Metroid Primarily Ruined

When I was but a lad, I was enthralled by a little game called Metroid. Actually, you might say I was in love – madly so at that. There was something about that game that captured me completely. The music was superb and intoxicatingly catchy, the creatures and characters were lovably memorable, and the style of it all was so surreal and bizarre; it was a beautiful medley of which I could never get enough.

Behold the strange blend of environments!

I had only limited contact with Metroid II, finding it maddeningly more difficult to navigate in my youth than its predecessor. But then, like a gift from the gods, comes Super Metroid for the SNES. It was brilliant. It was sheer and uncompromising brilliance. It wasn’t precisely the same as the much beloved original, but it was a stunning new masterpiece that I fell in love with all the same. Try as I might, I can’t properly express to you just how excited I was to explore the depths of planet Zebes again, delving into strange new areas and revisiting a few old favorites along the way.

The harrowing battle with Kraid and his potato shaped head.

The music may not have been the same, but it was still positively breathtaking. Most, if not all of the old and fantastic beasts that populated the planet were brought back and redesigned spectacularly – they retained the charming surrealism of both the enemies and the surrounding environments. It quickly became my favorite game; everybody knew how deeply I was obsessed with it. There’s no telling just how many times I’ve played through it, but I can tell you that I’ve explored the game enough to know it practically by heart.

The Metroid games were an important part of my childhood. They entertained me, comforted me, and inspired me. Never would I have guessed that it was all about to change. In fact, I don’t think I could have ever conceived the notion. But then along came Prime.

It had been a good few years since the release of Super Metroid and I was constantly hopeful for a new entry in the series. There were always faint rumblings and rumors about another sequel, but nothing was ever said definitively until Nintendo announced the coming of the Gamecube. While this should have been like the arrival of a long awaited messiah, the first images revealed from their concept work were less than thrilling. Actually, they were really quite ugly. The finished product wasn’t a great deal better.

Needless to say, I was horrified. My most beloved game was being resurrected, but as what I couldn’t tell. It was being handed off to an American company and remodeled with a first-person perspective. The protagonist, Samus Aran, had some minor tweaks made to her iconic suit of armor. While this may be considered a minor trifle by some, the result made her look just wrong. Hideously angular, awkwardly bulky, it was a mess. But it didn’t matter – I owed it to the series to try this new and troubling Metroid Prime as it had been dubbed.

I hope you like muted colors!

And so I did. And it was terrible.

What had they done? The hauntingly beautiful atmosphere, once rife with vibrant and lively colors, was replaced with a miserable splash of gray and brown. All of the fantastic designs of strange and wonderful creatures were transfigured into sharp looking woefully uninspired things. And the music, the intoxicating and breathtaking music, was nowhere to be heard. It was bland and tasteless, it was a disaster, and above all – it wasn’t Metroid.

The first-person perspective didn’t translate well at all. It made you feel slow and clunky, and did nothing but put you closer to the doldrums of poor art design. And to top it all off, was a painfully uninteresting storyline. This time around the space pirates, whose designs were butchered and justified by claiming it a sort of coalition of different species (something that never sat well with me), had been experimenting with an inane radioactive substance called Phazon. The result of this was a slew of mutated Metroid lifeforms with color-coded weaknesses, and of course the eponymous antagonist, Metroid Prime.

Yeah, we get it, Ridley. You're popular.

Before we address the titular Metroid Prime, let’s look at another of the game’s villains. That is, the infamous space dragon called Ridley. Ridley was one of the original bosses of the series, but he was the only one to make the cast of Metroid Prime, now sporting sleek cybernetic enhancements and renamed Meta-Ridley. I’ll confess that my kneejerk reaction to this was decidedly positive, until of course I learned that Metroid Prime took place between games one and two as a sort of interquel. The problem with this was simply that in Super Metroid, which takes place after Prime, Ridley is purely organic. I suppose it could be said that these lifesaving reconstructive cybernetics could have been removed once no longer necessary – but to be frank, that’s a load of crap.

Ridley received a lot of attention when Prime came along. Suddenly he was the top of the charts of Metroid villains – surpassing the once sovereign Mother Brain as the primary antagonist. He was becoming a gimmick, comparable to Final Fantasy 7’s Sephiroth. With Ridley hogging the limelight, none of the other classic bosses had room on the stage. Poor Kraid, Ridley’s partner of sorts in the original Metroid, was all but forgotten. In fact, Kraid almost made it into Prime, but almost doesn’t cut it – particularly when it was Ridley alone who made it into the Prime sequels. Yes. The Prime sequels. But before I address that abomination, let’s get back to the Prime series namesake.

Because take THAT Metroid evolution!

Metroid Prime was the final foe of the game, a hideously mutated beast that defied pre-established Metroid evolution. As a creature, it wasn’t a terrible design at all save for the inexplicably humanoid traits here and there. But the real trouble emerged, quite literally, from the corpse of Metroid Prime – which takes us to the sequel, and the agonizing cliché that was Dark Samus.

