Discover what makes Nintendo so special in today’s gaming world through Nintendo Inquirer’s N Factor series!
“What do you love about Nintendo? The more I ask myself that question, the more complex my answer gets. I decided to use the term “N factor” to describe my feelings, because while it’s near impossible to define, Nintendo’s best games all have some undeniable and exclusive allure about them. They’re the result of finely tuned ideas and ideals that collectively personify the company behind them.”
The N Factor series:
N Factor, Part 1: Charm
N Factor, Part 2: Respect
N Factor, Part 3: Agelessness
N Factor, Part 4: Immersion
N Factor, Part 5: Creativity
N Factor, Part 6: Unity
N Factor, Part 7: Polish
N Factor, Part 8: Timelessness
N Factor, Part 9: Fun
N Factor, Part 10: Vision
What are the games that you literally lose yourself in? Experiences that, for the time you spend with them, obliterate your sense of time and make you forget that there’s a real world waiting for you to return to. Nintendo has created a number of franchises that have this effect on me, to varying degrees. There’s one series, though, that seems tailor-made to transport the player into its world, and to hold their attention so tightly that they can’t bring themselves– and usually don’t want– to leave. That series is Metroid, and the entry that has captured my imagination like few other games ever have is Metroid Prime.
This seems a bit counter-intuitive, but it’s the hopeless sense of isolation in Metroid games that builds our curiosity and pushes us to explore. The short, but highly effective, prologues to Samus’ adventures always seem to find her stranded and alone in some inhospitable and beautiful world. Being utterly isolated forces Samus to be bold, clever, and to make use of every detail around her to survive. As the player, this daunting, but incredibly rewarding challenge, falls to you.
There’s one word that perfectly describes Tallon IV, the setting of Metroid Prime: Alien. This evocative term captures all of the danger, beauty and wonder of a place that both beckons and warns us at every turn. Derelict ruins built by ancient space faring races or clusters of indigenous alien pupa may be familiar to Samus by this point in her exploits, but to us, her co-pilots, everything we see is equal parts jarring and curious. The contrast of the quiet, gentle snowfall of Phendrana Drifts to the booming and echoing Magmoor Caverns below is a perfect illustration of this, and is amazing to witness for the first (or twentieth) time.
Even though Samus has explored environments like these many times before, we see apprehension in her, as well. Her subtle body language in cutscenes, along with the bated breath and flashes of reflection inside her helmet show us that she, too, is terrified to be here, but ever-willing to press on.
The varied and stunning locales of Tallon IV make up a large part of Metroid Prime’s ability to immerse players, but equally important, and breathtaking, is its wildlife. The flora and fauna that call this planet home are as diverse and interesting as its environments. Reimagined creatures from Metroid’s 2D entries and entirely new monstrosities complement each area, and all offer unique challenges. It’s rare for a hostile alien lifeform to simply task Samus with pointing and shooting, each must be carefully observed and analyzed before it can be effectively challenged. Some encounters, especially bosses, seem almost immune to Samus’ arsenal until a visor scan reveals some subtle weakness. This analytical approach to exploration and combat dramatically deepens the player’s connection to Samus and her world.
Everything from ancient stone etchings to the smallest of creatures can be scanned to gain insight into its features, behaviors, and composition, adding mountains of detail to the world and its inhabitants. This mechanic empowers us to dig as deep into Prime’s subtleties as we want, or to ignore them entirely. While I can’t recommend the latter, this approach does give players complete control over how much time they want to spend soaking in the ambiance of the world. Simply put, the more you seek, the more you’ll find, and the more interesting Samus’ adventure becomes.
Along with the native wildlife of Tallon IV, Metroid Prime also brings Samus face to face with plenty of her old adversaries, including Space Pirates and the newly reborn Meta Ridley. As she plunders pirate data caches, Samus will also hear whispers of the Godzilla-esque Kraid and the infamous Mother Brain. The series’ namesake parasites, Metroid, play a significant role in Prime, as well, offering new insight into their complex relationship with scientific experimentation, foreign habitats and Samus herself.
If all of these disparate parts are the materials that Metroid Prime is made of, then the game’s soundtrack is the glue that holds it all together. Yes, Metroid’s sound design is that important to its overall tone. This isn’t a feature that’s unique to Prime, either. Every game in the series since NES’ Metroid has boasted a distinctly eerie sound quality. You won’t hear any sweeping, triumphant overtures on these alien worlds. Just unsettling, disjointed melodies and fanfares that somehow manage to alienate you (and Samus) even further, to brilliant effect.
Metroid is a series that uses your unease to draw you in and encourage you to explore. Sure, Samus is a character we have come to adore, and safely escorting her from peril is a strong motive, but sometimes it’s sheer, morbid curiosity that guides us through her adventures. Any of Samus’ outings would make a prime example of Nintendo’s mastery of immersion, but with Metroid Prime, Retro Studios crafted one of the most frightening, yet inviting interactive worlds I’ve ever had the pleasure to explore.Leave a Comment