Well, we’re hitting the home stretch here. Only four more weeks to go, and then I’ll go back to writing about random tech news or whatever. I’ve actually alluded to this week’s game a couple of times so far. Last week I mentioned that Half-Life 2 was the best pure first-person shooter ever made, but that there were a couple of games ranked higher that are first-person games where you shoot things that aren’t technically first-person shooters. In addition, several weeks ago I talked about Super Metroid, and I mentioned that only one other game has executed the Super Metroid style of gameplay better than Super Metroid. If you know anything about video games, you’ve probably already figured out that the game I’m talking about this week is Metroid Prime.
Like a lot of the games on this list, Metroid Prime has a pretty fascinating history. After Super Metroid came out in 1994, the Metroid franchise went dormant for several years. There were rumors about a new Metroid game for the Nintendo 64, but those rumors never came to anything. Whether Nintendo even considered making a Nintendo 64 Metroid game, I have no idea. But in 1998, a new development studio was formed in Austin, TX called Retro Studios. This studio (which is now owned by Nintendo, although I don’t think it originally was) eventually began working on the first new Metroid game since Super Metroid. This game was first shown off at Space World in 2000 (Space World being a trade show that Nintendo used to put on). In November of 2000, Retro accidentally revealed that they were working on this game by posting a job ad on their website asking people to apply to help make the next Metroid game.
The game got its official unveiling at E3 in 2001. (E3 is the Electronic Entertainment Expo, the premier video game trade show in North America.) Previous Metroid games had all been 2D side-scrolling games, but it was already apparent before the game was officially released that the new game would be in 3D. What hadn’t been known before then was that Metroid Prime would be a first-person game. This move caused a great deal of controversy. A lot of hardcore Metroid fans were skeptical that a first-person game could ever actually “feel” like Metroid. Considering that Metroid Prime is the best Metroid game of them all, I think it’s pretty safe to say that Retro nailed it.
It was another year and half before Metroid Prime was finally released. It came out in November of 2002 for the Nintendo Gamecube. In a rather brilliant marketing move, another Metroid game, Metroid Fusion for the Game Boy Advance, was released on the same day. (Personal side note: I bought Metroid Prime the day it came out, and I still have that same copy today. It’s the only game I bought before I got married that I still own.) In a way, it was almost too much. Eight years without a single Metroid game, and then two on the same day. Fortunately, both games were fantastic, although obviously Metroid Prime was by far the superior game.
Chronologically, Metroid Prime takes place between the original Metroid and its sequel, Metroid II: The Return of Samus. In the original Metroid, famed bounty hunter Samus Aran has to go to the Space Pirate base world of Zebes and destroy the Space Pirates before they can unleash their army of Metroids on the galaxy. After the destruction of Zebes, Samus picks up a distress call from a ship orbiting the planet of Tallon IV. She goes to investigate, and discovers that the distress call is coming from a Space Pirate vessel, the Orpheon. On board the Orpheon, Samus finds that the Space Pirates have been experimenting with a mysterious substance called Phazon, which they found on the nearby planet. They had been using Phazon to genetically alter various creatures, making them faster, stronger, smarter, more vicious, etc. Unfortunately for the Space Pirates, these creations had turned against their creators and had destroyed the ship’s crew.
While exploring the ship, Samus comes across her old nemesis Ridley, whom she thought she had destroyed on Zebes. Before she can fight him, he escapes to Tallon IV, and she gets back in her ship and follows him down to the planet’s surface. She loses track of him in the planet’s atmosphere, so she is forced to explore the planet in order to find her enemy and shut down the Space Pirate operations on Tallon IV.
Once you really get to exploring Tallon IV, the care and craftsmanship that the team at Retro Studios poured into this game really shines through. I once heard it said that Metroid Prime felt like Retro had taken Super Metroid, dismantled it, added a third dimension, and then put it back together perfectly. That is a perfect description. Metroid Prime takes the exploration and collecting elements of Super Metroid and mixes them into a wonderfully immersive and richly detailed 3D polygonal world. Tallon IV is masterfully constructed, with little surprises tucked into its various nooks and crannies.
There are many delightful elements to a game like this, but I’ll highlight one in particular. When you first start the game, you will come across areas or items that you can’t reach right away. For example, in one early room in the Chozo Ruins of Tallon IV, you can see an energy tank on a high ledge, but there’s no way to get there. As you move through the game, you eventually figure out how to get these items. There’s a certain joy, a certain excitement, to figuring out how to get an item that you couldn’t reach before.
Sometimes a development studio has to make several games before they hit their stride and deliver a masterpiece. But sometimes everything just comes together in an almost magical way and a studio hits a home run on their very first at-bat. Retro Studios is a fantastic studio that has done some amazing work in the past decade, but they have yet to surpass their very first game. Metroid Prime is a masterpiece in every sense of the word.
Next week is number three! Yay!