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April 6, 2006

Filed under: gaming»impressions»ds

Metroid Primacy

Metroid Prime is not, as far as I'm concerned, the same thing as Metroid. There are similarities, but the former is a polished first-person shooter--I don't care if it has lock-on, it's a shooter--and the latter will always be a sprite-based side-scroller, which carries certain other expectations. Fighting game fans know what I'm talking about: there's an immediacy, almost an urgency, to the stylized sprite-based fighters that is lost when they move to 3D. It's not to say that the Prime spinoffs aren't fun to play, or far more immersive, but they don't feel like Metroid no matter how many secret hunts and ice beams you throw in. Just my subjective take.

So while Prime and its sequel are (to me) one step removed from the original source, Metroid Prime: Hunters (or just "Hunters" from now on) is a step removed from them. It's also a good game, but it's no Metroid Prime, much less Metroid itself. More than anything, it feels like a Metroid mod for Quake 3 or Unreal Tournament. There's the same hyperactive trigger-happiness of the weapons, a similar look to the environments, and a similar dynamic of counter-counter tactics for certain weapons. What's been added are the different hunters and their alternate forms, which does freshen up some of the FPS tactics.

I'm not complaining, personally. If you have to dress Quake up in Metroid skins in order to give me a fully functional FPS on the go, with Internet multiplayer, that's fine. I can think of worse ways to use the franchise. My only problem with the game right now is that I haven't figured out a counter for Kanden's homing bombs--but I'm confident that like Dr. Doom or Iceman in Marvel vs. Capcom, there is a way around it with practice.

What I do think is interesting is that the Prime games have started to focus more on Samus behind the helmet. As far as I can remember, from the first game on through the cameos in Super Smash Brothers, it was rare to see Samus as someone inside the powersuit. The visor on the helmet was always opaque, and Samus was only shown completely in or out of the suit (although sometimes the helmet was removed for a few moments). It made her armored persona a bit impersonal. Beginning with Prime, the developers reminded us more regularly that there really was someone inside the metal. The visor was made transparent, and at some points a reflection of Samus would show up in the virtual visor. It wasn't a split personality between "armored death machine" and "Samus Aran" any more.

Hunters is not graphically sophisticated enough to give us those kinds of glimpses in-game, sadly, but the FMV movies make a big deal out of Samus's facial reactions. Using the dual screen format in creative ways, the movie will often play a wide angle on one display, while focusing in on Samus's helmet on the other. Is it a definitive glance into her character? Not really: she still doesn't speak, and all we can see is basically a strip across her eyes and down just below her nose. So we know that she's surprised, or determined, or maybe a little angry. Her emotions, to quote Parker, run the gamut from A to B.

And that's okay. I just like knowing that there's someone there. If kids today grow up thinking that real Metroid means a first person perspective and a morph ball that becomes more disturbing the more realistic it becomes (How does that work, exactly? Where does she fit? Doesn't she get dizzy?), I'm happy with the gain of a little humanity. Frankly, unless it's done well, I hope they don't feel the need to pump personality into Samus's portrayal, because we all know how bad that can be. But a few little touches here and there go a long way to get me emotionally involved.

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