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The Ten: Updated Wednesdays-Fridays-Sundays

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Creepy Title Screens! Or, let's talk about the Metroid Prime trilogy...

Add title music, and you'll get what I'm saying.

Yeah, so I like Metroid a lot. The style of exploration that it popularized was super awesome and hard-as-nails. Seriously, the first Metroid is TOUGH. However, when Nintendo got to the 3D age, they were at a loss with what they should do with Samus Aran. Indeed, creating a 3D Metroid title would be pretty tough, but no more difficult than creating a 3D Zelda. Then again, Samus' main weapon, the beam cannon, would need to be designed well in a 3D environment to work.

Luckily, a solution was reached. Upon entering the fine era of gaming where the GameCube roamed the earth, Nintendo paired up with Retro Studios to create Metroid Prime, an epic first-person-shooter iteration of the story of Samus. And it was great.

Keep in mind, there was some debate as to whether or not Prime would be a good title. Turning Samus into a FPS was indeed risky, but the formula that Retro created was so freaking impressive that you couldn't help but love the game. It mixed a sort of elemental system with a massive open world that gradually became bigger as you acquired more powerups, plus one of the most deep logbook systems in any came that had been seen before- or since. Let me break it down for you:

In Metroid Prime, Samus discovers a Space Pirate frigate that has had its fair share of tearing up, due to experiments with a highly volatile mutagen called Phazon, though you don't discover that immediately. Recurring antagonist Ridley shows up and rocks Samus pretty hard, causing her to lose all of her trusted powerups and start back at square one while she touches down on Tallon IV to figure out the origin of Phazon and the mystery behind Metroid Prime. Yeah, the game's name actually has a meaning.

Metroid Prime is a series that became a little more streamlined in each iteration, though that sort of depends on your idea of streamlined. The original, and by far the best of the series is extremely isolationist- plot points are picked up based on the player's own curiosity and desire to scan their surrounding environment- there are very few cutscenes and no other NPCs to talk with- it's just Samus Aran on the lonely Tallon IV, which creates this absolutely wonderful feeling of isolation and tension. The weapon system is much broader in the first game, as well, with four different types of weapons that all have unlockable super modes. Metroid Prime is a lovely game with brilliantly crafted environments- the graphics are just downright pretty, and effects such as rain, snow, lava, and more are wonderful. Especially nice is the sometimes surprising reflection of Samus' face in the HUD when bright lights go off in front of her.

Metroid Prime 2: Echoes is a trickier beast. A mechanic of Light and Dark is introduced, with the world being split into two dimensions that Samus must explore. The Dark world is poisonous and damages Samus steadily, while she must face down inter-dimensional dark beasts in the Light world, as well. Overall, there's more plot going on here, with quite a few more cutscenes and the establishment of a interplanetary police force that treats Samus like she's a myth. Space Pirates return, as crafty as ever, but new races are introduced as well. The world of Aether is drastically different from that of Tallon IV, and the impressive art direction shows this. Metroid Prime returns as well, which adds to the mystery!

But Prime 2 also has a couple of weird things going on with it. The introduction of an ammo system for the alternate weapons makes things quite different, and the game's difficulty seems to have picked up where the first game left off. In other words, it can be REEEEEEALLY hard. Boss battles, especially those in the Dark world, can be very tough because of the poisonous atmosphere. But the game's core mechanics still work very well, and the design and story are on par, if not higher in level, than the original.

Prime 3 was the last of the series, and is the most different in terms of design. The controls were altered a bit, and the powerups layer rather than being alternate. Of course, being the only of the three to be released on the Wii, it has to have some stark changes. A number of different planets, rather than regions, can be accessed, and motion controls are implemented in a number of puzzles and simple mechanics that just increase the immersion of the game. From turning locks to ripping off shields with grapple beams, there's plenty to move in the game, and the motion controls are very clean, though it can be tough to turn around at times. Still, there's exploration and secrets abound, and the plot is even tighter than the previous two games combined. It's a nice way to round out the series.

Consecutively, the three games were a solid formula that improved and innovated with each iteration. It was a fun run, and you knew exactly what to expect from each game- locking on, exploring, scanning... the logbook function of the game was truly its strongest point, though. The content created for each scan is absolutely astounding, with species names, weak points, and other trivial bits, as well as lore to read that explained the deep history of the planets visited. If you want to play a game that just has so much hard work put into it, I highly recommend the Metroid Prime series. It's a marvel of design, detail, gameplay, and story.

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