Metroid Prime is just about as close to perfection as anyone has ever gotten with a video game. Ever. Recently I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this game, and I really want to jump back in and play it again. I’ve played through it multiple times and it never stops impressing me, over 10 years since its release. Almost everything about it can stand up to anything we see today, and is almost certainly done better. The saddest part about Metroid Prime is that we probably won’t ever see anything like it again. At least not from Nintendo.
Nintendo has shown us that it has moved on. Prime came out back in a time when Nintendo needed their Gamecube to compete with Sony and Microsoft for dominance. The Gamecube is one of my favorite systems I’ve ever played because of how unique some of the things on it were. Nintendo was trying new things that no one had ever done before. Zelda turned into a beautiful cel-shaded cartoon, Mario was flying around on a water jetpack hanging out with these guys, Luigi was roaming around a mansion searching for ghosts, and Pikmin came into existence. PIKMIN. (WHAT?)
Finally, Metroid was moving into first-person. The appeal of Metroid was getting lost in a huge world with a seemingly infinite number of new things to discover. Everywhere you went, there was always a new enemy, new power up, a puzzle to solve, a new way to use your abilities in clever ways, a huge boss to defeat, or something else equally entertaining. How could everything that makes Metroid what it is be transferred into a whole new dimension? Nintendo did it with Mario and Zelda on the N64, but it seemed like Metroid was happily planted in 2D. They did the impossible as they’ve proven they can again and again, they totally reinvented one of their most beloved franchises, and it was as good as it had ever been before.
By taking a glance at Metroid Prime, you might believe it is simply a first person shooter. While yes, you do shoot at things from a first person perspective, you really couldn’t be any further from the truth. This is a first-person adventure. This game isn’t about the combat. The combat is fine, and very exciting at times, it takes a backseat to everything else that is happening. The exploration is the most persistent trait Metroid Prime carries with it until the very end. You are constantly discovering new areas, items, creatures, abilities, and more. The game could be defined as a constant stream of rewards. You find an awesome new area, you get to explore around incredible environments, find a plethora of wonderful things to see and do, then you find an amazing new piece of equipment to test out which in turn will allow you to further explore and repeat the process.
Every new area you find makes you want to search every corner to see what is waiting for you. You always know there is something hidden for you to find inside nearly every room in the game. You are equipped with a scanner that allows you to check anything in the environment and get a detailed explanation of anything useful that you might need to know about it. Scanning is one of my favorite parts of the game because of all of its different but equally fascinating uses. Sometimes you’ll scan a creature or some plantlife and you’ll get a detailed description of what they do in the world or why they are there. The amount of lore there is to read for almost every single object in the game is overwhelming at times, but it is completely optional. Some of it is really interesting to read if you just feel like learning a little bit more about the world and the things around you. Sometimes the scanner is used for solving puzzles. The scan may reveal a secret spot in a wall, or an enemy’s hidden weak spot, or an opportunity to use a new piece of equipment you just found. Being able to simply click a button and have huge amounts of information delivered directly to you make you feel like some sort of god traversing this world so devoid of any other humans.
The congruity of the art style really shines, everything seems to belong exactly where it is. The ancient race who built the structures in the world, the Chozo, have a very specific kind of architecture, and it is very neat to see how unique everything looks compared to any other game. The nature is even more beautiful to look at. The first time you step out of the caves into the icy plains of Phendrana Drifts, it will take your breath away. This icy ruins stands out as one of my favorite environments in any game I’ve played, it really is a sight to behold. The music hits perfectly everywhere in the game, you’ll remember the chanting in Magmoor Caverns long after you’ve shut the game off, and in the Drifts it sets the mood just as well. Every track in the game is specifically designed to evoke a certain mood for every area you visit.
The visual effects that the developers went to the trouble of crafting go above and beyond what was necessary. Every little flourish gives the game more characters, and lets you know that someone really cared about this game. Whenever you get a blast of light too close your face, you can see Samus’ reflection in her visor. When you charge the ice beam, little bits of ice start to collect on it before you shoot it. The x-ray visor and thermal visor also provide astonishing effects and essentially change how the entirety of the game looks. Seeing ghostly skeletons run towards you with the x-ray visor active is something I’ve never seen from another game.
The game is filled with so many moments that just fill me with awe every time I see them. I think its long past time for me to be able to spoil part of the game right here, if you haven’t played it by now stop reading and go get it. At the very beginning of the game, you find yourself in space on a giant frigate. Due to Samus being awesome, she ends up getting the whole ship to crash out of the sky and she flies away. Later she lands on a planet and that’s where the entire game takes place. At one point, you actually find the ship the crashed halfway submerged underwater, and you get to explore through the opening level again except it is partially destroyed and underwater. It looks and feels really different from anywhere else you go. That part always impressed me by how clever the developers were when they came up with that idea.
Among some of the biggest moments of the game are its boss fights. Just as with every other aspect, Metroid Prime’s boss fights are some of the best in the business. There are so many of them too, and all of them are amazing. They don’t just involve shooting rapidly until they die, they always have some sort of little puzzle you have to figure out to defeat them. I love how big some of them get, they truly are incredible to just look at. The art design shines throughout the game and the bosses weren’t taken lightly. They each have such a distinct look to them, it blows my mind how creative they were able to get. I mean, there is a giant humanoid boss made entirely of rocks. How is that not cool? Then there’s always Ridley. Fighting him at the end on that rainy temple is just…epic.
The loneliness you feel as you go through this alien planet is everpresent. You always know that you’re the only one there who can do anything, and you’re on a mission. Nearly everything in the game is trying to kill you, and you don’t make many friends along the way. The most interaction you’ll have with another intelligent being is when you meet up with one of the very few ancient Chozo people. They talk a bit about the world for a couple minutes and you don’t see them again. You are one person in this giant unfamiliar space, and it can be a little unsettling at times. It also immerses you more than almost any other game can. By putting you so deep into unfamiliar territory with a main character who never speaks, it can feel like you are the one exploring this forgotten world. In essence, you are.
Nintendo was trying to set the bar for games on their system when they released Metroid Prime. They were in competition with Microsoft and Sony, as they were quickly losing some of their audience to Halo and other popular games at the time. They needed something radically different that would appeal to old and new fans alike. Prime was an effort to raise the bar in what a video game could do, and in doing this, they may have raised the bar a little too high for most people to ever reach again. Now Nintendo has moved on from most of their hardcore audience in favor of a new more casual group with their Wii. Metroid Prime 3 for the Wii was a bit of a leftover from the older ideas at Nintendo. We haven’t seen a whole lot since then from them that can match up to the quality of that series. Maybe someday they’ll go back to trying incredibly new things, but for now I’ll remember Metroid Prime as one of my favorite things Nintendo has ever done.
Metroid Prime is about getting lost. You are a tourist in this long forgotten, beautiful world. The world of Metroid Prime is one of my favorites ever crafted in a video game. The places to get to go, the things to get to see, all of it still stays as fresh in my mind as the day I first saw it. If you haven’t gotten the chance to explore this world, you owe it to yourself to play one of the finest games crafted in the last 10 years. It really is an experience you can’t miss if you love video games as much as I do. If you want to be surprised, if you want to be immersed, or if you just want to see what people can do when they are really pushed to the limits of their talent, you have to play Metroid Prime.