Retro Scope: Metroid Prime

We look back at Retro Studios’ GameCube masterpiece!

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 02/04/2016 10:00 14 Comments     ShareThis

I couldn’t stop shooting into the sky the first time I played Metroid Prime.

It was after I’d escaped from the Space Pirate frigate Orpheon after the game’s opening. Samus gets a distress call leading her to a Space Pirate lab floating in orbit above the planet Tallon IV, where she discovers that the ruthless fools have been using a new radioactive substance called Phazon to experiment on different lifeforms. One of said creatures was a Parasite Queen that turned into a monstrous killing machine as a result, and after defeating the beast, the entire facility begins to self-destruct and goes crashing down to the surface of the planet.

When Samus arrives on Tallon IV, just barely surviving the encounter after her armor takes some serious damage, the game once again plants the player back firmly behind her visor, where the bounty hunter finds herself in the middle of a large, forested meadow. The first thing that I noticed, beyond how stunningly realistic everything looked, was that as I leaned Samus’s head back to stare up into the sky, the light rainfall coming from above was leaving actual drops on her visor. As I stared up at the clouds, I fired off a shot from her arm cannon, just fooling around. The orb of energy kept going. And going. And still going. Then it faded away.

I was stunned. I’d never seen anything like it before in a game. Not only did Tallon IV look like a bonafide alien forest, and not only was the rain leaving droplets on Samus’s visor, but beams fired into the sky traveled into the distance as though they were real. As though there was an actual atmosphere for her shots to try and reach and escape. Like I said above… I couldn’t stop shooting. For me, the first video game that made me feel like I’d been plopped into a living, breathing world was Ocarina of Time. Kokiri Forest was of course impressive, but when leaving it for the first time and stepping out onto Hyrule Field, I was amazed at how vast it felt. Metroid Prime was that feeling multiplied by a hundred.

GameCube was right up there with PlayStation 2 in terms of graphical power, and it felt like an evolutionary leap compared to Nintendo 64. It wasn’t HD, but it was crisp and clear in ways that no one had ever experienced on a home console, and to say that Metroid Prime looked unreal would be an understatement. Retro Studios, the game’s developer, pulled out all the stops when crafting Tallon IV. The design work was cutting edge at the time, but given how contemporary and fresh Metroid Prime still feels when played today, other than lacking a high definition sheen, it’s clear that it’s still at the forefront of what can be done in the industry.

Before Metroid Prime, I’d never had any experience with the series. No Super Metroid or Metroid until I started college; this was my first exposure to Samus and her world. As a result, I didn’t have the trepidations that longtime fans did about seeing Metroid transition to first-person, and I couldn’t have cared less that it was breaking with tradition. All I knew from the months of Nintendo Power teases was that this game reminded me of Ocarina of Time before it came out, in that I couldn’t stop poring over its screenshots. No video game was supposed to look this good. As it turned out, though, not only did Metroid Prime have incredible production values, but it was also impossible to put down.

I’d never felt so isolated when playing a video game as I did with Metroid Prime. The sense of being alone was unsettling; Tallon IV is a hostile place, and Samus’s ship is never portrayed as a means of escape. It was just me versus hordes of freaky monsters and aliens, and at the start of the game Samus’s armor feels woefully underpowered after it’s stripped of so much functionality following the intro on Orpheon. Yet, I always felt compelled to push ahead, to ignore the doubt creeping in around the edges of my mind and explore every inch of the planet’s surface. Part of it was ingenious game design; every new discovery is rewarding, either providing a helpful powerup that makes it possible to reach previously impassable locations, or unveiling some new chunk of the game’s plot to keep the player invested in forging ahead.

The other part was anticipation. Ridley, or Meta Ridley, as the mechanically-modified monster is known in Metroid Prime, can be seen throughout the adventure. He first rears his head on Orpheon as the facility is crumbling to pieces, but then can be seen here and there throughout the rest of the adventure, soaring overhead and casting his enormous shadow on the ground, a constant threat shrouded in mystery. There’s never a hint of when Ridley will appear, but when I finally did encounter him, I felt a mix of relief (I can stop worrying!) and dread (oh shoot, he’s right in front of me!). It was pitch-perfect direction. Ridley is never shown any more than he has to be, with just enough glimpses to build him up perfectly in the player’s mind, and when he eventually does make his grand entrance, it’s epic and powerful, and doesn’t disappoint.

