This is one review that many of my followers have been waiting years to read. I know this because I receive countless messages and emails asking me; “When are you going to talk about Metroid Prime?”. For all of you, I’m pleased to announce that the day has finally come. But I have to admit, it was with much reluctance that I finally broke down and played this game. It’s not that I didn’t want to experience it. But instead, I’ve been waiting patiently for Nintendo to announce the long-rumored Switch version of this classic. But as always, Nintendo moves at their own pace, so I finally broke down and pulled out my copy of Metroid Prime.
As I mentioned above, there’s been rumors for years that Nintendo plans to bring this game (and its two sequels) to the Nintendo Switch. But until that happens, you have two options if you want to experience this title. Metroid Prime was originally released in 2002 for the GameCube. It was developed by Retro Studios and Nintendo. This is the version that I first experienced many years ago, but never played to completion. Several years later, Metroid Prime was released again as part of the Metroid Prime: Trilogy collection for the Nintendo Wii. In many ways, the Wii version is vastly superior to the original. It features improved textures, faster load times, better lighting effects, and widescreen support. It also includes a new “credits” system. This functions sort of like an internal achievement system that allows players to earn credits that unlock things like artwork or vanity items for other games (Metroid Prime 3 and Metroid Fusion). But to me, the one thing that prevents this from really being the definitive version is the lack of classic controller support. The Wii version of Metroid Prime requires the use of both the Wii Remote and Nunchuck. For most people, this seems to be a positive thing. The Wii Remote/Nunchuck combo is a unique and effective control scheme. Some would argue that it’s leaps and bounds better than playing on a standard controller. I would agree with this statement but with one caveat; when it works. For me at least, the Wii Remote control scheme, while innovative, is often problematic. I routinely suffer from erratic aiming behavior. Sometimes the screen would just randomly spin out of control. I realize this is likely due to sensor issues caused by light pollution from other items near my television. But my set up isn’t particularly unusual. I’m sure I’m not the only one that experiences this issue with Wii games. With this in mind, I feel like Nintendo should have included an option for either the GameCube controller or the Wii Classic controller. The fact that they didn’t is puzzling. But that’s enough about that.
At the time it was released, Metroid Prime was unique from every other game in the series up to that point. For starters, it wasn’t a sequel. Instead, this game takes place between the events of Metroid and Metroid II. The game starts when Samus receives a distress signal from a Space Pirate vessel. Upon exploring the derelict ship, she learns that it was a science vessel and that the entire crew was decimated when one of their genetic experiments broke free. She begins tracking the creature that was responsible for the slaughter. But during the fight, the ship’s reactor is damaged and Samus is forced to flee. While making her escape, she encounters Ridley (now enhanced with cybernetics) and follows him to a nearby planet. From here, Samus is tasked with exploring the world and determining why the Space Pirates have a presence on the planet.
The biggest difference between this game and the other titles in the series is the presentation. Instead of being a 2D sidescroller, Metroid Prime is presented in a first-person 3D format. This time around, players experience the world through Samus’ visor, seeing things from her perspective. But aside from this perspective change, the same exploration style of gameplay that was present in the previous games remains unchanged. Players will control Samus as she explores a number of environments and seeks out weapons and items that will allow her to overcome obstacles. Many of the items and abilities that fans are familiar with are present in this game. But being presented in a first person view gives players a whole new way to experience these familiar concepts.
One thing that the first person view does an excellent job of is allowing the player to really immerse themselves in the character of Samus Aran. By looking through her eyes, and also through the visor of her suit, it really brings the world of Metroid to life. For example, as you progress through the game, you are able to target certain objects of interest and scan them. Scanning your surroundings will often provide the player with backstory and in-game lore. It’s also a great way to discover clues and learn the weaknesses of specific enemies. All data collected during these scans is stored in a database that is accessible to players at any time. Completionists will be compelled to try to scan every object and enemy they come across so that can build a full archive.
Later in the game, other upgrades are made to the suit that allow players to switch to a thermal visor. This allows players to explore dark areas while still combatting enemies who give off a heat signature. I know that doesn’t sound exceptionally groundbreaking. But the game is filled with lots of little touches, that when added together, really make for a unique and immersive experience. Taking your time and exploring everything the game has to offer is a big part of its charm.
