An Ode to Metroid Prime: My Favourite Game of All Time

It’s a hell of a thing, you know. Labelling something as “your favourite” or “the greatest of all time”. Sure, some people can do it. But me? Not so much.

If you were to ask me to name my favourite movie of all time, I honestly don’t know what I would tell you. Yeah, I can name a few that would definitely be in my overall group of favourites, but to name the single piece of celluloid that stands head and shoulders above all others? No sir, I don’t believe I can do that. Same goes for favourite book, favourite TV show, favourite food, whatever. I could probably narrow it down a bit, but to choose just one? That’s tough.

Metroid Prime ... best game ever played.

Metroid Prime ... best game ever played.

My favourite video game, however … now there’s something I might be able do. Yes, I can definitively state that in my heart of hearts, Metroid Prime (released for the Nintendo GameCube in November 2002) is my favourite game of all time. And here’s why:

For starters, it was the game that I bought a GameCube for. A loyal acolyte of the Big N since I was a  wee lad, I had actually waited and hesitated to pick up a ‘Cube, not sure if the system would deliver the goods. But when the exceptionally positive reviews came rolling in for Metroid Prime, I could wait no longer. A year after the system was released, I simply had to buy the damn thing and play this game.

The thing is, the game could have been — and probably should have been — absolute shit.

Everybody was rather skeptical (and with good reason) about how a first-person Metroid would actually turn out. Sure, Mario and Zelda made the leap to the third dimension just fine, but those games were developed by in-house first-party Nintendo development teams, and you knew Shigeru Miyamoto wouldn’t let his children be led astray. But the task of bringing Samus Aran to life was given to the unheralded and unknown Retro Studios … and let’s face it, something like Super Metroid was a bit more complex than any of Mario’s outings.

Indeed, for every successful 3D transition, there were countless abominations such as Castlevania, Kirby, and Sonic, just to name a few. There’s no mistaking why the majority of Castlevania sequels have since been for the Nintendo DS — because the series simply doesn’t work all that well in 3D.

Yet somehow, Retro Studios made it work. Those sons of bitches actually did it. Against all odds, they made a 3D Metroid that captured the spirit, the essence, of the original Metroid games — and made it a thousand times more awesome. Seeing the world through Samus’ visor brought her creepy, desolate world to life, moreso than looking over the shoulder of a Mario or Link ever could. You were Samus when you played this game. And it was glorious.

The geniuses at Retro Studies even managed to make the morphball work.

Against all odds, the geniuses at Retro Studies even managed to make the morphball work.

Now, I could talk about how the gameplay was great, the controls worked, and how Retro stayed true to the series’ roots by flawlessly combining backtracking and exploration with fast and furious gunplay, but all of that’s been said a million times over in a million different reviews over the past six years.

For me, apart from the fact that it’s Metroid in 3D and it’s mindblowingly awesome, the biggest thing that still grabs me about Metroid Prime is the atmosphere that is prevalent in every single area of the game. Graphically, the game still holds up to this day. Sure, the textures might be a little blurry and stretched here and there, but in my opinion, there’s more to graphics than just sheer horsepower. It’s all about the artistic design of the game world — and Tallon IV has it in spades. Every little thing is meticulously detailed, creating an exceptionally effective portrayal of a haunting, lonely planet for Samus to explore. The Chozo architecture, the plant life, the little touches such as condensation, reflections, and bug guts splashing on Samus’ visor … a true masterpiece of gaming art design.

On top of that, the musical score is fantastic. A blend of old classics (such as the Norfair theme and the Ridley boss theme) and excellent new pieces (such as the peaceful, yet ultimately alien Phendrana Drifts theme) make each area of Tallon IV distinct and memorable. Combine all of the above with the fact the the storyline is not force-fed to you (instead, you can absorb as much — or as little — as the plot and backstory as you want through Samus’ Scan Visor), it makes exploring every little nook and cranny of Tallon IV an absolute delight.

Then there’s the memorable moments — and Metroid Prime is full of them. From the first touchdown on Tallon IV to the fight with Meta-Ridley and beyond, the game is packed with awesome moments and sequences. The ones that really stick with me, however, are the scary moments. Sure, it’s no Resident Evil, but Metroid Prime actually contained some tense and frightening moments (at least during the first playthrough, anyway). Admit it … when the lights went out in the Phendrana lab and the Metroids burst out of their cages, you just wanted to get the fuck out of that place — and fast.

No. Don't touch it. Just step away from the Thermal Visor, and everything will be fine.

No. Don't touch it. Just step away from the Thermal Visor, and everything will be fine.

Same goes for Samus’ first foray into the Phazon Mines. So many Space Pirates, nary a save point to be found … things got damn intense. It was epic. I absolutely love those two segments of the game, and still look forward to them each time I play the game (even if I know what’s coming up).

If anything, this blog post isn’t doing the game justice. It truly has to be played to be understood how all of the elements work so seamlessly together to create one truly memorable, exciting, captivating, and awe-inspiring video game experience. And luckily, a whole new generation of gamers who may have missed out on this classic back in 2002 will get a chance to experience it when it gets re-released for the Wii (complete with the motion controls found in the quite good, if rather linear, Metroid Prime 3).

Yeah, it’s a hell of a thing, labelling something as “your favourite”. And no doubt my long-winded rambling probably sounds no different than any other gamer touting the virtues of their favourite game, whether it be Halo, Fallout, Prince of Persia, MC Kids, Bignose the Caveman, whatever. And that’s the beauty of our favourite things. Everybody can be right; nobody is truly wrong.

Of course, the people who love Metroid Prime are just a little bit more correct than the rest.

The Parasite Queen. A great start to a great game.

Ah, the Parasite Queen. A great start to a great game. Makes me want to fire up the old GameCube ...