Design Differences: Metroid Prime 1 and Prime 3

By Ishaan . October 18, 2009 . 9:50am


Things are not going your way. A short while ago, you made your way off a Space Pirate vessel where you had to deal with one of the pirates’ maniacal experiments gone wrong. While the Parasite Queen herself wasn’t much more than a mere distraction — a fun diversion from the hordes of cut-throat pirates themselves — it’s the aftermath of your battle with her that left you reeling.


As luck would have it, her majesty’s corpse toppled straight down into the ship’s reactor core, setting off a rather inconvenient explosion, which you barely scraped through with all your limbs intact. Running through corridors of flashing red lights, trying to find the exit amidst the usual Space Pirate jackassery — don’t they ever know when to retreat? — while having your Varia Suit’s functions fail one by one was quite the task, even for an experienced individual of your calibre.


Now, you’re stuck on an alien world, Tallon IV. Your pursuit of the pirates has led you to an area of the planet named the Chozo Ruins, once home to the ancient civilization you’re so familiar with. Initially, you assumed being surrounded by Chozo architecture would stir up long lost feelings of nostalgia…maybe even a sense of belonging. Unfortunately, that is far from how you feel.




Your early journey through the Chozo Ruins so far has been like walking through a dimly lit minefield. Everything is dangerous. Everything.


Every inch of this…wasteland…reeks of hostility. No matter where you go, you’re surrounded by pools of murky, toxic waste eating away at your boots and your Energy Tank. At every corner you turn, dwell these…things…with varying degrees of intelligence, but all incredibly territorial. And they’re all out to tear you apart for invading their territory. Some are exceedingly vicious merely to protect themselves. Others have no regard for their own lives while they mercilessly fling themselves at you one after the other. The inner sanctums of these tombs offer little light — and what little there is, is a shade of pale green, reflecting off of the surface of the poisonous water that somehow supports these life-forms.


And all you have going for you is a suit on life support and a Power Beam so weak, you may as well just hit people over the head with it.


No, all you feel so far is oppressed and suffocated. It’s the personification of gloom and doom — as if every brick and pillar of this place is taunting you. And yet, you must press on, for in order to find tools to sustain yourself better, you must first suffer. And so, you set about exploring the ruins, being constantly hounded at every step by the very flora and fauna, digging deeper and deeper, barely managing to keep yourself alive.


Super Metroid Metroid Prime is about developing and building an atmosphere that evolves continually throughout the game. Design-wise, it really does feel like Super Metroid in first-person. The exploration, the backtracking, the constant sense of discovery…it’s all there. You’re just thinking in 3D space now, instead of on a 2D plain.


What really sets Prime apart though, is that feeling of "progression" that everyone automatically associates with Metroid.


I like Super Metroid a lot, but I could never completely understand people that talked about how they felt themselves growing stronger throughout the course of the game. Perhaps this is because, no matter how many energy tanks or beam upgrades you had, enemies always felt like a threat that you had to either eliminate safely from a distance, or avoid, just like in any 2D sidescroller. Prime, however, is all about giving you options. It really uses 3D space — including height — to its advantage and it allows you to approach enemy encounters from several different angles.




Are you going to roll past your opponents in morph ball form and try to get behind them? Or would you rather take cover behind the countless objects scattered through the environment as you thin their numbers? Perhaps it’s even possible for you to slip by completely unnoticed? The more tools you collect, the more options you have.


Every tool at your disposal — even the beam you choose to equip — plays a role in how you could approach any given situation in Metroid Prime. Unlike Super Metroid, you’ll find that the Ice Beam isn’t the solution to all your problems here. For example, the aerial Space Pirate troopers tend to go kamikaze when they’re on the verge of death. If you don’t watch out, they could very well take you with them. You’d think missiles would work well against these guys, but they don’t, really. Instead, I found myself sticking to the Plasma Beam early on, even after Super Missiles and the Ice Beam were available to me. The suit and weapon upgrade system approaches growth better than a lot of RPGs do.


Case in point: Late in the game, I wasn’t afraid to jump into a pit full of angry Baby Sheegoths and take them out up close and personal. Early on, the little critters were practically the bane of my existence. Once I acquired the Plasma Beam, even fully grown Sheegoths — that at one point felt like a boss encounter — became easy to tackle. In fact, I found myself deliberately avoiding them because I actually felt sorry for killing innocent creatures that only ever lashed out in self-defense. It was a very different sentiment from the kind of hatred I felt toward the Sheegoth family when I first entered the Phendrana Drifts.


Samus in the PED Suit The other aspect of the game that never ceases to amaze is the level design. I don’t know how they do it, but there’s always something that fails to catch your eye the first time you visit an area and becomes more apparent when you return. You’ll find yourself thinking, "Huh. Was this always here?" a lot. It really is pretty incredible.


In contrast, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption is a very different game. It’s more about impressing you at every turn than it is about bringing classic Metroid elements into 3D. I hadn’t played much of Metroid Prime 2, originally, so going from 1 to 3 made a lot of the changes in the latter game very apparent. Playing Corruption, it’s obvious that coming off of its two very successful predecessors, Retro Studios were comfortable with the idea of experimenting a little. But let’s start from the beginning — namely the basic design improvements over Metroid Prime.





The UI in Corruption is God-like. Metroid Prime 2 was a good half-step but 3 is where the scan visor really shines. It’s so easy and so intuitive to use compared to the first game where the only indicator of an object being scanable was a small red emblem over its surface. As a result, it was easy to miss objects you could scan, especially in bright outdoor areas. Here, every object has a nice outline around it and they’re all colour-coded to boot, ensuring you won’t miss anything important. The UI designers also did away with the "scanning" bar, opting for a replacement that feels like it fits in with the functionality of Samus’s suit a lot better. It even "sounds" satisfying.


