The Metroid series is one of Nintendo’s more older franchises and it’s one I’m particularly a fan of. I’m not a hardcore Metroid fan nor have I played any of the older games besides a little bit of Super Metroid, but I find the concept of Metroid to be appealing. You follow a badass bounty hunter as she travels across the galaxy. Explore the depths of alien worlds, fight all sorts of ugly creatures, and unravel the mysteries that lie beneath the surface. Metroid wasn’t the first piece of media to invent these concepts. Star Wars has done this, Star Trek, and various pieces of science fiction. There were science fiction games that came out before Metroid like Galaga and Sinistar, but Metroid was one of the first science fiction games ever to have more depth. You weren’t just mindlessly blasting away at baddies. You were uncovering a mystery and unraveling a complex world. Metroid took side-scrolling action and made it more explorative than linearly structured. The pathway forward would occasionally be locked and you would have to find an upgrade or cool new power-up to progress. These upgrades not only acted as keys to open the way forward, but an extension to your arsenal and physical capabilities. You felt powerful by the end of your journey and that taking your time to find every single secret was worthwhile. Of course, there was the problem of getting lost or hitting a roadblock, but it was satisfying once you figured out what to do. The original Metroid is a product of its time, but the sequels would help expand the formula and help it become one of the most influential games ever made.
“How influential?” you may ask, well there’s an entire genre named after it. Castlevania would later adapt a game design structure similar to that of Metroid and the two would form the genre name we come to know as metroidvania. Quite popular amongst the indie scene, and these titles would help carry off the staples these two games set up even when their respective franchises died and faded into the dust. The metroidvania genre is one of my favorite genres out there. Sure, it’s a bit overdone now and not every new entry slams innovative ideas to the table, but I enjoy 2D exploration and character progression. It’s fun seeing developers give a crack at it, or better yet how they transfer the staples of Metroid to other realms. Metroidvania isn’t just limited to 2D side-scrolling as we have seen big budget titles list Metroid as an influence. Arkham Asylum had Metroid down as an influence to its maze-like design, and if I remember correctly Dark Souls listed Symphony of The Night as the main influence to its interconnected world design. If Metroid didn’t exist then these games wouldn’t have existed too.
Metroid is great, but there’s one particular entry that stands apart from the rest. A turning point in the series and considered one of the best games of all time. During the days of the Nintendo 64, Shigero Miyamoto wanted to develop a 3D Metroid game for the system. Mario and Zelda were making the big leap from 2D to 3D, and it was about time that Metroid did the exact same thing. However, Nintendo didn’t make a 3D Metroid title as series creator Yoshio Sakamoto could not imagine how Samus Aran would control using the N64 controller. For those of you who don’t know, the N64 controller had a weird design to it and button layout. There was a D-pad to the top left, six buttons on the right god knows what, and a joystick in the middle. It was unlike any of the controllers we have now where there two joysticks, one for movement and one for adjusting the camera, and then the other buttons to perform action commands. It felt limited for the time, and combine this with the Nintendo 64’s limitation and Metroid wasn’t ready to transition to 3D just yet. Nintendo GameCube rolls around, and Nintendo finally has the hardware and controller to make a 3D Metroid title. They decided to create an American company, Retro Studios, and put them in charge of developing the first ever 3D Metroid. I believe it’s because Americans helped kickstart first person shooters and they seem more knowledgeable with these types of games.
Nintendo would occasionally butt in to help with the development process, and this led to a good collaboration. Nintendo would help compose the soundtrack, Retro Studios would handle overall art direction and the game’s engine, and both would determine world and game design. This new 3D Metroid, titled Metroid Prime, was released for Nintendo GameCube in 2002. It was a pretty bombastic year for gaming as games like Ratchet and Clank, Super Mario Sunshine, Vice City, Morrowind, Sly Cooper, and much more came out. Out comes Metroid Prime, a game Nintendo didn’t even know would do well, and it manages to sell better than any other Metroid entry that came before it. Okay, it sold like close to around two million copies but that’s pretty good for a niche series. Metroid Prime was praised by critics alike and it soon became what we now know as one of the highest acclaimed games ever made. Metroid Prime earned its positive reputation, and I’ve been meaning to see why. I would have played Metroid Prime earlier, but Nintendo isn’t good at preserving their older games and making them readily available for modern hardware. That’s why a majority of players just end up emulating their games on PC. However, Retro released a remaster of Metroid Prime for Nintendo Switch and it was a release nobody expected. In fact, they didn’t release any trailers or promotions before the time of release and just shadow dropped it during a Nintendo Direct. The remaster reworked the graphics and world of Prime from the ground up and is one of the best looking Switch games to date. I finally had the chance to play Metroid Prime and I took it. Is Metroid Prime as good as people say it is? Yes, mostly. I think Metroid Prime is timeless in some aspects, but in other areas you can see it starting to age. Still, this is a fantastic game and today we’ll be talking about Metroid Prime and why it deserves your attention.
