Friday, December 10, 2010

Metroid Prime Trilogy: Introductions

Recently I picked up a used copy of the Metroid Prime Trilogy. Not having played any of the titles, I was excited to try them out. In fact, I played through the introductory (tutorial) sequences of each game one after another. Here's what I thought.


Metroid Prime Trilogy Screenshot

At the time of release, Metroid Prime was considered a bit of a risk as it wasn't clear how the traditional 2D platforming adventure would translate to a first-person perspective. Clearly, Retro Studios and Nintendo decided to script the first sequence in a way that would gently introduce the game to Metroid veterans. For one thing, it introduces controls and game mechanics in a straightforward (but also exciting) way. So you start by shooting locks, scanning things, transforming into a morph ball, shooting injured Space Pirates navigating mostly linear maps, and so on. In typical Metroid fashion, the introduction feels lonely: a sensation that will intensify as the game progresses.

It also borrowed almost directly the opening scenario from Super Metroid. Samus Aran walks though a research vessel slowly uncovering a mysterious plot to exploit Metroids once again. Upon reaching the center of the ship, you are confronted with a boss battle that triggers the ship's self destruct mechanism. Then you have a few minutes to fight your way back to your own ship and escape. Perhaps it's because I'm playing the Trilogy version—this game looks and controls exceptionally well. From the first screen to the chaos of the escape, everything pulls you into the action. By the time you land on Tallon IV the urge to get out there and explore turns out to be overwhelming. In terms of creating and controlling the mood, Metroid Prime exceeds the efforts of any game I've ever played and all but the best movies I've seen.


Metroid Prime Trilogy Screenshot

Echoes does not worry too much about getting the player up to speed on the controls. After the first Prime, players should have a pretty good feel for what they need to do. Instead, players are thrust into the action right from the start. Unlike the first title, which begins with a fairly relaxed atmosphere and gradually adds a sense of danger, the second game begins with an ominous feeling and becomes more menacing from there. For one thing, Samus' ship has crashed so there's no leaving Aether until it's fixed. A bit later your path is blocked by a shear cliff that prevents your return to the relative safety of the ship for some time. Then in place of dead and dying Space Pirates, who are somewhat comic figures in the series, you find Galactic Federation troopers: first lifeless bodies and then reanimated walking dead. Finally, just before the usual lose-all-abilities-to-gain-them-back-later sequence, Samus must enter another one-way gate to the major theme/game mechanic of Echoes: Dark Aether.

Later the atmosphere becomes a bit lighter with the introduction of a new ally: the Luminoth. Even so, the overall feel is far more of a horror game than other Metroid games. (Though through the right lens all of the games seem to have some element of horror embedded in them.) It's not just the more psychologically impactful enemies, such as possessed human corpses or a "Dark" version of Samus herself—it's also the constant need to enter the nightmare dimension of Dark Aether which wears away health and is home to the most dangerous and terrifying enemies. Even the Space Pirates, who have been possessed by the demonic Ing, are more threatening in this mode.


Metroid Prime Trilogy Screenshot

After the much darker tone of Echoes, it's a bit refreshing to start Corruption (after a short dream sequence) in the comfort of Samus' ship. Once again the introduction doubles as tutorial for the controls because the game makes use of a number of Wiimote gestures to perform tasks such as pulling levers, pushing buttons and twisting knobs. Having landed on Galactic Federation Ship Olympus, the tutorial continues with instructions on aiming, movement and so on. There's no hurry to get where you're going so you can chat with military personal, scan random objects, and do a little target practice to take in the thoroughly modern voice acting, sound effects and graphics. Upon reaching your destination, the story is told through a series of non-interactive cut scenes complete with techno-babel and a surprise plot twist, which turns out to be Space Pirates boarding the Olympus. At that point, the pace of the game jumps into high speed as once again Samus must make an escape to her ship. Note that it is a cut scene that precipitates the change in tempo.

Coincidently, I played the first level of the original Halo on a friend's Xbox a while ago and while playing the start of Corruption, I couldn't help but be reminded of that game. The parts I've played after the introduction seem more like Metroid and less like Halo, but there's an undoubted commonality between the two. It's as if Retro Studios decided that Metroid on the Wii needed to be the console's Halo franchise. Only, for some reason, it removed the one thing the Metoid Prime series had previously shared with the Halo series: multiplayer.

I'll be back in a while with fuller looks at these three classic titles.

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