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Love/Hate: Metroid Prime

5:00 PM on 12.27.2009 // shinryu

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There was this grammar teacher I used to have in middle school. She was relatively young and rather good-looking and nice. I mean, she was nice at the beginning while I still did all my homework religiously, then something must have cracked. I clearly remember her giving us a lot of grammar tagging homework, you know, where you have to identify all the different parts of speech. Which was good of course, because grammar is important, but to still waste all that time on present progressive third person plurals at age 13, when every decent young man starts opening his eyes to problems of a wholly different nature, always seemed kind of futile to me.

In any case I got bored of writing the same crapload of stuff over 9000 times, and I hate to brag but I always was pretty good at grammar anyway, so at some point I just turned to scribbling little notes over the text I was supposed to tag -- like short acronyms with the part of speech and tense or gender or whatever. Which is something that I still believe makes all the sense in the world, because come on, you can't still be doing this crap in the 7th grade, and if you ask any well-run company what their secret is they'll tell you it's optimization -- and I had already grasped that concept at 13 despite the raging hormones. To think I even spent five years in university just to hear someone get paid to tell me what I already knew. But that's another story.

Anyway, one day this rather cute and nice teacher makes me read my tagging exercise aloud. All goes well until she realizes that I'm reading from the book and not my own writing. So she comes up close and sees the little job I'd pulled and gets on some seriously indignant sh*t, I mean really f*cking angry. Just because I hadn't written all the stuff down in full. And she tells me I'll have to do it all over again for the next time and I'm like "Look, Teacher, I have done it, and anyway what the f*ck's the use of writing this shit down if you know it, give me any passage you want and I'll tag it for you just like that, on the spot, freestyle." I actually remained calm, I'm just adding the profanity now for colour. Like f*ck, she said (not really). The argument that if she'd been the head of a private company she would already have been living under a bridge for some time didn't work. She was a public servant and I don't think she ever understood that kind of reasoning.

Those shoulderpads must come in handy. If you like to dislocate your scapula every time you get dressed for work.

To get to the point, Metroid Prime is a lot like that teacher, who was so cute and pleasant and there were so many fun, enjoyable activities you could have carried out in her company, but she kept insisting on grammar tagging ad nauseam. Because Prime is good, and I mean really fucking good, but if you make a game like that with the kind of medieval saving system so dear to Nintendo it just ends up making you repeat a lot of the same stuff over and over until you get bored and go play Resident Evil 4.

There are those enemies that respawn every time you enter a room, even the excruciating ones you have to sweat blood and break your back to kill every time LIKE GHOSTS FOR EXAMPLE. Ghosts black out the whole room and to fight them properly you need the x-ray visor which, obviously, can only be obtained near the end of the game. So every time is a pain, especially because of the exploration part which is a must in any Metroid game but becomes a chore when I have to go through the same room 9000+n times because I get lost or I realize that I need to be on the other side of the planet, and every one of the 9000+n times I have to kill those ghosts because it's the only way to activate that damn statue. I mean, I tend to get a bit sick of it, and like that time with the teacher I ask myself why I am doing this, what does this experience give me, how does all this add to the enjoyment, how does it make the game better -- because the developers implemented it and I still believe those guys make games to make them good, but maybe the truth is they only want to waste my time as much as possible so they can add another caption to the back of the box. I end up downloading a FAQ so that at least I can optimize, since I have a job and a life now, not like ten years ago when I could waste all the time I wanted on videogames since I was clever like a stone marten and could do grammar tagging in ten seconds and go to bed late and sleep in school, whereas now I have to stay up searching for save points and then the boss gets pissed because I'm all half asleep and zombie-like.

Arrrrghhhh will you just kill me so I can get some sleep

Not to mention that the whole game contains something like five save points total, and they're even stingy ones that don't recharge your ammo -- unlike enemies which respawn after five seconds - and if at any point you realize you're in danger with little energy left and you don't want to keep going because you're afraid you might die before the next save point, well then, you can't even go back because the enemies you've just soiled your new shirt metaphorical blood to kill ARE RIGHT THERE waiting for you, even more pissed than before - and rightly so, I might add.