At the time this game was originally released, 3D gaming was an established, but still emerging technology. Most first person 3D games were only available on the PC. So bringing this format to a console was still a bit of a risk. But somehow, Retro Studios not only managed to pull it off, but they knocked it out of the park. For starters, the controls on the GameCube were spot-on. The first time I sat down to play this game on the GameCube, I was skeptical. And yes, there was a period of adjustment while I got the hang of everything. But, once it clicked, the controls for this game were second nature. I talked a lot above about the control-scheme for the Wii version of the game. Many people absolutely love it. It is intuitive, yes. But my problems with the Wii version have more to do with technical issues than with the design philosophy. For this review, I did play the Wii release of the game. I can tell you this, I personally prefer playing this title on a gamepad.
Another thing that the developers got right were the graphics. Yes, the Wii version is much sharper and prettier than the original GC release. But even so, the initial version of this game looked better than nearly any other 3D game on the market at the time. How they were able to pull this off, is nothing short of wonderous.
Even now, twenty years after its initial release, Metroid Prime still feels like something special. It captures all of the sci-fi/exploration magic that the original games were famous for while giving fans a chance to experience it through the eyes of the heroine. This alone is enough to keep the series feeling fresh while also keeping that flame of nostalgia lit.
It’s been said that to called Metroid Prime a first person shooter is a mistake. It’s more of a first person exploration game with a little combat sprinkled in. I think that’s a fair assessment to make. The atmosphere is a really big part of this title. This is one to play with the lights off and the sound up. Sadly, these days, obtaining a copy of the game is getting more and more difficult. I sincerely hope Nintendo brings us a modern release so that fans can see everything that this classic has to offer. Until then, keep that Wii or Wii U tucked away in case of emergencies.
Version Reviewed: Wii
Difficulty: Variable – Metroid Prime has a Normal difficulty setting available during the first playthrough. Once you complete the game you able to replay the game in Hard Mode. Even though the contents of the GC and Wii versions are nearly identical, the Wii version does have the difficulty toned down just a notch to accommodate for its unusual control scheme. Still, all things considered, I’d call the Normal mode to be of a fairly average difficulty. Often times, boss fights can pose a pretty good challenge the first time you encounter them. But once you’ve figured out the trick, most of them are pretty manageable with a little practice.
Story: This game features a pretty rich story that’s told through both brief cutscenes and also through scannable lore-based data points. Players who blow through the game without scanning objects or reading the contents of the scan are really missing out. This game does an excellent job of fleshing out a ton of Metroid lore that fans have been curious about since the first game.
Originality: The developers took the classic Metroid formula and translated it into a first person game. This was no small feat, but one that paid off big in the end. It resulted in an experience unlike nearly any other at the time it was released.
Soundtrack: The odd/ambient music that the Metroid series is famous for is still present. But this game also features a score that’s just a tad more traditional as well. It works and fits the game better than you might expect.
Fun: This game is one heck of a ride. I recommend going in without any sort of walkthrough or hint guide. A big part of the fun is exploring the gameworld and figuring things out on your own. Some of the boss fights can be a bit tricky at first. But save often and you shouldn’t be overcome with frustration.
Graphics: Either version of the game looks great. But admittedly, the Wii version is considerably better looking. The alien landscapes really translate well to 3D textures and are enhanced even further due to the game’s excellent use of lighting. It’s crazy what Nintendo was able to accomplish in 2002.
Playcontrol: Playing a first person game on a controller in 2002 was almost unheard of. But Nintendo managed to make it work. It takes a little getting used to, but once you have it down, the playcontrol is nice and intuitive. The Wii version on the other hand… I can only speak for myself and offer my personal issues with it. I found it to be choppy and not very accurate. That being said, I appear to be in a very small minority. Most people rave about it. The Wii controls are fun and when they work, are quite clever.
Downloadable Content: N/A
Mature Content: N/A
Value: Finding a copy of this game can be a bit of a challenge. As far as the GameCube version goes, used copies usually sell online for anywhere from $30-$50. The Wii version typically sells used for $75 or more. Of course, the Wii release actually contains three games. But still, I can help but feel these prices are too high when most media outlets are telling us a Switch version is just around the corner. Personally, I wouldn’t want to pay any more than $60 for the Trilogy collection used. But, there’s no denying this is a great game. If you’re a collector, it may be worth the price if it’s a good clean copy.
Overall score (1-100): 95 – Many consider this is to be one of the all-time greatest games. I can’t dispute that. It really is a work of art. Despite my complaints about the Wii controls, that version really is the best way to experience the game (at least until we see the inevitable re-release). Even if you’re not a fan of the 2D Metroid games, anyone who calls themselves a gamer really owes it to themselves to see what this game has to offer.
Original System: GameCube
Available today on: Currently unavailable – (Updated as of Early Winter 2023)
Best Experience: Wii – (Updated as of Early Winter 2023)
Other Reviews In This Series:
Prime – Prime 2 – Prime 3 – Prime 4