Metroid Prime is a "first person adventure" game, developed by Retro Studios and published by Nintendo. Metroid Prime was released and shipped on November 18th in North America, into the waiting hands of gamers everywhere.

The Metroid series has traditionally put the players in the body of Samus Aran, bounty hunter in a far off future. Samus has supernatural abilities thanks to her power suit, a gift from an ancient and exinct race of bird like creatures (the Chozo). The series was widely regarded to have reached its peak with the release of Super Metroid for the Super Nintendo in 1994. Super Metroid was a revolutionary game which set the standard for platforming games at its time. Now, the Metroid series reaches new heights with the release of the long anticipated Metroid Prime.

For the first time, the development of a Metroid game was put in the hands of foreign game studio, Texas based Retro Studios. Even spending a small amount of time with Metroid Prime, I noticed incredible polish. The game has been taken from its 2d platforming roots and thrust into the uncertain realm of 3d first person shooters, but Retro has managed to retain much of the old game mechanics and has improved many of the elements vastly.

After I had popped the game in my Gamecube I was treated to the title screen, an eerie close up shot of what is presumably the Metroid's nucleus, complete with eerie music. If you don't want me to ruin the plot, you should skip to the next paragraph, as this one is a bit spoiler heavy. Metroid Prime begins similarly to Super Metroid: Samus Aran lands and begins to explores a nearly deserted space station. This time though, she's investigating Space Pirate activity. Metroid Prime follows the first Metroid (NES) in terms of chronology, which leaves a surprising amount of room for the plot. After discovering several genetic research experiments gone horribly wrong, you begin to realize that the space station is swarming with mutated creatures have escaped their holding cells. The Space Pirates, in attempts to harness the full potential of the Metroid and other creatures, are experimenting with a new mutagenic substance known as "Phazon". If you take advantage of Samus' ability to scan her surroundings you can uncover a myriad of Space Pirate logs throughout the game which reveal the Space Pirates intentions. This is a nice touch, as you get to see the point of view of the bad guys for once. After touching down on the nearby planet Tallon IV, you can uncover a great deal of information about the previous inhabitants, the Chozo. Some time ago, a large meteorite containing large amounts of Phazon smashed into Tallon IV, poisoning and corrupting all the native inhabitants and ultimately ruining the land. Taking advantage of a huge natural resource, the Space Pirates invaded Tallon IV and set up a base to perform their horrific experiments with the radioactive Phazon. As Samus, the player must put a stop to the Space Pirates occupation of Tallon IV and combat the horrible genetic mutations they have created.

Metroid Prime enjoys one of the smoothest transitions from 2d to 3d of any game today. While many were skeptical of the first person perspective Metroid Prime employs, it certainly feels much more like a Metroid game than a regular First Person Shooter. The reasons for this are many: First of all, the player sees the game through the visor of Samus Aran. The HUD is very detailed and impressive, and the visor view "grounds" the player in Samus' body. Secondly, instead of using the traditional dual stick control common on most other console FPS', Retro opted to use the C-Stick for selecting weapons, and the D-Pad for selecting visors. You can manually aim using the R shoulder button, but this is practically useless in cases of actual combat, as it restricts Samus' ability to dodge and evade shots in a firefight. Instead, a Lock-on system is implemented. Items of interest can be locked on through the visor by pressing and holding the L shoulder button, enabling the player to both fire and dodge easily, using the A and B buttons, respectively. Locking on to enemies minimized the frustration of aiming with a stick, and places more of a focus on creatively attacking enemies and using cover whenever possible. Metroid Prime has a lot of jumping around in it, as any platformer should, and as a FPS first, the jumping feels very natural. With some practice, players can make most jumps easily, and a powerup later on simplifies it additionally. Lastly, with all of Samus' power-ups and equipment scattered throughout the immense world of Tallon IV, you can spend days exploring in search of more missle upgrades. This progressive and rewarding gameplay may be what set's Metroid Prime apart from other titles. This time through, Metroid is much harder, so exploring to find more powerups is integral to gameplay, and some mastery of the controls is required to advance to the later parts.

The graphics in Metroid Prime are nothing short of revolutionary. While the game doesn't necessarily make use of all the effects the Gamecube is capable, the sheer detail present in all the levels is absolutely stunning. The textures are vibrant and crisp, the models are smooth and masterfully made, and the atmosphere that comes from each of the different areas is absolutely immersive. In one part of Tallon IV, you must navigate a derelict space frigate, filled mostly with water. It literally made me gasp how much detail had been put into this area. There are hundreds of minor graphical touches which you notice after some time, like the heat waves that come from your gun after it overheats, or the water droplets streaming down your visor in a rainstorm. Of course, graphics are only part of the package- Metroid Prime has an equally immersive soundtrack that was just as moody, and catchy as Super Metroid's. Most of Metroid Prime has new music, but a few old tracks have made a return- notably, the old Norfair music has been used for the new magma level, Magmoor caverns. Whether new or old, the music definitely adds to the feeling of isolation that is common in the Metroid series.

I think it's sad that many people will not enjoy Metroid Prime because of petty gripes with either the control scheme or the first person perspective. I think it would be very ignorant to dismiss this game as another FPS clone, and even worse to dismiss it under the grounds that you don't like the system it's on. Regardless of the franchise, who developed or what system it's on, Metroid Prime is definitely one of the greatest games of the past few years, and I would definitely recommend even casual gamers to try it for a bit. A game of this caliber is very rare, and people will remember this game for years to come.

When Space Pirate activity is detected on Tallon IV, Samus Aran is sent to investigate in the Nintendo GameCube's November 2002 release Metroid Prime. This is Samus Aran's first 3D adventure and while some will call the game a first person shooter without hesitation, I prefer to think of it as a first person exploration game because while there is a lot of emphasis on the typical FPS-style action, most of the gameplay is spent hunting for items, switches, and goals.

The game opens on a space station which serves as a conveinient demo level (as did the space station level in Super Metroid). Metroid Prime takes place after the original Metroid for the NES, but before Metroid II: The Return of Samus for the Game Boy. Apparently Space Pirates have set up shop on Tallon IV because of a substance recently discovered on the planet, Phazon. It is suspected that the pirates are using Phazon to mutate and breed unthinkable horrors on the planet that they will soon unleash on the universe. On the station Samus confirms this suspicion, but after the station power core overloads and goes on self-destruct mode, she must flee the station before it explodes. She then pursues one of the Space Pirate leaders down to the planet where the game begins "for real". While Samus begins the game with all her equipment and gear, an accident during her escape causes her power suit to malfunction, destroying all but her blaster. Over the course of the game she must re-equip her suit in order to meet new challenges.

The game retains the classic Metroid feel, even in 3D. Often players will see an area they can't access right away without a certain item, and finding that item requires another item, and so on. Enemies pop out of the ground and pursue Samus, while some hazards are just native vegetation that are responding to intrusions based on reflexes. In general, Samus should respect the planet and leave well enough alone... usually.

