Part One :: Part Two
Evil waits below the surface...
Title: Metroid Prime
Developer: Retro Studios Inc.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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...
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
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.
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.
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.
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...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
Continue to Part Two