It’s an iconic moment for a certain generation of gamers. Samus Aran rises out of her ship on an alien planet as she has in all her games, except for the first time you’re in her head, looking through the bounty hunter’s visor, rain spattering onto it as you look around a vast open area. This is the beginning of Metroid Prime and also the beginning of Metroid Prime Remastered, Nintendo’s just-dropped hi-def remaster of the classic GameCube game. It looks stunning in this new rendition (or as stunning as the Switch can make it), but for me, re-experiencing this moment for the first time in HD was a letdown.
This disappointment isn’t based in anything logical; it is entirely emotional. See, no matter how good this HD remake is (and it is really good), no matter if it were released on a more powerful console with every damn polygon rebuilt from scratch, no matter how great the game still is, nothing could ever live up to the images I have in my head of this game. Metroid Prime on the GameCube is lodged into my head in stunning HD, with a vast world that is breathing and living and doors that open insanely slowly to help build the game’s suspense. That initial entrance into the world was a vibrant, vast space to explore where the rain literally hit your visor.
This game, which I haven’t played any more than the average game in my life, haven’t played for more than a decade, and haven’t fully played for more than two decades, is so ingrained in my head that I could walk you through its first hour or so without looking. That hour, in my head, is full of one stunning moment after another that looks like a real world with giant roots crawling through walls, barren craggy cave systems, and, of course, mysterious and detailed Chozo relics and artwork. It is, in short, alive.
Factually, I know this is entirely inaccurate. The game in my head isn’t possible on any console with any level or processing power. I even booted up both the GCN version and the Wii’s Metroid Prime Trilogy version for a reality check, and I can tell my memories are wrong. The original is a low-def, kind of cloudy, chunky experience, even on an HD TV. It was revolutionary for the time but pretty bland now visually. That “massive” open area is little more than a small multiplayer map these days, which I wouldn’t exactly call “breathing” or “living,” and the controls take some… relearning. The rain on the screen is still cool, but Metroid Prime Remastered 100 percent looks better and probably plays better.
Again, I know all of this logically, but logic has nothing to do with my memories and feelings of this game. Part of this is just how boundary-pushing Metroid Prime was when it came out in 2002, coupled of course with youthfully rosy glasses cast back on a time when no one knew what HD was and that TV could look better. When the game first game out, first-person shooters were still in their awkward teenage phase, just becoming the powerhouse genre they are now, especially on consoles. And Metroid Prime was a thing of its own even within the fledgling genre, not to mention a continuation of a beloved childhood franchise. As such, the impact of it was outsized in my head even before opening the box.
Then you turned it on and that iconic moment happened. You were in Samus’ helmet, as if you were there. This may be standard today, but back then the idea of a HUD being built into the actual game world was a whole new level of immersion. It created a world of its own in your head like nothing I’d experienced before, and clearly it stuck.
And the rain was on the screen! I know I’m making a big deal of this, but it was a big deal. Again, that kind of immersive design just wasn’t something you saw then, and it was something I’d never seen before. (I doubt Metroid Prime was the first to do it, but it was the first for me.) These tiny details created a video game world more immersive than anything I’d ever been part of, evidently loading the game’s world deep into my memory banks.
I will note one thing that still holds up no matter what version you boot up, and it is one of the reasons the game does feel so alive: the sound design. Even with GameCube’s compressed audio outputs, this game’s sound design enlarges the world dramatically. It’s ethereal yet real and turns a well-designed game into a real world. It is probably the only aspect of Metroid Prime Remastered that lives up to my impossible memories.
To conclude, I’ll offer up a recent comparison that illustrates that my perfect memories of Prime are not just based on nostalgia for my youth. GoldenEye 007 landed on Nintendo 64 Switch Online recently as well, a game that I probably spent more time having more fun with than Metroid Prime thanks to its multiplayer and a love for all things James Bond. Yet, on booting it up and playing it I was not let down. No, my memories were of the same game, and if anything, playing it now made those memories lesser. I was able to strip away the nostalgia and see that my memories were much like the game is now – the present redefining the past in a way.
With Metroid Prime that doesn’t happen. My memories don’t shift to reality. I can only look at the gorgeous Metroid Prime Remastered and wish it was what’s in my head. Wish it was the near-real experience the decades in my mind made it. Wish that rain on Samus’ visor – that glorious, unexpected, incredible rain – was just as beautiful as it is in my imagination. But I know, deep down, nothing ever could be that perfect.