When a successful franchise like Metroid is brought to a next-gen console, you've got to expect the bar to raise a little. So when Retro Studios developed Metroid Prime, they raised the bar so high you couldn't limbo or even do chin-ups. The Metroid series continues to stay true to its Nintendo roots as this title remains a GameCube exclusive, and brings with it a whole new perspective.
The more things change, the more they stay the same
Say "goodbye" to the comfortable side-scroller you once knew as Metroid, and get ready to jump into an intimate relationship with your varia suit, because you'll be playing through this adventure in the first person. The GameCube isn't typically the console one turns to for playing games of this genre, but the controls have been extremely well adapted to fit with the gameplay. If you find playing a first person game with the GameCube controller to be a bit discouraging then fear not. Metroid Prime uses a lock-on feature instead of the usual freeform targeting. This isn't just training wheels. It's a pivotal gameplay feature you'll be grateful for. Dispatching multiple enemies is made simpler with the ability to target them, and certain bosses have weak points you'll need to target to put them six feet under. Locking onto objects let's you scan them for information, and switching between targets is only a flick of the left trigger.
Samus's adventure begins with an investigation aboard a derelict space station orbiting the planet of Tallon IV. Once your ship docks, a brief tutorial will teach you the mechanics you'll need to survive, and since Metroid Prime is played in the first person, acquainting yourself with the different visors is top priority. The standard, and most commonly used, is the combat visor. Can you guess what it's for? In case the answer escapes you at the moment, it's what you'll be using to slay your enemies, and allows you see the world with the naked eye. Second is the scan visor which is a handy tool that serves two functions. It activates passageways and provides you with information about your surroundings by accessing computer terminals, or analyzing objects in within range. Unless blindly slaughtering anything that moves is ok in your book, be prepared to scan a lot. It's the only way you're going to gather any info on what's going on, so think of the scan visor as your storytelling device.
Once you've been familiarized with the basic controls and functions of your suit, you continue your investigation aboard the space station where you'll run into your old friends the space pirates. They've been conducting experiments on the native organisms of Tallon IV, leading you to your first face-off with a mini-boss. Its defeat triggers an explosion aboard the space station, and the usual Metroid curse strikes during Samus's escape to her ship. With no time to worry about losing her accessories, she rushes out in time to spy Ridley (whom every Metroid veteran should remember) heading for Tallon IV, and follows him to the surface.
These boots are made for walkin'
The world of Tallon IV is huge and segmented by several areas, so be prepared to traverse a lot of ground. Some areas aren't immediately accessible, and you'll have to find upgrades before you can advance. Color-coded doors require certain beam weapons to open, but you'll find scattered morph-ball access points that open up a world of opportunity. Fortunately, your benefactors, the Chozo, foresaw you coming, and left behind weapons amongst the ruins of their former home world. It's just too bad they didn't leave a map. Good thing you brought your own. Pressing the Z button brings up a three dimensional map you can look at anytime. You can rotate the map as well as zoom in and out. It lays out the architecture of each room, tells you their names, and even shows you the color of the doors used to access them. That's provided you've found the map room for the area. If not, your map will update as you explore the land.
The previous iterations of Metroid forced you to wander aimlessly until you found your next objective, so a lovely new feature has been added to eliminate that problem. Since your Varia suit comes equipped with its own version of On-Star, the map also serves a second function. It runs in the background scanning for any vital information you might need to make progress, and once it finds something, it'll prompt you to bring up the map to show you where you need to go. This doesn't mean you still won't have to backtrack between different areas, but anyone who complains about having to do that has clearly never played a Metroid game before.
As you explore the different areas of the planet, you'll find lore left behind by the Chozo, and read space pirate computer terminals to gather enough intel for a dozen book reports. Since there's not a word of spoken dialog in this game, being forced to read everything adds a real sense of solitude, and makes you feel lonelier than a dateless Saturday night. The feeling of abandonment is further exaggerated by the musical score. You'll know the hellish depths of Magmoor Caverns by the hard drums and Gregorian chants, as well as the delicate ambience of Phendrana Drifts. Each area has its own distinctive tone, and Metroid Prime has best soundtrack the series has ever produced hands down.