Ah, 2002. The new millennium still fresh, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man didn’t suck yet… uh… the death of Joseph Luns, fifth Secretary General of NATO, thanks Wikipedia. And of course the year Metroid Prime came out on the Gamecube, the first fully 3D game in Nintendo’s classic moody sci-fi franchise, so called because it was about a Metroid that was only divisible by itself and one. One ass kicking space lady, that is, in a suit of armour that appears around her body by magic, which is just as well, because she’s got a gun for an arm and that’d make it really hard to tie up shoelaces. Ah, fuck it, that’s an intro. Metroid Prime was recently remastered for Switch and finally rescued from the graveyard of classic games only playable on consoles from four generations ago that only venture from dusty attics when a birthday present is required for the nephew of a massive cheapskate. You know, I caught some shit a few weeks back for a podcast in which I called Metroid Prime Remastered basically just a visual improvement. “How dare ye,” cried the Nintendo fans. “It’s more than that! They completely redid the textures, the models, and the animations!” And then we held eye contact for a few seconds as I waited to see if they were going to actually parse the words they had uttered.
No really, it is just a visual spruce up, fuck you. Alright, fine, they fixed the controls, but what was that, one morning’s work? You see, the original game existed in the earliest days of console FPSes, when there were few established best practices for such things, so Retro Studios gritted their teeth, took the bull by the horns and completely fucked it up. The remastered version thankfully adds the ability to use one analog stick for moving and one for aiming, rather than the original setup where you only had one stick and if you ever needed to do anything more complex than lock onto a dude and bunny hop around them then your hands would both spontaneously snap off. But the remaster does have the option to switch back to the original one-stick controls if you’ve just accidentally felt up your boss in a crowded lift and now have a deranged grudge against your own wrists. So everyone’s happy. We’ll call this new release Metroid Prime and the original Gamecube version can be Metroid Subprime, tee hee hee. I’m surprised I’ve never retro reviewed Metroid Prime, it’s a – for want of a better word – prime candidate for one since it was one of the few games I played the shit out of in the pre-game critic poverty phase of my life and its studio even has the word “retro” in the name.
But good thing I didn’t, because this remaster’s given it a stimulating injection of relevance. So, plot is, space bounty hunter Samus Aran finds a space pirate vessel parked on a red line, and her attempt to put a ticket on the windscreen ends with her shooting everyone and crash landing it on a planet, which, as an attempt at de-escalation by law enforcement, is about an above average result. Anyway, she pops down to the planet to finish off the survivors and finds it to be a lonely atmospheric world full of hostile life forms that has some ruins, a lava world, an ice world, and a tech base, and then she clicks her heels together with glee because that’s her favourite kind of planet. And so another odyssey of exploration, equipment gathering and introducing big squelchy monsters to the interiors of their own chest cavities ensues. Although not so much of the last thing. Maybe the original developers were hoping the 3D visuals would blow our socks off so hard we’d be too busy recovering them to notice that there’s a poor showing for Metroid’s characteristic giant gribbly monster boss fights. Especially early on.
Two of the boss fights in the first area of the game are just “deactivate a machine while getting harassed by wasps.” The big centrepiece midgame boss is a pile of rocks. Feels more like landscape gardening than monster hunting at that point. Combat’s probably still the worst part of Metroid Prime’s core experience, against anything but the tiny party favour enemies that die in one hit the basic shot feels about as impactful as blowing kisses but the charge shot feels like it takes so long in the heat of the moment I’m worried I should’ve offered my gun an epidural first. And you’ll have plenty of time to ruminate on that delightful imagery because monsters respawn every time you come back through a room. And they’re not like Castlevania skeletons, always unintrusively hanging out like an introverted roommate in an apartment with a very sticky couch, Metroid Prime enemies are all prissy little pick-mes who insist on popping out with elaborate screeches and animations every fucking time. Relatedly, fuck Chozo ghosts. Amid those in the know you will not find a more universally agreed upon phrase besides perhaps “cake tastes nice.”
And you can’t avoid backtracking, ‘cos this was back in the good old days where we didn’t have fancy modern luxuries like fast travel. I can’t speak for the new players but I get a strong sense a lot of them will be turned off by a lack of the convenience features we’ve gotten used to, like permanently highlighted objective markers or grappling hooks that you get before the two-thirds mark and that can be used in more than, like, five places. No, if you get to the bottom of the Phazon Mines and realise, totally understandably, that you haven’t the first shoelace shunning clue where to go next and the space pirates didn’t invest in much signage, you have to blunder around for ten minutes before the game will finally heave a sigh and pop an objective marker, always with an air of condescension. “Oh, I’m so sorry you couldn’t figure out to backtrack out of the entire mine complex and go to the temple in the starting area that’s been accessible since you unlocked missiles but is only now relevant, here let me take you by the hand and walk you through the map screen so you know exactly where it is. Can you handle it from here, or would you like us to call you a magic carpet?” Maybe they should have kept the original controls, it would’ve gelled with the “We hate you and want you to piss off and die” vibe.
That’s kinda my point. It’s the vibe that’s Metroid Prime’s main strength. It’s a classic because it absolutely nails the atmosphere. From the lively environments to the immersive weapon effects and the bleak, oppressive soundtrack and the core gameplay elements of exploring, fighting, re-exploring and re-fighting sixteen or seventeen times on your way to find all those fucking artefacts, everything feeds into this constant sense of a world that wants you to piss off and die. And that’s how we liked it back in the day, which probably says a lot about post 9-11 mental health standards. As for if there’s anything else the remastering adds besides more reasonable controls and polished up textures you kinda stop noticing once you’re in the Phazon mines and everything’s drab gunmetal and questionably necessary pipes, well, I saved this for last because I might, as ever, be going mad, but I swear the enemy AI was acting weird in ways it didn’t used to. I saw a Metroid take an intense interest in a bit of unadorned wall for a worryingly long time. And every time I went into a roomful of melee pirates they’d all immediately run straight up and try to crowd me into a corner in a way that didn’t feel right, unless they were all desperate for Samus to settle their argument over who had the best nipple piercings.