All of the old favorite items return for an encore: ice beam, wave beam, morph ball (which, when in use, shifts the came into a third-person perspective), grappling beam, and much more. Something new to the Metroid world are the various visors Samus uses to observe her surroundings. As the game's POV places you inside the power suit, you see the action through the visor. Energy display, missile count, map, and much more are displayed via a heads-up display (HUD). Various visors augment the HUD in different ways, such as the Scan Visor that can detect secrets and record knowledge on enemies, hazards, and other things. There's an X-ray Visor for finding secret passages, an Infrared Visor for seeing heat sources, and the trusty Combat Visor through which most of the game is seen.

The controls are quite innovative, with Samus's movement controlled by the Control Stick, weapons chosen with the C-stick, visors elected with the Control Pad, the X button activating the morph ball, the B button controlling the jump, and the A button shooting the blaster. The L button will either scan or lock on to enemies and items, while the R button is used for manual aiming. The Z button calls up the 3D map.

The game's primary developers, Retro Studios, have paid remarkable attention to detail. Surfaces and objects look simply amazing, and various environmental effects are all around. Look up during a rainstorm and water beads up on the visor. Running through a hot air blast causes the visor to fog up. During close-ups of Samus you can see her face through the visor, and often she'll blink or look around. Retro even enhanced and remixed some of the classic Metroid music samples, making old favorites sound new and improved.

Metroid Prime also as the ability to connect with its sister title Metroid Fusion for the Game Boy Advance. By completing Metroid Prime and connecting the two games with the Game Boy Advance Link Cable, players can access Samus Aran's new Fusion Suit from the GBA title. On the other hand, completing Metroid Fusion and connecting the two games unlocks the original Metroid game in all its 8-bit glory. The old game is completely playable on the GameCube and will save your progress to the memory card instead of handing out passwords. It should be noted that once these extras are unlocked it is not required to connect the two games again. Both extras are already on the Metroid Prime disc, it is merely the connection with the GBA that makes them available. For those of us without a Game Boy Advance, Retro threw in something else special: conceptual artwork from the making of the game. Just as some DVDs have scans of concept art, so does Metroid Prime in the form of sketches of characters and so forth. The art is locked away as a special feature and is unlocked as the player progresses through the game.

The game was released in Europe in March 2003 and featured a few tweaks and enhancements:

  • Defeated enemies don't drop as many power-ups as the US version; less ammo and energy
  • Stronger enemies: it takes more shots to eliminate certain enemies and their attacks are more powerful
  • Faster loss of energy when walking on acid or lava
  • Some doors now require multiple shots to open just like in Super Metroid
  • Hint system refined: it takes 10-15 minutes longer for hints to appear when players are stuck
  • Includes speech: English speech for the intro and voice output when scanning objects and adding them to the log. Also, a voice notifies players when doors are locked and unlocked and there is an added voice for the ending of the game

This game has sold over one million copies since its release and has therefore qualified for a place in Nintendo's Player's Choice program, meaning that the game's price has been reduced to a mere $29.95. At that price nobody should pass this one up. In my opinion Metroid Prime is one of the best games on the GameCube and I advise everyone to check it out.


References:
Playing the game
http://cube.ign.com
http://www.n-philes.com

Metroid Prime was developed by rookie Retro Studios (based in Texas), directed by the inimitable Shigeru Miyamoto and published by Nintendo. The game was released in the US for the GameCube on November 18, 2002. (The Japanese release was February 21, 2003 and the European release was March 21, 2003.) The game packaged in a DVD case with the system band at the top, the Metroid Prime title overlaid over the Screw Attack power-up (which has become something of a series logo; in this case a red circle and silver, angular "S"), which in turn is overlaid with a simple picture of Samus standing and looking impressive.

The Metroid Fusion GBA link features were added to the game so late in the development cycle that the game's manual only mentions that there are special features that can be unlocked by linking to Metroid Fusion, not what they are. Instead, there's an insert inside the case called "Confidential - Subject: Metroid", describing how to unlock Samus's Fusion suit and the playable original Metroid.

Gameplay aside, Metroid Prime has also been a continuing source of controversy.

The original controversy stems from 2000, as Nintendo was announcing their major titles for the GameCube. Nintendo announced an upcoming sequel in the long-absent (primarily due to the death of Gumpei Yoko) Metroid series, to be developed by newcomer Retro Studios, based in Texas. After the questionable history of American takes on famous Japanese series, fans were leery. Shortly, it came to light that Shigeru Miyamoto was directing the project, so early qualms were quieted.

Then came Space World and E3 2001, where Shigeru Miyamoto himself dropped a bombshell. After the original project was scrapped due to lackluster progress on the original project (and due to the fact that Nintendo was working on a 2-D Metroid in-house, as would later come to light) a new GameCube Metroid was announced, to be known as "Metroid Prime," and that, at Shigeru Miyamoto's insistance, it would be a first-person shooter.

Everyone went nuts.

At once, just about every flame war about game design reerupted. The 2-D vs. 3-D jihad was reawakened, as well as the "The classics shouldn't be so radically changed" vs. "Stagnant series grow tiresome," with console partisans muddying every debate, as always.

Filtering out the flames and long-standing, unresolved arguments, the big question seemed to be such. First-person shooters, with all of their merits, tend to be utterly terrible when actual exploring is required, especially when trying to leap platform to platform, a convention of nearly every other similar genre. Some games overcome this simply by making the payoff worth the tedium, and others simply forgo the exploration for constant combat. Metroid (particularly Super Metroid, considered by many to be the definitive game in the series) focuses heavily on exploration, with lots and lots and lots of platform jumping.

Many of these qualms were answered with the E3 2002 demo (later released on Nintendo's demo disk, sent to various stores for display use) which ably demonstrated that Retro Studios had gotten the jumping and exploration right. However, this demo drew fire from critics - of both the professional and armchair variety - for eschewing normal FPS dual-stick controls (one stick to move, one stick to look and aim) in favor of a hybrid auto-aim/lock-on system. (It's a bit ironic that, at different points in its development, the game caught fire for being too much like other FPS, then for not being enough like the other FPS. What difference a year makes.)

Well, the game finally made it to market, and wasn't available to the public for a day before another controversy erupted, this one a case of overzealous fans misinterpreting comments made by critics. A handful of critics (Gamespot in particular) compared Metroid Prime to Halo, in that it was the game to have for the GameCube, as Halo was the game to have for the Microsoft Xbox. Fanboys being fanboys, Metroid Prime's apples were endlessly being compared to Halo's oranges all over the internet. As with all stupid debates, this has since died down.

