It’s been almost ten years and a full console generation since the last instalment of Metroid Prime, so it probably comes as no surprise that the announcement of Metroid Prime 4 at E3 this year was a big deal for a lot of longtime fans (despite the fact it was basically just a logo and nothing more). For me, it was a dream come true, and with Metroid now well and truly at the forefront of my mind, I thought it would be a great time to revisit a franchise I’ve grown to love so dearly over the years, starting with the original Metroid Prime.
For its time, Metroid Prime was more than a successful translation to the third dimension, it defined what a 3D Metroid game should be and so willingly established itself as the king of its self-created genre once again. Released on Nintendo GameCube on November 17, 2002, fans were initially sceptical with the shift to first-person and with Retro Studios helming its development, so I wasn’t sure what to expect when I ventured into the world of Metroid for the first time. However, what I walked away with was a deep, long-lasting love for one of Nintendo’s greatest and most under-appreciated franchises. It’s no surprise looking back that it received near universal acclaim and spawned two sequels.
When it comes to narrative, Metroid Prime is a standard affair by both Metroid’s and other Nintendo title’s depths; although, this is only the case on the surface. After intercepting a distress signal from a Space Pirate frigate, Samus finds out that the crew of the frigate have been slaughtered by their own experiments. After some exploration and an altercation with the “Parasite Queen,” the frigate starts to self-destruct and our protagonist is hit by an electrical surge which results in her power suit being stripped down to its bare minimum. While escaping, Samus also encounters her nemesis Meta-Ridley, and after reaching her gunship, she proceeds to chase him to the nearby planet called Tallon IV.
The narrative takes a backseat from here for the rest of the experience; but, for the people who want to learn more about Tallon IV and its inhabitants, there’s plenty of lore to be found. The planet is ripe with murals, lifeforms, and architecture that can be scanned with Samus’s visor, all of which provide insight into the ancient race of the Chozo and the history of the planet.
If you’ve played a Metroid or Castlevania game before, Prime isn’t much different in terms of design and structure. Because of Samus losing all her abilities on the frigate, it’s your job to find them again so that you can further progress and explore Tallon IV and its various environments. You’ll frequently be roadblocked by doors you can’t open, chasms you’re unable to cross, and parts of the world you can’t interact with. The corresponding abilities needed to progress range from new suits to the Grapple Hook, the Spider Ball, and more. It makes for an incredibly satisfying gameplay loop, and the hook of collecting and using your new-found tools is what keeps you playing, and that’s without even mentioning the many energy tanks and missile expansions you can collect. There’s a staggering amount of player progression to be found as a result of this, so you really feel like you’re getting more powerful as you progress.
You’ll spend most of your time in Metroid Prime either exploring or engaging in combat with Space Pirates and deadly lifeforms found on Tallon IV. Samus’s signature arm cannon is the primary means of dealing with these combat situations, with access to missiles and various beam types that you’ll unlock as you explore. Generally speaking, the game is reasonably challenging, especially for newcomers. Early enemies hit hard, and without additional energy tanks and missile expansions, Samus is quite frail. The boss fights, much like The Legend of Zelda, require you to use your newfound abilities to pinpoint their weaknesses, and making use of strafe-dodging and jumping is key to avoiding damage in these fights, especially in some of the latter, more difficult fights.
As you explore Tallon IV, you’ll traverse through numerous areas, ranging from the old Chozo Ruins to the frozen tundra of the Phendrana Drifts. There’s a significant amount of variation within these environments, and each one is easily identifiable, memorable, and unique. You’ll revisit these areas numerous times for different reasons, but it never gets repetitive or cumbersome. This is because of what is arguably Metroid Prime’s greatest strength: its atmosphere.
One thing that Metroid is known for as a franchise is its ability to pull you into the world it’s set in, and no other title reinforces this belief more than Metroid Prime. There’s an immense feeling of isolation that’s present for the entirety of the experience, but it never makes you feel uncomfortable. It’s the kind of isolation that immerses you into what you’re doing, and Prime has it in spades.
Metroid Prime’s biggest flaw comes in the form of one of its numerous collectables called the Chozo Artifacts. In total, there are twelve scattered all over Tallon IV, and all of them must be collected to access the final area of the game. The hints you’re given for the locations are passable at best, but some of them are straight up cryptic, resulting in some artifacts being very hard to find without some sort of a guide. It brings the pacing to a halt and makes the end game a real drag if you don’t pay any attention to collecting them as you’re powering Samus up.
Part of what strengthens Metroid Prime’s atmosphere is its excellent soundtrack. Composed by series veteran Kenji Yamamoto, the game features all kinds of tracks to suit all situations. It heats up in combat situations and takes on a calmer feel when simply exploring the various environments. Each area in the game has its own ambience to it, with Phendrana Drifts, and Magmoor Caverns being standouts in this regard.
I played Metroid Prime through the Metroid Prime Trilogy that was released on the Nintendo Wii with graphical upgrades, and it’s definitely one of the better-looking games on the console (and on the GameCube as well). While the textures aren’t the high definition 4K resolutions of today, the game still has a lot of charm to be found in the art style and use of colours, and it’s still a very unique looking game, even compared to the other two Prime titles in the trilogy. The game also has a level of polish and performance you’d expect from a Nintendo game, with consistent frame rates, and, in my experience, no bugs or glitches whatsoever.
Metroid Prime stands at the pinnacle of not only the Metroid series but 3D Metroidvania titles as a whole. It has incredibly rich lore for those who want to seek it out, staggering amounts of atmosphere and progression, memorable environments, and a soundtrack that, in my opinion, is still unrivalled in the series. If you can make it through the drag that is collecting the Chozo Artifacts, this is certainly a great place to start with Metroid if you don’t mind getting lost now and again. It still holds up today as one of the best in its franchise and genre.