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The Next Level In Gaming

Earlier this week I covered Metroid’s early days, with a look at the 2D origins of Nintendo’s sci-fi platformer. Today I will look at what Metroid has been doing lately, in the last and current generation of console gaming.

Released alongside Metroid Fusion, Metroid Prime was a new direction for the series – moving onto the GameCube, a new sub-series was born. The ‘Prime’ series are set early in the Metroid timeline, between the first Metroid, and Metroid II. However, as opposed to the 2D platforming style of gameplay, Samus returned in a first-person style - becoming a whole new experience, although much of the Metroid design was still incorporated.

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One thing to take note of, however, is that although a first person title, Prime is not really a First Person Shooter, more a First Person Adventure – I say this because although the game does have shooting in first person, the game doesnt rely solely on run-and-gun, and plays a little differently to typical FPS titles. Metroid Prime incorporates a “Lock-on”, which allows you to keep your aim locked onto an enemy so you can focus on evading and general movement without losing your opponent.

Nintendo manged to give Metroid Prime a real ‘Metroid’ feel, partly by the use of Samus’ Power Beam weapon. It has infinite ammo, as always, and Samus is able to use a charge shot by holding the fire button to shoot a powerful blast. She also gains access to Missiles as always, and various other upgrades such as a grapple beam to swing across gaps, boot upgrades to improve her jumping ability, and suits that allow her protection against things such as extreme heat. Samus gains new beams throughout the game, but unlike the older titles, may switch between the different beams on the fly for tactical advantages, often depending on which enemy you are fighting.

However, being a Metroid game, the title offers plenty more – Samus can gain her classic “Morph Ball” form, which allows her to pass through tunnels and special passageways, and Morph Ball bombs to destroy obstacles and damage opponents. In true form, most upgrades allow Samus to access new areas, allowing the game its normal free-roaming feel whilst limiting your progression to a degree.

Another big feature Prime offers is Visors – as you progress you unlock new views to look with, such as thermal vision. One of the standard Visors is the ‘Scan Visor’. This allows Samus to scan highlighted objects, from decorative items to upgrades, enemies and key parts of the environment. This will allow you to learn as much as you can about everything in the game world, as once scanned, each item will give a description and some background information. This can be key to solving puzzles, and sometimes is necessary to activate certain devices. This also allows you to understand the game’s plot to a much higher level, with various bits of information scattered throughout the world. Scanning enemies is vital, as it can give clues on how to defeat them. Handily, all of the information you gather is all stored in Samus’ memory, and can be viewed through the menu at any time.

In all, Metroid Prime offers almost everything a regular Metroid game has, albeit in a new perspective with a 3D map. The map itself can be a little more complicated to understand, since it’s more complex than a flat 2D map, but they did a decent job all the same. There are a few new features (such as the visors) which add a little depth to the game.

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Metroid Prime 2: Echoes was released two years after the first, in 2004. The sequel used the same system to tell a new story, where Samus finds herself on a planet where she is able to switch between realms of Dark and Light. The Dark Realm offers more challenge, as Samus’ health is drained unless she stands in ‘safe spots’ of light. She also gains some new Dark and Light themed beams, although this time they are limited by ammunition, unlike the main Power Beam, so you must conserve it and use it wisely. As always, Samus gains her various upgrades and new suits – it’s very much like Prime with a new world and some tweaks.

The next title was a handheld, on the DS, which mimicked the visual style of Metroid Prime, albeit with slightly less graphical power – entitled Metroid Prime: Hunters - and was set between Metroid Prime 1 and 2. Utilising the DS’s motion controls well, the player uses a mix of buttons and the stylus to control Samus in the first person style. The D-Pad and L button were used with the left hand, for movement and shooting. The stylus, however, was used to control Samus’ view on the top screen of the DS. This allowed the player to control Samus’ view to a high degree of accuracy, and worked incredibly well with a little practise. Jumpng could be performed by tapping the touchscreen twice. Lastly, a few icons on the touchscreen could be pressed for some other functions, such as changing weapon, and activating Morph Ball mode. Due to the new control style, Samus no longer had the lock-on ability, so all shooting is done with a manual aim, making the shootouts a little more challenging in some respects.

The gameplay worked in a similar way to that of Prime, although with a few cutbacks – more than likely due to console limitations. Samus starts with all of her abilities, and her only suit. The progression is instead entirely dependant on the various weapons that Samus obtains throughout the game which open doors of corresponding colours. This means that Samus does have an impressive range of weapons, however, such as lightning and sniper abilities. The game is set on various smaller planets which can be flown between by returning to Samus’ ship.

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Hunters also included several recurring opponents, other Hunters with their own goals – each one of a different race, each one wielding one of the weapons that Samus obtains throughout the game. This adds for some interesting battles, and also sets the game up for Multiplayer – seeing as each Samus and the rest of the Hunters are all selectable for online deathmatch play, each utilising their own preferred weapon for some interesting matches – and providing you have a decent connection, the online mode plays well.

The most recent title to be released was Metroid Prime 3: Corruption. This Wii incarnation of the title yet again showed impressive use of motion controls – perhaps the most comfortable title of the Prime series, players aim and shoot Samus’ Power Beam with the Wiimote, and control her movement with the Nunchuk analogue stick. The rest of the controls are mapped well, generally with weaponry on the Wiimote, and other controls on the Nunchuk.

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However, Nintendo were’nt content with simply mapping a new control stye to the Prime series – they used motion controls in every way they saw fit. Levers and buttons are pressed using movements of the Nunchuk, and Samus can access a few new functions such as a soldering function to for a motion controlled section which involves fixing a broken connection in ship wiring. Samus’ ship also plays a more important role, with the bounty hunter gaining the ability to summon the ship via remote to move various large objects or blast down large obstructions. Metroid Prime 3 is defiitely the pinnacle of Prime gameplay,with some fun but relevant motion controls that feel fitting parts of the gameplay, rather than gimmicky controls thrown in or the sake of it.

Personally, I’m big fan of the 2D Metroids, they will more than likely always be my favourites, and Id definitely like to see another one. However, the Metroid Prime trilogy (plus Hunters) do what they do well, converting the Metroid style to the 3D arena as well as it possibly could be.

On a related note – Nintendo have recenty released Metroid Prime Trilogy, a Wii release of the main Prime trilogy done with tweaked graphics and converted the original two titles to the Wii control scheme, so check out the info here.

Look out for the final article in this three-part series, where I’ll be looking at the Future of Metroid - with info about upcoming title Metroid: Other M!

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Leon On October - 2 - 2009

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