Despite initially positive critical and popular reception (nutjob fanboys notwithstanding), Metroid Prime has been a general disappointment as far as sales go, especially in Japan. While Prime was certainly a top-notch game, quality didn't turn into dollar signs (or Yen signs, for that matter). Perhaps because of this, Metroid Prime was one of the first four games to be chosen as part of Nintendo's "Buy a GameCube, get a game free" program, along with Luigi's Mansion, Resident Evil Zero, and Super Smash Brothers Melee.

Metroid (Zero Mission) || Metroid Prime || Metroid Prime 2: Echoes || Metroid II || Super Metroid || Metroid Fusion

Sources: Two years of Electronics Gaming Monthly, Game Informer, Gamespot, and general info from keeping my ear to the ground.

Part One :: Part Two

Evil waits below the surface...

Title: Metroid Prime
Developer: Retro Studios Inc.
Publisher: Nintendo
Date Published: 17/11/2002 (United States), 23/02/2003 (Japan), 21/03/2003 (UK/Europe)
Platforms: Nintendo GameCube
ESRB/ELSPA Rating: Teen/11+


Metroid Prime is one of the highest-profile games so far released for Nintendo's 128-bit GameCube home video game system and so it should come as no surprise to find that it's also one of the most accomplished games yet released on the current generation of games consoles. Billed as a 'First-Person Adventure' (FPA), Metroid Prime is an action-adventure game that for the most part utilises a first-person perspective, putting the player behind the image-enhancing visor of one of Nintendo's most compelling and enigmatic characters, the space bounty hunter Samus Aran. Although the game is viewed in the first person and involves a healthy amount of projectile-based combat, it is not a first-person shooter. The gameplay has several facets: combat, exploration, adventuring (puzzle solving and so forth), and platforming. The game offers players the chance to explore a lavishly-rendered alien world, unravel the story of the disaster that has befallen it, and put a stop to the machinations of the power-hungry alien interlopers known as the Space Pirates.

Prime Mover

As anyone with a passing interest in video games will be aware, Nintendo owes a great deal of its success to the cultivation and protection of its franchises - a portfolio of intellectual property with a durable, universal appeal. Recognisable characters like Mario and Pikachu help to put Nintendo hardware under televisions (and in schoolbags and briefcases), where the user base can be introduced to the latest exploits of their heroes, and a supporting cast of other bankable names, at (preferably) frequent intervals. With each new hardware generation (roughly every five years or so), many of these tried-and-trusted games are wheeled out again in the form of sequels. The artistic merit of this practice varies from franchise to franchise - some games are merely given a graphical lick of paint while the underlying mechanics remain untouched, whereas occasionally the new developments in technology open up a whole new direction for a series, resulting in a game that is unrecognisably advanced from its predecessor, and may even usher in a new genre. (The perfect example being Super Mario 64, a truly revolutionary game that represents Nintendo's top designer Shigeru Miyamoto and his team at the height of their creative powers.)

As yet, most of Nintendo's 'big guns' in their GameCube iterations (Super Mario Sunshine, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, Wave Race Blue Storm and Super Smash Bros. Mélee) have not strayed all that far from their Nintendo 64 forebears. Not so Metroid Prime. Unlike Mario and Zelda, the Metroid series had remained dormant for a full eight years before the release of Metroid Prime,1 which necessitated the game being designed from scratch to take advantage of contemporary technology. Surprisingly, the traditionally conservative Nintendo entrusted this delicate operation to a second-party developer: a newly-formed, Texas-based company called Retro Studios. It has since been revealed that Nintendo plan to farm out more of their franchises to increase the rate of releases for the GameCube - the next major titles to get this treatment will be F-Zero GX/F-Zero AX (GameCube and arcade variants respectively, being handled by Sega's Amusement Vision studio) and StarFox 2 (Namco).

Although Metroid Prime is the first project Retro Studios has worked on as a team, many of its key staff members have long histories in development, coming from companies including Blizzard, Acclaim, Id Software, Electronic Arts, LucasArts and (of course) Nintendo.

Heritage

The Metroid series2 always seemed somewhat at odds to the cartoonish, family-friendly vibe shared by most of Nintendo's popular franchises. The games have a brooding atmosphere heightened by Hip Tanaka's stark, synthetic-sounding musical score. The Metroid games are 'platform adventures'- instead of following a linear, unidirectional path through the game world, the player is able (and required) to explore the world non-linearly. The player can attempt to travel anywhere in the game world from the outset, with the game gently guiding their progress by throwing up obstacles that can only be negotiated when a specific item has been collected, bestowing the player with a new weapon or ability, for instance allowing them to traverse small tunnels (by curling up into a ball), reach high ledges, or open certain kinds of doors.

In each of the Metroid games, the player takes the role of a legendary cyborg Space Hunter named Samus Aran. This lone hero, permanently clad in an armoured space suit that bestowed superhuman abilities, was given the task of exploring an alien environment where guile and brute force had to be used to survive against remorseless, predatory creatures. Samus is employed by the Galactic Federation (a United Nations-style co-operative of inhabited worlds) to combat the threat of the Space Pirates, a brutal alien race who plunder colonies and ships to augment their already fearsome military technology.

Samus Aran was the child of human colonists on the planet K-2L. She was the sole survivor when the colony was attacked by Space Pirates (led by Ridley). An ancient race of birdlike aliens called the Chozo observed the destruction of the colony, and rescued Samus. Under the guidance of the Chozo, Samus trained to become a formidable warrior. She was infused with Chozo blood and cybernetic implants, and on reaching adulthood was equipped with the Power Suit- a distinctive armour fitted with an array of weapons and gadgets based on the Chozo's mysterious technology. Samus eventually left the Chozo's world and quickly earned a reputation as the greatest of the Space Hunters.

The Metroid are a species of predatory aliens from the planet SR-388. They resemble large, airborne, limbless jellyfish with a cluster of four nucleus-like red 'eyes' suspended in their bodies, and triangular toothlike protuberances sprouting from their undersides, which they use to latch onto hosts to feed on their life force. A single Metroid specimen, able to absorb or deflect weapon energy, grow to an enormous size and multiply rapidly, would quickly eradicate all life on a planet where it had no natural predators. In their most common form, the Metroids' only weakness is a hypersensitivity to low temperatures, allowing them to be frozen and shattered (or kept in cryogenic stasis) with the right equipment.

The Space Pirates discovered the Metroid population on SR-388 and took harvested Metroids to their base of operations on Zebes (a Chozo world they had previously conquered) for breeding as a weapon to use against their enemies. In the original Metroid game, Samus Aran infiltrated Zebes and eradicated both the Metroid and the Space Pirates (including their leaders Kraid, Ridley and the Mother Brain). At least three Space Pirate spaceships survived the fall of Zebes, and immediately began work on re-establishing their base of operations on the planet (the results of which would be seen in Super Metroid). One ship, a research vessel called Orpheon, was sent to find a planet with a massive energy source. Metroid Prime picks up the story as Samus tracks down the vessel at planet Tallon IV (fitting into the series chronology between Metroid and Metroid II).

