Allen explains his love for Metroid Prime. It's a love story for the ages.
With the announcement of Metroid Prime 4 today, I felt compelled to discuss my favorite video game of all time, Metroid Prime. Surprisingly, I’ve had trouble finishing this article (I started outlining it weeks ago) because it’s difficult to put into words what made that game so great. Superior game design, amazing music, an interesting backstory, and remarkable details all are worth mentioning, and I could honestly spend an entire article writing about each one of these. Nevertheless, the true strength of Metroid Prime lies in how it completely immerses the player in the role of Samus.
Metroid Prime distinguished itself from its predecessors by switching to a first-person perspective, a move that enhanced the game’s immersion. Placing the player inside the suit meant that we would see through the eyes of Samus, subconsciously creating a link between the player and the character they were controlling. In addition, the perspective shift forced players to be mindful of their movement, especially during platforming sections. Using a unique control scheme that relied heavily on a lock-on ability, Metroid Prime’s combat segments felt more frenetic as enemy damage would not only deplete health, it would also affect the player’s vision and tactical awareness. Long-time fans may have been critical of this perspective shift at first, but after playing the game, it’s easy to see why Retro Studios made this choice.
From the moment I stepped onto Tallon IV, composers Kenji Yamamoto and Kouichi Kyuma transported me to another world with an incredible, alien atmosphere unlike anything I had ever experience before. Each area of Metroid Prime had a distinct flavor, perfectly complemented by the soundtrack. Tracks like Tallon Overworld and Phendrana Drifts invited players to wander until their heart's content, exploring every nook and cranny, while tracks like Magmoor Caverns and the Space Pirates themes put players on edge with a menacing, brooding soundscape. When I first played the game, I didn’t realize that many of the tracks were re-arrangements from previous Metroid titles, but that doesn't detract from their quality. Kenji Yamamoto and Kouichi Kyuma created a soundtrack so compelling and immersive that I eventually pursued music composition in order to replicate a similar sound.
While I enjoy video games with rich lore and lengthy narratives, Metroid Prime benefited from a barebones approach to storytelling. A handful of cutscenes scattered through the game tell you all that you need to know about this lone bounty hunter and her plight. Using a scanning visor, the player searches for clues about the planet, and the experiments being performed by the Space Pirates. These clues come in the form of encrypted pirate data, Chozo lore, and creature info. The creature info mainly helps players exploit enemy weak points, but the pirate data and Chozo unveil a deeper plot. It’s the type of narrative that’s only possible with an interactive medium.
The first-person perspective, the music, and the narrative all create a sense of isolation and vulnerability for the player. The game developers took this a step further by disabling certain systems at the beginning of Metroid Prime. As the player collects each suit or weapon upgrade, a sense of empowerment grows. By the time the player reaches the final boss, they've experienced a character arc of sorts and feel fully actualized. Unlike the sense of vulnerability, the sense of isolation continues throughout the game as there are no friendly NPCs, and the only other lifeforms on the planet generally want to kill or maim you. I would argue that the sense of isolation is Metroid Prime's greatest strength and strongest tool for creating immersion.
Aside from the solid core game design, small details shine throughout Metroid Prime, elevating the experience from great to unprecedented. Raindrops speckle your visor when you first land on Tallon IV. Samus’s face temporarily appears when you fire a charged power beam. You see your arm when the X-ray visor is equipped. When these small details combine with the larger game mechanics, the immersion is frankly overwhelming. Stepping into Phendrana Drifts for the first time, I held my breath as I watched snowflakes lazily drifting, followed strange creatures circling in the distance, and absorbed the entrancing background music. In that moment, I forgot that I was playing a video game and became an intergalactic bounty hunter named Samus. Is it any wonder that I'm counting down the days until Metroid Prime 4 arrives?
Hailing from Baltimore, Maryland, Allen Brasch is an aspiring writer who loves good science fiction, fantasy, and horror. When Allen's not writing or gaming, he's talking about all things geeky on his podcast, Devil May Play.