Metroid Prime's plot is told succinctly; there is no voice acting, and very few cutscenes. It is, instead, told through logs, computer displays, and ancient tome translation. Prepare for a lot of reading, as hundreds - dare I say thousands of objects in the game can be scanned using Samus' visor, revealing every intimate detail; bugs and plants alike are explained, with information provided for everything to habitat to food gathering methods, attack patterns, and more. To say the world of Metroid Prime is deep is an understatement; the amazing sense of detail and depth that permeates every object, room, and enemy is absolutely stunning. Retro Studios has done more than simply flesh out the world of Metroid Prime; they've made it real. If you're willing to do the reading, the level of immersion provided by scanning objects is incredible.
The other visors include the Combat Visor (the default), Thermal Visor (good for seeing in dark areas and detecting invisible enemies) and the X-Ray Visor (good for finding secrets located behind walls). All of these are accessed via what could be considered Metroid Prime's most controversial change to the formula: Rather than a side-scrolling action platformer, Metroid Prime is a First-Person Shooter. Or, rather, as Nintendo has called it, "First-Person Adventure". I personally choose "First-Person Adventure", as Metroid Prime completely and purposely forsakes most first-person shooter conventions. Although the game is in first person, and you do shoot, that is where the similarities end - Metroid Prime, is, still very much at heart, Super Metroid, complete with hours of exploration and platforming.
Controlling Samus is done via the Left Analog Stick. You use the C-Stick to switch between different Blaster modes (Power, Ice, Wave, and Phazon Beams), and you use the d-pad to switch between visors. The large A button is for firing your weapon, and B is for Jumping. X is for missiles, and Y is to switch to Morph Ball Mode. Where Metroid Prime deviates from traditional first person shooters the most comes in aiming: By holding down the left trigger, Samus will "lock on" to a target, allowing you to circle strafe around them. Releasing the trigger breaks the lock. Holding the R trigger will make Samus stop moving and give her a bit of free look. Lastly, hitting the Z button opens the map screen, which, borrowing a bit from Metroid Fusion (or is it the other way around?), gives you hints on where you're supposed to go next (For the hardcore Super Metroid players out there, though, there is an option to turn the hints off).
These controls work remarkably well. Rarely will the player, as Samus, accidentally walk into a wall - the whole thing moves very smoothly and controls very well. For those of you who play Halo often, Metroid Prime might be difficult to come to grips with at first - but honestly, the game feels so natural that, after 20 minutes, you shouldn't be having that much trouble. I can be playing Halo one minute and switch directly over to Metroid Prime and suffer no "re-adjustment" period whatsoever. It's streamlined, simple, and effective. Platforming and exploring Talon IV and it's Chozo Ruins is a breeze. For some reason, jumping in Metroid Prime feels like second nature - in other games, such as Half-Life or Jedi Outcast, platforming segments were a chore - it was very easy to fall off platforms and generally, the mechanics involved were just difficult. Not so, in Metroid Prime. Whether you're jumping across moving platforms or swinging across via your grappling beam, it never really seems that difficult. Platforms are big enough so that it's difficult to miss (but not easy enough to be a gimmie), and intelligent camera design ensures you always see where you're jumping to.
And great control is needed as Metroid Prime is no walk in the park. Enemies are numerous, quick, and will not hesitate to kill Samus as quickly as possible. A true mastery of all her available moves is a requirement - especially in later areas, where you're forced to switch between different Beam configurations in the heat of battle. Bosses are similarly epic and impressive - most are the size of an entire room in and of themselves, and tower over Samus. And most of them will rank as some of the more difficult bosses you've faced; If you don't already have Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, the bosses in Metroid Prime will solidify your fate and destroy your thumb.
Visually, Metroid Prime is solid. While it lacks the raw visual intensity of Half-Life 2, Doom 3, FarCry, or Halo 2 it has a strong art style, with clean textures, good animation, and effects that look nice in context. This is the sort of game that has aged very well, and I believe will continue to age well - even for a game released nearly three years ago, Metroid Prime's cohesive art direction continues to make the game visually appealing. It all runs at a silky smooth 60 frames per second, too. I believe somebody once said, "Impress people artistically and people will look at what's drawn, rather than what it's drawn on." Aurally, Metroid Prime doesn't disappoint, either. Music is a nice mixture of ambient techno and classic Metroid remixes, and sound effects do their jobs accordingly.
So, it sounds like what we have here is a pretty fun game, right? Decent plot, lots of room to explore and secrets to discover, tough and impressive bosses, topped off with great visuals, right? Are there any downsides to Metroid Prime?
Fortunately, the problem doesn't come for a long time. The vast majority of the game is fun. It's not until the last, say, 25%, that the game builds a brick wall in front of you. Yes, friends, it presents you with one of the dreaded gaming clichés: The Fetch Quest. While some would argue that Metroid Prime is one big never-ending Fetch Quest, it masks it easily by making you fetch new items and abilities; these new abilities in turn open up the game world and allow you to explore more of it. The Fetch Quest at the end of Metroid Prime, however, does not really give you anything to benefit from; the only good that comes from finishing it is the fact that the aforementioned brick wall gets taken down, and you are allowed to finish the game.
This frustrated me beyond reason. Up until the point where I was forced to complete the Fetch Quest to continue, I thought Metroid Prime was an awesome game - one of the best games I had played in a long time. But this Fetch Quest was so vastly tedious, that I actually gave up playing Metroid Prime for six months - and to be honest, there was a time when I seriously felt I would simply never finish the game ever again. That's how hard this sucked. It only wasted my time, and was extremely tedious to finish. It was not until I was forced into bed for a week that, out of sheer boredom, I loaded up Metroid Prime and finished the game; the Fetch Quest was so bland and boring that the only way I ever decided to get through it was when I had no other option. To put it bluntly: I was more willing to play (and even beat) Luigi's Mansion before I finished Metroid Prime.
So, assuming you can deal with this one, incredibly glaring problem, Metroid Prime is an extremely good game. First person works incredibly well, and really emphasizes who Samus Aran really is: A lone bounty hunter who stalks abandoned planets and splatters Space Pirates. Girl power, indeed.