In one of the early boss fights with the Adult Sheegoth in Metroid Prime Remastered, I kept on messing up attack timing after jumping over its frost breath attacks by not being able to follow up quick enough with a counterattack like my scan recommended. When I got to my last missiles of the 20 or so I had collected so far, I was annoyed that I might have to just let myself die and restart the fight. Then I remembered that I hadn’t activated Morph Ball mode for the entire encounter, and I managed to weave around the icy beast and finish it off with drive-by bombings.
Even though Samus has pretty strong firepower to play with, Metroid Prime Remastered still manages to feel oppressive with its killer atmosphere and clever details in the design. You may lose some cool suit features after the introduction, but you get almost all of those back by the time you’ve beaten the first boss in Chozo Ruins and your armory gets expanded even more from there. Missiles stop a lot of enemies in their tracks, and health and ammo drops are pretty generous — but the world still feels very hostile as you get your bearings on Tallon IV.
Metroid Prime is great at setting up situations that can spiral out of control at a moment’s notice with placement of environmental and other hazards around the world. If you’re too focused on an area puzzle that’ll unlock a blocked path, you may not notice a Reaper Vine that’s going to knock you into poison muck below. The variety of aggressive flora and fauna also works wonders here. Enemies aren’t particularly imposing at the start, but many of them are much faster than Samus and can overwhelm you with numbers if you aren’t constantly repositioning.
Samus is just agile enough to handle herself, and can dash when locked on a single enemy. But her base movement is slow enough that most enemies will be able to chase you down and put pressure on you. Once you get a handle on Morph Ball movement and the eventual double jump, it becomes just as fun to weave a path through enemies without loosing one missile as it does to take them apart head-on.
Slight adjustments to enemy placement as you progress and get more powerful in Metroid Prime Remastered also keep you on your toes. Even though they made these spaces tougher, I loved when Space Pirates, or aggressive Chozo Ghosts, began spawning in arenas I had already seen several times, presenting a much higher challenge to fight or evade in these spaces. These wrinkles made the inevitable backtracking sequences have more variety, and I would have loved to see this utilized more than it was. But still, the dopamine rush of finding tons of upgrades as I returned to these locations with new traversal abilities hasn’t gotten old for me yet.
The 3D map is also a wonder to behold and plays well into the sense of tension as you slowly chart more of Tallon IV. Opening the map provides you a brief respite from assaulting enemies, but you still feel tense as the fight music continues. The zoom and rotation controls help you peek for obscured passages without getting confused about where you’re going, and you can chart out a path surprisingly reliably via the orange geometric representations of the locations, though you may get knocked off-course by some enemies. The use of save points also added tons of tension for me when reviewing the map, as I was constantly questioning whether I missed a valuable save room with the door I went through (spoiler alert: I did, a couple of times).
Metroid Prime strikes a perfect balance among tense combat, exploration, navigation, and obsessively cataloguing as much as possible with the scan visor. Learning more about the plight and mission of the Chozo and the spread of the Phazon corruption feels just as much like arming myself as getting a missile expansion, especially considering how helpless and confused I was when first landing on the planet.
As someone who enjoys difficult survival games like The Long Dark and Don’t Starve, it was refreshing to see a game that achieved the exciting but vulnerable feeling of being dropped in a hostile world with a totally different design approach. Samus can dive right into water without drowning, and we never have to worry about foraging food, nor should we. One glimpse of Meta Ridley flying over Phendrana Drifts was all it took to put my nerves on edge for at least an hour afterwards.
Even when Samus is powerful enough to the point of freezing enemies in place or letting loose the insane Wavebuster laser, the way you began in the world and what could be lurking ahead still looms in your mind and creates a compelling sense of dread (pun intended). But despite the constant tension and mystery of Tallon IV, you still have the belief in yourself and the badass bounty hunter you’re piloting to not give up and keep exploring deeper.