The surprise revelation at the end of the first game (that Samus is a woman) may these days sound like a cheap gimmick, but viewed in context it can be seen as part of the series' oblique handling of more complex issues than the average platforming fare. How much can we know about Aran's motives if we are unaware of something so fundamental as her gender? Are Samus's employers (the "Galactic Federation") justified in seeking to eradicate the Metroid species, purely because the possibility exists for this instinctive predator to be exploited by an unscrupulous enemy? Is Aran - capable of single-handedly neutralising entire planets - all that different from the Metroid? Is it possible to concoct a spurious philosophical subtext out of even the most unassuming games?

Technological constraints limited Samus's previous adventures to a two-dimensional plane. (See malcster's Super Metroid maps to get some impression of how the games were structured.) Moving the series into three dimensions while retaining the feel and playing style of the previous games was clearly no mean feat, but Retro Studios have managed it convincingly. Although the increase in representational detail is vast (it's like comparing the battle scenes in the Bayeaux Tapestry to those in Braveheart - in both cases the best that can be achieved with the available technology), many aspects of the game - from enemies to Samus's abilities - will be familiar to fans of the series.

Prologue: Space Cruiser Orpheon

The game opens with Samus Aran boarding the Orpheon, in orbit around Tallon IV, to investigate the Space Pirate presence. She finds the ship in disarray, with most of the crew having abandoned it a few hours earlier. The Space Pirates appear to have been carrying out genetic experiments on indigenous fauna of Tallon IV, attempting, as usual, to mutate them into giant killing machines. As the player explores the ship they are taught the basics of controlling Samus and her suit, and are presented with many objects to scan using the scan visor, a viewing mode which highlights interesting features of the environment, allowing the player to lock onto them and view an illustrated text description. In the bowels of the ship, Samus fights one of the escaped test subjects (the Parasite Queen) that has been snacking on the Space Pirate crew.3 Having survived this encounter, Samus must then escape from the ship before it self-destructs (a race against the clock that provides a good opportunity to learn how to control the Morph Ball mode). During the escape, an explosion causes most of the Power Suit's systems to malfunction. Samus also sees a strange, dragon-like creature escaping from the Orpheon. She boards her waiting gunship and pursues the creature to the surface of Tallon IV. This is where the game begins proper.

The linear nature of this introductory section is successfully exploited by bombarding the player with highly atmospheric scripted events, using sensory overload to draw the player into the game and get them into the habit of actively observing (and scanning) their surroundings. The entire section can be played through in around twenty minutes. (It was also used as the basis of a time-limited playable demo of the game distributed by Nintendo in the weeks prior to the full game's release.)

On the surface

The Space Pirates have been drawn to Tallon IV by the energy readings emanating from the Impact Crater, a site where a huge meteor has impacted at some time in the past. By scanning wall carvings left by the Chozo as well as the data in Space Pirate computers during the course of the game, the player learns that the meteor brought a radioactive substance called Phazon to the planet, blighting the land and mutating the local wildlife. As the Phazon's effects spread, the Chozo eventually abandoned the planet, but before doing so sealed the Impact Crater in a stasis field (The Cradle) powered by a temple built on an island suspended above the crater. The Space Pirates have set about mining the Phazon and studying its effects on different materials, animals, captive Metroids, and even their own soldiers.

The object of the game is to explore Tallon IV, replacing the damaged systems in Samus's suit (as well as acquiring new weapons and abilities that have been left by the Chozo4), eradicating any Space Pirates and other hostiles, and ultimately destroying the source of the Phazon before the Space Pirates can harness it for their own ends. The adventure will take roughly 20-30 hours of gameplay to complete (depending on how thoroughly the player chooses to explore the world).


Power Suit

Samus's suit, the source of her powers, plays an important role in the game. If anyone has read this far without knowing what it looks like, I suggest they have a quick perusal of the URLs provided at the bottom of this writeup. In its basic form (metallic red, yellow and orange armour with green semi-transparent face visor and right forearm encased in a green beam cannon) it not only looks fantastic in dramatically choreographed cutscenes (think Flash Gordon meets Sentai and you're halfway there), but also provides life support for indefinite periods in the vacuum of space and underwater, allows falling from any height without injury and offers some limited resistance to weapons, corrosives, poisons and other forms of attack.

The suit itself can be upgraded through (at least) two increasingly powerful variants. The Varia Suit5 provides Samus with protection against extreme heat (and restores her shoulder-pads to their rightful size). The Gravity Suit allows Samus to venture underwater without her movement or range of vision being affected. Two accessories further enhance Samus's mobility: Space Jump Boots allow double jumping to clear wide gaps and scale tall platforms, as well as allowing faster dodging to the left and right while engaging enemies; the Grapple Beam6 allows Samus to swing across lava pits or to hard-to-reach outcrops, but only in places where special Grapple Points have been installed. Further upgrades expand the suit's capacity for storing the game's consumable resources: Energy Tanks each provide Samus with an additional 100 energy (health) points, Missile Expansions allow an additional five missiles to be carried, and Power Bomb Expansions allow for one additional Power Bomb to be stored.

Morph Ball

The most mysterious and versatile of the Power Suit's capabilities is the Morph Ball ability. Once this technology is acquired, at the press of a button Samus will curl into a foetal position and become encased in a large metal ball. The player can now control this ball, viewed from a third person chase camera, rolling it in any direction using the analogue stick. The ball is small enough to travel through many tunnels and pipes scattered around the game world. Some of these tunnels lead to morph ball courses, narrow obstacle-filled areas viewed side-on, in a style reminiscent of the 2D Metroid games. The morph ball also is used to activate morph ball slots (special switches) and spinner controls (which use the rotation of the ball to power some mechanical device, e.g. to winch open a floodgate or aim a mining laser).

The morph ball can be upgraded with several additional capabilities. Boost Ball allows the player to hold down the 'B' button to give the ball a burst of speed. This is useful for activating spinner controls, and also allows the morph ball to gain height on halfpipe structures in certain rooms, as well as of course aiding evasion of enemies. As Samus is still vulnerable to attack in morph ball mode, the Bomb upgrade bestows the ability to drop energy bombs when morphed. These bombs do not damage Samus, but can propel her a short distance into the air. These jumps can be 'chained' (bomb jumping) to reach high areas.7 Bombs can also be used to destroy certain obstacles blocking the path. Later in the game Power Bombs are acquired, which can only be carried in limited numbers and can kill all the enemies in a smallish radius, as well as being able to take care of more resilient obstacles.

The morph ball is enhanced still further with the Spider Ball ability. This allows the player to activate a powerful electromagnet inside the ball, allowing it to stick to special metal tracks that run up walls and across ceilings. Some of the more inventive puzzles in the game involve negotiating these tracks, avoiding hazards and generally defying gravity.