Metroid Prime 2: Echoes was soon released, again on the Nintendo Gamecube. The game kept the same failing format from the previous installment and did nothing to improve the faults. This time around, we were treated to a hackneyed Nintendo tradition of having both a dark and light world, à laThe Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. What was the cause of this dimensional schism? Why, it was Phazon of course. Speaking honestly, for how much I loathed Metroid Prime, I wouldn’t have minded it so much had it stayed a standalone entry. But instead, one of my least favorite things about the story was brought back into focus as the cause of the trouble in the sequel.

Oh boy. Dark Samus. Evil clones are still fresh, aye?

Worse yet, there was a new foe – or perhaps an old one – name of Dark Samus. This enemy was a Phazon forged doppelganger wrought from the dying body of Metroid Prime. So not only were we treated to the same intensely dull storyline and an entirely unoriginal concept of dichotomy, but the otherwise forgettable Metroid Prime had returned by the grace of a weak plot point. It offered nothing new or worthwhile neither to the gameplay nor the story. It, too, was a disaster. But perhaps the greatest tragedy of these games was the fact that I was all but alone in my distaste. These dreadful things were acclaimed both by critics and gamers. Many thought it was the next evolution of the Metroid series – all the while I vomited profusely in disgust.

There was a third in the series. There were even little side games on the Nintendo DS. Each new entry did nothing but further tarnish the Metroid name. All the Prime series accomplished was the introduction of asinine new characters and a shameless muddling of the timeline. But still, people swallowed them lovingly while other new releases in the series, such as the true sequel Metroid Fusion, were looked upon suspiciously. People claimed that the nonlinearity of Metroid Fusion was a slight to the series, all the while ignoring the innumerable slights against it that Metroid Prime committed.

But the icing on the cake arrived roughly a year ago with the release of Metroid: Other M for the Nintendo Wii. This game is something of a sore subject for many Metroid fans. Actually it’s more akin to Pandora’s Box. A lot of people despised the game with a passion that mirrors my hated for Metroid Prime. Mention Other M and it’ll be like loosing the armies of hell. That said, I didn’t despise it. I didn’t even hate it. In fact, I praised it.

Samus, just how I like her - surrounded by horrible insect monsters.

After careful consideration, I’ve decided not to attempt a justification for the questionable characterization of the game. No matter my feelings on the subject, it would be like attempting to justify the holocaust – a can of worms that no sane man should attempt. I will however say that Other M addressed and corrected quite a few problems from Metroid Prime. Most noticeably, the design and style of the game was once again a fantastic and colorful sight, complete with classic enemies looking better than ever. The music may not have been as memorable as it once was, but it was certainly an improvement over Prime’s dry soundtrack. And the story, beyond the aforementioned characterization, was dimensions better than all that rot about Phazon. I won’t go into details here for fear that I might spoil something for potential buyers, if there should be any left that is.

This likely goes without saying, but Ridley naturally returns, although this time he isn’t alone. It may not include Kraid, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction. And that’s just what Other M was – a step in the right direction. By switching the perspective from the first person to the third, and reintroducing a few platforming elements to the game, Samus felt lithe and limber again. No longer did she feel clumsy and restricted as she did in Prime, but like her old somersaulting self. And despite the fact that this too was an interquel, the timeline was unharmed. In fact, Other M served to flawlessly explain certain affairs from Metroid Fusion, the game before which it takes place.

But regardless of these improvements, the game was widely reviled. Gamers felt that it portrayed Samus as an insufferably pitiful character, betraying the idea of her as a strong female warrior type. As I mentioned before, however, I’m not touching this subject. To be honest, I never bothered to wonder who she was beneath the armor – that never interested me as a lad. What interested me were the sights, the sounds, the creatures, the gameplay, all of which was fixed in Other M. I can’t help but wonder; if I’m forced to pretend that the sins of Metroid Prime never happened, why can’t people just pretend that Samus’ character was never fleshed out?

A young Samus gestures what most are thinking.

But given the intensity of the controversy that it caused, I’m inclined to think that Samus’ story never should have been told. Perhaps she should have been kept as a silent hero, the soul of which to be decided by the player. By keeping her ambiguous, the purity of her character could be preserved, no matter how one would choose to define that.

Metroid was something very dear to me, but it’s long since fallen from grace. The Prime trilogy cast a shadow upon the series, a blight from which it has yet to recover. It tainted people’s thoughts and opinions on the game, and became the standard upon which the series was judged. Other M did what it could to repair the damage, but did so at a heavy cost. No matter what happens now, the series will be forever colored by these tragedies – so, in fact, that to sit down and replay Super Metroid now feels more melancholic than comforting.

Had the series been left alone, a bittersweet ending at Super Metroid, then this foul stench would not be. My beloved series would remain as haunting and beautifully iconic as it was when I was but a child. I believe firmly that, had Metroid Prime not been released, then neither would any of the controversy that followed suit exist.

I rue the day Metroid Prime was brought to this Earth. I curse it viciously as the demon that killed Metroid. My once beloved Metroid.

Sayonara, space cadet.