The idea of a ‘shadow launch’ for Metroid Prime Remastered -- a game we’ve literally been demanding and praying for since the Switch was a thing -- was a missed opportunity. Surely the Ninty higher-ups could have realised they needed to shadow launch the game’s sequel, Metroid Prime: Echoes, given that game’s literal gameplay setup is built around a shadow world. Or maybe I'm just jumping at my own shadows, and hoping amongst all hope that, in the shadow of this most unexpected but most welcomed release, Echoes is on its way soon, too.
And why wouldn’t I hope we see Prime’s unheralded and highly cerebral sequel? If playing through Metroid Prime Remastered has done anything for me, it has (re)asserted that Retro Studios’ breakout first-person reimagining of the world of Samus Aran is and was, to put it quite simply, brilliant. Perhaps even GOAT-levels of brilliant, in the grand scheme of things. So much so that the idea it was only really the Prime follow-ups -- from the same studio, no less -- that stayed the same design course is, frankly, mind-boggling. How Metroid Prime hasn’t been carbon copied for its myriad design successes still blows me away. (Okay, so to some degree God of War comes to mind, but they're still few.)
In so many ways it is a perfect, perfect game.
I played and reviewed the OG release of Metroid Prime back in my Nintendo Gamer editor days (click here for those samples). There was even a cute animation one of our readers (who’s gone on to being quite the filmmaker) did regarding my love for the game (no longer around, sadly). But what stands out now is what stood out then -- this is, and was, beyond groundbreaking. Though I think, oft, to its own detriment. Which sounds stupid but bear with me here...
The idea of an adventure first-person shooter; a near-platformer in disguise, really, was so off-grid in 2002 that Prime’s only real audience was the starved Nintendophiles eating up its every item drop, from a news and information cadence perspective.
"Star Fox had invaded Dinosaur Planet -- a sprawling open-world action-RPG by the seemingly on the outer Rare, turning it into something entirely different from what was originally planned as an N64 release leaving many scratching their scaly heads...”
At that time newly-minted second-party Nintendo developer Retro Studios, which was largely forged from the ashes of the once-mighty Iguana Studios of Turok on the N64 fame, was seen as *our* last hope. Star Fox had invaded Dinosaur Planet -- a sprawling, ambitious open-world action-RPG by the seemingly (then) on the outer Rare -- turning it into something entirely different from what was originally planned as an N64 release, leaving many scratching their scaly heads over where it had all gone wrong. All seemed lost, and to add to that third-party games were countable on one hand.
There was no love for Nintendo and back then the console wars were a different kind of beast, and Nintendo kids… well, we were losing.
When Retro was formed and news of its ambition dropped in the years prior (in the GameCube’s early days) it seemed like we were in for a studio going full saviour mode -- a developer that had a number of projects on-the-go and who was also in the near-unreachable camp back then of being branded a “mature studio”, and who also looked like Rare’s even better replacement as we faced an uneasy future with the once heavily-aligned Nintendo second-party. (In the sense that these guys weren’t making bubblegum games for Nintendo, but harder-edged titles or us diehards who refused to see the forest for the trees.)
Then a collapse happened. Retro had bitten off more than it could chew and Nintendo cancelled all of its ambitious projects and instead put it to work on a new Metroid.
"A new Metroid?!" we all pondered. Wow, how droll.
(Thinking, of course, it would be a 2D update or even just a re-release of the older games.)
I remember former N64 Gamer editor Narayan Pattison at E3 in 2002 (just my second and a bit year into it all). He wondered if Nintendo and its new president, Satoru Iwata, had lost their collective minds. This was after learning that this new Metroid would be a first-person shooter (plus a number of games had been cancelled and Nintendo just seemed *lost*) and I kind of internally agreed with him. But when we saw the game up close and personal, all fears were allayed. As if any of this seemingly troubled studio’s woes were just the stuff of nightmares; the game’s art-direction alone floored me back then. We’d never seen anything like it. And while the industry at large was gawking at Halo: Combat Evolved and the triple-decker bus that was the Xbox, Nintendo had proven its faith and repositioning was on-point and the right way to go about it. (Still not sure that was the case with Star Fox Adventures though...)
You could ponder and pick and pull at the reasons Prime didn’t really overly resonate with the masses (it did well on the platform but failed to convert into console adoption), but I personally think it’s because it wasn’t a definable experience. When playing it, it felt fresh and new. It was a dark game. A sci-fi horror experience wrapped up in the wrong coloured paper and pitched in the wrong way, perhaps. And maybe even to the wrong people.
