It may have taken over 20 years, but it seems like Nintendo’s GameCube is finally getting the respect it deserves. I was there during its heyday, arguing incessantly with anyone who would listen that its library was absolutely stellar. It also feels crazy to say this about a Nintendo console in 2023, but it was also the most technically-accomplished at the time, and was capable of putting out impossibly beautiful titles – including Metroid Prime.
In fact, you could call 2023 the Year of the GameCube, given that several of its key titles are making a reappearance in various different forms. Resident Evil 4 is getting the full remake treatment, while two of its best JRPGs – Tales of Symphonia and Baten Kaitos – are getting remastered. Well-documented flaws aside, it will be wonderful to revisit those worlds and see how they hold up.
Joining that list of classics is Metroid Prime, which surprise-dropped on Thursday following the latest Nintendo Direct. I actually, physically, squealed with joy at this news. Not only was it one of my favourite games during that generation, but it’s one I’ve wanted to revisit for several different reasons. Foremostly, it was an immensely challenging title for a kid, and I remember just having to give up during the Phazon Mines. I’m not proud of this, and it’s left me with a serious sense of unfinished business.
But mostly, I just want to return to the world. For its time, Metroid Prime was borderline unbeatable in terms of visual fidelity, and I’m not even just talking about the environments and character models. Sure, they were second-to-none, but I was blown away more-so by the attention to detail. Rain spattering off your helmet’s visor and weapon, Samus’s face reflected in the visor when firing your weapon in dark environments. It was full of little details like this that drastically increased your sense of immersion.
So this remaster had some pretty big boots to fill – Samus Aran-sized boots, if you will. And, thankfully, it’s pretty much mostly pulled them off.
More Like Remake
In fact, calling it Metroid Prime Remastered feels borderline harsh given the serious visual overhaul the game has went through. It’s so extensive, that if it wasn’t in the title and you hadn’t heard of Metroid before, you’d be forgiven for believing that this was simply a brand new Switch game developed for 2023.
It’s easily one of the Switch’s best-looking games so far, and a timely reminder that the hardware may have more life in it than the conversation surrounding its age would suggest. I want more powerful hardware more than anything, but when games look as good as Metroid Prime Remastered it’s difficult to feel that strongly about it.
However, it’s not without its minor downsides. While, overall, the presentation is a lot nicer here, and well in line with 2023 standards, a few of those visual flourishes I mentioned earlier have fallen by the wayside. The way rain bounced off your weapon’s surface in the original version has been replaced with a more straightforward animation, and the light of your weapon’s shots no longer fill darkened rooms with a dazzling assortment of coloured lights.
It’s not a dealbreaker by any means, and you might not even notice these subtle differences while enraptured by the beauty of its world, but, visually, it’s the only criticism that stuck with us throughout the adventure.
No Control Issues Here
In terms of gameplay, it remains pretty faithful to the original with one key difference: a complete control overhaul to bring it in line with more modern shooters. The original was a little unwieldy, with tank-like controls that forced you to use a single joystick to move the camera and character. That’s all changed now, with the inclusion of a dual-stick design.
If your first encounter with Metroid Prime was on the Wii, you’ll be pleased to learn that the pointer controls from that version also make a return. They’re just as brilliant as you remember, as well.
That should be the goal of a remake/remaster, really – provide an experience that’s faithful to the original while modernising the elements that haven’t aged as well. You want your experience in 2023 to be as positive as it was originally, heightening the positives while reducing the negatives.
Well, quite frankly, Metroid Prime never really had any negatives in the first place. It’s an exquisitely-paced experience that regularly rewards you with new toys to play with. That pace also helps to keep exploration feeling fresh. You naturally keep a mental map of the areas you can’t access, and as soon as you find a new weapon or item, you instantly remember that place you couldn’t access before.
Having said that, some of the design does feel jarring in this day and age. Gaming hands are very much held in this day and age, but that’s not the case here. There are times when you’ll get lost, for example. The game does a good job of nudging you back on the right path, but it’s still jarring in a world full of light trails leading you from path A to B.
Then there’s the save system, which will easily be the biggest pain point for newcomers. You can only save at specific locations, and if your last save was 40 minutes ago and you just died, you’re doing that bit all over again. During my run on normal difficulty, this only happened twice (I still hate those Phazon Mines) but it was still frustrating. Having to replay content doesn’t feel fun on any level – nor does it particularly add to the challenge.
A new autosave system – even if it was optional – would have gone a long way towards mitigating that frustration. In fact, there’s a few modern day trimmings that Metroid Prime could have benefited from. You’re constantly backtracking, which is part of the design, but a fast travel system between save points would have been very welcome – particularly during the artifact-hunting phase of the game.
I would like to add that I think the map design of Metroid Prime is wonderful, and you’re never that far away from the location you want to be thanks to the handily-placed elevators. Fast travel would have just reduced a ton of needles backtracking that, again, doesn’t really add much to the experience.
Finally, some sort of ability to view missile and energy tank unlocks on the map – or even to leave notes as you play – would have been handy. I understand this would be blasphemous to many, but it’s little touches like this that will be off-putting to those unaccustomed to games of this vintage. Besides, you could always choose to have these turned off or on at the very beginning.
So Is It Worth Getting?
Lack of modernisation aside, Metroid Prime Remastered should 100% make its way into your Switch library. It thoroughly deserves its classic status with a combination of brilliant game design, a wonderful art and visual style, and excellent balancing that keeps the experience feeling fresh throughout.
The remaster basically makes everything better – particularly the visuals, which have been lovingly brought up to modern standards. While the gameplay didn’t really need such sweeping changes, the dual-stick controls are an incredibly welcome addition.
It’s just a shame that a few other modern touches couldn’t have made it into the final experience, including auto-saves, fast travel, and a more useful map.