We follow space bounty Samus Aran as she embarks on another dangerous mission. At a young age she witnessed her parents die during a space pirate attack, but a group of anthropomorphic alien birds known as the Chozos took her in and taught her their teachings. How to fight off the most horrendous foes, how to speak their language, understand the scriptures they’ve hidden across the galaxy, and gifting her technology they’ve hidden. In fact, the suit Samus dawns was developed by the Chozos so that she can easily absorb and master the Chozo technology she may find during her travels. Years later, Samus Aran is a bounty hunter doing what mankind doesn’t want to do. Fending the galaxy off from potential threats and hunting down the killers who dare so to kill her parents and other families. Unfortunately those pirates aren’t doing so well at the moment as Samus gets a distress signal showing one of their ships, the Orpheon, is being brought down by their own brethren. Samus goes in to investigate why the pirates would be killing one another and she discovers that some of the members aboard have been overtaken by an infection. The crew has been experimenting with a parasite known as Phazon for weeks, and have tried to alter their bodies and equipment so they can handle the energy emitted from Phazon. Something went wrong and now the enhanced troopers have gone mad and went on a killing spree.
Samus manages to locate the source of the infection aboard the ship and destroy it, but the blast from the explosion damages her armor and causes her to lose a majority of the equipment she has. She does manage to escape the ship before it fully detonates, but during the escape process she runs into her old nemesis Ridley. A pterodactyl-like being who is responsible for killing her parents. Ridley has enhanced himself using robotic components, and has somehow managed to withstand the infection of Phazon. He retreats to a nearby planet known as Tallon IV, which was the source of the Phazon Parasite. Samus tails him from behind using her ship and manages to find a safe place to land. Ridley has disappeared, but this gives Samus the opportunity to stop an operation happening on Tallon. Explore Tallon IV, reobtain your equipment, stop the pirates from harvesting more Phazon, and much more!
Metroid Prime takes the formula Metroid has set up and converts it to a first person perspective. It is literally Metroid as a first person shooter! You explore areas, collect upgrades, fight baddies, open up new pathways using said upgrades, and try to make it to whatever objective lies next. However, the thing about Metroid Prime is that the game doesn’t always give you clear direction on where to go next. Sometimes the pathway forward is linear and other times you’ll just have to bumble around. You could say this leads to occasional confusion, which we’ll talk more about later, but what this does is give the player a bit of freedom on how they venture through the big expansive world. Maybe they’ll uncover a hidden upgrade, secret room, or be able to collect an item they weren’t able to reach before. There’s a lot of verticality when it comes to level design and you’ll open up passageways that loop back into earlier parts of the stage. Progression will always feel satisfying as you march on forward to the next big room.
The upgrades are all fun to use and if you played any Metroid game then you should know what a good handful of them are by now. Missiles, a double jump, grappling beam, freeze projectiles, the ability to morph into a ball, or lay out bombs while morphed into a ball. These tools serve as new ways to venture through the world and fight enemies. Missiles do a ton of damage if you manage to land your shots perfectly, but you carry a limited amount of them and once they are gone you can’t fire any more explosive projectiles. Luckily, enemies seem to drop health refills and missile refills often so you’ll never be too low. The Morph Ball to be reworked since we’re transitioning from 2D to 3D, and so that’s why the ability to jump while in Morph Ball form is available from the start and the Spider Ball ability only works on certain railings rather than having the ability to use it on any surface. That would have been a lot harder to program and allowed the player to skip a lot of segments. Certain weapons will have to be against certain enemies. For example, they introduce an enemy type later on that can’t be damaged unless you use a weapon type that fits their color of armor. You have the iconic Metroids which may have to be frozen and then shattered to bits using a missile. There’s four firing modes in this game and they all have their quirks and benefits. You have the simple blaster, the wave beam, the freeze blast, and the plasma beam which is the strongest weapon among the four firing types.
The game went full on first person shooter, and world design and combat saw a shift in design. You will explore fully realized 3D environments, and you are no longer restricted to a horizontal and vertical axis. You can travel north, south, east, west, up, down, and anywhere the 3D world allows you to go just so long as a pathway is available. Combat requires precision, good aiming, and bosses have big open arenas so you can maneuver around them freely and avoid their attacks with ease. If you are having difficulty aiming at weak points or enemies constantly moving about then you can use the lock-on system. A mechanic that instantly locks your aim onto an enemy and allows you to make direct hits. It is for those who aren’t as good at first person shooters, and since this is a game where exploration is put above combat this isn’t a huge problem until later. Besides that, it’s exactly what you come to expect. Metroid in a 3D realm and that’s probably all you can hope for.
