Metroid Prime

A while ago, I bought a copy of Metroid Prime for the GameCube, figuring that it’s cheap, and it’s a great excuse to buy Metal Gear Solid and the necessary GameCube controller to play both games on my Wii.

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Part of the decision making process involved the thought that the newly released third part in the Metroid Prime series is more expensive than a used copy of the first part plus the controller, and I’ve never found the latest and greatest graphics that important. By trying the first part, I could figure out whether part 2 and 3 would be worth getting.

Metroid Prime got great reviews across the board, so I thought that the chance of sore disappointment would be fairly small. Well, I guess sometimes Murphy is watching after all…

It’s not that Metroid Prime is a terrible game, far from it. It’s got amazing graphics for the time that still hold up well enough nowadays, great music, and it’s certainly the best adaptation of a shooter for a console controller that I’ve seen. It also manages to merge puzzler elements with those of a shooter, and some elements that I’d expect in an adventure game.

The problem is, all three fall way short of games that concentrate on one genre.

Shooter

For a shooter, one of the most important elements is that it should be edgy. Not everyone will agree, I suppose, but I grew up on playing Wolfenstein 3-D, had my first deathmatch game on a serial link cable in Doom1. I learned to love playing with a mouse somewhere between Doom, Duke Nukem 3D2 and Quake. That’s when I learned what a rocket jump was, and henceforth I knew that you need fast reaction when turning and aiming.

Now when you run and turn with one analog stick on the game pad, you could in theory use the other analog stick to aim, but that doesn’t work out terribly well. In Metroid Prime, the designers opted for an automatic aiming solution, where you press the Z-Button to lock on to the target nearest to where you’re currently aiming (and you always aim at the center of the screen). By and large, that’s a decent enough solution for aiming and shooting fast, but there are two drawbacks.

One is that aiming becomes just a little bit too easy. If the enemy you’re aiming at needs only a few shots to take it down, you just mow through the mobs without the slightest danger of losing health in the process3.

The other comes in two parts. If a mob is slightly outside of the range where your auto aiming works, that is, towards or beyond the edges of the screen, you’re stuck with the relatively sluggish analog controls to turn. Note that the controls are quite smooth, but compared to a mouse, it takes ages to turn a few degrees. The second part of the problem is when the mob’s too far up or down on the screen: in order to aim up and down, you need to press the auto aim button and use the analog stick you previously used for moving to aim.

The result can be twofold: either you lock on to an enemy you didn’t intend to lock on to, in which case the game automatically positions your point of view to them, thereby causing you to lose sight of the mob you were going for. Or you manage to manually aim closer to what you want to shoot at, but are stuck utterly immobile while you do so, taking any damage mobs might hurl at you.

Either way, it’s a fight with the controls, not with the enemy creatures.

  1. I nearly had a heart attack when playing the Alien total conversion cooperatively. []
  2. Not to be confused with Duke Nukem, the platformers, which I liked a fair amount better. []
  3. I should mention that I’m a chicken and never play these games above “normal” difficulty when I play them the first time. []