Visors

As the game is played from a first-person perspective, the display is shown from inside the suit's visor. In its default mode (Combat Visor) this provides an extremely comprehensive heads-up display including a threat radar, health meter (both for Samus and certain bosses), 3D minimap, hazard proximity indicator, targeting system (allowing the player to lock onto any target that enters their field of vision by pressing the left trigger), missile counter, compass, beam and visor selectors, and a directional damage indicator. The environment can also affect the visor in a whole host of graphically impressive ways, including ice crystals, condensation (when walking into a steam jet), water droplets (from rain and water splashes), water runoff and splatterings of bug guts, lava or poison. Electrical interference nearby can cause static to obscure the view and may temporarily make the HUD overlay drop out. Best of all, bright flashes of light cause Samus's animated face to reflect off of the inside of the visor. All of these visual cues add significantly to the sense of immersion.

Switching to the Scan Visor (briefly mentioned earlier) lowers Samus's beam cannon, leaving the player vulnerable as they scan items. It is worthwhile to call up the scan visor when encountering a new type of enemy for the first time, as the scan readout will often help determine the best strategy or weapon to use. Scanning also sometimes acts as a 'use' key, activating and deactivating machinery. Later in the game, the suit acquires two further visors. The Thermal Visor (which renders the player's view in a similar fashion to a heat-sensitive infrared camera) allows cloaked enemies and power conduits to be seen, as well as aiding navigation in pitch black areas. The X-Ray visor reveals illusory barriers and non-corporeal disturbances, although it only offers a limited range of visibility. These two visors render the environment in completely different ways to the normal view, making certain elements display distinctly while obscuring fine detail. Neither is based on a true simulation (of temperature or density, respectively), limiting their effective use to situations the developers have anticipated. (You can use them at any time, but don't expect to see brilliantly lifelike heat patterns, or the skeletons of animals.) Although on the positive side, they each have their own exotic HUD layouts and sound effects.

Interface

The suit's HUD also provides some utility functions, that pause the action while they are being used. At any time the player can access the Map view. This expands the wireframe minimap (in the top-right corner of the standard display) to full screen, and allows the player to view a three-dimensional map of the entire region, which can be panned, rotated, and zoomed in and out. Door colours and useful locations (such as save stations) are marked on the map. The location of the next compulsory objective is often marked on the map with a '?' symbol. It is also possible to zoom out to a view of all the regions in relation to each other, which is useful for planning the quickest route between two distant areas.

Pausing the game brings up a set of status screens providing additional information. The Inventory screen allows the player to view information about all of the suit upgrades and weapons that have been collected so far (as well as a running total of the percentage of items collected), and also to examine Samus's power suit and morph ball in 3D. The Logbook screen stores images and information collected with the Scan Visor, divided into five categories: Creatures (any potentially hostile living thing encountered), Pirate Data (records extracted from Space Pirate computers), Chozo Lore (documents left by the Chozo as wall carvings), Artifacts (information about the location of each Chozo Artifact, from the Artifact Temple), and Research (information about other objects in Samus's universe, from ammo pickups and useful devices to spacecraft and planets). The final status screen is the Options screen which allows adjustments to be made to the game's audio, video and controls.

Weapons

Finally we come to the suit's weapon systems. Although Metroid Prime resolutely isn't an FPS, combat situations still play an important and frequent role. Unlike most console FPS games, Metroid Prime does not require the player to manually guide a crosshair in the horizontal and vertical planes. If an enemy is in the player's line of sight and roughly on the same level of elevation, a targeting marker will hover over them. The player can then press the left trigger to lock on to that enemy, automatically centering the view on them. When locked on to an enemy, moving to the left and right will circle around that enemy. As a result, combat places more emphasis on dodging shots, weapon choice and shot timing than aiming accuracy.

The weapons are split into two categories: beam and missile. Beam attacks are instant and never running out of ammo, while missile-based attacks deplete Samus's missile reserve and generally have a delayed firing effect. All of these weapons are fired through Samus's Beam Cannon system, the firing mode of which can be selected with the 'C' stick. (The beam-selection pictograms show that the different modes are activated by Samus making different gestures with the fingers of her right hand - it is actually possible to see her hand making the gestures inside the beam cannon when using the x-ray visor.) Holding down the fire button while using any beam 'charges' the beam cannon, causing a more powerful shot to be fired when the button is released. While the cannon is charged, power up objects will be sucked towards it.

Samus starts out with the Power Beam, which fires yellow pellets of energy just as fast as the player can tap the 'A' button. Although it's the weakest of the beam weapons, it still comes in handy against certain enemies throughout the game.

Next to be acquired is the Wave Beam, a weapon based around electricity. Although it fires at a slower rate than the Power Beam, each shot is more powerful and has a moderate homing ability. The Wave Beam can also be used to activate power conduits and open purple colour-coded locked doors.

After that comes the Ice Beam. This fires chunks of ice at a much slower rate than the Power and Wave beams. The shots again do more damage, and (especially in the case of charged shots) can trap enemies in blocks of ice, giving Samus a few seconds to finish them off before they break free. It is particularly effective against enemies adapted to hot climates. It also opens white doors.

The final (documented) beam weapon, acquired quite late in the game, is the Plasma Beam. This fires huge searing bolts of liquid fire at enemies, burning weaker ones to a crisp instantly, and setting alight the armour of more resilient foes. Its shots do much more damage than any of the other beam weapons, making combat with most of the common varieties of enemy a walkover. It can also be used to open red doors and melt certain ice barriers.

For situations where an enemy must be taken out quickly, Samus is also equipped with missiles from the start of the game. These have a very slow firing rate but deal more damage than a shot from any of the beams. Initially Samus can only carry five missiles at a time, although each Missile Upgrade collected increases the maximum capacity by five (up to a possible maximum of 250). Missiles are also consumed when using the final class of weapons - Beam Combos.

There are four Beam Combo upgrade items in the game, one for each of the beam weapons. Once a Beam Combo power up is acquired, the player can then activate it by charging the relevant beam weapon, and with the fire button still held down, pressing the missile button. The super-powerful Beam Combo weapon will then begin firing, rapidly using up missile stocks until the player is out of missiles or releases the fire button. Super Missile (the Power Beam combo) simply fires a massively powerful missile with a large blast radius. Wavebuster (the Wave Beam combo) fires a Ghostbusters-style snaking particle beam which latches onto nearby enemies even if Samus's own targeting system cannot hold a lock on them. Ice Spreader (the... you get the idea) fires a huge ball of ice which shatters on impact, trapping all the enemies in a ten meter radius in a frigid blanket. The Flamethrower is pretty self explanatory, having a limited range (much like the Contra flamethrower) and not functioning at all underwater.

