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Gamecube Review - 'Metroid Prime'

by The Cookie Snatcher on Dec. 29, 2002 @ 6:47 a.m. PST

Samus first stopped the evil Space Pirates and Mother Brain from amassing an army of Metroids on the planet Zebes. Then she was called on to finish the job on SR388, ultimately ridding the universe of all but a single Metroid larva. In Super Metroid, for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, Samus thwarted Mother Brain's attempt to snatch the captive Metroid larva from the scientists on Ceres. Now, Samus is once again called to investigate Space Pirate activities on the unexplored Tallon IV. Here adventure begins as she enters a mysterious derelict spaceship.

Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Retro Studios
Release Date: 11/17/2002

Last time we met up with Samus Aran she was kicking ass in the 2D uber-classic Super Metroid on the SNES in 1994. That was nearly ten years ago, and while Nintendo has thrown fans of the game an occasional bone in the form of cameos in games like Super Smash Bros., fans of the series patiently waited for an actual Metroid game to play. Apparently, we've had to wait this long because of those dawdling Japanese and their non-Metroid ways, the Metroid games just weren't that popular in the land of the rising sun. But, what are we, chop liver? It's no secret that the United States is the redheaded stepchild of the videogame industry when it comes to release priority schedules -- the other third world countries are just distant twice removed cousins. But finally, thank the Chozo, Samus is back and better than ever in Retro Studio's stunningly-stupendous, amazingly-brilliant Metroid Prime.

I don't know how they did it, but somehow Retro Studios brought Metroid into a 3D universe without sacrificing that trademark feel of the previous games. Usually a 3D makeover for a popular and established 2D sidescrolling franchise results in disaster, mediocrity, or at best, adequacy. But Metroid Prime breaks those unwritten rules and not only managed to get it right but also to go above and beyond even the highest of expectations. The biggest worry I, and a lot of other pre-hitherto non-believers, had about Metroid Prime was the affect an FPS style of play would have on the game. That concern was still present for me during the first hour of play, but once I got use to the new perspective and realized that the actual gameplay mechanics strictly adhere to the past games style, and that Metroid Prime is basically Super Metroid to the 10th degree, I was in arm cannon heaven.

Metroid Prime takes place after the events that led up to the destruction of Ridley, Kraid, and Mother Brain. This time you’ll don your power suit on Tallon IV in an effort to rid this once-pure world of the same Space Pirates who invaded SR388 to plunder the energy of the Metroids way back when. Tallon IV was once the habitat of The Chozo, a birdlike species with amazing technology, intelligence and appreciation for all forms of life. But when the Chozo began to prophesize the decline of their species which coincided with the rise of a great evil, they knew something was afoot, something big. Years passed, and while time feigned hopefulness, their expectations did not. A great meteor crashed into Tallon IV, saturating the planet with an extremely harmful substance known as Phazon. The plants and animals that didn’t die mutated into hideous forms. The Chozo, with their advanced understanding of technology, attempted to harness this energy, this Phazon, but despite their efforts were unable to do so and their species quickly degenerated.

And then the Space Pirates came. Noticing the enormous energy emissions from Tallon IV due to the Phazon-infused meteor that struck the planet, they realized that they might be able to channel this mysterious substance into an ever-supplying source of energy. They swiftly invaded Tallon IV, retrofitting their technology to adapt to the Phazon. Upon further experimentation they realized that the Phazon’s unique ability to mutate was unlike anything they’d ever seen and to further their research of it began to combine the poisonous substance with the indigenous life-forms of the planet. Unbeknownst to the Space Pirates, Samus Aran had been secretly tracking their actions and being of Chozo blood she was spurred to set course to Tallon IV, obliterate the Space Pirates and their firebrand intentions permanently.

Like every other Metroid game before Prime, Samus starts the game with 100 units of energy, but strewn throughout the game are energy tanks that can be collected, each energy tank will give you an additional 100 units of health. The energy tanks are plentiful enough to make your health upgrades pretty consistent but they are also hidden in a manner that will require some thinking to obtain. Missile expansions work in the same way, each missile expansion that you find will increase your overall missile carrying capacity by five, you’ll definitely want to keep an eye out for these since later in the game you’ll be required to use them en masse’.

Samus will obtain four unique visors, all of which provide a different perspective on your surroundings. Switching between visors is simply a matter of hitting a different direction on the d-pad. The combat visor is your standard visor, providing you with a heads-up display, lock-on reticules, and other features like a threat assessment meter, mini-map, and radar. Other than the combat visor, the most used visor in the game is the scan visor. By switching to this perspective and looking at different enemies, objects, and environmental anomalies, you can bring up detailed and well-written information that is actually as useful as it is fun to read. Using the scan visor on enemies will give you a good idea about how you should go about dealing with them; this is particularly handy with bosses that require a specific method of action to destroy. The thermal visor allows you to see in the infrared spectrum, this is useful in extremely darkened situations where enemies are abound since their heat signature will brightly stand out in contrast to the surrounding darkness, it is also useful for finding hidden power conduits, anything that emits any kind of heat or energy will be visible with the thermal visor. The x-ray visor gives Samus the ability to look through walls, track optically camouflaged enemies, and view otherwise-invisible items.

While combat isn’t Prime’s main focus, any Metroid fan will tell you that it does play a crucial role in the proverbial Metroid experience, and despite the transition to 3D, Metroid Prime is no exception. You’ll come across myriad foes on your journey, some will look familiar (albeit so graphically enhanced that they may induce a double-take) and others are completely new, but they all have one thing in common: they are all different. Different in terms of what their weaknesses are and in how you should go about disposing of them. The weaker enemies will fold under the pressure of a few power beam bursts while the different variations of Space Pirates are only vulnerable to certain types of weapons – disposing of hovering metroids is no simple task, as fans of the past games can attest, they have a tendency to suction themselves onto you at which point your only recourse would be to crouch into morph ball form and let off a couple bombs to knock them off.

