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Ah, 2002. The new millennium still fresh, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man hasn’t sucked yet…er…the death of Joseph Luns, Fifth Secretary General of NATO, thanks to Wikipedia. And, of course, that year saw Metroid Prime appear on the Gamecube, the first full 3D game in Nintendo’s classic, atmospheric sci-fi franchise, so named because it was about a Metroid divisible only by itself and one. A space lady who kicks ass, that is, in armor that magically appears around her body, which is a good thing because she has a gun for an arm and that would make shoelaces really hard to tie. Ah fuck it, that’s an intro. Recently remastered for Switch, Metroid Prime is finally rescued from the graveyard of classic games that were only playable on consoles four generations ago and only venture from dusty attics when a birthday present for a massive curmudgeon’s nephew is needed. You know, I captured some shit for a podcast a couple of weeks ago where I basically called Metroid Prime Remastered just a visual upgrade. “How dare you!” cried the Nintendo fans. “It’s more than that! They completely overhauled the textures, the models, and the animations!” And then we held eye contact for a few seconds while I waited to see if they were actually going to analyze the words they had spoken.
No really, it’s just a visual refresher, fuck you. Okay, well, they fixed the controls, but what was that, one morning’s work? You see, the original game existed in the earliest days of console FPS when there were few established best practices for such things, so Retro Studios gritted their teeth, took the bull by the horns and screwed it up completely. Fortunately, the remastered version adds the ability to use one analog stick for movement and one for aiming, rather than the original setup where you only had one stick and if you ever had to do anything more complex than fixate on one guy and bouncing around him then your hands would both break off spontaneously. But the remaster has the ability to switch back to the original one-stick controls if you’ve just accidentally felt your boss in a crowded elevator and now have a confused grudge against your own wrists. So everyone is happy. We call this new version Metroid Prime and the original Gamecube version can be Metroid Subprime hehehe. I’m surprised I never retro-reviewed Metroid Prime, it’s – for lack of a better word – a prime candidate for one as it was one of the few games I played the shit out of in the pre-game critics poverty phase my life and his studio even have the word “retro” in their name.
Good thing I didn’t though, because this remaster has given it a stimulating injection of relevance. So the plot is that space bounty hunter Samus Aran finds a space pirate ship parked on a red line and her attempt to stick a ticket on the windshield ends with her shooting everyone and it crash landing on a planet what as an attempt at de-escalation by law enforcement, it involves an above-average result. Anyway, she shows up on the planet to finish off the survivors, realizing that it’s a lonely atmospheric world full of hostile lifeforms that has some ruins, a lava world, an ice world, and a tech base, and then she clicks them on heels with joy because this is her favorite planet. And so ensues another odyssey of exploration, gathering gear, and introducing large squishy monsters into the inside of their own chest cavities. Though not so much of the last thing. Perhaps the original developers were hoping that the 3D visuals would blow our socks off so much that we’d be too busy salvaging them to notice that Metroid’s signature gargantuan monster boss fights fare poorly. Especially early.
Two of the boss fights in the first area of the game are just “disable a machine while being bothered by wasps”. The big centerpiece boss in the midgame is a pile of rocks. Feels more like landscape gardening than monster hunting at this point. Combat is still probably the worst part of Metroid Prime’s core experience. Against anything but the diminutive party favorites who die in one hit, the simple shot feels about as effective as blowing kisses, but the charge shot feels like it lasts so long in the heat of the moment I worry I should have offered my gun an epidural first. And you’ll have plenty of time to contemplate these adorable images, because monsters respawn every time you come back through a room. And they’re not like Castlevania skeletons always hanging around unassumingly like an introvert roommate in an apartment with a very sticky couch, Metroid Prime enemies are all squeamish little pick-mes that insist, every damn time with elaborate screeches and animations to show up. On that note, fuck chozo ghosts. Among connoisseurs you will not find a more universally applicable sentence than perhaps “cake tastes good”.
And you can’t avoid going back, because that was in the good old days when we didn’t have fancy modern luxuries like fast travel. I can’t speak for the new players, but I have a strong feeling that many of them will be put off by their lack of convenience features we’ve grown accustomed to, like permanently highlighted objective markers or grappling hooks that you get before playing two -Third mark and that can be used in more than about five places. No, if you get to the bottom of the Phazon mines and fully understandably discover that you don’t have the first shoelace-shy clue of where to go next, and the space pirates haven’t invested in a lot of signage, you’ll have to stumble around ten minutes before the Game is finally unearthed and a goal marker set, always with an air of condescension. “Oh, I’m so sorry you didn’t manage to exit the entire mine complex and go to the temple in the starting area, which has been accessible since you unlocked missiles but is only relevant now. Let me take you by the hand and walk you through the map screen so you know exactly where it is. Can you handle that from here, or do you want us to call you a magic carpet?” Maybe they should have kept the original controls, it would have had that “we hate you and want you to piss off and die” vibe harmonises.
That’s kind of my point. It’s the atmosphere that is Metroid Prime’s main strength. It’s a classic because it absolutely captures the atmosphere. From the vivid environments, to the immersive weapon effects, and the grim, oppressive soundtrack, to the core gameplay elements of exploring, fighting, re-exploring, and fighting again sixteen or seventeen times on your way to finding all those damn artifacts, it all flows into this game a constant sense of a world that wants you to fuck off and die. And that’s how we liked it then, which probably says a lot about post-9/11 mental health standards. If the remastering adds anything other than wiser controls and buffed textures that you kind of don’t notice anymore when you’re in the Phazon mines and it’s all drab gunmetal and questionably necessary piping, well I saved that for last because I could than ever go insane, but I swear the enemy AI was acting weird in a way they weren’t used to. I’ve seen a Metroid take an intense interest in an unadorned wall for an alarmingly long time. And every time I walked into a room full of melee pirates, they’d all immediately run upstairs and try to back me into a corner in a way that didn’t feel right, unless they really wanted Samus to have their argument about it settled who had the best nipple piercings.