The arsenal in Metroid Prime affords the player a wide range of offensive options without overwhelming the control system. Each of the four beam types (with their increasingly powerful charged and combo shot variants) performs a role that complements the others. None of the weapons feel overpowered. The limited firing rate and homing capabilities of most of the weapons manage to recreate the feel of combat in the side-scrolling Metroid games. It could be argued that by modelling the weapons on the conventions of the platform shooter instead of the first-person shooter, some opportunities have been missed: with the exception of the plasma beam, none of the weapons have the satisfying feedback of (for instance) the shotgun in a traditional FPS. The auto-targeting system removes the need for a sniper rifle, or other weapon requiring a high degree of manual precision, and there are no 'heavier than air' projectile weapons such as grenade launchers. However the weapon system as it stands suits the style of the game well, and allows for interesting and controllable combat against everything from small insects to heavily armed artificially-intelligent Space Pirates to giant boss creatures.


Tallon IV

The world of Tallon IV has been realised as much more than just a set of orthagonal caves with different environmental themes. The five main regions, spanning several square miles (as well as a considerable subterranean depth), fit together into a cohesive whole, and although wildly varying in appearance and atmosphere, none of them feel out of place. The confines of the game world maintain the illusion that the player is occupying just the hospitable regions of a much larger geographical area, with a carefully considered history of artificial construction, geological activity and climate change. During the process of exploration, the player is able to glean a great deal of information about the world just by keeping their eyes open (with the aid of the occasional visor scan). In this respect the world is almost a 'character' in the game, in the tradition (although it pains me to say it) of Myst and Riven. Thankfully Tallon IV is a rather more lively place than Myst Island.

The game world is split into rooms (in the interactive fiction sense of the word - a 'room' might actually be an outdoor area, a cave, a courtyard, a forest clearing, or what-have-you) connected by hexagonal access doors (installed by the Space Pirates as a security measure) at their boundaries. Many doors need to be shot at to open them, some with a specific weapon (making some areas inaccessible until later in the game). This artificiality may sound backward and confining in theory, but is typical of Metroid Prime's unashamedly 'game-like' design sensibility, an acknowledgement that a game's primary purpose is to entertain, bucking the trend of unquestioning simulation (a trait is has in common with that other heir to a distinguished dynasty, Metal Gear Solid). The design is dictated by the priorities of the gameplay, too: a game such as Grand Theft Auto III manages to have huge, free-roaming open areas, but at the expense of close detail; Metroid Prime involves travelling and platforming on foot (from the first person), so a greater density of detail is more important than vast tracts of land. Although the game world is divided up into relatively small volumes of space, and it is never possible to see directly into adjacent rooms, the game counters the feeling of rooms being unconnected or walled in by allowing the player to see the surrounding landscape through windows and above walls and cliffs. For instance there are large towers in the Chozo Ruins and Phendrana Drifts regions that are visible from the surrounding area.

There are a number of gadgets that crop up in recognisable form all over the game world. Massive elevators are used to travel between the different regions of the world (and occasionally smaller ones are used to reach the upper floors of split-level rooms). These are activated by stepping into a holographic marker projected on their platform, providing one of the first 'Oooh!' moments in the game. In small alcoves and side-rooms, the player will find a number of types of station that will provide some useful service to them. The most common being Save Stations which (obviously) allow the game to be saved8 as well as replenishing energy. Map Stations (which provide a greyed-out map of the whole of the region) and Missile Stations (which replenish all of Samus's missiles in one go) are less common.

Metroid Prime doesn't feature any mechanical switches, levers or buttons. Instead, machines can be activated and special doors opened by scanning computer terminals, or sometimes, by scanning sets of runic symbols that are usually hidden around large rooms. Once the thermal visor is acquired, some events are triggered by using it to find power conduits (invisible to the naked eye) and activating them with the Wave Beam. When progress isn't blocked by colour-coded doors, button puzzles or suit limitations, it is sometimes blocked by fallen rocks, metal shielding or other physical barriers. In these cases, a scan will reveal the chemical composition of the barrier, which will usually be susceptible to a certain type of powerful attack (e.g. Super Missile, Power Bomb, or Plasma Beam). Samus can also (once properly equipped) use the previously-mentioned tunnels, Spider Ball tracks, half-pipes and grapple points to get around, as well as some other surprises.

On a larger scale, the game world is split into six regions joined by elevators: the Tallon Overworld, the Chozo Ruins, Magmoor Caverns, Phendrana Drifts, the Phazon Mines and (once the Cradle has been unlocked) the Impact Crater.9 The mines, caverns and overworld are located around the rim of the Impact Crater (and in each there is one location which gives a good view of this massive basin with the temple rock suspended in space above it). The frigid Phendrana Drifts and the arid Chozo Ruins are on opposite sides of the crater.

Tallon Overworld

The region of the planet where Samus initially sets foot is a wet, craggy, largely unspoilt wilderness not unlike parts of the Lake District. Oppressive banks of cloud blot out the sun and shower the open areas with a constant drizzle. Waterfalls trickle down the steep valley sides and feed the pools and mountain streams. Rainforest trees and thick networks of vines have grown around and through the rocks. Ferns choke the entrances of dusty caves. The few hostiles here are mainly animate plants and small indigenous creatures (some of which will be familiar to players of previous Metroid games). There is nothing particularly life-threatening in this region, making it a useful place to experiment with the suit's capabilities and a convenient hub allowing fairly quick, unhindered travel between most of the other regions.

Two notable locations lie within the Overworld area. The first is the Artifact Temple, the structure the Chozo built above the Impact Crater to seal the stasis field below. The temple has been made accessible from the rim of the crater by a bridge constructed by the Space Pirates. The totem statues within the temple courtyard are activated by Samus's presence, eventually allowing her to 'prove' her suitability to access the Impact Crater (although to say any more would be going into spoiler territory).

The other notable location is the Orpheon. It turns out that the Space Pirate vessel from the introductory sequence didn't self-destruct, but fell out of orbit and has crashed into a lake near to where Samus landed. A little later in the game the player gets to explore the submerged wreck. The rooms of the ship, now mangled and tilted to weird angles, become an imaginative platforming assault course and one of the most visually striking and atmospheric locations in the game.

The Overworld area is not as large as some of the other regions, and feels quite rigidly divided up into the discrete areas described above. It does a good job of setting the mood for the rest of the game. The wilderness areas feel suitably organic, although the real virtuoso 3D modelling work is more apparent in the Chozo Ruins and other regions. Oddly, one of the worst looking rooms in the game is the very first one the player is presented with (the Landing Site) which uses rather featureless textures and a worryingly low polycount - bordering on Nintendo 64 quality. It might be giving the developers too much credit to suggest that the comparative weakness of this one room is intended as misdirection...

