The return of Samus after 8 years is welcome
As a longtime fan of the Metroid franchise, I suppose I could be forgiven for not making the immediate leap onto the Prime bandwagon. After all, Super Metroid is my beacon of hope still shining for 2D games, a symbol of the pinnacle that the genre reached. I mean, I plan to name my firstborn daughter Samus. That’s how much I love Metroid. So, when Prime hit the shelves, I was duly skeptical. It had been eight long years without so much as of a whiff of Samus’ scent in the market of solo games and I was starving. Enter Prime.
Prime isn’t so much a pure Metroid game as it is a combination of Metroid and first-person shooters of the day. What you need to know to understand Prime is that it’s set between Metroid and Metroid II: Return of Samus, and it’s the first real game in the series to start putting the pieces of the Metroid saga together. Samus roams around Tallon IV to uncover the past of the Chozo (her caretakers after the death of her parents in a Space Pirate raid), and takes on the villainous group, who are conducting biological experiments on the planet. That’s the meat of the story essentially, but it mostly means that you’re going to do some exploring. This being Metroid and all.
The first-person controls could have been hazardous to the game’s health but they aren’t. They’re actually simple to use and surprisingly easy to get used to even if you’re intimately familiar with Super Metroid’s setup. My main concern was how does Samus’ action translate to the first-person mold? Can she still move around fluidly? And, how is the action handled when she has to switch to Morph Ball mode? All of these questions were immediately answered with a simple playthrough. Action is fluid and movement is clean and paced well. There are no problems with switching modes, and I rather liked how that is handled. It’s almost as if someone on the development team at Retro Studios remembered what it was like to imagine you were Samus in the Varia Suit.
I appreciated the atmosphere of Prime, considering that if a game is to be called Metroid in any way, it must have the “Metroid atmosphere.” I certainly got that as I meandered through maze-like caverns with foreboding music playing gently in the background. What I appreciated about the soundtrack mostly was the use of old themes to tie the games together. You can tell you’re playing a Metroid game if you listen hard enough, and I liked that the issue wasn’t thrown in my face constantly. I didn’t need to be hit over the head repeatedly that this is a Metroid tale, and the music was polite about reminding me.
My only problem with Prime is that while it feels like a Metroid game should, I wasn’t that immersed in the tale. Every Metroid game released up to this point, I played through and was engaged thoroughly. Prime? I really couldn’t get into the story that much, and I didn’t really care all that much about the Chozo. I realized that because of the way Metroid ends, Samus can’t really go back to the Mother Brain issue. However, Prime just struck me as boring.
Prime was the start of a good thing, obviously, since there are two sequels and a host of spinoff games. What I was most pleased with, however, was the fact that Samus returned in top form. It was about time. Eight years was way too long to go without using some version of the “Metroid instinct.”