We love to postulate and pontificate and poopilate knowledge and drivel as an industry. It’s what defines parts of us. But we sometimes fail on a marketing edge to really sell the sizzle, so to Kramer speak. But Prime was an isolating game. Samus’ plight was literally her against the (Tallon IV) world, and back then it was still a 50-50 split between print and online, and the reach of either wasn’t as ubiquitous as it is now. And so because of this I feel Prime’s vision was lost somewhere in translation. And that’s a real shame because what Retro Studios created wasn’t so much a repositioning of a beloved franchise or character, it was a work of art. To redefine Makoto Kano and Gunpei Yokoi’s vision (along with the rest of the team at R&D1) from what was then an already incredible 2D game, into a 3D space, was simply magic.
"Metroid Prime was all things technically brilliant, but it was also simple in its structure and setup. An ever-escalating affair of give and take for the player...”
And what made all of this work so well was that it was clearly a collaboration between East and West design philosophies; old-school and new-school, too. Metroid Prime was all things technically brilliant, but it was also simple in its structure and setup. An ever-escalating affair of give and take for the player. A world that teased and pulled, where the need for more became its gameplay loop -- you can’t go there yet, silly player. You need *this* to get there, but first you need to do *these* things to get the *this*... and so forth.
Much can be said about the game’s rinse-repeat world of respawning creatures. Is it an ad-nauseam principle that could be construed as lazy? Or is it more a brilliant item-economy that ensures the player is always armed and ready, and kept on their retread toes? A system designed to punish lazy gamers who think everything is a walk in the park but who, by and large, succumb to the ever-dangerous fauna? And what of all that backtracking? Is it too much to ask players to retrace their steps so often just at the unlock of a new ability? Or is the world ever-so-enlightening that each and every time you gain deeper access -- and a deeper understanding -- of it all, you just start to 'get it'?
Clearly, I think, you know what camp I'm in to be this many words into a Phazon-level love-letter to Samus, but it doesn’t make these thoughts any less poignant. Metroid Prime was the realisation that old era games could be new again, but at the same time it was also a statement that this studio and Nintendo simply knew better game design than, really, anyone else around. In the wake of all the Halo hubbub and marketing spend Metroid Prime was a statement. A Nintendo statement.
For mine the Remastered Prime is a new experience. The game’s revamped ‘modern’ FPS controls have reshaped the way I ever thought about and ultimately adopted playing the original. Forget Joy-Con waggle or trying to relive the GameCube controller setup, the dual-stick design of a modern FPS just makes Prime a joy to move through. I still lock-on and ‘L-Target’. I still use the revolutionary targeted strafe system, but exploring the world of Tallon IV never felt this good. And I loved the OG. So to feel this is an improvement more than 20 years on… well, that’s something special.
It’s also fast. If you’’ve been keeping up with anyone named Jones you’ll know that Prime offers up a solid 60fps, both docked and undocked, with visual outputs capped at 900p and 612p in equal respect. That might not seem so impressive in a burgeoning 8K world, but on Switch and docked, Prime is simply stunning. It’s a testament to the art-direction in the first place that it really holds its place; timeless and still flexing, but it still astounds me that it can look this good this many years on. When you finally make it to the Phendrana Drifts you’ll know what I mean, though everything to, and then beyond, that point is still, honestly, the best in the business. The teams that worked on this remaster should take a bow, it honestly looks and feels current-gen.
"Trying to rack my brain for something to complain about all I can muster is that I still wish Nintendo had an Achievements-slash-Trophy system, if only because Metroid Prime is such a perfect game for tracking deeds, scans and finds...”
I mean, would I have wanted it at 1080p? 1440p? 4K? Sure! But after playing at that solid fps I’m not at all fussed. And in trying to rack my brain for something to complain about all I can muster is that I still wish Nintendo had an Achievements-slash-Trophy system, if only because Metroid Prime is such a perfect game for tracking deeds, scans and finds. Beyond that, this is the perfect game. It’s ‘buy a freaking Switch for’ good, and you know Echoes and Corruption are coming. And Prime 4, too (one day).
And if you’re still reading my overindulgent review of a game over 20-years-old but never played and just want to know what makes it so damn good -- it’s this: Metroid Prime is all at once a sci-fi and adventure game. It’s a horror title with platforming and exploration. But it’s also a skating game and a shooting game. It’s a puzzle game and a lowkey but wonderful story game. It is artistically superior to any videogame currently on the market and it has a low-fi soundtrack that should be sampled by every artist out there. It is a subtle, beautiful experience that unfurls in ways few games do and it is rewarding in its cadence. It is a game that teaches game-design on-the-fly and as such, it is a game that simply inspires.
I could have written an essay on its brilliant design, but instead I let it take me on a trip down memory lane while also feeling lucky to be playing a game in 2023 with such gravity, that it sinks everything else around it. Metroid Prime Remastered is perfection.
What we liked
Game design that doesn't just still hold its own, but is far and away better than most modern games
A stunning remaster of a classic that looks amazing
Modern FPS controls, with a Pro Controller, are to die for
Posted 07:37pm 19/2/23
Steve, I for one would love to read your essay on the games’ design.