Chozo Ruins

The next region Samus gains access to is the abandoned ruins of the Chozo walled city, located in a desert valley. Although the sandstone walls are scarred with erosion and shattered by meteor debris, much of the settlement's architecture and automated systems remain intact. Each of the rooms in the ruins is named after its original purpose (Nursery, Great Hall, Training Grounds), heightening the impression that the player is exploring an ancient site that at one time housed a functional community. Chozo wall carvings give some insight into their philosophy regarding the construction of the settlement:
"Our home here on Tallon IV will be a place of simplicity: structures hewn from the stone, bridges woven with branches, hallways caressed by pure waters. We build around the ancient and noble trees, drawing from their strength and giving them our own in return. All that is wild will flow around us here: our race will be just one more group of creatures in the knit of nature. It is our hope that such a state will bring with it great wisdom, a greater understanding of the nature of the universe."

This design philosophy is realised in spectacular fashion in the halls and courtyards of the settlement. The "bridges woven with branches" are typical of the intricate and aesthetically pleasing 3D modelling that is used most effectively in this region. Every room has some organic component. Sun-blackened branches snake down through collapsed roofs (with stray shots dislodging a confetti of flat red leaves). Processions of scarab beetles pour from cracks in one wall, flowing over surfaces before disappearing into a crack in the opposite wall. Mechanised sentry systems incorporate overhanging networks of wasp nests, rousing their occupants to attack unwary intruders. The most impressive example of integration with nature is the Arboretum, a huge domed tower built around a tall tree, with a spiral staircase of platforms suspended from its limbs, and its upper branches guided through holes in the walls and ceiling (decorated with Islamic-style geometric pattern mosaics), like an application of bonsai techniques on a non-traditional specimen.

Hidden away in some obscure corners of the ruins there is evidence of the Chozo's true level of technological prowess. Electrically-powered systems still function, powered by huge solar collectors. Morph ball tunnels and spider ball tracks are commonplace. In one small side chamber the floor tiles have come loose to reveal the bare stone slabs underneath - and the tarnished metal underlying that. And of course, creating a verdant oasis in the desert obviously entails some heavy duty hydrological work.

As with the other regions, the Chozo Ruins are not explored in a contiguous, linear fashion. During Samus's first excursions into the area, she finds the water table has been polluted by a plant-like creature (Flaahgra), a product of Phazon mutation. Later visits reveal better-preserved chambers and temples, where Samus can find several useful items of Chozo technology and many more documentary records. These areas are guarded by hostile manifestations that, when encountered, give some idea of the final straw10 that caused the Chozo to finally abandon their dying paradise.

Magmoor Caverns

Compared to the varied landmarks of the Overworld and the sprawling yet consistent architecture of the Ruins, the Magmoor Caverns region is something of a disappointment. The network of volcanic caves is very much the traditional video game 'Lava World': enclosed chambers with pools, pits and streams of lava at ground level that the player must negotiate. Furthermore, the bulk of the rooms in this region are arranged end to end, forming a linear route (the 'Burning Trail') between the elevator shafts to the other regions dotted along its length.

Although there is less exploration to be done in this region, there are still a fair few puzzles and obstacles built into the larger caves, most of which involve Samus's Morph Ball and Spider Ball capabilities. For the most part the Caverns are fairly visually uninteresting. The wall textures are mostly dark and featureless, and the ever-present lava doesn't look particularly convincing. (Although it's rendered with a dynamically rippling surface, the flat lighting makes this effect difficult to spot.) The graphical highlight has to be the striking use of polygons with very sharply defined edges to sculpt rock formations. Purely using geometry (with neutral textures) without either trying to 'hide' polygon edges or using deeply shadowed textures to give the illusion of uneven surfaces, gives the cave walls and speleothems a satisfyingly chunky, crystalline appearance.

Phendrana Drifts

Sticking with the elemental theme, the high-altitude Phendrana Drifts region is Metroid Prime's 'Ice World'. The region features a network of valleys and crevasses above the snow line, dotted with Chozo temples and out-buildings. The region is visually very polished, with the emphasis leaning more toward eye-catching environmental effects than intricate modelling. Ice, snow, rock and jellid water are all rendered with technical flair. There is a tendency towards larger open areas, showing off the neat snowfall effect and the game's unimpeded draw distance, and providing space for more challenging platforming.

Early excursions into the Phendrana region involve frequent combat against formidable enemies (the Sheegoth creatures that hunt here being Tallon's leading natural predators). Once Samus acquires more powerful weaponry combat becomes less of an issue and the player can concentrate more on exploration. There are at least two major boss encounters to contend with as well. The Space Pirates have a greater presence in this region also, having established a laboratory complex where they can study Metroids which are sedated by the low temperatures. It is here that Samus obtains the Thermal Visor, and it is immediately put to use - as the Space Pirates cut the power, plunging the labs into total darkness. Having to backtrack through this area in heat-vision, with Metroids loose from their holding tanks, is tense to say the least.

The final parts of the Phendrana region involves a small network of tall-ceilinged ice caves, the lower parts of which are underwater. This area offers up a large number of secrets for attentive players proficient with the scan visor and grapple beam.

Phazon Mines

The Phazon Mines region doesn't fit in with any convenient video games cliché, apart from perhaps the 'enemy base'. Virtually all of this region is taken up by the Space Pirates' most heavily-guarded installation. Their headquarters spans three underground levels built over the richest Phazon seam snaking from the Impact Crater. As well as a mining operation stockpiling Phazon to be processed, the complex contains the Space Pirates' most secret military experiments, where they have infused their own kind with Phazon to mutate them into Elite Pirates. Even the standard foot soldiers patrolling the mines have been upgraded (with weapon systems based on - but inferior to - Samus's own beam cannon). Whereas previous Space Pirate encounters have consisted of little more than ineffectual guards and kamikaze flying units, within the mines it is driven home to the player that these are not bumbling, Masters of the Universe villains. They are evil, determined, and not planning on letting Samus waltz into their home without a fight.

The mines are tackled in a fairly linear fashion. By this point, Samus has acquired the bulk of her armaments so they are all put to use. The difficulty is increased by a number of factors: save stations are few and far between, typically requiring an area boss to be beaten before they can be reached; most of the combat is against multiple, fast-moving enemies, taxing the (single-target oriented) control system; Metroids, raw phazon, invisible platforms, and security turrets further complicate matters. However, once (or if) the player comes out the other side, they will have neutralised all of the Space Pirates' secret weapons. Except one...

Impact Crater

The final area of the game is accessible only after all of the other regions have been completed. Without wishing to give too much away, it is suffice to say that the interior of the crater is a small area, almost entirely given over to the final battle with the entity that is the source of the Phazon. Visually the region is quite hard to describe (spoilers or no), the extremely bizarre, organic look bringing to mind the Xen levels of Half-Life. One of the recurring complaints heard about Metroid Prime (of which more is said below) is that the platforming section in the Impact Crater is too difficult. It isn't, once you know how it's done.


