Metroid Prime is one of my old favorites, a game that I cherish from my childhood. On playing it again, I find it just as good as I recall, one of those few games that holds up to the same feelings the player has when they first get the game. It hasn’t, at least in my opinion, aged at all. What I’m talking about today is one of the best examples of this; the very beginning.
The game starts very minimally at first- with a simple text description about a distress beacon being tracked to a “derelict space vessel in orbit around Tallon IV”. We then see said vessel, and Samus’s ship flying in to land on it. The camera angle changes, letting us see every detail of Samus herself exiting the ship, then leaping down onto the vessel itself, before the camera pans behind her and flies to the back of her head, only to then cut to Samus’ first person view.
This I think is a nod to the fact that this was the very first Metroid game with a first person view, so at first we see outside that, see Samus jumping into action, then we see from her perspective, adding more weight to her every shot and jump. We also see various things through her helmet, such as a health read out, missile ammo, even a threat gauge that tells us if we are near something that can hurt Samus, like lava. The HUD aside, we can also see a lovely view of the planet Tallon IV, which of course the player will be seeing in much further detail soon enough.
Past the visuals though, Samus’ path is obstructed by a force field, but it can be disabled via shooting the red orbs by it. There are three of these, forcing you to learn how to fire, target, and manually aim your arm cannon to shoot targets normally out of read. Then we see a door, and that too is made to open by shooting it. Simple stuff, but important to learn before we’re thrown into situation where it will be needed to survive.
In addition, to reveal the last set of red orbs, you have to use Samus’ Scan Visor. This nifty tool lets you find out information on just about everything, and it seems to hack into machines, such as it is used for here. It later comes in handy for a couple of areas where the doors will not open and you need to depressurize the room. As Samus continues on, there will be many things you do not have to scan, but if you wish you can, and you’ll find out a lot about the ship you are on.
However, the first set of hallways does not tell you much. They do, however, open up into a massive room where the scan visor would tell you that escape pods have been launched, and as the eyes would see, a massive and dead creature lays. The ship has apparently been attacked by gargantuan monsters of some sort. Luckily, this one has been taken care of for you, and you can scan around the room. You quickly find out that the monster has acid sacs in its mouth, is of unknown species and origin, and that the creatures it was fighting are Samus’ old foes, the Space Pirates.
Scanning the bodies will reveal the grisly details of what happened to them- spines snapped, burnt by acid, and so on- unluckily for both you and them, some of them aren’t dead. These crippled Pirates will make a token effort to fire on you, but their movements are sluggish, badly aimed, they cannot walk, and are weak enough that they will die from just a few shots. This does, however, give you your first taste of combat, in as safe a situation as you can hope for.
While the room is relatively harmless, the setting looks like something out of a sci-fi horror movie, and the creeping sound of organ music in the background only makes it more obvious that something terrible happened here- and more terrible things are definitely to come. Those Pirates were killed by something massive and terrible, and who knows if there are more?
Well, proceeding from that room we come to a pile of debris, which the Charge Beam must be used to clear away. After that we are shown a cutscene where a couple of tiny Parasites run into a small shaft. Incidentally, you can scan them as well, telling you that these are basically the cockroaches of the Metroid universe- multiplying quickly and being very adaptable. Coming to that small hole, you can use the Morph Ball to roll inside, and are rewarded with the Map Station, showing you the layout of the entire ship. Now you know exactly how much more of the place there is to traverse, and know to use the Morph Ball for faster movement and in small spaces. A later hallway forces you to use it for that too, but picking up on it early does reward you.
The next big room has a massive creature like the dead one you saw in a stasis tube, hibernating, and the wall is covered in notes about how the creatures progress from a normal Parasite larva into the massive creature you see. There is also a Pirate walking with ‘severe internal damage’ and another crippled one. The one walking is still a bad shot, and will not take much more to get rid of. A single Charge Shot would certainly be enough.
After that we find the first of several Auto Turrets in a hallway. These machines take aim and fire on sight, but a smart player can wait for them to fire before coming out of hiding to shoot themselves. As scanning would tell you, missiles will take care of them. Going past that is a large room with another of the mutated Parasites. Scanning here would reveal a red icon, which indicates either something you must scan to proceed, or lore. In this case it is a description of what happened to the Space Pirates after the events of the first game.
Poking around would also get you a shutdown switch for the turret in the room, which is handy. Along the walls are giant versions of common enemies you’ll run into on the planet later, thankfully in stasis, along with one sealed, and shaking as though its about to break open. It won’t, but it certainly scared me when I passed by. After that we go up a small lift to face another limping Pirate and a crippled one, then to an elevator room. At the bottom of this rather long elevator ride, a Space Pirate will drop down from the ceiling, this one being in perfect health. The shocked me a bit, spooking me enough to hide in the elevator to avoid his fire- and accidentally activated the elevator, taking me up again.
This one will take a few more hits, but a couple of charge shots should put him down, and as I said the elevator walls make for good cover. The next room is protected by a couple of turrets, but here’s a trick that makes the game considerably easier- while you can’t scan objects in a different ‘room’, you can shoot them. Accordingly, you could blow up these two turrets before they can fire back. This room also marks the end of the line, with a save room off on the left.
After that, all you have to do is open the next door, revealing quite a few bodies, and the boss- a fully intact Parasite Queen hiding in the frigate’s reactor. The reactor’s shields protect it from your shots, except for a narrow area that it does not cover. Scanning the boss is crucial- not only because it is your only chance to do so, but because it will tell you what it can do, and how to fight it. In this case, doing so will have Samus lock onto its mouth, which will take more damage than the rest of it.
Strafing to dodge its lasers is key, and just try to keep the weak area in sight as you fire, and soon it will be defeated- but a giant monster falling into a reactor has predictably explosive results, and you have seven minutes before the entire place blows up. This shouldn’t pose too much of an issue, though as you go through an alterate path to your ship some healthy pirates and turrets will stand in your way.
Eventually you will come out to a large room, where you will see Ridley, Samus’ nemesis, fly off, not destroyed as had been assumed, but rebuilt as a cyborg. The large room has to be crossed using the Grapple Beam to swing across, giving you a bit of training in that, and then you come to an elevator- it has to be scanned to be activate ,but activating it causes an explosion that damages Samus’ suit heavily, rendering all of her power ups except the basic functions inert. Her suit will still protect her from long falls and damage, and she has her Power Beam, but that’s it. Luckily, she won’t come across any foes to test her new weaknesses, and she makes it to her ship to pursue Ridley.
And that is the end of the first part of Metroid Prime. You might wonder what purpose learning about all these tricks has if she’s just going to lose these power ups, but there certainly is a reason- it teaches you how they work when you have them again later, and gives you a taste of Samus’ capabilities in an easier environment, before she is flung into much more dangerous situations. The environment itself shows the Space Pirate’s experiments having gone terribly wrong, foreshadowing the events that will happen planetside as Samus unravels what exactly is happening.
This first level teaches the player everything they need to know and giving them plenty of information about the story happening, without revealing it too much or jamming it down their throat. All in all, Metroid Prime has always been one of my favorites, and the way it starts is the perfect way to introduce the player to it.