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by Nintendo

Now, having finally gotten to play Metroid Prime, I am convinced that Nintendo has been holding back a key piece of Metroid mythology from us for all these years. While this can’t be substantiated, I am almost positive that Samus is really the great, great, great (well you get the point), granddaughter of Indiana Jones. Metroid Prime isn’t a first-person shooter. It is an expedition on a hostile alien planet. Indy had his bullwhip, revolver, fedora and Nazis to deal with. Samus has her grapple beam, arm cannon, helmet and space pirates. Couple this startling revelation with Metroid’s popularity and it is hard to imagine Lucas and Spielberg not making a Metroid feature film. OK, I’m silly but not stupid. No matter how cool that would be, it will never happen. Luckily Metroid Prime is such a perfect and beautiful game that at many times it truly feels cinematic. Just like Spielberg and Lucas’s greatest films, in Prime the genius is in the details.

It is no simple task to bring a beloved franchise to a new platform; in Metroid’s case there is a two console generation gap between games. Rabid fans can be the best and the worst, expecting games to remain familiar and yet feel fresh. Metroid needed more than a touch up, it needed to evolve in order to make the jump to the Gamecube. Two-dimensional side-scrolling games no longer cut the mustard. So their first challenge was to bring Metroid into the third dimension. At first it looks as if they solved this problem by making it a FPS. This is far from true (had Metroid been a FPS it would not have been a Five star game, but more on that later). It does borrow FPS elements, but uses them as pieces of a unique gaming experience. A large part of the game does play from a first person perspective but there is the morph ball feature which switches the game to a third person perspective, and many of the tasks Samus must accomplish are more grounded in action/adventure style gameplay than a shooter game. If anything, this game is genre defying.

There are a lot of good games out right now. The thing that separates them from the great games is atmosphere. Atmosphere makes the difference between playing a videogame and living a videogame. Metroid Prime oozes atmosphere (and, in fact, many of Metroid’s atmospheres contain ooze). The graphics are striking. The scenery is engrossing, yet it isn’t even the most spectacular example of Metroid's graphics. What really blows me away is Samus’ visor. With arm cannon ready I entered a mist filled room expecting the worst. As I crept slowly inside my visor began to fog up! I was amazed; heck I stepped out and walked back in just to see it again. Later, an energy creature attacked me. It was too close for strategy so I fired like a wild man. The creature blew up inches from my visor. The burst of light caused Samus’ features to be reflected back at the player off of the visor. Another time I blasted a swarm of creatures that splattered across my visor impairing my vision. It all looks so flawlessly real.

Equally important to the visual atmosphere of the game is the sound. Metroid Prime features Dolby Pro Logic II, but that is just the technical stuff. The score stands out as one of my favorite videogame scores of all time. The creators were smart enough to combine classic Metroid riffs with all new music. The sound effects integrate naturally by adding to the game without calling undo attention to them.

When I reached the ice land I had to literally stop and just take it all in. I was struck by the vast landscape first. Looking out as the snow slowly drifted towards the ground. Then the music swept me up. I felt like I was participating in the most amazing movie I have seen in years. This is my favorite moment, but there are so many little moments that leave me floored. Every time I step out into the rain and notice the raindrops bouncing off of the arm cannon I realize that I am witnessing one of those moments that contribute to videogames becoming interactive art.

The developers did a pretty good job of utilizing the Gamecube controller. All the buttons have functions but it is intuitive enough that it doesn’t take long before it is second nature accessing them all. This does bring me to my one major gripe. Why, when they decided to make most of the game first person perspective, did they decided to use the old plant and shoot method of control instead of a dual stick system? It took some serious adjustment in the beginning of the game getting used to not being able to walk with one stick and aim with the other. I realize the Gamecube controller is a little funky and the C-stick is used later in the game to toggle between weapons, but had this game been a strict FPS I would have knocked it down hard for this. Since it is a unique game, and after the first clumsy attempts you can get used to the controls, this is forgivable, but I think the game could have been that much stronger had they handled the control better. If I could take off a half star I would, but I’d rather round up than down, since the rest of the game is so good.

Samus’ familiar gadgets are back along with visor upgrades and the most fun of the upgrades the morph ball. The camera never misses a beat in this game and that includes shifting from the first person perspective to the third when you enter morph ball mode. It is so cool that I found myself wanting to play out the entire game as a ball. You have an amazing amount of control when crouched in a ball, allowing for all sorts of intricate maneuvers. Of course you still have your rolly-polly bombs and a few new additions including a morph ball track that takes you to places otherwise inaccessible. The morph ball is definitely the aspect of Metroid that translated best into the realm of 3D, and that says volumes.

An added bonus for Metroid Fusion owners is a fully playable version of the original NES version of Metroid when the two games are linked together. I know I will be sitting down to replay one of my all time favorite games as soon as I get the chance.

Here I am getting to the end of my review and I just know that there are little gems that I have forgotten. That is OK though because if you have gotten this far into the review and not decided that you have to at least give Metroid a try than I don’t know how to help you. Metroid Prime features beautiful graphics, music, and gameplay. It is driven by a compelling story line that is fresh yet laced with nostalgia. This is the type of game that should sell consoles (which I’m sure it has). If you let this title pass you by you will be denying yourself an essential videogame experience.

Matt James   (01/12/2003)


Ups: One of the most atmospheric games ever; finally the next generation of Metroid; supports Dolby Pro Logic II.

Downs: Plant and shoot system instead of dual stick system: they did an excellent job updating Metroid, so why go back to the past of the FPS genre?

Platform: Gamecube