Video Game Thoughts: Metroid Prime

Metroid Prime was a 2002 first-person adventure game for the Nintendo GameCube by Retro Studios. Metroid Prime capped off a good first year for the GameCube. In fact, it was such a good game, many players considered it one of the top games of its generation. Metroid Prime radically changed the Metroid formula. It was evident in the game’s name. They didn’t feel comfortable calling it Metroid 4. Instead, they added “Prime” on to the end, starting a new series. Nintendo would have been fine calling it Metroid 4, however. It easily lived up to the quality of the older games.

The earlier games were all 2D side scrollers involving exploration and boss killing. Metroid Prime was still about exploration and boss killing, but now it was in 3D. Instead of a side perspective, it was now a first-person perspective. It was really cool because the whole interface was made to look like Samus’s (the main hero) helmet. The player was Samus. They were inside the combat suit and seeing the same computerized information Samus could see. It made the whole game really immersive. I really felt like I was there. The immersion was improved even further by the amazing graphics and sound.

The graphics really showed players what the new video game consoles were capable of. The GameCube didn’t have the popularity of the PlayStation 2 or the advanced hardware of the Xbox, but it was still capable of some of the best graphics. The textures in Metroid Prime were crisp and clear. The polygon counts were high. The particle effects commanded attention. Many times while playing I would just stop to absorb all the cool sights. The music and sound effects were also great. The game had a really catchy techno soundtrack. I went back to previously cleared areas many times just to hear the music again.

Even more amazing in Metroid Prime were the short loading times. There were some other games with good graphics like this, but all of them had long loading times. Metroid Prime had a very special game engine that could load graphics on the fly. There were no loading screens to be seen. As the player approached a door to leave one room and enter another, the game loaded the contents of that next room in the background. Occasionally, the player might have to wait a short pause until a door opened, but it was almost instant. Background loading was really popular in the seventh generation of video games (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3), but it was pretty much unheard of at the time Metroid Prime came out.

Getting to the gameplay, it had all the fun things of the older games. Every room was like a puzzle to be solved. Samus slowly made her way through each room, occasionally fighting a boss and getting an upgrade. The upgrade would unlock even more rooms. The whole game was like one big puzzle, each room requiring a combination of Samus’s suit attachments to pass through. Besides just getting the main upgrades to beat the game, there were several optional upgrades to increase things like missile capacity. Each new suit upgrade usually unlocked more of these optional upgrades. They were harder to find than the primary upgrades, but they were all really fun to get. My friend and I ended up finding all the upgrades on our own. We normally looked up the guides, but not this time. Metroid Prime was just too good.

I was really proud of my GameCube by this point. I regularly invited friends over to show off Metroid Prime, and it always impressed. Every time I introduced someone to the game, they wanted to keep coming over until they had beaten the whole game. On the bus rides before and after school, I was always talking to other kids about the game. Metroid Prime probably wasn’t longer than fifty hours to do everything, but I must have played it a couple months straight. I was really sad when I had seen, heard, and experienced everything. I came back to the game many times for another quick run through the story. Metroid Prime was really the killer app for the GameCube. The console didn’t do as well as Nintendo hoped, but games like Metroid Prime gave it a loyal following of dedicated fans like myself.

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