metroid prime (GC/Nintendo)
by tim rogers


For those of you still left, let's back up for a second.

I mentioned the controls. I mentioned how some people don't like them. Electronic Gaming Monthly's own Mark Macdonald yearns for a dual-stick setup, like a first-person shooter. While, again, this is making the unfair comparison of Metroid Prime to Halo, he has a point. Playing the game does, at times, feel like playing a first-person shooter. When being chased by burrowing beetles, your trigger finger is put to the test in a way that might make you wish you were holding a big, bulky Xbox controller, with its big, bulky trigger buttons.

This, however, is where the auto-lock-on feature, the hallmark of Nintendo's "Most Kiddy First-Person Shooter Ever," comes into play. Simply tap the L button, and you'll lock on to the enemy you want to lock onto. It's almost like the Gamecube is reading your mind. You want the beetle on the upper-left? That's the one you're going to lock onto. Anyone who tries to tell me that using an analog stick to target is "closer to real life" is seriously missing the point. In the same way, anyone who lauds the auto-lock-on system for "creating a 2D feel" is also missing the point. Like the first-person perspective, it was chosen because it fit. It is what it is.

The platforming is what it is. Games like Turok have tried to show us what it's like to jump in a first-person perspective, and, for the most part, failed worse than miserably. Metroid Prime succeeds admirably. Jumping, climbing, rolling up into the Morph Ball, scanning the surroundings: it feels like neither first-person shooter nor 2D-platformer. It feels like Metroid. I'm guessing that's what the developers were going for.

The game looks like Metroid, too. To say it looks like the "Metroid Game of the Future" is an overstatement and an understatement at the same time. I won't try to place Prime's graphics, its fluid monster animations, or its cavernous and beautiful environments anywhere in the Metroid canon, nor will I try to compare it to any other game currently on sale at your local Funcoland. It is a gorgeous piece of work, one that makes me squint at my sometimes-pitied Gamecube, and think: is this really coming out of there?

The sound is perfect. Gun blasts, monster screeches, echoes, falling of rain, jungle noises. Lava bubbles. Wind blows.

Sight and sound combine into something unseen and unheard in games, ever. It is a new milestone. One people can only look at, and wonder, as my brother and I did: How cold do you think Samus is in that suit? That waterfall's probably freezing.

Music backs everything up in a way far more effective than the Peaking-Strings-the-Moment-Before-a-Window-Shatters-and-a-Dog-Flies-Out in Resident Evil, more cleverly than the Everything-Becomes-Garbled-When-You-Go-Underwater of any of Rare's numerous platform games. Ambient, scratchy techno with bits of guitar and MIDI drums, manages to both build horror-movie-tension and science-fiction-movie-wonder at the same time. The title screen and its Dust-Brothers-ish skipping drone of a piece of music combine into one entity that reminds us simultaneously of Fight Club and something entirely new.

That's not to say Metroid Prime is like a movie. It isn't. For the first time in the current generation, a game has arrived with cinematic elements that do not make it look like a movie. In many respects, Metal Gear Solid 2, which I love more than you would believe, was guilty of this. That game was more of an experimental work, as far as I'm concerned -- a lopsided-yet-beautiful combination of literature, cinema, and gaming.

Metroid Prime is something else. Without a single line of spoken dialogue, it tells an intricate story. You don't see this story, or even hear it: you feel it. Everything in the game, from the lush environments to the sense of adventure, is touchable. This kind of "touchable" entertainment is what the gamers of the early 1980s could have never imagined games would become. Yet, looking back on it, what more could we have ever hoped for?

The cinematic cut-scenes in Metroid Prime are limited to five, ten, or fifteen seconds each. Never, at any point, does the game become something you watch, or even read. It is, from electrifying start to amazing finish, something you play. It is something you touch. Believe in it, man. Put down Halo for a second.

It's been a long time since I turned on a game and was immediately filled with the desire to see its ending. I wanted to beat Metroid Prime not because I felt obligated to review it, nor because I wanted to be able to say I'd finished it. I wanted to beat it simply because it felt like something I wanted to do. The beauty of Metroid Prime's perfect flow is that it makes the decision to play until the end perfectly natural. You touch the game from beginning to end, and in the end, it doesn't seem too short. It doesn't seem too long, either. It is what it is, and it is a game you'll want to play again and again, from beginning to end.

All this, I knew from the title screen. The escape from the space-pirate-ship was what hammered it into my skull. I died twice in that sequence. Yet, when I died, I wasn't filled with frustration, nor of "maybe if I tried this . . ." My decision to continue was based entirely on simply wanting to "play some more."

I shudder to admit: I didn't always get that feeling out of Super Mario Bros. 3. With Super Mario Bros. 3, my decision to keep playing after death was rooted in a desire to conquer, to finish, to complete. Faster, harder, in a different way. Creator of "playgrounds" though he may be, Miyamoto certainly has a way of instilling a thirst for conquest in his players.

Metroid Prime manages to rise above the conquering fury of the completist in a way that suggests Super Metroid, and at the same time suggests the touch of Shigeru Miyamoto. Which is interesting -- because Miyamoto didn't make this game. I believe I've said this before. It bears repeating: in a Metroid game, you don't care how you beat it. You don't care how you play. Aside from the times when you're climbing an acid-filled pillar against the clock, the game doesn't care either.

A friend of mine shares this viewpoint. He says, when he plays a Metroid game, he could care less if he gets to see Samus in a bikini if he beats it in two hours. That's not the idea of the game. I must say, while I appreciate the possibility of being able to see Samus in a bikini, that doesn’t mean I care. I appreciate the designers' attention to unlockable details as much as I appreciate the ability to partake in a glorious adventure at my own pace.

To the geniuses at Retro Studios: I can tell you were picked for this project for a reason. I don't know you guys, though I feel like I might, if only just a little bit. I don't know if it was your intention to make a game that proved Shigeru Miyamoto infallible. You did, anyway. You have proven that other people can, and will, make games that rival or surpass those of Miyamoto. You have proven that today's games can capture the old-school feel, cater to my nostalgia, and fuse together several generations' worth of groundbreaking, all while coming off as something entirely fresh. For this, you have my undivided attention in the future. Don't mess up. Whether you've "saved" Nintendo's "reputation" or not, I won't say.

I asked a while back if Super Mario Sunshine was "the next level" of games. Now, I answer that question. The answer is "No." Super Mario Sunshine is not the next level of games. Metroid Prime is. For its every moment of "pure" gaming that could have easily been twisted into something shamelessly cinematic, for every Morph-Ball-tunnel and hidden energy tank, for every insane boss and jolt of nostalgia, for every perfectly-integrated puzzle, for everything it represents, for the intent study of games past and present that went into its creation, Metroid Prime is the future of its medium. I dare say it is better than Super Mario 64 was to Super Mario World, than Metal Gear Solid was to the original Metal Gear. I dare say it is better than the guaranteed-awesome new Zelda can possibly be. Game-makers of the future, build from this.

Game of the year? Again, it's going to be pretty tough to beat Kingdom Hearts.

tim rogers actually likes Halo a lot

Pros: It's on sale now, probably somewhere near you.

Cons: The display might be a little too opaque . . . oh, you can fix it in the options menu. The controls take a tiny bit of getting used to . . . yet they're perfect when you do. No multiplayer mode? . . . well, uh, good. More for myself. And there's no widescreen option. Which I must admit really does suck, considering.
















Retro Studios


Release Date
November 19th, 2002


[part one]

[part two]