Metroid Prime

Metroid Prime
Developer: Retro Studios
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: Out Now
Players: 1
Words By:

Ever since the days when gamers moved on from the good old NES to the SNES, there's been a group of 'Nintendo royalty' that always caused a buzz when updates were announced; Mario, Zelda, Metroid (as well as Mario Kart, Pilotwings, F-Zero and Donkey Kong later). Mario Sunshine arrived and there are only two others that I'd call absolute 'must-haves', Zelda the Wind Waker and this one: Metroid Prime. I really wasn't sure about moving Metroid into the first person but I needn't have worried. After playing the game for 12 hours or more my only reservations are about the quirky control system…

If you've heard of Metroid before then you'll know the background and what the "Metroids" are and can skip a paragraph or three, but if not then listen: You play Samus Aran, who is orphaned by space pirates as a young girl and decides to become an inter-galactic bounty hunter and get some personal revenge too. She obtains a power suit made by the Chozo (a highly advanced bird-like species) which gives her (you) protection against various hostile environments as well as augmenting your physical strength. As luck would have it, the suit also gives you the ability to protect yourself against hostile life forms by supplying integrated weapons and information systems in the form of a multipurpose beam weapon and a H.U.D. (head up display) interface which gives you life support, weapons and ammo info, and even analysis of the surrounding areas when you use the scan visor. Other visors give thermal and X-Ray vision. But the suit's real party piece is its ability to morph into a ball, which allows Samus to roll around and access tight openings and tunnels. Just how giddy you'd be when morphing back into battle suit mode isn't explained away, but answers on a postcard to:…BigTony@

Samus wants retribution and hunts down and destroys much of the space pirate army and eventually discovers the core of their base, where she kills all the Metroids she comes across (the Metroids are brain shaped creatures with tentacles that prey on other species by attaching themselves and sucking the life force out of them). The space pirates appeared to have been using the Metroids as a power source as well as a living weapon. Ultimately after many battles deep in the core of the space pirates' base Samus discovers and appears to have destroyed the massive mother brain - or has she?

   

Tracking the space pirates ship to former Chozo colony Tallon IV, Samus discovers that the Chozo fled the planet after a huge meteor hit and sent a spume of matter into the atmosphere and poisoned the land with a cancerous element known as Phazon. Although cancerous, the Phazon core is a source of huge amounts of energy, which the space pirates want to get their hands on. They have brought many different species with them to experiment on, so expect to see mutations of the same basic creature, maybe even including Metroids.

With most of the game being played from a view from onside Samus' helmet, you'd probably expect the game to control just like any other FPS, using the left stick for movement and the right to look around. A few seconds into the in-game training level you'll be aware that this game is going to be different, and I really didn't like it at all. For a start, the right stick only gets used to select the different weapons (or visors), to look around you have to stop moving and squeeze the right trigger, at which point the left stick now allows you look around. Similarly, to strafe you pull the left trigger and then left/right lateral movement is possible (it also acts as a lock-on). Quite why Nintendo decided to go with this system and flout FPS console convention mystifies me - I can't find a single reason why the two stick method wouldn't have given you as good or better control, and a lock-on system would still have been possible. What it all means is that movement tends to be more stilted and robotic: you move, then identify a target and shoot it or lock onto it and strafe to avoid return fire, there's none of the smooth moving, aiming and shooting that the top first person games like Medal of Honour and Halo have gotten us all used to. But strangely, this doesn't mean that with practice you can't produce moments of sheer balletic battle brilliance. The lock-on system and various guided missiles sometimes make you feel like a hugely advanced and agile Robocop, and seldom has the destruction of alien life forms been so enjoyable. Unfortunately it doesn't always seem to want to lock on to a target or loses a lock, at which point you wish Nintendo had given you the option of using a more familiar and instinctive control system and maybe cuss them a bit...

Unfortunately Samus' weapons and power ups are all but lost at the start of the game and you progressively upgrade them throughout the game as you explore more and more. They include four different types of beam laser, and you get missiles as well - they all have a charge up blast and a coactive multiple missile volley or similarly impressive combo burst - and then some truly stunning blasts are possible that can wipe out enemies that appeared quite tough initially (nice).

Exploration involves a mixture of open levels and more enclosed mines and tunnels, and you'll need to use a combination of all your abilities and weapons to see all of Tallon IV.

   

You very quickly realise that there's going to be a lot of travelling backwards and forwards, revisiting areas to access doors, heights or depths that were previously locked or unreachable. The game involves a lot more required exploration than something like Halo, and with its morph ball sections manages to feel a lot like the old 2D Metroid games. Regularly spaced boss battles also make the game feel like its predecessors, which you might consider good or bad. The boss battles are unavoidable once you've reached them and if you haven't saved for a while then defeat could frustrate. The save points (which also recharge your health) are spaced evenly but also need discovering, and sometimes there seems to be just too far between them. The too and fro nature of the gameplay might disappoint and repel some gamers expecting something more radical, but the new abilities manage to keep the game fresh somehow. The 3D map is a work of genius with its colour-coded doors and zoomable and rotateable view.

A graphical delight, Metroid prime has beautifully realised creatures, from swarming insects to various bipeds and massive lumbering snow beasts. The spot effects and the way that the environment affects your visor with heat, condensation, rain and realistic rivulets as you emerge from water all look superb. During fierce battles you can even see the reflection of Samus' face on the inside of the visor. Some fire fights with multiple enemies have so much going on that you'll feel that either the Gamecube will explode or you eyes will pop - it's that good.

But if you're expecting something like Halo for the Gamecube, then think again, this game is something else entirely - more an adventure of exploration than out-and-out FPS. If you have a Gamecube then you'd be an idiot to miss this game, a truly amazing solo experience that would have surely benefited from a more standard control option and a two-player mode.


Good Points

- Lovely to look at throughout.
- Amazing spot effects and aliens.
- The Morph Ball.

Bad Points

- Maybe too much revisiting of areas.
- Unusual control system that seems like backward step.
- It's a solo experience.
- Respawning enemies are a pain.
- Are platform sections in a first person game really a good idea?
- Lengthy and frustrating boss battles come thick and fast.



by: 'Big Tony' Bolognese