In 2002, Retro studios released Metroid Prime for the Nintendo GameCube, revitalizing the Metroid series, and in the process created an inspiring genre hybrid that that remains a unique accomplishment to this day. Unique, that is, except for its sequels. It was followed in 2004 by Metroid Prime: Echoes; a great game that nonetheless felt a little disappointing, mostly because of some dubious choices concerning art direction.
In 2007 Retro moved the Prime series to the Wii, with Metroid Prime 3: Corruption. As it is the one game in the MP series I have not completed, I’ve decided to start playing it once again, especially as I want to incorporate some elements on its design into the game I am writing documents for in my ITGM 706 class. I had begun the game a long time ago, but those save files are gone, and I think I would have been rather lost anyway. Instead I’ve chosen to re-start the game, which I thought might provide some different insights.
The unique thing about the Metroid Primes is that despite being sci-fi games played from the first person perspective and involving a lot of shooting, they are not generally referred to as first person shooters; rather, they are considered first person adventures. They have as much or more in common with 3D adventure games such as the Zelda series or even 2D point and click or text adventures. Exploration and problem and puzzle solving, are all as crucial to progressing in the game as are dodging and shooting. It is interesting to note that MP3 places a greater emphasis on fast, accurate shooting than its predecessors. This might be the influence of the Wii’s motion controls, and it works relatively well. In fact it’s one of the few times where I’ve found the Wii controls to enhance an existing interface instead of feeling gratuitous. Weather they are truly overall a better system is debatable, but they do allow for a different balance between accurate combat and exploration without substantially altering the MP formula, which is an interesting accomplishment.
The Metroid Prime series succeeds above all at immersion. This aspect is achieved so well that is makes a compelling case for the original move from the series original 2D side-scrolling perspective to 3D. Metroid Prime 3 is no exception; like in previous games, the player is truly made to feel like they are inhabiting the body and power suit of interplanetary bounty hunter Samus Aran; no small feat given the character is female, yet the games are aimed primarily at male gamers; and unlike the Lara Crofts of the game world, Samus rarely allows herself to be gawked at; in the Prime series, she is not a character one moves in the game world, but rather a person one becomes and inhabits. This is mainly achieved by replicating the inside of Samus’ helmet on-screen; it rocks slightly from side to side with collisions; water droplets spatter on the clear faceplate; it ices over in the cold and mists up when leaving a liquid. Shoot the weapons at a certain angle, or switch to the game’s scanning mode, and a faint reflection of Samus’ eyes and nose become visible. It is done well enough that it feels like looking in the mirror and seeing someone elses’s face. Other aspects of the characters movement, the placement of the weapon-arm, the visibility of the other arm in key moments, etc. all subtly reinforce the perception of inhabiting the body of Samus Aran.
Another key aspect to Metroid Prime’s immersiveness is the level and art design. Here MP3 shines, using the slightly more powerful Wii graphics to push the graphics a little past its predecessors. The art style of the Metroid Prime games can be described as “organic sci-fi”. Alien worlds feel truly alien but believable; creatures are varied and colorful, alien cultures feel both ancient and mysterious, and the integration of technology and organic elements is superb; even the mechanical objects often feel subtly alive. Overall the art style is different and fresh (Darkspore subtly reminded me of the MP visual style, part of the reason I praised that game’s visuals in an earlier entry).
The level design is nothing short of brilliant. Each area feels unique and distinct, foregoing the repetition often found in first person sci-fi corridor shooters. Environmental puzzles all feel clever and few feel contrived, and seeing areas that lie out of reach is always intriguing as you wonder when you will be able to access them.
The game’s mechanics also support the immersion. The scanning mechanic allows the player to gather information about an amazing number of creatures, devices, and characters in-game, via an interface that makes sense from within the narrative. The other non-shooter aspects of the game and the ability to interact in various ways with the environment combine to make the gameworld feel like an area to inhabit and explore, rather than simply a backdrop for the combat like many other recent sci-fi games. And as I mentioned, for once the Wii controls feel like they make sense. The main controller becomes Samus’ arm cannon, while the “nunchuck” attachment becomes her left-arm mounted whip. That 1 to 1 correlation of the player’s arms with Samus only reinforces the feeling of oneness with the character, and the ability to “free look” by subtly tilting the Wiimote allows quick and accurate shooting and lessens the importance of the useful but ultimately immersion-breaking lock-on mechanic from earlier games.
In many ways the Metroid Prime series remains the high-water mark for 3D adventure games of recent years, and I am eager to continue playing MP3, hopefully this time to the end. I will likely revisit the game with a future entry to focus more on this particular game’s strengths and weaknesses and less on the series as a whole.