Fortunately, Nintendo and their newly-acquired development team at Retro really knew what they were doing, because Metroid Prime turned out great. Actually, I take that back. "Great" does not fully describe Metroid Prime. Super Mario Sunshine is "great". Metroid Prime is "frickin' amazing". Seriously, though, this is probably the best game I've seen in the recent generation of video games.
Despite the first-person view, Metroid Prime hardly plays as an FPS. The focus of the game is, as it was before, platform jumping, exploring, using cool gadgets, and even a little thinking. It is Metroid, not just an FPS with Metroid skins. And yet, it has a life of its own, through various original play mechanics and new perspective, that makes it feel fresh. While Metroid Prime is as true to its roots as any 3D game could be, at the same time it didn't feel quite like any game I've seen before. That's a hard feat to pull off with someone who's played hundreds of games since the Atari era.
Anyway, the game pretty much does everything right. The gameplay is innovative and fun, the graphics and sounds are artistically brilliant, and the game is long, deep, and has a couple unlockable goodies. It even pulls off a decent plot, told through images and "Chozo Lore". The challenge level is about the same as Super Metroid; I didn't die very often, but some of the bosses gave me a lot of trouble. Much to my delight, there is a "hard" mode that makes the game significantly more difficult, even on the second runthrough. Flaws? Um... let's see... The control mechanics make it awkward to strafe around corners, since the same button is used for targeting and strafing. However, given that the game already needs every button and stick on the controller, I'm not sure what they could have done differently. Oh, and I thought the normal metroids should have been faster and more aggressive, since they become pretty easy once you get the ice beam. That's about it. Oh, and if anyone gets Metroid Fusion, I'd like to link up.-AlexBobbs
The primary problem I (ChainMaille) had with this game is that Samus just feels a bit clumsy. I mean, in the previous games you frequently did such things as jump into the air, aim up and backwards, fire off a charged shot and a few missiles, and then landed. Samus in this game has nowhere near the air-time that she could achieve in the others (reasonable, given the jumping puzzles), and can't "spin"; just slowly rotate (also somewhat reasonable as she would be hard to control otherwise). I'm not certain how I would have run things, save that I probably would have preferred a third-person view.
Save for that, the game is definitely fun, and does a good job of recalling elements of the previous games. At least two of the more memorable (to me) parts of Super Metroid make a comeback in this game. However, the game is not dripping with nostalgia - there are just a few things that the more sharp-eyed veterans will notice and think "Hey, that's neat!". Well done.
The issue of the 1st person perspective is an interesting one. In the original design of the game (which wasn't Metroid yet), Retro was going to create a sci-fi 3rd-person adventure. When Nintendo adopted them and the project got changed into a Metroid game, Miyamoto (of Mario and Zelda fame) thought that the game would control better with a first-person view. For various reasons they ended up settling on 1st-person as the primary view: concerns about camera suckage and Samus getting in the way of the player's view, potential for the immersion factor, as well as the fact that many of the team members were from the Quake team. There were plans to include a 3rd-person view as an option that you could switch to (like in Jedi Knight), but for whatever reason this idea ended up getting dropped before the end. -AlexBobbs [source: various IGN articles]
I guess I'm not quite as sold on the game as Alex. At its best, Metroid Prime is indeed a 3D implementation of many of the things that made SuperMetroid such a neat game. At its worst, it devolves into an FPS with an overreliance on the jump button. The fact that you can lock on to enemies makes up for the crappiness of aiming with the default GameCube stick, but doesn't completely remove the game from FPS-dom, and many of the early bosses and enemies simply require lots of circle-strafing. Previous Metroid games did have a number of jumping sections, but none of them felt as awkward and mandatory as a few of the ones in Prime. The first-person view does work remarkably well, but there are some things it simply does not do, and ease of jumping precisely is one of them. That said, none of the jumps felt as though they were made as evil as they could have been; pretty much all of the target platforms are sufficiently large that they aren't hard to hit, even half-blind. Perhaps I'm simply doomed to hate bosses in FPS games, but I found that after a certain point (roughly the equivalent of the Draygon point) the 3D nature of the game made the fights feel slightly unfair.
Enough, for the moment, about the negative, because it does not overshadow the good stuff. The scan visor is a neat new tool, although the emphasis on scanning everything gets a bit stale eventually. Before that happens, however, various wall fixtures are used to convey the plot of the game in bits and pieces, Marathon-style. The plot really isn't any different from that of the other Metroid games, but at least it gets some exposition this time around. It's not entirely clear that they were going for an Alien feel to the game, but at points that is what it has; this was the first Metroid game to give me the creeps in various places. It was also the first game to make me hate and fear the Space Pirates, which I *think* is a plus (although there were definitely times when I wondered).
Almost all of Samus' gadgetry from previous games successfully made the transition to Prime; the transition to the Morph Ball is more seamless than it has any right to be, and the third-person view is used to good effect, particularly for some old-school ball-and-bomb bits. The Boost Ball is also a neat addition to Samus' repertoire, albeit one that conjures strong memories of Tony Hawk. As ChainMaille notes, the Grapple Beam isn't quite as easy to use as it used to be, particularly in combination with other goodies, but fortunately it isn't required for much of the game. I'm not entirely wild about what became of the Super Missiles, but I suppose that goes with the simplification of the UI. Speaking of which, beams don't stack with each other, but as slight compensation they can now be selected with a single touch of the C-stick. Unfortunately, this ease of use encouraged Retro to go ahead and require frequent shifting of weapons. I miss the days when any of the beams would kill almost anything and selection was merely a matter of taste or convenience. While there are a few cute uses of the various beams (particularly the Wave Beam), the oh-dear-God-switch-to-the-right-gun-already portions of the game cancelled out most of the benefit.
I will say this for the game: it does follow in the grand tradition of "where the hell am I supposed to be going?" ... sort of. Part of my wandering aimlessly was due to inexperience with the game, and I'm sure that if I were to play it again I'd make a much more direct trip of it. On the other hand, it still felt as though there was a lot of unavoidable backtracking. In particular, I spent about four hours looking for the Ice Beam because I'd forgotten at least one of the places where I'd seen Spider Ball tracks (and of course the map, generally quite helpful, wasn't any use in that instance). I then spent another two or three hours looking for the X-Ray scope, due to my own mental error. The game does have a built-in hint system, but I turned that off after about the second one since it seemed quite lame.
The soundtrack isn't as good as SuperMetroid's, although it does have some quality tracks.
Negative as this review sounds, I did like the game a lot. I'm not sure that the transition to 3D brought the Metroid series anything worth the associated costs, but Retro did an admirable job with the game nonetheless. The visuals are excellent, and the rough bits in the gameplay are the exceptions, rather than the rule. Anyone who's even remotely a fan of the Metroid series will most likely enjoy most of the game :-)
... I just wish they'd go back to 2D for the next game in the series ... --AndrewSchoonmaker
The next GameCube Metroid title will not, but there is "Metroid Mission Zero" coming out for the GBA, which is a remake of sorts of the original metroid that will include many of the tools and abilities of SuperMetroid and Metroid Fusion.--AlexBobbs
Wow. I need to edit that. I'm only that few coherent.