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Review: Metroid Prime

Posted Apr-04 2007 by ron
For Gamecube, runs on Wii, optional 60Hz mode

Did you see what we did there? "Inventory" we said. Metroid games, and Metroid Prime is almost pure in that respect, don't give the player rusty keys, pass-phrases or colored crystals to open up new areas. No. They give the player weapons and abilities.

A door that refuses to open

Not keys. Weapons. Every time we want to open a door in Metroid Prime, we actually do so by shooting it. Some doors would require us to use other beam weapons, but the blast shield on this one asks for a missile. We don't have missiles yet, so we must come back later.

Connecting progress directly to your equipment makes the whole collection process much more meaningful than would be possible with mere access codes. The ice beam is not just a tool to open a different type of door, but doubles up as the most effective offense against inhabitants of the lava caves. And speaking of which, the Varia suit upgrade doesn't just allow you to enter the lava caves (the ambient heat is lethal within seconds without it), but universally reduces the damage you take from enemy attacks. Likewise most other "keys" in the game double up as useful combat augmentations.

Automatic turrets mounted on a station in the middle of a lava cavern

Magmoor station, complete with turrets. We couldn't be here without the rusty old key first armor upgrade. There are four doors out of this room, but we can only reach two currently, and would feel inclined to return after acquiring the space jump boots and the boost ball upgrade.

The beauty of it all is that players don't necessarily even notice how they are taking essentially a guided tour across the theme park, as the "correct" next door to enter always seems to be the obvious one straight ahead. The others? Chances are you'll return to your current location through the second door, and have on your way also collected the right equipment to open the third door.

Samus in morph ball form, evading an enemy

Another upgrade: that ball down there is in fact Samus, rolled up into the "morp ball" form. Here we use it to sneak past an enemy that is completely immune to our (current) weapons.

While coming up with plasma beam, ice beam and rockets doesn't seem to require so much inspiration, the morph ball is clearly a Metroid element. Once the particular upgrades are found, Samus can transform into ball form anywhere, at any time, roll around, lay bombs or tackle enemies with a quick boost. The morph ball can also dock with some machinery, which can then be switched or controlled. Samus can't duck, so the morph ball is her way to enter smaller spaces. While the morph ball is useful in many places, there are often narrow labyrinths embedded in walls, or small transition tunnels that specifically ask for the morph ball.

Collage of morph ball activities

If you want to be a powerful tool, consider becoming a morph ball. Its own bombs can propel the morph ball upwards, producing a little jump, or, when chained together with the correct timing, pretty high jumps – high enough to push into that right-most opening in the top right image.
The boost ball upgrade allows us to build up some serious momentum in half-pipe structures, and also gives us a means to drive that security station, so that it extends a bridge for us.

The morph ball controls in a third-person perspective and can be moved along the floor in any direction with the left analog stick, while the camera follows you around, as you'd expect, and it generally does a good job at that. Hey, look, what a nice opportunity to transition back to the 1st-person controls we have held under wraps so far.
Instead of using one analog stick for pure movement and the other for aiming and turning, Metroid Prime places all movement and aiming on just the left analog stick. One stick obviously can't perform all the same movement and aiming functions as two sticks at the same time, but the game implements another effective solution.

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