Frankly, nothing about Metroid Prime disappoints, other than the fact that it ends. Scanning everything that my visor would let me, finding every energy tank and missile expansion that I could, and soaking in the sights of the snowy peaks of Phendrana Drifts, the oppressive corridors of the Phazon Mines, and the wonder of seeing Orpheon transformed into an underwater graveyard all had me glued to my chair. In those days when the game was new, I could only play games at my grandma’s house, where my aunt had a GameCube for my sister and cousins to play. I looked forward to every visit for months, slowly chipping through the game until I eventually came across the enormous, nominal Metroid Prime lurking beneath the surface of the planet. There are few games that felt so rewarding to beat, but then, there are few games like Metroid Prime. A true classic in every sense of the word.

14 Responses to “Retro Scope: Metroid Prime

  • 1358 points
    xeacons says...

    First time I actually played this was the MP Trilogy on Wii, and even then, I’d seen few games that rivaled its beauty. I asked my friend, who had played it, “Did it look this good on the Gamecube?” And he said, “Yeah.” Mind Blown.

    What really dazzled me was how the water runs off Samus’s visor when she comes out of the water.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7
  • 0 points
    says...

    Yes, great games. I played all three on the original systems, then when the trilogy came out I picked that up for the heck of it. Still sealed too, and thank God I really don’t have to open it. I found a used steelbook copy of the trilogy at GameStop one day, complete with everything and mint for $35. I think they had it priced wrong, which was good for me. Prior to that I downloaded the eShop version when it was $10, so I think I’m covered! I love Metroid, but it appears the series is dead. At least there is a Starfox game coming out, would it be too much to ask for a new Pilotwings? Probably. Nintendo is barely in the game business these days anyway. More interested in plastic dlc.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6
    • 1358 points
      xeacons says...

      Aw, I’m jealous. I try to keep all my games in mint condition. I keep them all in protective cabinet. But now, my MPT steel box has a scratch on it from the hinge. I should’ve known better than to keep it on the far side.

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4
  • 667 points
    OG75 says...

    Would it be too much to have Retro’s secret project be Metroid Prime 4 as an NX launch title?

    I’m on a bit of a Metroid kick right now, brought on by Zero Mission’s virtual console release. Playing through Super Metroid right now. Can’t wait to play through Prime again.

    I’ve mentioned it before on this site, but I bought the original Metroid when it launched for NES and learned Samus was a girl by actually beating the game and seeing her without her helmet (only earned the better endings on subsequent playthoughs.) I only mention it again to make the this point: As a huge Metroid fan, I was one of those fans with trepidations about the transition to 3D. What a relief I felt when I realized Retro had pulled it off (and then some!) To me, Metroid Prime is to 3D gaming what Super Metroid is to 2D gaming: As good as it gets.

    I too loved soaking in the early atmosphere with the rain, much like Super Metroid, Zelda: ALttP, and many more great games that set the mood early with rain. There are actually many that do this, and being from the Pacific Northwest, it always feels just right to me.

    Not trying to one-up dpw74, but when reports started popping up on the internet that Nintendo wouldn’t be making more copies of Metroid Prime Trilogy, I actually went out and bought 3 copies, 2 of which are still sealed/mint. I was happy their value didn’t diminish too much with the eShop re-release. I’ll probably give the sealed ones to my sons if they grow up to be bat-shit crazy about gamerooms like their old man. However the way the industry is heading (see: digital) gamerooms might be strictly “antique” in the future.

    Fingers crossed for more Metroid.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5
  • 1396 points
    penduin says...

    There are a handful of games I love so much that I consider them “perfect” and refuse to choose favorites amongst them. If I were a holy man, these games would be the books of my personal bible. Metroid Prime is one such game.

    Also wow, we’ve got some _serious_ collectors here. I don’t have any unopened copies of games or amiibo. I understand and respect (greatly!) those who do, but I personally have more of a Velveteen Rabbit philosophy towards toys and games — enjoy them, love them, that’s what makes them real. :^)

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4
  • 3 points
    datboyydom2 says...

    Rob! Nice article. One of my favorite games ever too. I remember when you got the Phazon suit!

    Thumb up 2
  • 745 points
    Marc Deschamps says...

    I will NEVER forget playing this game back in the Fall of 2002. The moment you reach Phendrana Drifts and that music starts playing? And the snow starts to land on Samus’ visor? Gaming bliss.

