When a video game franchise makes the move into 3D, it doesn’t always turn out very well. The elements that make a game great in two dimensions don’t necessarily transfer properly when the third dimension is added into the mix. Metroid Prime is an example of a developer finding the magic formula that retains the feel of the original side-scrolling games while creating something that also stands on its own merits. It is an adventure worth experiencing, even if you aren’t familiar with the previous exploits of female bounty hunter Samus Aran.
At the beginning of the game, Samus tracks a distress beacon to a derelict spacecraft in orbit above a planet called Tallon IV, landing her ship on the outer hull before making her way inside to investigate. She discovers evidence of biological experiments gone wrong, culminating in a battle with a giant parasite at the center of the ship. Defeating the creature has the unfortunate side effect of further damaging the vessel, sending it hurtling towards the surface of the planet below. Samus is forced to evacuate back to her ship outside. She is able to escape in time, but not before her equipment and armor is severely damaged by an electrical explosion on the way out.
As she is escaping the wreck, Samus sees a large dragon-like creature emerge from the smoke and fly towards the planet. Those familiar with Metroid history will recognize Ridley, but those who aren’t only know that Samus decides to pursue an “enemy” to the surface of the planet. Samus loses track of Ridley and lands her ship on the rainy surface of Tallon IV to investigate things further on the ground. Samus soon discovers a hidden operation run by her old enemies, the Space Pirates. The pirates are using a volatile substance found on the planet to biologically alter their test subjects to create super-powerful soldiers. When she discovers their intentions, Samus sets out to defeat her enemies once again.
Metroid Prime may seem like a first-person shooter at first glance, but several differences give Prime its own distinct flavor. First and foremost, Samus Aran has the ability to lock onto her targets, taking aiming almost completely out of the equation. Being a skilled bounty hunter has many perks, locking onto enemies being one of the most useful, along with unlimited ammo for your beam weapons. Second, most normal enemies aren’t a big threat to Samus, especially after you have collected a few armor and weapon power-ups. While there are many enemy encounters throughout the game, there are also plenty of times when Samus is completely alone, exploring her surroundings. Finally, the planet of Tallon IV is a large interconnected place, and you will travel to (and through) many of the same locations several times, especially if you attempt to collect all the hidden power-ups in the game. Bottom line, shooting at enemies is certainly a part of Metroid Prime, but it is not the sole focus of the game.
Progression through Prime is made by recovering your lost equipment and discovering new abilities during the course of your investigation into the Pirates’ operations on the planet. Each upgrade you find allows you to reach previously inaccessible areas. You begin on Tallon IV with your weapon’s default Power Beam and a visor for scanning items of interest to enter into your log book. By the end of the game, you will have four different beam types, four different visors, a missile launcher, upgraded armor, and Samus’ morph ball ability, among other things. Samus’ suits allow her to roll up into a ball, letting her roll through tight spaces and activate certain switches. There is an amusing computer entry partway through the game describing the Space Pirates’ attempts to reverse engineer this technology and the unfortunate results of these experiments.
A grand adventure isn’t complete without a few boss fights, and Metroid Prime features several iconic encounters that you will still remember long after you’ve played through the game. Each boss is designed very well, and the methods for defeating them are sometimes rather clever. You must use all of Samus’ abilities to exploit their weaknesses and take them down. Some of these fights can be rather difficult, even if you know exactly what is required for defeating your foe. The Omega Pirate (a giant, super-powered version of the normal Space Pirate enemies) is my personal nemesis as it is the boss I have the most trouble beating every time I play through the game.
From the moment Metroid Prime begins, it exudes a strong sense of atmosphere and “place” that sets it apart from most other games. Every single area is completely unique down to the cracks in the walls and overgrown vines. The game has an astounding amount of detail in every nook and cranny that is still very impressive, even when compared to more recent games. The detail isn’t limited to just the environments, however. Samus will slightly recoil from nearby explosions, raising her arm in front of her visor, and you can briefly see her face reflected in the glass from the bright light. Raindrops will bead on her visor and steam vents will fog up the glass, temporarily obscuring your view. Part of the immersiveness of Prime comes from these different effects that place you squarely inside the armor of Samus Aran.
The atmosphere of Prime is enhanced by its moody soundtrack. The music perfectly complements the environments and situations you will find yourself in. Each area in the game has a specific theme tied to it from the floaty tones and lilting piano in the snowy Phendrana Drifts to the driving percussion of the lava-filled Magmoor Caverns. Each area has its own unique sound, yet all the tracks fit together into a cohesive whole that I think is one of the best video game scores ever made. The excellent soundtrack is a big part of what propels Metroid Prime into classic territory.
Metroid Prime pulls you into its world and does a great job of keeping you there. You can spend hours exploring Tallon IV trying to find every last item and still want to continue playing the game after the final confrontation. Samus Aran’s first foray into the third dimension is a compelling adventure where all the ingredients came together to create a near-perfect experience.
Final Grade: A+