GameCube Week | Going Back to Metroid Prime Almost 20 Years Later

GameCube Week continues on In Third Person! This time, I morph ball roll my way back to Metroid Prime!

Some games age like fine wine. You can pick up a Gameboy today – or 100 years from now – and still have just as much fun with Tetris as players did when it was first released in the 1980s. Other games lose their sheen faster than you would hope. Have you played Goldeneye 007 on the Nintendo 64 recently? Despite being revolutionary for its time, advents in the shooter genre have rendered it obsolete. It’s only real value now is nostalgia, which it admittedly has in spades.

Going back to Metroid Prime recently proved to be an interest test of its staying power. Revolutionary in its own right, Samus’ debut on the GameCube successfully translated its 2D exploration roots into the third dimension. How much of the experience still stands strong almost 20 years later? I played it for a few hours on stream to find out.

Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way. Yes, in modern times, the game’s control scheme shows its age. Before the advent of dual-analog controls, Metroid Prime used a single-analog solution whereby players held the L-button to lock in on targets as well as enable strafing, while holding the R-button allowed you to free aim while standing still. You cannot free aim while moving.

It is certainly an adjustment, but it’s not insurmountable. The game is designed with these limitations in mind and compensates with the most aggressive lock-on I’ve ever seen in a shooter. Clamp down the L-button and your cursor is locked dead centre on a target, allowing you to freely move while connecting on every shot. With no real rewards for headshots or shooting anywhere that lock-on can’t hit, shooting enemies is more of a secondary experience in the same way that shooting is in 2D Metroid games. Once I got the hang of it, I didn’t think about it too much. Having said all of that, I still really hope Nintendo and Retro Studios incorporate dual-analog controls for Metroid Prime 4.

Another aspect of the game that could easily falter with time are its visuals. 20+ years is a long time in the world of graphics, and it’s easy to see the cracks in Metroid Prime. Outputting at 480p max, the game doesn’t look particularly sharp on modern televisions.

I was expecting the game to look worse than it actually does. Metroid Prime maintains a smooth frame rate and its excellent art direction still holds so much weight. From rigid spaceships to organic planets, the overall geometry of each environment and the textures that wrap it still look great. Visual effects, such as the way that Samus’ visor fogs up in cold environments adds yet another level of immersion. Most impressive in modern times is the way that the game seamlessly weaved in cinematic cutscenes between the action, really giving the game a flair that still impresses. Considering that this was created so long ago, it was mind-blowing for its time.

Where the game still shines brightest is in its exploration. Each environment is a labyrinth filled with items to collect and secrets to unlock. Translating all of the traversal elements from the 2D games such as the morph ball and grapple beam still feel natural. Heck, there’s a ton of platforming in this game during a time when first-person platforming was a design challenge that developers hadn’t fully solved yet. Explorers are still going to want to pour over every inch of this game, even if there’s too much to scan. Also, I wish the game allowed you to place markers on the map to make backtracking a bit less painful. Loved how the map indicated which areas you’ve visited before, but specific identifiers would go a long way towards knowing where to go next.

Time has clearly made its mark on a 2002 masterpiece, but Metroid Prime still impresses in more ways than one. This is still a fluid action adventure game that will test your exploration skills and still wow you with looks that haven’t aged as poorly as you think. Never did get around to finishing this game, and I never did play Echoes or Corruption, but with Metroid Prime 4 not coming out any time soon, maybe now’s a great time to complete the trilogy.

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