Thursday, December 10, 2009

Games of the decade: Metroid Prime

Part of a series of subjective looks at my favorite games of the decade.

Metroid Prime
(2002, Nintendo GameCube)

Depending on how you want to look at it, I've either played through Metroid Prime twice, or I haven't played through it at all. See, twice I played a borrowed copy all the way through to the climactic battle against the Metroid Prime itself. Both times, circumstances intervened to prevent me from beating it. Yet I can't imagine having been more satisfied with the game, even if I had polished off that boss.

The first time I played it was due to pure charity. A kid in my dorm had hooked up his GameCube in the common room, and decided to leave it there so others could enjoy. I took full advantage of this. Frankly, it probably bugged him that every time he came in to play, I was in there, usually on the ass end of a several-hour play session, and well deeper into the game than he was. But he was nice about it, probably because he was a freshman and I was a senior and that was the natural order of things, dammit.

Besides, it was hard not to play Metroid Prime at every available opportunity. Super Metroid is one of my top two games of all time, and when I played Prime I thought that I'd never played such a skillful 3D translation of a sidescroller. Everything that made Super Metroid great, Prime did, too. The powerups, the exploration, the sense of delving deeper and deeper into an actual, physical location -- they were all there. You get a real sense of adventure playing Metroid Prime, not just the thrill of action. Samus is a swashbuckler.

And it was more than that. The difficulty was exactly as I remembered it, with most enemies merely giving you something to do on your travels, while bosses were huge, imposing, and tough without seeming cheap. The developers at Retro Studios made the morph ball even more fun than it had been in the slower, 16-bit era. Lock-on targeting did away with some of the more frustrating aspects of console first-person shooters, and did so in a way that made complete sense within the story, and within series tradition. Graphically, the game was stunning, even at a time when the GameCube was earning a reputation for being less powerful than the PS2 and Xbox (this would be a recurring, and unfair, accusation).

So why didn't I finish it? Because some douchebag stole the GameCube out of the common room. This was probably the most important lesson the freshman victim would learn at college: never do anything nice for anybody, ever.

The second, less interesting time I failed to get through Metroid Prime, I needed to give it back to the person who loaned it to me because semester break was over. I know, that's not exciting at all. But the game was just as good the second time! And surely I didn't miss anything by not technically beating it, right?



Anonymous said...

nah i think ur good

the game was pretty hot when it came out. unless you want to follow the complete Prime storyline. you might want to see the ending.

Bad Horse said...

From Super Metroid being one of your top 2 games of all time, I'd guess it is your 2nd favorite. What's number one? Or is it a tie?

Callahan said...

It's been many years, yet I can still vividly remember the glow of Magmoor caverns, the bleak landscape of the snowdrifts, the awe and adventure when encountering anything Chozo...

And that final boss fight really was a piece of work. I'm sad for you that you missed it.

Overall, Prime is one of the last games I played through with a great sense of adventure and awe.

Good times.

Unknown said...

I don't think it's any coincidence that my introduction to the series also ended up being my favourite game in it, but Metroid Prime is more than that to me. It is my favourite game of all time, for all of the reasons you mention and so much more.

From the art direction to the difficulty curve, everything about it just seems so right. Vague description maybe, but an apt one. I will never forget the time I saw Samus land on that space frigate, or when she first arrived on Tallon IV, or Phendrana Drifts, or... Yeah you get the picture.

I'm actually playing it again now thanks to the Metroid Prime Trilogy and it is just as good as it ever was. Maybe that's my bias talking, maybe not, but it has been fun to play through it again and that fun will continue when I start writing about it in an attempt to get to the core of why it is my favourite game out there. And then again for its two sequels.

Nice post and nice series Mitch, you've inspired me to start Bully and Far Cry 2 earlier than I was intending to, so kudos for that.

GregT said...

I love the 2D Metroid games to death but I've never been able to get into the 3D ones. Probably because they demand console-style attention spans and investment whereas the 2D Metroids have that pick-up-and-play philosophy going on. I simply don't buy that the Metroid universe has "characters" or "story" or "lore" and to the extent that the 3D titles try to sell me on those concepts I get frustrated. I just wants to find me some missile pods and get 100% map completion, consarn it.

Mike said...

So glad to see this here. It remains one of my favorite games of all-time, and I'm an advocate against console FPS.

folding electric bike said...

Nice blog~

FelixIncauto said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
FelixIncauto said...

It's amazing the number of times this game has been mentioned in the lists of the top 10 games of the decade. Retro studios made a fantastic job, and it's a shame that they wont produce the next metroid. I have my doubts about team ninja, but time will tell.