James Stephanie Sterling
Metroid Prime Remastered - Where Credit's Due (Review)
Metroid Prime Remastered Released: February 8, 2023 Developer: Retro Studios Publisher: Nintendo Systems: Switch
I can’t claim to be particularly experienced with the Metroid series. For some strange reason, despite loving Metroidvania games in general, something about the subgenre’s primary inspiration has never completely intrigued me. Perhaps it’s the lack of nostalgia factor - unlike most other Nintendo franchises, I never played Metroid as a kid. Maybe it’s the fact its visual style isn’t quite appealing to me. Or maybe, as some people have suggested, I just hate Nintendo and everything it’s ever published.
Whatever the reason, I only played a little of Metroid Prime when it first arrived on the GameCube, and even then it was several years after its 2002 launch date. Looking back, especially after playing the remake, I’m not sure why I didn’t stick with it more. I don’t ever recall disliking it, and I was sufficiently invested enough to keep playing this time around. Chalk it up to ADHD I guess, because there’s certainly nothing so dreadful about Prime to make me explicitly want to stop playing.
It’s a good game. A notably straightforward one with very little adornment to its foundational gameplay. You shoot stuff, you scan stuff, you pick up the item that lets you reach the item that lets you reach the item that lets you continue the pattern of reaching and… iteming? Iteming. Yes, iteming sounds right and Google’s spell checker hasn’t corrected it.
Huh, after having looked it up, iteming actually is a word. I did not know that, and I consider myself rather linguistically gifted. Iteming means to record something, particularly an itemized list. It does not mean “picking up special jumping boots in a Metroid game” but maybe it should.
After years - and a contemporary explosion - of games inspired by the Metroidvania trappings, Prime stands out as remarkably direct. There’s not much to its structural formula beyond heading straight to the upgrade that opens previously inaccessible areas and repeating the process with each new location reached. Sometimes this pattern is so free of frills that a freshly unlocked area is nothing more than a simple route to the next upgrade. While other games give you a lot more to do, fight, and discover across an intricate map, Samus Aran’s trek through a relatively small handful of distinct locations doesn’t offer much distraction.
This isn’t to suggest Metroid Prime’s design is inherently bad, it just lacks the explorative potential of many structurally similar games, and players coming to it for the first time may find Prime a little dull as a result. All that said, there are some hidden areas boasting optional upgrades like ammo extensions and extra health meters (essentially extra lives), with a selection of environmental puzzles usually focused on Samus turning into her little ball to navigate simple maze-like structures. The world map isn’t sprawlingly intricate, but it does feature the kind of interconnectivity that studios like From Software would come to emulate many years later, and it’s nice going back and seeing this earlier iteration of an interconnected 3D map.
In a similar manner to its progress structure, Prime’s combat is wholly unconcerned with complexity. Shooting is as rudimentary as locking on and pulling the trigger, occasionally using the small selection of alternate fire modes to damage enemies with specific vulnerabilities. These vulnerabilities, along with fluffy narrative details, are learned through what is perhaps Prime’s most famous feature - scanning.
Metroid Prime is absolutely littered with little squares that become visible when Samus’ Scan Mode is active, waiting to be scanned with the hold of a button. This is Samus’ primary means of interacting with the world - switches and elevators are all activated by scanning, there’s a ton of environmental details that can be scanned to unlock lore, and every enemy is up for surveillance too. Scanning enemies carries an obvious risk as you’ll be unable to fight for a few seconds, but there’s something oddly engrossing about it. More than simply learning weaknesses, enemy scanning is just a neat concept, one that other games would come to copy in due time.
I have to say though, scanning’s best contribution to the game is in how it reinforces Prime’s most intriguing element - its lonely atmosphere.
Metroid Prime is an isolating game. Quieter than the average shooter, combining an unfriendly soundtrack with an overwhelming sense of stillness in the air. Samus, of course, never speaks, mutely observing the world from behind a helmet visor. Her every interaction with anything other than her own equipment is performed from a distance - she scans the world around her to learn as much as she can without touching it. She doesn’t even open doors herself, activated as they are when shot. Little visuals touches, like Samus’ reflection in her visor, act as subtle reminders of her humanity in an otherwise deeply impersonal game set on a world that is in equal parts hostile and indifferent.
But maybe I’m just adding a bunch of flowery prose to entertain myself.
I realize I’m just reviewing Metroid Prime as if it’s not ancient, as if the majority of you don’t know what the bloody thing’s like already. As far as the fresh aspects of this remaster goes, I can indeed confirm it’s Metroid Prime… remastered. If you imagine Metroid Prime, then imagine it remastered, you’ll probably come up with something similar to Metroid Prime Remastered.
I do have to say the visual overhaul is extensive. Character models have been recreated well, with Samus noticeably appearing smoother and sleeker. Everything boasts a lot more detail and visual intricacy this time around, as one might expect. While the new textures and level of detail don’t make things look as lavish as a completely modern release, they're nonetheless edifying and it all runs great on the notoriously (like it matters) less powerful Switch.
The remaster offers a number of control options, with a standardized FPS layout as well as a classic GameCube one and a hybrid of the two. There’s also a pointer mode, in which the Switch Joy Cons emulate the Wii release of Metroid Prime Trilogy, and you can combine motion controls with traditional buttons and triggers. I believe strongly that every first-person shooter on the Switch should have at least a small measure of motion control as a means of fine-tuning the aim, though that’s not even necessary here given the strength of Prime’s target locking. You will very rarely miss with the default control scheme, designed as it is to track enemies with lethal efficiency. Still, the gyro options are always nice to have.
Now it’s time to do that terrible thing I do as a critic and dare to place the game I’m reviewing within a context wider than its simple merits as a product…
For fuck’s sake can all these wealthy game companies just do right by the people who make the very games they profit from? Just a little bit? Metroid Prime was both developed and remastered by Retro Studios, but the Retro Studios of 2002 was a very different team, composed of individuals who are not credited in this new release. While the remaster gives thanks to “the original Nintendo GameCube and Wii Version development staff,” that’s all it gives thanks to. The original game’s credits, the list of people without whom Metroid Prime wouldn’t exist to be remastered, is omitted. Metroid Prime Remastered sadly perpetuates the ongoing problem of game developers not getting the acknowledgement they deserve.
It’s just a really shitty thing to do, and it’s a shame they did it here.
One other thing to consider is the price, something I don’t always bring up in reviews but feels quite pertinent with this rerelease. At $40, Metroid Prime Remastered isn’t a huge expense, but when you consider the Wii version contained all three games in the trilogy for $50 while separate remasters would amount to $120, the value prospect rather starkly drops off. It all comes down to your mileage, really - you may consider that sum a reasonable price for a glossier redo of such a regarded series. I’m not entirely sure I’m of that mind.
Metroid Prime Remastered is a faithful beat-for-beat recreation of the GameCube classic with a comprehensively polished visual makeover. It remains a solid adventure shooter, even if its straightforward approach to player progress is a little unexciting these days. I’ve certainly not hated my time with it, though I do hate its refusal to properly credit the team that worked on the original.
Maybe it’s the industry’s attitude toward attribution that could use a remastering.