Things to (Un)make and do

Progress on Tallon IV is made through the completion of a large number of discrete tasks of varying levels of importance and difficulty, with successful completion of a given task increasing to some degree Samus's ability to attempt later tasks. The most important tasks are arranged in a roughly linear sequence, affording access to new areas of the world in a piecemeal fashion, and ensuring that watershed events in the game are triggered at the appropriate time. The optional tasks in the game (which usually yield non-unique suit upgrades - most commonly Missile Expansions and Energy Tanks - as well as unique logbook entries) can be ignored if the player values rapid progress above all else, but offer two incentives: each additional 'capacity' upgrade increases the chance of survival in combat, and completing the game with 75% or 100% of the items rewards the player with different endings. Acquiring 100% of all the Logbook information (by successfully locating and scanning every piece of Pirate and Chozo data and every type of enemy in the game) is also rewarded.11 The logbook gives the game a sticker album collection element, extending its longevity for players who want an additional challenge.

Enemies

According to the logbook, there are 80 discrete types of enemy in the game. This includes around a dozen unique bosses, a dozen types of Space Pirate troops, a handful of Metroid breeds, with the rest of the slots being take up by indigenous Tallon IV lifeforms (insects, plants, reptiles, fish) - of which some look similar but act differently (for instance Shriekbats and Beetles each have an arctic variant), and some look different but have the same essential purpose (for instance Scarabs, Lumigeks and Tallon Crabs are all 'nuisance' swarming creatures).

Apart from the obvious (Metroids and Space Pirates), a number of enemies may be familiar to players to previous Metroid games. Zoomers, Geemers, Bombus and Shriekbats have all received an appropriate graphical makeover, but retain their basic forms of attack from their two-dimensional incarnations. Some creatures serve a useful purpose: firefly-like Plazmites can be used as a light source if they are not agitated; clam-like, lava-dwelling Puddle Spores can be flipped over and used as stepping stones; Samus can 'ride' the floating Glider creatures using the grapple beam. A couple of enemies (such as the Stone Toad) will only attack Samus when she is in morph ball form (on the rationale that they will avoid picking a fight with anything larger than themselves).

Scanning enemies often reveals a weakness that can be exploited, for instance vulnerability to a certain type of weapon, or part of the body that is not as heavily shielded. Some enemies (apart from bosses) only ever appear in one location, so it is generally a good idea to scan new discoveries on first contact before engaging in combat.

Bosses

Boss battles in Metroid Prime involve Samus squaring off against a single, unique enemy. For most of the time in a boss battle (with a couple of exceptions), Samus will be permanently locked onto the enemy, with movement mainly consisting of jumping and diving to the left and right to avoid attacks and get a clear shot. Sometimes the first encounter with a particularly strong species of native creature is presented as a boss battle (for instance the Plated Beetle or the adult Sheegoth), although later encounters with this type of enemy will be much less threatening due to Samus's increased weapon capabilities. The major bosses are a varied bunch, including a giant plant, a Phazon-powered golem, several Space Pirate 'super soldiers', and Samus's old nemesis, Meta Ridley (no relation to eminent biologist Matt Ridley).

Some bosses can only be damaged when their defences have been lowered in some fashion (for instance they are 'out of breath', cut off from their source of energy, or have part of their armour destroyed). The majority have several forms of attack at their disposal, with attacks becoming more frequent and powerful (out of desperation) as their health is whittled away. Some frustrate Samus's efforts by disrupting her targeting lock, stunning or freezing her (to prevent firing or movement for a few moments), or unleashing henchmen to distract and hinder her while they gather their strength for a fresh attack.

Later bosses in the game make great demands on the player's reflexes and skill. It's not unusual for the senior bosses to take several attempts to kill. The first time through is spent figuring out how and when to attack, and learning the warning signs that indicate what the boss is going to do next, and subsequent attempts are used to perfect the execution.

Puzzles

Not all of the tasks Samus is confronted with revolve around combat. Frequently objectives will require the player guiding Samus from point A to point B in a given room, where the route (or even the presence of a point 'B') is not immediately obvious. Puzzles are generally built from the set of interactive scenery elements described earlier - morph ball tunnels, half-pipes, spider ball tracks, moving platforms, grapple points, destructible barriers and spinner controls. Most require an element of planning and experimentation (to figure out what Samus needs to be doing) as well as some manual dexterity (to avoid hazards such as flames, force fields, enemies, and prevent Samus falling off platforms and narrow walkways). Several involve exploiting environmental conditions (for instance the morph ball's buoyancy underwater, or using the plasma beam to melt ice barriers).

There are some puzzles and secrets dotted around the world that rely on observation. Raindrops 'splashing' in midair might signal the presence of a cloaked platform. The thermal visor can reveal the heat signatures of the engines of these platforms, as well those of as concealed doors. Thick vines, piled rocks or crates might conceal a hidden alcove or tunnel. A large number of the non-essential items (Missile Expansions, etc.) are hidden in this way. A subtle sound effect can alert the wary player that an item is hidden nearby.

The Logbook

In addition to providing the player with useful hints and acting as a collectible element, Samus's logbook is also used as the main delivery mechanism for the game's narrative. By reading the documents left scattered around by the Space Pirates and the Chozo, it is possible for the player to piece together a fairly detailed account of the events that have occurred prior to Samus's arrival on Tallon IV.12 The Chozo Lore explains how the arrival of the Phazon meteor has changed conditions on the planet, and how they have been able to temporarily contain the evil. They also hint at their growing powers of prediction (including foreseeing the coming of the Hatchling) and their eventual fate. The Space Pirate Data gives a detailed account of the properties of Phazon and its effects in the pirates' experiments, as well as revealing their growing concern over Samus's intrusion (Samus is referred to as The Hunter, a Red Baron-like figure who the Space Pirates regard with a mixture of fear and respect). The Space Pirates are unable to decipher the Chozo text themselves, and consider the relics of their civilisation to be of no value.

Bonus Materials

To tie the game in with Metroid Fusion (its Game Boy Advance sister title), Nintendo added some bonus features to the Metroid Prime that require the two games to be connected (via a Link Cable) to unlock.13 These features were added late in the game's development, as suggested by the fact that they were not mentioned in the manual on the game's initial US release.

The first bonus feature allows you to play the original Metroid (the 1986 NES game) on your GameCube, conveniently allowing save games to be stored to the memory card (so no more entering lengthy passwords). The other bonus feature is the ability to use the Fusion Suit from Metroid Fusion in Metroid Prime. This does not provide any new abilities, it is purely an aesthetic difference.

Along with the aforementioned Bonus Galleries, those are all the bonus features provided (although taken as a whole they do offer a substantial amount of value). It would have been nice to have had a sound test feature or some behind the scenes video footage (as provided to great effect in Rogue Leader: Rogue Squadron II).


Continue to Part Two

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