Retrospective – Metroid Prime (GCN)

The Prime of the Gamecube Era

Metroid Prime has this sense of mystery about it; you never truly know what’s around the next corner. In the game’s opening segment, exploring the damaged, derelict space station is a bit nerve-wracking. Upon entering the station, little alien bugs scurry away and a stream of mist fogs your visor. Machines shriek against the strain of the station falling apart, fires explode from equipment that is failing. The subtle growls of creatures plays tricks with your mind, begging the question of whether you should have left the station alone or not.

When I first played Metroid Prime on my Gamecube in 2002, I found myself both excited and intimidated by both the tone and atmosphere Retro Studios had created. Metroid has always been known for it’s intense feeling of isolation but Prime managed to ramp up that sensation. Despite this unsettling feeling of isolation, the game beckons you to continue exploring and, in it’s own way, it rewards you for doing so. Whether that reward is good or bad is something the player will learn upon discovering but it’s certainly enticing. And addictive.

As you travel to an area, only to find you cannot proceed due to a missing weapon or tool, the game cleverly tells you, “Your princess is in another castle for now”. Through this smart game design, you’re forced to truly be an explorer and learn the areas you visit. The way forward might just be taking two steps back first. Or firing a weapon at a wall that looks slightly off. The game has a way of rewarding curiosity that keeps you playing because you truly do not know what could be around the next corner.

This also adds a layer of danger to the game. As you enter Chozo Ruins, Beetles will burst from the sand to greet you. When you explore corridors, a large pack of scarabs will crawl from cracks in the wall to kamikaze themselves. Tallon IV is a truly dangerous planet that puts the player at such a level of unease that it’s reminiscent of the first Alien film. Which, makes sense considering that Metroid was initially inspired by the Alien franchise. Complete with it’s own lore that is fleshed out via the Scan Visor that would add to Samus’ logbook, exploration and combat go hand-in-hand in Metroid Prime.

But nothing prepared me for the first boss fight on Tallon IV against Flaahgra, a towering hybrid between a plant and praying mantis. Sure, the initial fight with the Parasite Queen on the space station gave me an idea of the scale. Flaahgra, on the other hand, taught me the complexity of the bosses. Utilizing the missiles, the morph ball, and bombs, you’d work through a tunnel to do damage and defeat the threatening plant. After a grueling bout, and I emerged victorious, I saw a new item hovering where Flaahgra’s body once sprouted out from the base. Acquiring the item initiates a cutscene where Samus is lifted into the air, light explodes outwards to reveal Samus’ Varia Suit from the opening of the game.

The game has a way of rewarding curiosity that keeps you playing because you truly do not know what could be around the next corner.

You repeat this formula of explore new area, acquire a few necessary upgrades that the boss will force you to use, face off against the boss to put your skills to the test, and acquire a major upgrade in power that aids in exploration. The Varia suit allows you to enter areas with high heat, the Gravity Suit allows you to traverse underwater areas with ease, and the menacing Phazon Suit allows you to enter areas where Phazon grips the environment. Not only that but it reduced damage and gave you a new weapon: the Hyper Beam. By channeling Phazon through Samus’ arm cannon, it would expel a powerful ray of energy, cutting down anything and everything it touches.

I would be remiss if I did not devote some sentences to the incredible soundtrack that sets the tone perfectly for the game. Metroid Prime’s opening theme exudes science-fiction adventure. The track Crashed Ship is reminiscent of old school Final Fantasy in that it creates atmosphere and makes you curious of what took place in the area you’re currently in. The Metroid series has had distinct music that is recognizable (I think just about everyone can recognize Magmoor Cavern’s pulsating beat, mimicking the heat of the area). Metroid Prime manages to take the classic music that is true-to-the-core Metroid and bring it to a whole new level that matches the gameplay.

All of this culminates in the final showdown with Meta Ridley, who escaped during the destruction of the space station at the beginning of the game. Relying on the history of the Chozo and every weapon in your arsenal, the fight with the metallic winged nemesis is intense. Ridley roars as he zips around the arena, darting at you to cut through your health. The boss fight is something that is rarely seen these days and it’s just as satisfying when you land the final hit and watch Ridley fall to his doom. But are these bosses truly ever dead?

As your adventure comes to close, depending on your completion, in true Metroid fashion, you can receive variations of the ending where you see Samus remove her helmet from afar as she surveys the destruction of the Chozo Temple, or up close, or, if you manage to get 100% completion, see the birth of the next game’s main antagonist. Watching Dark Samus’ hand rip from a pile of Phazon sent chills up my spine. It also didn’t help that on the back of a hand was an eye that opened and looked directly at the camera.

An interesting feature about Metroid Prime was the ability to connect to the Game Boy Advance game, Metroid Fusion, which released on the same day as Metroid Prime. Upon completing the games, you had the opportunity to link the games together via the GBA link cable and unlocking Samus’ Fusion Suit in Metroid Prime, as well as the NES copy of the original Metroid. While I played through the game again in the Fusion Suit, I did not really enjoy the NES copy of Metroid. I’ll save that for another time.

Metroid Prime was an incredible experience that I came back to multiple times on the Nintendo Gamecube. It remains one of my all-time favorite games to this day and really bolstered the Gamecube’s incredible library of games. While the Gamecube may have not sold as well as it’s console counter-parts, it managed to hold it’s own with games like Metroid Prime. It was the start of something truly special. I can only hope that Retro manages to do it all again with Metroid Prime 4 on the Nintendo Switch.