Metroid Prime (2003)
I don’t usually get blown sideways by these cute pop culture comparisons that are meant to make me suddenly feel old. I already told you that I’ve had grey hair since about age 15. I have a properly lived-in face. I’m often to be found drinking Smithwick’s. I am old, there’s no way you can surprise me with anything. That was, until a throwaway YouTube comment had me nearly spitting out my Viagra and Deep Heat soup – Metroid Prime’s release date is closer to the original Metroid on NES than it is to today. And a slight detail that seemed to compound the pain tenfold – that was true as of 2018, never mind 2019.
It was one of those moments where you just have to sit back. Stroke your chin a bit. Perhaps walk around, even put the kettle on and have a cup of tea in solitude. I mean it, I was stunned. Not much else phases me when it comes to pop culture dates. Home Alone was released closer to the Moon landings than it was to the present day. OK. Makes sense. That’s been true for years actually. I can acquaint myself with that. Same with World Cup Italia ‘90, a major event in Ireland. I don’t remember it, wasn’t even born for it. And that’ll make plenty of people here feel positively geriatric.
There’s schoolchildren born after September 11th, some soon eligible to drink and vote, learning about that unforgettable event for the first time. Ancient history for them. But that’s fair enough too. It was a long time ago now. And this generation is certainly going to have a “Where were you when…” moment. Although I suspect that these days it’ll have less to do with terrorists stealing a nuclear device and detonating it within a large city, and more along the lines of Kylie Jenner deleting her Instagram or Vlad Putin issuing an apology..
But here and now, I’m going to point my finger in the face of time and call it a liar. Metroid Prime isn’t old enough to have consensual sex. No way. I still hold that game up in my mind as having some of the best graphics around. When I fantasise about game graphics and stare off into space almost comatose, like I’m sure you do, it’s usually while thinking about Metroid Prime, Secret of Mana or Symphony of the Night. I tell you, Red Dead Redemption 2’s not even in the picture when I get those games on the brain.
A remarkable story, really, Metroid Prime. First and foremost, as a series, Metroid hadn’t really hit its stride just yet. Let’s face it, Metroid NES was a wretch to play and Metroid 2 for Game Boy was downright depressing. We know this is categorically true, otherwise those two games wouldn’t had to have been remade so substantially.
Then Super Metroid came along and really gave us millennials something to shout about – the game is mercurial. The series notably skipped the Nintendo 64, probably for the best really as I can’t imagine how jaggy and laughable Samus’s suit would have looked. Finally, alongside a 2D Game Boy Advance game in Metroid Fusion, the time came to drag the series kicking and screaming into the 3D, post 9/11 world.
Heading up the project was a new team called Retro Studios. They hadn’t made a game before. They haven’t made too many since, although fate ordained that Metroid Prime 4’s finally landed at their feet. But somehow, the guys at Retro managed to take the template laid down by Super Metroid and moulded it into the finest 3D adaptation of a series I can think of. Billed as a First-Person Adventure, alls I can say to the guys at Retro is, hats off.
Their stewardship represented a better leap to 3D than Mario or Metal Gear, it really did. As a wide-eyed 11 year old child, I’d have lapped anything they dumped down my neck of course, but magazine shots of the new Metroid game’s first-person view looked great. Not everyone agreed of course, some said that the first-person view will make Samus control like a pilchard. And how will she wall jump? How do you even implement the Morph Ball? Things like that.
Retro didn’t listen to that malarkey. What they did do was put together a game that’s fluid as it is beautiful, a story that’s immersive as it is non-intrusive, areas that are dangerous as they are alluring. The music laid down leitmotifs that have become some of the most famous tunes in the series, and the whole game is simply a masterpiece. The only conspicuous disadvantage, which canny players can avoid, is that there’s a world-spanning fetch quest right at the end, and if you haven’t been diligent about collecting these items as you progressed naturally through the game, then it’ll bring you to a grinding halt.
Make no mistake, Metroid Prime can certainly be speedrun and 100% completion in less than 2 hours is still possible. You won’t get Samus in her smalls for this unfortunately, just a pretty serious looking face that’s incongruent with her design today (or it would be if you could see her curved bits), but it was our first look at a 3D Samus.
For the speedrunners among you though, it has to be said that Retro really tried to disallow speedrunning techniques for whatever reason. They did their best to crack down on sequence breaking in particular, so that the Morph Ball bone is connected to the Bomb bone is connected to the Charge Beam bone and running on accordingly. Several different releases of the game i.e. my PAL release, the US Player’s Choice and the Wii’s Metroid Prime Trilogy tried to restrict the players even further.
Obviously this kind of thing deters the top speed lads for maybe a day until they figure out a way to phase through walls and, I don’t know, wave-dash around Ridley. For those of us who like to play the prescribed adventure as it’s laid out, Metroid Prime is a perfectly timed, perfectly set adventure with unforgettable moments. It’s probably tame now, but the pitch-black escape from the Space Pirates’ lair after relieving them of the Thermal Visor is one of the most adrenaline filled moments I’ve ever had with a game.
A bit of backtracking takes place of course, that’s a Metroid standard, but a hint system helps you here, telling you to what room to go to and could you stop being a clown and get going. That’s not very Metroid, and it’s sometimes insulting or spoils your next upgrade, but you can turn it off if you wish. A simple, sensible decision, letting you do that. I wonder if Metroid Prime 4 will show the same level of restraint?
And there you have it – Metroid for the new age. Yet historically, the Japanese steadfastly refuse to buy the series and get interested in it. If Samus was made more of an anime waifu, or whatever the term is, then maybe she’d gain some traction over there. Japan’s a place where they don’t do old, nothing rusts, skin doesn’t crack. Until finally the tentacle wolf comes tearing through the door, and you suddenly become 80 years of age, shrink by 3 feet, halve your diet of fish and wear the same kimono every day for the last 60 years of your life.
23 July 2019