metroid prime (GC/Nintendo)
by tim rogers


Metroid Prime is not a first-person shooter.

Sure, it's a game in a first-person perspective. Sure, you shoot things. This would be enough to make anyone with an elementary grasp of semantics call it a "first-person shooter."

However, the people I'm making an appeal to with my lead-in sentence are not people with an elementary grasp of semantics. They can't even differentiate between "there," "their," and "they're." The people I'm talking to are the people who write reader reviews on, an otherwise lovely website.

Basically, months before Metroid Prime would be released, Gamecube fanboys were hitting the "create your own hype!" button, and deluging the preview page with reviews of "10" and cries of "Move over Halo!" Not a single one of them placed a comma correctly.

To combat this, Xbox fans let out prideful blasts of "Metroid Prime is a kids game Halo is the greatest game EVER." Not a single one of them placed a comma correctly.

Some brain-dead gamers looked beyond the old Nintendo vs. Microsoft, Kids vs. Grownups, Cats vs. Dogs conflict, and dove deep into their inner selves: yes, they said, I like Nintendo and all and I grew up with Metroid games so don't think I'm biased or anything it's just that I heard Metroid Prime has an auto-lock-on feature and games like Halo don't so I was thinking I hope you can turn it off because you know that's too kiddy for me and I'm grown up now.

Again, with the no commas.

Quite without Nintendo or Retro Studios' knowing, months before the release of even its demo, Metroid Prime was locked in furious combat with Halo, and sometimes even Timesplitters 2. That the defenders of Halo could -- without commas, no less -- cite specific examples of why their game of choice was "better" gave them the edge, and this built up an aura that penetrated into the skulls of even the intelligent gamers the likes of which read insert credit. I know this for a fact, because I was -- kind of -- one of those people.

The rumor that materialized, basically, was this one: Dude, Metroid Prime, like, might suck.

It was with a certain amount of dread that I awaited Metroid Prime. The calm eluded me: all I had to do was, like so many others, question why Nintendo had opted on the first-person perspective. Why not make it third-person, like Mario, or Zelda? That would kill all the shooter comparisons.

Yet, when Metroid Prime was released, the dread was gone, and I received the game with the open arms of a guy who just loves anything with the word "Metroid" in the title. I was, needless to say, excited about the game when I first started playing it.

I just didn't expect what I got.

Which is to say: rumor-thirsty people of the internet, chill.

You who complain even now about the controls: grow up.

You who complain even now that Metroid Prime's first-person perspective bastardizes all that was laid out in previous Metroid games, those of you who bash the new Zelda's cel-shaded look: go to hell.

You who yearn for a multiplayer mode: get in touch with your introverted inner child.

You who complain about being attacked while scanning your surroundings: kill the ____ing enemies first.

You who complain that the visor display is too opaque: check the damned options menu already.

You who are untouched by nasty rumors: Metroid Prime is, quite possibly, the best put-together game I've ever played.

(Yes, I just said "ever.")

I complained long ago about Super Metroid's controls: "X to fire? A to jump? What the heck?"

Why couldn’t the controls be like a typical run-and-shoot game? Why can't you use Y to shoot, and B to jump, like in Contra III, or Super Mario World?

Soon enough, Super Metroid's controls became second-nature. More like first-and-a-half nature, actually.

When playing Final Fantasy VI on my Super Famicom, and then switching to a PlayStation RPG, I always end up canceling out of menus when I want to confirm. Why does Sony believe we Westerners love the PlayStation controller's X button?

Certain games, however, are so harmonious in their design that a drastic control or perspective change means nothing. I can set Ikaruga on Vertical 2, turning the game into a side-scrolling shooter, and still beat the last boss.

I can fire up Super Metroid at any time on any day after rocking Super Mario Bros. 3 hard, and the controls fit like a glove. I don't forget that A is to jump and X is to fire.

Super Metroid is not a Mario game. It isn't a Zelda game either. It is a fusion of the two, in some way, and at the same time it is its own game. The game is about the spirit of adventure, spelunking dark and alien-filled caves, gathering items, and backtracking your way through a flawless platform world. At points, the game is creepy. At points, it is rousing. At points, it is suspenseful. Mario and Zelda are exercises in different sides of the game-developing spirit. One gives you flawlessly programmed platforms and action. One gives a flawlessly crafted adventure full of puzzles and bosses with weak points. One was first released in 1985, the other in 1986.

Metroid was released in 1987.

It seems to be the trend that a Metroid game appears just as Shigeru Miyamoto's other two creations seem to tap out their current generation of hardware. Years after The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past divided schoolyards into Mario Fans and Zelda fans, Super Metroid arrived, to lose Electronic Gaming Monthly's 1994 "Game of the Year" award to Donkey Kong Country, to place ninth on the list of 100 best games ever in 1997, and to place first on the 2001 top 100 games list.

It's a mysterious thing, the Metroid game. Every time one arrives, it's at least seven years ahead of its time. Nintendo of Japan's Gunpei Yokoi was thinking ahead when he crafted the original Metroid. He was thinking even farther ahead when he made Super Metroid.

Aside from Kenji Yamamoto's rocking soundtrack and a few visits to the studio, Nintendo of Japan's original Metroid team (as represented by Shigeru Miyamoto in the untimely event of Yokoi's firing and death) had virtually nothing to do with Metroid Prime. Does it show?

Hell no.

People (even people like me) cite the current incarnations of the Grand Theft Auto series as proof that Western game developers can do as good as the Japanese they admire. I, right here, cite Metroid Prime as proof that they can, if motivated, do much, much better.

Am I calling Metroid Prime a better game than Super Metroid? Yes. Does this make me a blasphemer, untrue to my old-school SMB3-loving roots? No.

If you asked me, right now, which game I'd rather play, Super Metroid or Metroid Prime, I'd say Metroid Prime. If you asked me, seven years from now, which game I'd rather play, it'd still be Metroid Prime.

This is not to say that Metroid Prime is merely a replacement for Super Metroid. To a certain extent, I suppose you could put it that way. It has all of the Metroid action you've grown (up) to love. It begins with an attack on a giant monster and a thrilling-beyond-words escape from a space colony, during which you get a crystal-clear glimpse of an old friend. The game rewards you with items and unlocked areas and secret missile stashes and energy tanks as you move along. It pats you on the back, repeatedly, for scanning every item in every room, for shooting every block.

It kicks your ass if you don't pay attention to boss patterns.

It never -- never -- feels frustrating. It never -- never -- slows down. And it never -- never -- will disappoint you.

That said, if this sort of thing appeals to you, go buy a Gamecube now.

[Next: still not convinced?]


Retro Studios


Release Date
November 19th, 2002


[part one]

[part two]