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.

Playing the game