In the advent of the N64, I found myself impatiently waiting for Metroid 64, as Nintendo seemed bent on relaunching each and every one of its franchises for the 3-D market. However, that game never came, and the Metroid series went without a new title for eight years. Finally, in 2002, the Gamecube saw the release of Metroid Prime, Samus’ first venture into the third dimension and a top-notch platformer in its own right.
Metroid Prime takes place between Metroid for the NES and Metroid II: Return of Samus for the Gameboy. Samus, our favourite armoured bounty hunter, intercepts a distress signal from the space pirate Frigate Orpheon and encounters her old nemesis, Ridley, who, as I pointed out before, died in the original game. Mind you, I can buy his return here as Meta Ridley, a Robocop lookalike but with a giant pterodactyl instead of Peter Weller. Presumably, the space pirates found his corpse and made a robot out of it. What I can’t figure out is how the alien goes back to regular Ridley in Super Metroid.
Anyway, Samus pursues the villain to Tallon IV, where she learns that its inhabitants, the Chozo, were wiped out by a meteor that infected the planet with a deadly radiation called Phazon. The rock also carried a worm of some sort, but we’ll get to that later. What matters for now is that the space pirates are sapping out the Phazon for nefarious scientific purposes. Also, an electrical surge destroys all of our heroine’s upgrades form the previous adventure, answering the question on gamers’ minds every time they boot up a Metroid sequel, “What happened to all her weapons?” I guess the bounty hunter gets electrocuted between each installment.
On the subject of series trademarks, this wouldn’t be a proper Metroid review if I didn’t mention the music. In 1986, composer Tanaka Hirokazu broke new ground with his work on the first game. By comparison, Kyuma Kouichi and Yamamoto Kenji’s score for Metroid Prime remains enjoyable but feels a bit unremarkable. In fact, their contributions are often overshadowed by remixes of old pieces from previous installments. As a result, the tunes you remember the most are the classics, not the new stuff. I’m not complaining, mind you. Sometimes, it’s best to bank on fan favourites than to reinvent the wheel and screw it up.
By now, players should know the Metroid formula: explore, get upgrades, kill bosses, and unlock new areas. The twist in Metroid Prime is that Samus is no longer confined to 2-D, thus adding a literal new dimension to both the action and the puzzles. The combat is fast-paced and dynamic, with a locking mechanism that enables you to move while firing at your enemies, and the camera moves seamlessly, allowing you to see clearly what lies ahead. In short, the challenge stems from the complexity of the gameplay, not the weaknesses of the programming.
If I had to single out one thing that lessened my experience of Metroid Prime, it’d have to be the scan visor, an item used to record the different creatures and objects that come your way. Now, if I wanted to fill a Pokédex, I would play Pokémon. At least, in that game, the log fills up automatically. Having to halt the action, select the visor, target a new enemy, and then go back to combat really slows down the pace. Admittedly, you can skip that part of the game, but one hundred percent completion is required to get the best ending.
Now, you might be wondering why the game is called Metroid Prime, seeing as I’ve made no mention of the energy-sucking creatures. Well, remember the worm that hitched a ride on the meteor that obliterated Tallon IV? Spoiler alert: it turns out a Metroid shoehorning itself into the plot just in time for the last boss fight. To be honest, I’d complain more about this if the climactic battle weren’t so awesome, requiring an equal amount of dexterity and problem-solving skills. It also makes use of all the weapons you find throughout the game and lasts over ten minutes, serving as an epic conclusion to an already action-packed journey.
Metroid Prime is pure fun, a fast-paced action-puzzle platformer that captures all the best elements of the franchise while ushering it into a bold, new three-dimensional world. Unfortunately, the 3-D might have been too fast-paced for me, as I got motion sickness every time I played for more than an hour at a time. As a result, it took me forever to complete the game, and I lost a bit of my enthusiasm for the series. Still, I wonder what will constitute the next big jump for Samus. Since they’re making MMOs out of everything these days, I have to say I wouldn’t mind Nintendo announcing the release of Worlds of Metroid.