The layout of Metroid’s levels sometimes requires that you navigate through small passageways and drains; this is where Samus’s morph ball ability will come into play. When Samus rolls into a ball the camera will pan out to give you a third-person perspective of the action. By tilting the control stick you can roll around in different directions Super Monkey Ball-style, the further you push the analog stick in a direction the quicker she’ll roll around. There are four different abilities that Samus can attain which can be used in morph ball mode: the first and most obvious is bombs, she can lay three bombs at a time and they can be used to damage foes and propel Samus into the air in order to reach certain areas. The boost ball ability allows Samus to quickly accelerate in whatever direction she is rolling, this is particularly useful for boosting up the sides of half-pipes. Next is power bombs, these are like regular bombs but much more potent, some structures can only be destroyed with a well-placed power bomb. The spider ball ability allows you to magnetically attach to specified tracks, giving you access to new areas and otherwise-hidden power-ups.

The one thing you will need to become familiar with is the lock-on targeting system that allows you to trace the movements of a baddie with your blaster. Luckily, this new addition to the series doesn’t come with much of a kickback as pressing the L-button is all you need to lock on to an enemy that is in your field of vision. Enhancements seem to come in fours with Metroid Prime, four unique visors, four ball functions, and four types of power beams. You got the power beam, the weapon you’ll start out with that shoots energy balls in short bursts. The wave beam with its limited homing capabilities and three powerful waves of oscillating energy per round. The ice beam, which has a slower rate of fire but is able to freeze certain foes in their tracks. And the last beam upgrade you’ll find is the plasma beam, the most powerful of the four beams but with limited range. Every beam can be charged to release a single devastating attack. Most of the weapons can be coupled with missiles to execute even more powerful assaults, and they range drastically in payload. So while there may only be four different types of beams, there is enough variety in their capabilities to make up for the lack of weapon types.

Aside from visors, beam weapons, and morph ball abilities, there are two power suit upgrades that Samus will find. The first is the varia suit, with this she can survive extremely hot temperatures and freely explore lava-infested areas without slowly losing health. The gravity suit negates the effects of moving around under water, without the gravity suit Samus isn’t able to maneuver very quickly or jump very high when submerged. As Samus acquires these upgrades her power suit will alter not only in ability but also in appearance, which adds something tangible to your continued exploits. The space jump ability activates boosters on Samus’s suit, enabling her to jump a second time while she is in the air or “double jump”, as they say. And to round out the barrage of ability enhancements there is the grapple beam. Introduced in Super Metroid, the grapple beam is used to latch onto certain energy nodes within the levels. By moving the control stick around you can vary the swinging angle, crossing long chasms is a piece of cake when you use the grapple beam.

The information that Samus acquires by scanning different items, creatures, or research logs will automatically be filed into the log book, which can be accessed at any time by hitting the start button. From here you can scope out all sorts of useful and interesting info. The log book is divided into five categories of information: Pirate Data, which gives you insight into the Space Pirates research and their insidious intentions. Research is another category in the log book and it contains information about how various types of equipment and items in the game operate or brief informational data for later study. Chozo Lore is a collection of messages that were left by the now-dying Chozo race; Samus can decipher Chozo Lore by scanning and downloading the texts which are scattered throughout the ruins. Creature data is a collection of information pertaining to the various enemies you will encounter. And the Artifacts section details the 12 Chozo artifacts that Samus must find before the final boss’s lair can be unlocked. This may seem like information overkill but the interesting style of writing that is used immediately draws you in – you’ll want to read every piece of text that the game throws your way due largely in part to the literary quality of the various research excerpts and Chozo messages.

Visually, Metroid Prime is at the top of its class. Very few games even come close to matching Prime’s beautifully rendered universe. Every single room in the vast world of Metroid Prime is unique; no two rooms look remotely alike, which is astonishing when you consider the sheer amount of territory in the game. What's more is that the structures in Metroid Prime never repeat, believe me, I've looked; I couldn't find one single brick in the wall that repeats. Cool environmental effects include ice that builds up on Samus' arm cannon when you charge it up. Heat waves that dissipate off her arm cannon after intense gun battles. When you shoot into, or out of, a pool of water it will cause impressive-looking ripples in the water. As Samus emerges from a lake, water will streak down her visor and drip off onto the ground. You can even see Samus' reflection in her visor during underwater explosions, it's subtle but it's there, and it's awesome. It is the little things like this that really immerse you into the experience.

Dolby Pro Logic II support is included for those with surround sound set-ups. The various ambient sound effects all around you give the impression of truly-believable atmospheres. Every on-screen action is complimented by a huge arsenal of unique sounds, like the high-pitched screams of certain enemies as you blast them into oblivion or the sound of the power suit’s built-in boosters as Samus initiates a space jump. Music consists of an assortment of sweeping orchestrations that dynamically change depending on your location and circumstance. A lot of the music was actually borrowed from Super Metroid and remixed for Prime, a deserving nod to a terrific game.

Every time you sit down with Metroid Prime the experience is always entirely different thanks to the ever-expanding environment and numerous enhancements that you'll consistently come across. It’ll take around 20 hours to complete the first time through, but there are a few surprises in store for those who reach the end-credits. Namely, the inclusion of the original Metroid game in its entirety, although in order to unlock it you’ll need a Gameboy Advance, link-cable, and copy of Metroid Fusion for the GBA. Once you download 50% of the Chozo scripts an art gallery will open up. But these bonuses are just gravy and their presence isn’t required for incentive to play the game. Quite simply, Metroid Prime is currently the reason to own a Gamecube.

Score: 9.7/10

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