Metroid Prime, the fifth game in Nintendo's hugely popular Metroid series, has had a pretty rough history. It was first announced at E31 1999, when the GameCube itself was announced to the world, but there were no photos or videos of it. Controversy appeared when it was shown at Spaceworld2, 2001 where it was revealed that:
The series had gone from a 2D adventure game to a 3D first person shoot-em-up3
It was being developed by a new development company, Retro Studios (now a subsidiary of Nintendo), and
That developer was western!
A low polygon4 count and poor frame rate5 didn't help matters. However, between then and E3 2002, the game was improved drastically, and is now believed by almost all who play it to be the one of the best games ever, the very best in the entire Metroid series, and some have even gone so far as to label it Best Video Game Ever! But enough of that, on with the entry.
Though Metroid Prime may look like a first-person shoot-'em-up6, it is in fact more about exploration than anything else. There is still shooting, of course, but less of that than games such as Doom or Half Life. The control system is also significantly different to pure FPSes, being more like that of an adventure game such as, say, The Legend of Zelda series. For example, the left control stick on the controller moves you, but the right one is used to select weapons instead of looking around. It is possible to look around, but only by holding down the R button and standing still. Combat is also significantly different, employing a lock-on system to make aiming easier, and doing away with cross hairs7. You may think that this would make combat very simple, and you'd be right - however, as previously stated, the game is more about exploration than shooting. There are still plenty of enemies to kill, but these only really start appearing in force after a few hours play. They also reappear in rooms after you've left, which is why it's a good thing combat is simple and ammo is unlimited (except for missiles) - more on that a little later.
Background to the Characters
The Chozo is a bird like race who, in previous centuries, developed extremely advanced technology and carved out a great galactic empire. However, there was something missing from their lives. In an attempt to find this, a group of them set up a home on the planet Tallon IV, eschewing high technology in favour of a simpler existence alongside the natural world. What buildings they did build were of stone, generally built around trees for support.
The Space Pirates
The Space Pirates are a nomadic sentient aggressor species. They desire complete power in the galaxy, and will let nothing stand in their way. Their technology is very advanced, though not up to the same levels as the Chozo once had. Unlike many other evil races seen in sci-fi, the space Pirates are not stupid - in fact, many of them are very intelligent. They give great respect to their scientists, and have several huge laboratories with experiment reports filed in an orderly, scientific, and intelligent manner.
As a child, Samus (the main character of all the Metroid games) was orphaned by Space Pirates, and then adopted by the Chozo who raised her as their own. When she became older she was given advanced Chozo weapons and armour with which to fight the pirates. She was now a fully-fledged bounty hunter.
Metroid Prime is set between Metroid and Metroid II. Having received a distress call from the planet Tallon IV, Samus goes to investigate, and discovers a semi-abandoned Space Pirate frigate in orbit. Apparently, a meteor carrying a deadly mutagen called Phazon had crashed into Tallon IV. The Chozo had built a seal around it, but it was not enough. The phazon began eating away at the natural world, mutating the once-time paradise world into one infested with insane mutations who knew nothing but viciousness and aggression. The Chozo then hoped for a saviour, who was to arrive in the form of Samus Aran.
When the Pirates arrived, they quickly saw phazon as a useful substance for the creation of biological weapons, and started experimenting on the indigenous life forms of Tallon IV, thus mutating the world even more. However, the Pirates could not contain the monsters, and they broke out. However, the Pirates were not dissuaded, and continued their abominable research.
When Samus arrives on the scene, she finds the Pirate frigate abandoned except for a few parasite vermin and mortally wounded Pirates. While exploring the ship, a self-destruct program is initiated and Samus manages to escape to the surface of Tallon IV. She there discovers a plot to use phazon to mutate the DNA of Pirates and Metroids (energy based organisms) to create the ultimate biological weapon. There are also plans afoot to resurrect the Pirate's leader, Mother Brain, and General Ridley8 whom she sees escaping from the Frigate just before it self destructs. It eventually becomes apparent that this was in fact an upgraded version of Ridley called Meta-Ridley, which basically meant that the already lethal Ridley was now one of the most dangerous organisms in the galaxy.
The storytelling in Metroid Prime is somewhat different to that in other games. Rather than telling the story through conversations, FMV (Full Motion Video), and cut scenes, it is instead told by scanning Chozo Lore carvings and Space Pirate data logs. This method is surprisingly effective at telling the story, and also forces the player to use their imagination a bit to visualise what precisely is going on behind the scenes, which leads to a greater deal of personal immersion in the game and its narrative.
As already mentioned, Metroid Prime is more about adventure than shooting. Most of the game revolves around collecting upgrades to Samus' Chozo-engineered suit9, which in turn allow the player to open up new areas for exploration. This in turn leads to the player recovering twelve Chozo artefacts, which open the door to the impact crater where the meteor containing the phazon fell. There are four types of upgrade: suit, gun, visor, and morph ball.
The suit allows for travel in most areas, but cannot survive extreme heat and suffers movement impediments underwater. The varia suit and gravity suit respectively fix these problems, and the phazon suit allows the wearer to walk on toxic phazon. The suit can also be upgraded with a grapple beam, space jump boots (which allow you to jump higher) and energy tanks, which increase maximum health by 100 points each, to a total of 1600 health.
The morph ball allows the user to roll into a small ball to move faster and access small areas. When this action is performed, the game switches to a third person viewpoint. The morph ball can be upgraded with the boost ball (which increases speed), spider ball (which allows climbing on special magnetic rails), bombs, and power bombs.
