November 17, 2012, will mark the 10th anniversary of the release of Metroid Prime on the Nintendo Gamecube. It is in this editorial that we’ll look back at the game’s development history and legacy.
Every console generation, there comes a game that is remembered for its expansive and addictive gameplay, critical praise, or place in the lexicon of gaming lore. These types of games are the movers and shakers for console makers, and these titles are the ones that come close to being perfect. One of those games is Metroid Prime, a title in which its early roots are riddled with controversy and (at the time of development) certain doubt. Now, ten years after its release on the Nintendo Gamecube, Metroid Prime is still slightly fresh in our minds as not only a critically acclaimed game, but also a fine example of a true video game comeback story.
The majority of Metroid fans know this game’s story all too well. Even newcomers to the series have learned more and more about the series ups and downs financially. With the case of this retrospective, we won’t bore you with every intricate detail that went into the development of Metroid Prime. Instead, this will be a look back at a game that still resonates with fans…including myself.
In the years leading up to Metroid Prime’s release, a sudden cloud of uncertainty surrounded the game’s development at Austin-based Retro Studios. At the time, Retro was an purely an unknown Nintendo second party developer made up of staff members from the now-defunct Iguana Entertainment including company founder Jeff Spangenberg. For the time being, the newly founded company had several titles in development for the Nintendo Gamecube. These titles included a Madden-esque football simulator, a vehicular combat title in the vein of Twisted Metal, and an RPG called Raven Blade, which had some prominent airtime during E3 2001.
It wasn’t until though when the company was tasked with resurrecting (so to speak) a dormant Nintendo franchise that seemingly bypassed the N64. That game, of course, was Metroid.
Long, long, long story short, Metroid Prime’s development cycle was met with criticism and, at the time, inevitable doom. The change from the game’s original third-person perspective to first-person was a concept that was deemed unfit for Metroid’s first foray into the third dimension. As development of the game dragged on it would later cause a shake-up at Retro, leading them to cancel three of their Gamecube projects.
In the grand scheme of Prime’s development, many (including myself) saw the writing on the wall and quickly dismissed any chance of Samus Aran having a seamless transition from 2D to 3D. Luckily though, after the press and the public got their hands on the title, all that doubt that clouded our minds disappeared like one of the may foes Samus Aran battled through the years. Not only that, but Metroid Prime would usher in a renewed interest in the series and its famed heroine.
Aside from Prime’s somewhat troubled development cycle, the game itself was all that we could have wished for in a 3D Metroid title. From the first moment that Samus Aran stepped into the 3D spotlight, the emotions inside us all had increased by tenfold and our nostalgia was soon running rampant. For the first time in eight years, we finally had a new Metroid game to call our own.
Like most Metroid conventions, the game didn’t miss a beat in creating the ominous fear of loneliness as you first explored the game’s first level…the derelict Space Pirate frigate Orpheon. From there, the atmosphere was in place and the feel of the game’s control fit like a glove. Retro Studios took great care to a dormant franchise that was in need of a renaissance. The company did well on their part and it showed in the later portions of the game.
After the initial frigate level, we are introduced to the vast and lush world of Talon IV. The main overworld of Prime, Talon IV, like its predecessors, is a maze to explore with each room displaying a different type of architecture. One of Retro’s greatest talents though is their level design, which makes the attention to detail, be it Magmoor Caverns to the Chozo Ruins. Again, like the Space Pirate frigate, you are alone and you are in charge of investigating what went wrong with this planet. Much like the game’s tagline from its television gameplay: “Evil must be destroyed. But, first, it must be found.”
Speaking of which, the story of Prime does not have the massive production values that we see in today’s Hollywood-esque blockbuster titles like Mass Effect, Call of Duty, or Final Fantasy. Instead, we are told the story through a series of log entries. For non-fans of the series, this may not seem like the best way to tell a compelling tale, but I beg to differ. Sure, it lacks the overture of big production titles, yet if read all at once, Metroid Prime’s log entries tell one of the more sinister storylines that Nintendo released.
Gameplay-wise, anyone who has played Metroid Prime knows how well the game controls and how its influence relied heavily on the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time’s lock-on. A great mixture of both worlds, Prime eased the player in with its sublime gameplay and keeping true to the classic Metroid formula of acquiring items to explore areas that made the payer unable to traverse without them.
Everything great about Metroid was here: the exploration, the items, the eerie, yet catchy musical score by Kenji Yamamoto, the large-scale boss battles, and, of course, an early time-sensitive escape sequence. As soon as the credits rolled to Metroid Prime, the long and stressful journey from impossible dream to critically acclaimed masterpiece was complete. 10 years later, Prime’s influence still feels just as fresh as ever. Certain video games may be known to make one cry; however, when skimming through all the hard-working talent that was behind Prime, along with a small tribute to Metroid co-creator Gunpei Yokoi, I couldn’t help but let a few tears drop onto my controller. The experience was worthwhile, unforgettable, and most of all, a true testament to a respected sci-fi franchise.
Currently GameRankings.com has Metroid Prime listed as the 8th highest rated game of all-time with an aggregate score of 96.35 percent. This goes to show after being released ten years and two consoles ago that Metroid Prime will be remembered for its footprint on video games.
With Nintendo’s new console incoming, the one question on everyone’s mind is when the next transition will take place for the Metroid series? Will Retro, whose track record with the series has been held to high regard, get another crack? Will Nintendo experiment and tinker with the series by handing it to another developer like they did with Team Ninja? Or has Nintendo started to neglect a series that is known for its ups and downs in terms of financial success and put it back on the shelf?
These questions still circle in my mind as to what will happen with my favorite video game series. Until then, let’s celebrate the anniversary to one of video games greatest games of the past decade. To this day, I still owe Retro Studios twice over for proving the entire video community and me wrong by making Metroid work in 3D and in the first-person perspective. Again, we thank you Retro from the bottom of our hearts.
Happy 10th Birthday to Metroid Prime. Thanks for the hours upon hours of memories.