Dealing with any franchise is going to be a tough thing for any developer to take on, you have to adhere to expectations from long running fans, you have to make sure nods to the franchises past, or its future, are there, you need to engage fans without boring them by retreading old ground; honestly the list of daunting requirements is inconceivably huge, but imagine that franchise being one of the longest running in gaming. Imagine that, that franchise, is loved by tens of millions of people; imagine that, that franchise, also hasn’t had a game in the series in eight years, and people are eagerly awaiting it. It would seem silly to throw caution to the wind and create a game that seemed so wildly different from what the series once was. That however is exactly what Retro Studios did with Metroid Prime, and by god did they know what they were doing.
Metroid Prime was the first game in the Metroid series to enter that third dimension. Turning the series from a side scrolling shooting/adventure game into something that, on the surface, seems like a straightforward first person shooter title, was a risky move. It seemed like a world apart from the original titles, but as you delved into what Samus and her Viara suit could offer you found something entirely special, entirely new, but most importantly entirely Metroid.
Retro Studios decided to set the tale in the gap between Metroid and Metroid II: The Return of Samus, and still stuck with the games dark themes and turbulent battle between Samus and her battle with the Space Pirates and Ridley. This time however Retro made sure that they put a significant amount of time into the story element of the game, something that previous titles had lacked somewhat. Now the addition of a scan visor and some short cutscenes – thankfully without dodgy dialogue – help fill in the deep and rich Metroid backstory, truly adding to the cannon rather than cheapening it. The beautiful world of Tallon IV was excellently realised under Retro’s command, and thanks to the scan ability, every nook and cranny felt like it had a place in the world. For the first time Metroid‘s worlds were so much more than just a backdrop for level design and puzzles, they were abandoned ruins and ancient machines that could spring to life.
To make these worlds seem all the more dangerous, Retro Studios do something that is downright despicable in gameplay standards, but at the same time wholly necessary to enjoy the wonders of the game. For the games opening you’re kitted out to the nines, you’ve got everything Samus could ever want for her adventuring, however it all gets wrenched away from you before the openings even over. It’s a mean trick to play, but thanks to this dirty tactic reclaiming all the lots items washes over you in a sense of childish glee. By the end of the game you’ve traversed and explored the far reaches of Tallon IV and solved the brilliant puzzles, all in a search to grab all your lost abilities and more. Of course, the pull for getting these items back goes beyond just following the trackers and the urge to reclaim what was once lost; Retro Studios deliberately crafted the world so these items were needed to move forward in the game. Stumbling across a door that could only be opened with the Ice Beam rarely frustrated, instead it titillated the mind; thoughts would go wild as to what wonders would be behind the door, and what you would have to do to go get that Ice Beam in the first place.
What Retro Studios created was something unprecedented, it was a brave and risky entry into dangerous territory, but thanks to their efforts a trilogy was spawned and an entirely new audience was introduced to the bounty hunter Samus Aran. If it wasn’t for the titles brilliant puzzles, it’s excellent environments to explore, and interesting storyline – all of which were interwoven excellently into the world of Tallton IV. Thanks to the absolutely stellar sequels that followed, Metroid Prime has been cemented into Nintendo history. It was the return to form that Samus needed after her long departure from the limelight. What once started out as a daunting task, has now left any other developer who chooses to follow in Retro’s footsteps in an incredibly terrifying position of having to not only live up to the Metroid legacy, but to match the efforts of the modern trilogy.