    Thumb up 3
  • 1246 points
    Robert Marrujo says...

    Props to all my fellow collectors. I rarely get anything and keep it sealed, myself. I do own the steel book and regular plastic box versions of MPT, though I’ve always… been CURIOUS if the plastic box was legit or something GameStop cooked up, itself. The only sealed games I have I got by total coincidence years later in a private sale: F-Zero: GX, Final Fantasy X-2, and Final Fantasy XII Collector’s Edition. I don’t plan to sell them or whatever, but it’s still kind of cool to have them.

    Thumb up 2
  • 667 points
    OG75 says...

    And props to all the commenters above.

    Just want to say for the record: I do agree with Penduin’s (and the Velveteen Rabbit’s:) assertion that games should be played with/enjoyed.

    For the majority of my sealed games/unopened consoles, I have a duplicate copy that I’ve opened and enjoyed. I don’t sell my games so I don’t collect as a source of income. Like Robert mentioned, it’s kind of cool to have them. I just enjoy the hobby of building libraries of various systems.

    I know I’m going to get trashed as either a liar or a show-off(?) for saying this, but if I like the presentation, I’ll get it. For example, I have my standard black Wii U that my family and I play, but I also have two more unopened Wii-U bundles on display: The Wind-Waker bundle from a couple years back and the recent Walmart exclusive Mario-Maker Wii-U bundle. A lot of my stuff is like that and it dates back to my SNES collection. I didn’t do that with my NES or Coleco stuff, but I have most big Nintendo first party games sealed dating back to the SNES days including all Zeldas, Metroids, mainline Marios, Paper Marios, Smash Bros, I mean, just a huge amount and I’ve played/beat most of them as well. Plus a huge amount of lesser known titles and Non-Nintendo items as well… a ridiculous amount. I keep track of them on an excel spreadsheet in case something happens to me and my wife decides to sell them. Getting a little crazy here with this post, but I’m also a former ultra-marathoner (technically an “ultra” is any distance over 26.2 miles and my distance was usually 50) and I used to justify all the gaming/defend the hobby by flaunting the ability to break the various common gamer stereotypes. For years, I’d only allow myself to game for as many hours as I put in running that day. Then I got married and had kids so my running and gaming took a hit but I couldn’t be happier :)

    But yeah I do open and play games. Also, I don’t collect Amiibo. Just never caught the urge. I own a couple that are open. The only one that isn’t opened is the one that came with the Mario Maker Wii U bundle.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4
  • 745 points
    Marc Deschamps says...

    I have shrink-wrapped games, but that’s just because I haven’t gotten to them yet and at some point I wanna pretend that they’re new.

    Thumb up 3
  • 1246 points
    Robert Marrujo says...

    OG, I say this not as an insult, but with admiration: I thought I was bad… until I read your post =) I can’t say I go quite that far with my collecting. Everything is open, but I keep the packaging when and where I can. I’m only missing a few Amiibo at this point, but I’ve developed this method of slicing open the bottom to carefully remove the figure, while at the same time preserving the packaging as a whole. So I have an enormous mountain of empty Amiibo boxes sitting around, with no real goal for them! I keep saying maybe one day I’ll open a video game museum and display the things, but like, I’d probably have enough money at that point I could just buy sealed ones, anyhow. SIGH. I’ve been going back and forth over whether or not to toss them. Anyway, beyond that, I have a TON of merchandise and pre-order stuff in my collection. All my systems still have their boxes, too, all the way back to my NES. Only one missing is the box for my gold Game Boy Pocket! I love toys, books, magazines, you name it. The only thing I tend to avoid are plushies.

    Thumb up 3
  • 667 points
    OG75 says...

    Sounds like you have a pretty extensive collection! The great thing about vigeogames, is we all experience this wonderful hobby differently!

    It’s funny you mention it, (and no offense to anyone out there), but plushies are where I draw the line as well! I get why people like them and understand how cool they are. I’ve personally just never been drawn to them.

    Not sure why I never went down the Amiibo path. They look great to display and are (often) great representations of our favorite characters.

    I love pre-order stuff as well, especially little obscure items. However I’m a little put off that a lot of pre-order bonuses are now download codes for digital goodies. I get that many people dig that so to each their own.

    Happy collecting!

    Thumb up 3

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