Thursday, March 30, 2023

Metroid Prime Remastered Review

Developer: Retro Studios
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Price: $39.99

I remember when news first hit that Metroid Prime was going to be an FPS, people lost their minds. Nintendo is ruining Metroid! They don't know what they're doing! There's no way it can be good! The outrage was only surpassed by the fury directed at Zelda's cel-shaded graphics in The Wind Waker. The game blew critics away and shut skeptics up when it came out, though. People loved it. And if you ask a lot of Nintendo fans today, they'll probably tell you it's right up there with the best 3D Mario and Zelda games. I wouldn't go that far, but I also loved the game back then. Playing it now, though, it's easy to see its faults. It's still good, but it sure feels like a GameCube game. And if you're wondering, yes, this is exactly the same game, but with new graphics and controls.

Metroid Prime came out on the same day as Metroid Fusion, and strangely enough, it was the one structured more like Super Metroid. After landing on Tallon IV, you're free to go wherever your items can take you. There's no locking the door behind you, artificial gating, or player funneling. You're free to revisit areas at any time, too. You'll see spots where you'll be able to use an item you don't have yet very early on, so there's definitely reasons to. There is a Navi-like (Zelda OoT) automatic hint system that marks where you should go on the map, but you can turn that off in the options if you want. When it comes to exploration, Metroid Prime feels much more like older Metroid games than Fusion, Samus Returns, and Dread.
There is a part of the game in which the hint system will not help you, though. People call it the artifact hunt. Before you can fight Ridley and Metroid Prime, you have to collect 12 Chozo artifacts hidden around the world. Your only clue as to where they are is a riddle you can scan on the Chozo statues there. You can get some of these as you play through the game, but a lot of them require late game items or abilities, so a lot of people end up having to backtrack to get them right at the very end of the game. It sounds like such a GameCube era way to pad the length of a game now. Wind Waker had something like this, too. I didn't have a problem with it, though. I enjoyed solving the riddles and exploring the world without a waypoint. I'd say this kind of exploration is what Metroid is all about, but it's really more of a Zelda thing!
It's in the combat, platforming, and level design where Metroid Prime starts feeling very different from the 2D Metroids. You see and do Metroid things in Metroid Prime, but really, it plays more like a Metroid-themed Zelda. The most obvious example of this is, of course, the combat, which copied the lock-on mechanic directly from Ocarina of Time. Combat in Metroid Prime isn't about blowing stuff up with one shot as you quickly run and jump through an area. There's some small critters you can make quick work of, but usually, combat is a whole song and dance. You lock-on, circle strafe, and try to hit enemies with fully charged beams or missiles. Sometimes you also have to switch between multiple beams and visors during a battle. It takes much longer than your usual encounter in the 2D games, and it only gets worse as the game goes on and more powerful enemies start showing up. Any trace of the fast-paced run 'n gun action from the 2D games is completely gone. The way strafing while locking on to an enemy slows down your movement (just like Link’s) doesn't help matters, either.
Unlike the 2D games, MP has very few vertical platforming areas, and the ones that are in the game are absolutely dreadful. Sure, the platforming in Metroid Prime is much better than what you’ll find in most other first person games, but it had to be toned down many levels from what it was in the 2D games to get it to a point where it’s passable as a main game mechanic. Most of the jumping you have to do in the game is very simple. It doesn’t have a lot of enemies around, doesn't require you to shoot while jumping, and it's usually kept to a minimum. When the game does throw anything resembling a platforming section from the 2D games at you, with lots of jumping and enemies all over, it feels like a gigantic difficulty spike. Samus' usual aerial abilities also had to be changed to accommodate the first person perspective. For example, the Grapple Beam feels more like a cutscene than an actual ability now. Other abilities, like the screw attack and wall jump, aren't even in the game. I feel like a lot of these compromises could have been avoided if the game was in 3rd person.
Super Metroid had the X-Ray Scope, which allowed you to see passageways and items hidden in walls, but it was mostly optional. Well, I guess someone at Retro really loved that idea because they decided to make it one of the main mechanics of MP. It's almost comical how much it's used. You use it to activate elevators, get hints on how to kill enemies and bosses, read Chozo lore, and all sorts of things. Sometimes it doesn't even make sense. Like, there's a few spots where you have to scan points of interest to open doors. Is Samus' suit interacting with the Chozo ruins through Bluetooth? What's going on there? The worst part is when you have to use the thermal visor to get through an area after the lights go out. Total darkness, my favorite video game trope! You also have to constantly switch between 2 visors during the final boss battle. It's way overused. You probably have this game to thank for stuff like Detective Vision in the Batman games.
The map is another weird thing about the game. It's not a regular 2D Metroidvania map made of a bunch of little rectangles, it's actually a very basic 3D model of the entire world. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order has the same kind of map. It's a great way to map out a 3D world full of rooms with different levels of elevation, but it's also confusing to navigate. It controls like 3D modeling software. One stick pans, the other rotates, and you zoom in and out with the shoulder buttons. It's almost like it was designed to be used with a mouse and keyboard.
One of the best things Metroid Prime Remastered does is give you a bunch of different control options to choose from. Sadly, though, button mapping isn't one of them. The GC configuration is there, a Wii-like motion controls config, a weird mix of the GC controls with motion control aiming, and we finally have dual stick controls, just like every other FPS has had since the Dual Shock came out for PS1. Both GC and Wii had controllers with 2 sticks, so I don't see why it took this long. Not surprisingly, this is by far the best way to control the game. You can freely look around with the right stick, strafe with the left, shoot and jump with the shoulder buttons, and you still have the lock-on on ZL. Yes, you still use the lock-on button, even though you can manually circle strafe and aim. If there is any aim assist at all, it's not enough to compensate for not using the lock-on. That's just how the game was designed. This isn't really an FPS, it's a 3rd person game in disguise.

The motion controls didn't fare so well, though. Like with every other Wii port, the Switch's lack of a sensor bar really hurts. Since your controller has no point of reference, you have to keep recentering your reticle every time you move your hand. It's way too finicky for me. Switch 2 needs a sensor bar built into it, like the Wii U GamePad.
The graphics have been completely remade for this game. Everything is new, as far as I can tell. New models, textures, effects, and lighting. It even runs at 60 FPS. It's one of the best looking games on Switch, weirdly enough. They really went all out with the details, too. I just love how the Tallon IV overworld looks now with all the moss, vines, puddles, and falling rain that not only splashes on Samus’ visor, it also streaks down when you move.
The music and sound effects sound the same to me. I guess they're in a higher quality here, but I can't tell the difference. I am definitely a fan of this soundtrack, though. I like the electronic take on Metroid music. It's different, but it fits the Prime series' modern Sci-Fi style.

I still like this game, but I can't place it in the masterpiece category along with Mario Odyssey and Breath of the Wild. There's a lot of fun to be had exploring Tallon IV, I love the dual stick controls, and the graphics look really nice, but I can't ignore all the annoying stuff this game does. I also just think this should be a 3rd person game. So many of this game's issues could be solved if you could just see what Samus is doing while you're playing. I know they won't change it, though. Not even in Metroid Prime 4.