Other enemies that are a real blast to fight include all the ones that are invulnerable, save for a tiny spot (usually near their backside). Nintendo loves them too, because they're everywhere in Prime and Echoes. They tend to prefer them when they're bosses and take ages to kill -- not because they're well designed or hard to figure out, they just have humongous life bars and near-invulnerability. What's more, the little scraps of natural armor on the little enemies' hides make them impervious to even the heaviest cannon you may find on this god-forsaken planet. Feeling giddy about that uber-powerful ancient weapon you just retrieved after hours of exploring and puzzling? Might as well cash it in for a Spice Girls DVD, because it's as useless as the rest until you've circled around and are staring down some naked alien arse. Other good enemies are the "teleport-shoot-teleport" kind, which coupled with the targeting system really make you feel like a stone-legged mannequin, something that kind of goes against the whole feel of 2D Metroid.


Our heroine Samus Foster Kane née Aran is a battle-hardened bounty hunter who can perform unbelievable acrobatic feats while fighting hordes of enemies at lightning speed. I guess she never had to try it on a GameCube controller. It's kinda hard to lock-on, shoot and dash sideways at the same time with it. Until you bump into a wall, then it's completely awkward. I kept wanting the next boss to drop the one upgrade that could have been useful: an extra stick. The GameCube controller has six directional axes and Prime uses only two of those for moving, turning, strafing and aiming in two dimensions. Using the d-pad and c-stick to change visors and guns looks spiffy with that HUD, I guess, but that's about it. Guns take ages to switch anyway. And that's to say nothing of the targeting system, which for some reason ignores perfectly visible enemies when they're in the outer rim of your visor, or Samus's mysterious case of neck arthritis, which makes her unable to turn her head at normal speed or look straight up. Point in case, if you're going to make me move and aim with the same stick in 2002, you should acknowledge that your game has some design flaws and maybe make it a little more user-friendly. Resident Evil 4 had ugly controls, but they got away with it because you were shooting at limping retards most of the time. Hell, because you could do a 180° turn in half a second. At the most crucial moments, Prime makes you feel like a cripple at an acrobatics exhibition, not like an Orson Welles-emulating gravity-defying space warrior.

There's also the marginal matter of doors taking some time to open -- i.e. to load the next room -- which can occasionally be the difference between life and death. Sometimes the room you're one step from reaching is the save room that will give meaning to the last two hours of your life. And that little bugger behind you keeps blasting the shit out of you while the game takes its sweet time. I don't care if it's technical limitations that have nothing to do with the game itself; they should call UNICEF on yo' ass for making me go through that shit.

Scanning is fun for environments and puzzles, but total bullshit for enemies. Especially when they're missable. Collection quests are something I think we're all sick of and they're certainly not Prime's fault. Still, there's some irony in the fact that with all the enforced repetition (respawning enemies, backtracking, linear structure), they couldn't give you two chances to scan bosses.

Say cheese, you murderous alien bastard!

The cool cats who made this game made it a point to not call it a first-person shooter but a first-person adventure, but being the smart kid that I am I can see through this crap and I know it's all a marketing fib to sell the game to nerds who, besides hating FPS games because they suck at them, are also a little dense and tend to fall for catchy stories like this one. And in fact after completing Metroid Prime I realized the problem wasn't in the S but in the F and P. There are all those rooms where you must jump from one platform to another with enemies who flip out of nowhere and push you off them while you're busy turning the stick to face the next one. So then you have to do it all over again, and the problem is that stuff like that shouldn't be in an FP* game at all, since you can't see your fucking feet - and it's not like you need a college degree to understand that concept, but it seems a universally accepted truth that games should be made based on what worked ten years before.

And everybody keeps saying that Prime is good, like really really good, the best of its generation, even though this last one is clearly another fib spread by some fanboy taking advantage of the fact that Nintendo games are always overrated to a ridiculous degree, almost like RBIs in baseball or French wines. I said almost.

I'm not disputing the fact that it's a good game; because it is good, very good. But that teacher had a nice pair of knockers as well, shame we just spent all our time doing grammar tagging. 

Disclaimer: I realize I haven't spent a lot of words for the "love" part of the article. If you really need any of that, I believe googling "Metroid Prime" should suffice. In many circles, saying the name aloud and out of context is enough.

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