Metroid Prime is a wonderful conversion of the Metroid formula into a 3D realm, and I can see why so many people look back fondly on this game. Not just for nostalgia’s sake, but because it did so much right for the time it came out. There’s a lot of smart decisions on display, and even though the game fumbles in certain areas it manages to pull me back in and keep playing up until the end. I won’t be comparing the remastered version to the original GameCube release mainly because I haven’t played the original. I don’t know what they changed from the original to the remaster, but I have been told a couple things they improved in. For one, the graphics are much better. That should be obvious to anyone stepping into this game, and Retro Studios went full throttle with the remaster’s visuals. This game is way prettier than it deserved to be and pushes the hardware of the Nintendo Switch to its utter limit. This is the best looking game the console has to offer and it’s a remaster of a GameCube game for crying out loud! Art direction, lighting, environmental design, and the atmosphere. The atmosphere specifically is Prime’s big highlight. You really feel the emptiness and forbidding of the world. Traversing these unexplored passages, and trying to figure out where you are and where to go next. Being prepared for what may come next, and surviving each encounter for you are the only human stepping deeper into this planet. The music is another contributing factor as to why the atmosphere is good, and my lord a good handful of the tracks in this game are fantastic. Well orchestrated and memorable.
Everything I love about metroidvania games is still here. The interconnected world design and character progression make for a satisfying game to work through. You start off weak and unable to face off against bigger stronger creatures, but by the end game the game should be really easy as you have collected a ton of power ups and health upgrades. Opening up a shortcut or finding a safe room fills me with joy as backtracking is cut down and I don’t have to worry about facing certain enemies and threats again. Finding a secret is really satisfying as well, because it’s pretty easy to miss missile upgrades when they are hidden behind destructible surfaces made to blend in with the environment. All the areas you journey into are unique and have surprises up their sleeve, like a temple hidden within a snowy tundra or glowing mushroom cavern hidden all the way down in a mining operation. The world opens up in a natural way and certain rooms find ways to differentiate themselves from one another, as one of many problems with metroidvania games is rooms starting to look the same due to art direction and reuse of assets. Prime’s world and overall design is fantastic and you think that it has aged perfectly after 21 years…. no.
I’m sorry readers, but I don’t think Metroid Prime is a masterpiece like everybody else. I can see why it’s still adored and why people call it one of the best, but I don’t think it is a 10/10 game. In fact, I would call this a really flawed classic. Metroid Prime has a good handful of weaknesses, and one of those weaknesses is the problem of backtracking. There are a total of five areas in the game, but the world is much bigger than you suspect. Checkpoints are far apart from each other and you may be making long treks before you reach a save point. There are occasionally shortcuts, but later areas start to cut down on them. If you die once then you might lose a ton of progress and have to redo it. This could have been prevented if they offered fast travel like other genre entries, but Metroid Prime doesn’t have this. No, you have to walk everywhere and this can be really annoying. It’s made even worse by the fact that upgrades you may need to progress are hidden halfway across the world map. Making backtracking even more annoying as you run from one place to another. This is a problem seen across multiple metroidvania games, but I really felt it here.
You’ll get lost, confused, and have no idea of where to go. Prime has a hint system that pops up when the player can’t find the item needed to progress, but it pops-up when you wander about for more than thirty minutes. It’s not terrible as constant pop-ups would make the game more annoying and remove the satisfaction of discovery, but in a genre where upgrades are hidden in obscure locations the timing could be shorter. Combat isn’t a highlight of Prime, but I did find some joy in it. There are fun fights and I think all the firing types are fun to use. However, you encounter some really annoying enemy types later on and the boss fights ocassionally dip in quality. Strongest version of the space pirates require you to use certain weapons against them depending on their color, and while this does get you to change what weapon you use it’s bad as the buttons you use to quickly swap weapons on the fly don’t always respond easily. A few of the boss fights are epic, but there are a couple which drag on longer than they should due to their massive health pool or the gimmicks they utilize. My final complaint is the last section of the game. You know how in Wind Waker you had to locate Triforce Shards to progress? Metroid Prime has that in the form of Chozo Artifacts, and all 12 are needed to complete the game. Some of these are easy to find and others are in places you wouldn’t bother checking. The description they give you to find them isn't the best and you’ll probably have to use a guide to find them. Biggest thing that hasn't aged well.
“I thought you said you liked Metroid Prime?” I did! Isn’t it possible to offer constructive criticism for an excellent game? Metroid Prime has a ton of flaws and sections that haven’t aged well, but I do think the game overall is amazing and ahead of its time. The design of the world, atmosphere, progression, and ability to convert Metroid to a first person explorative shooter should be enough to leave you at awe. Metroid Dread is still my favorite Metroid game and there’s a ton of other metroidvanias I’d choose over this, but if you want a game that’s more focused on immersion then I recommend checking out Metroid Prime. I give Metroid Prime an 8.5/10 for being pretty good.
This critique was written by the single man at Review on. Stay tuned for more content and feel free to check more reviews out over at my site!