The visor starts off with two settings: combat (normal) and scan. The scan visor can do many things, including scanning organisms' physiology, detecting specific minerals, activating switches, hacking into Space Pirate computers and translating Chozo script. The visor can be upgraded with thermal (infra red) and X-ray settings.
Upon landing on Tallon IV, all Samus is equipped with is the power beam, which has the best rate of fire but is also the weakest weapon, though the only weapon capable of harming Chozo Ghosts. As the player progresses, they will find the charge beam, which allows them to hold down the shoot button to charge up a more powerful blast, the missile launcher, and the wave beam (electrical), ice beam, and plasma beam. All but the missile launcher have unlimited ammo. The missile launcher starts off with only a little ammo, but upgrades can be found to increase that. There is also an upgrade for each beam weapon that allows the player to charge it up, then press the missile fire button to shoot an improved blast. Unfortunately, these aren't especially useful, with the exception of the power beam/ missile combo, which does a lot of damage. Doors in the game must be shot at to open, with each door requiring different weapons to be employed. Each weapons also has a different visual effect when fully charged up: the power beam glows, electricity crackles over the wave beam, ice crystals form on the ice beam, and the plasma beam expands with the heat.
There are six different locations in Metroid Prime: the Space Pirate Frigate, Tallon Overworld, Chozo ruins, Magmoor Caverns, Phendrana Drifts, Phazon Mines, and Impact Crater.
Space Pirate Frigate
This is where the adventure starts off. This area contains mostly insects and injured Pirates, though there is also a large boss, but it is very weak compared to what you'll face later. The Frigate is mostly a place to get used to the controls and absorb some of the game's atmosphere of isolation.
This rainy area starts off quite safe, with nothing but bugs and scavengers to get in your way. However, more powerful enemies lurk on the crashed Pirate Frigate. It has elevators leading to Magmoor caverns, Chozo Ruins, and Impact Crater.
Again, this temple does not initially hold many enemies worth talking about, but there are some powerful machines guarding upgrades, and a huge plant boss which makes all the water toxic. Chozo Ghosts appear later on in the game.
The game starts to heat up a bit here, with magma covering much of the ground and powerful fire and poison based organisms lurking everywhere. The Pirates have begun construction of a geothermal power plant in this area. It has elevators to Tallon Overworld, Phendrana Drifts, Chozo Ruins, and Phazon Mines.
This glacial area is home to a large Pirate research facility, various ice creatures, some Chozo buildings, and a huge, deadly rock boss. It has elevators to Chozo Ruins, Magmoor Caverns, and Phazon Mines.
The main Pirate stronghold, there is much more technology here than on other areas of Tallon IV. There are very few wild creatures here, but a lot of Pirates and metroids. It has elevators to Tallon Overworld, Magmoor Caverns, and Phendrana Drifts.
The final area visited in the game, reached after recovering all 12 Chozo artefacts and shutting down the Space Pirate operations. This seems almost organic, and is populated almost entirely by metroids. At its heart is the source of all the corruption on Tallon IV - Metroid Prime.
Tallon IV is home to many different creatures, but not all of them will directly attack you. Not all of them are even predators; there are also scavengers, fliers, burrowers, insects, and plants with unique (and often explosive) defence mechanisms. These all combine to form what is generally quite a believable ecosystem.
Most of the large predators on Tallon IV are either phazon mutations or Pirate experiments. These things are the most dangerous in the entire game, and appear quite a bit. Enemies are not always animals - there are several different varieties of Space Pirates, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. For example, the Shadow Pirate is invisible except to the Thermal Visor, but can only attack in hand to hand; or the Elite Pirate is extremely powerful, but very slow.
As in previous Metroid games, the Space Pirates are the initial enemy, but the metroids are by far the greater foe. Energy based organisms, they latch onto their prey and drain its very life force - and they are extremely hard to kill10. In Metroid Prime, the Pirates are carrying out experiments which involve injecting metroids with phazon to try and create a small force capable of wiping out whole armies. However, they are unable to control them, a fact which can be turned to the player's advantage at one point - by releasing the metroids in a research room, they will destroy the Pirates, who it would be a greater challenge to wipe out.
If one word was chosen to describe the bosses in this game, then that word would be 'big'. Metroid Prime features some of the most impressive bosses ever to appear in a video game, massive in size, strength, and power. The developers are quite serious about their creations - playing through the game well unlocks pre-production artwork, some of which shows specific anatomical structures of the plant boss, such as ball-and-socket joints, etc. The bosses can also have a lot of attacks - the penultimate boss, Meta Ridley, possesses plasma breath, missiles, bombs, shockwave, dash, and tail attacks, and he's not afraid to use them.
Connecting Metroid Prime to the Game Boy Advance game Metroid Fusion via a GBA-GC link cable will unlock quite a few things in Prime. If you have completed Fusion, you can use the Fusion suit in Prime. This does not grant any special abilities, but looks quite cool in the games brief cut-scenes. In you link them up after completing Prime, you can unlock the game that stated it all, the original Metroid from the NES.
So is it worth buying? Well, the game does contain enough Metroid stuff to keep fans happy, as well as being easy enough to pick and good enough to play to draw new people into the Metroid Universe.
Age Rating: 11+
Available from: All good video game stores and several very suspicious ones
Copyright 2002, 2003 Nintendo. Samus Aran, Metroid, and the Metroid logo are exclusively the properties in Nintendo. All rights, including the properties on game, concept, scenario, and music, are exclusively reserved by Nintendo.