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Best of the Decade: Metroid Prime

Metroid Prime

Platform: GameCube

Release Date: November 17, 2002

Publisher: Nintendo

Developer: Retro Studios

We’ve been in the 3D era for so long now that the painful memories of awkward transitions into the third dimension are starting to fade. Save for perhaps the lingering spectre of controversial Castlevania adaptations, most franchises have either made the move into 3D, made their position on maintaining their 2D purity clear, or been forgotten entirely.

I’m sure every gamer old enough remembers the magic of firing up Super Mario 64 for the first time though. The sheer amazement at the revolution in control and design that game brought is almost certainly unmatched in scale and importance. That Nintendo pulled off the trick again a number of years later with The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time and transitioned another of their classic franchises into 3D while making one of the most loved games of all time is simply stunning.

So who would have thought, one console generation later, that they could do it all over again? 

Metroid Prime was the first Metroid title of any kind in eight years. It was the first 3D entry the series had ever seen. It was a first-person shooter (or looked like one at any rate). Perhaps most egregiously, it was helmed by the unproven developer Retro Studios who had the audacity to take on a classic Nintendo franchise while being located in Texas. 

Needless to say, controversy was through the roof and most people weren’t expecting much.

But Retro came through and produced a simply stunning rendition of the Metroid formula in a dimensional shift to rival Ocarina of Time’s. The transition was seamless. The second the camera swooped down from above and placed you inside Samus’s visor, it felt natural. Exploring the uncharted world of Tallon IV brought forth all the elements one expects of a Metroid game: puzzles, powering up with new weapons and abilities, spectacular boss fights, and clever backtracking through familiar territory to unlock that door you couldn’t a few hours ago. 

It achieved this Metroid-ness while adding a dose of atmosphere the likes of which the series had never even dreamed of before. It honestly still stands up as one of my favorite game worlds to this day. The sheer lonliness and desolation make it simultaneously creepy and fascinating to traverse. The sheer variety of environments provide a feast for the eyes, but they all share a common thread of ruination and despair. The subdued soundtrack adds to the eeriness and brings everything together.

Retro went on to prove their worth with the flawed-but-interesting Metroid Prime 2: Echoes, Metroid Prime 3, which remains one of my favorite implementations of the Wii’s controls, and their supposedly tremendous revisiting of Donkey Kong Country released just a small number of weeks ago. Still, their first GameCube release is undoubtedly their most impressive. 

In the face of massive expectations and hordes of whiny fans, Retro managed to deliver nothing less than a masterpiece. For this, Metroid Prime is one of my Games of the Decade.


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