The most awesome detail though is that Samus’s face is now reflected in the scan visor at all times. What’s more, her eyes move and dart in sync with your movement. As the game goes on and she gets more poisoned by Phazon, you can even see traces of the poison trickling over her face depending on the level of "corruption."


The beam system has been overhauled. You don’t get to choose between four different beams now. Instead, they all stack, and there is no Ice Beam any longer (you use Ice Missiles instead). This is where Corruption really begins to deviate from Metroid Prime. You’d be right to suspect that the combat in this game doesn’t offer you as many choices as Prime did. Since your beams now stack, your single beam serves as an all-purpose weapon that you’ll use against everything. On the upside, this means Retro had to include other gameplay elements to keep things interesting.




And boy, did they ever. I mentioned before that Corruption is about constantly impressing you every chance it gets, and this is most apparent in the variety of stuff you’ll get to do during the course of the game.


Early on, while you’re trying to hold off a Space Pirate invasion, you’ll find yourself rolling around in a morph ball track, trying to get to a series of generators you must activate. Just when you think things are going your way, Ridley drops out of nowhere onto the track, and starts to peck and claw at you, forcing you to deal with him first. The cool part is, there’s no cutscene or loading screen that pauses the action, signaling his arrival. You’re rolling merrily along one minute and being pecked to shreds the next. Your encounter with him eventually leads to an awesome boss fight where you’re blasting away at each other apart during a freefall where the perspective constantly shifts depending on who gets to be "on top."


Little touches like having to rip protective shields off of Space Pirates with your grapple or knocking Steambots over in ball form are fun, too. Oh, and later on, you open up a Spider Ball track over Elysia, a city floating in the sky. From that point on, you’re required to make your way around high above the city in ball form, with nothing but empty space under you. It’s a real thrill. I liked that the game led me through so many different experiences, even if it felt a little more linear as a result.




Corruption tends to feel "grander" in every way. You visit three entirely different planets, and none of them look anything like each other. The pirate encounters don’t feel as threatening as in Metroid Prime, but there’s also a sense of you fighting something that is much bigger than the Space Pirates this time around. The boss fights in this game are better than both Prime 1 and Prime 2. The pirates are the tools of Dark Samus’s ambitions, and that’s exactly how they feel. There’s so much going on at once, it’s very entertaining.


The artwork is miles ahead of anything that was ever accomplished in Metroid Prime or Prime 2, too. For one thing, it looks like Retro finally hired a character artist so human faces don’t look like plastic dolls any more. Even Samus’s PED Suit looks more aesthetically pleasing than the suits from Prime. But it’s the enemies and environments that are really something to behold. Just walking through Elysia feels incredible. There’s so much detail everywhere, it’s staggering. There also seems to be a lot more stuff to scan in this game, so factor in that you can read up on everything that catches your eye.


Overall, the game feels much more streamlined than both its predecessors and chooses to focus on taking you through a more narrated experience. There are even some nice touches that help make Samus seem a little more "human," which I really liked. Personally, I think it’s great that Corruption is different from the other two games. Doing the same thing all over again might’ve gotten a little boring and to Retro’s credit, Metroid Prime 3 didn’t feel boring in the least. In fact, I think it’s my favourite of the trilogy.

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  • malek86

    It’s weird. I always thought that Prime was completely different from Metroid 2D.

    First, it’s a lot slower. While in SM you can go from one screen to another in a matter of seconds, in MP it can take forever. Fighting is also slower, with many enemies designed to take a lot punishment before they can go down. Exploration is also dampened by this, because I don’t really want to try and explore new areas when I’m moving so slowly.

    Second, there is actually a weapon system now. In SM, every weapon was basically just an improvement: you could deatcivate some beams from the menu screen, but nobody ever did that, because every new beam was stronger than the one before. The result was that you had a standard beam which would be ok for every enemy, while the upgrades were used mostly to solve some puzzles. But in MP, now you get weapons that will work better against some enemies, and other weapons that don’t. It results in a less arcadey feeling, if you ask me. Not necessarily worse or better, but still different from before.

    Third, the scanner. SM was very light on story, relied on fast-paced action and generally on just having fun blasting enemies and jumping around. MF tried adding some story elements, but they were sparse, so it was kinda ok. In MP instead, as if moving a lot slower wasn’t enough, you’re also stopping every two seconds in order to scan something. Something I probably couldn’t care less about, but you still have to in order to advance. That also means you will need to interrupt the action more often than usual, because you never know when you might miss some important switch.

    (and fourth, they took away spam bomb jumping T_T)

    I know everyone else thinks Prime is a perfect transposition of the series in 3D, so I guess I’m the minority here. Mind you, I don’t really like the game either, so I’m in the minority for this too. I wish Retro would just make a new 2D Metroid in the vein of SM or even MF. I don’t even have that much interest in Other M, if anything because it looks like they are going heavy on plot and characters. Why do I need story in Metroid? Hopefully the cutscenes will be skippable, unlike NG2.

    Aw, I guess I’ve been playing too many arcade games lately… can’t stand cutscenes anymore.

    • starstabbedmoon

      I don’t think it’s so much that MP = Super Metroid so much that Metroid Prime was much more the 3d translation of Super Metroid gameplay in comparison to Metroid Prime 3. There are differences, but alot of the design philosophy in MP was largely the same as it was before. Many of the things you mentioned are features that naturally get implemented as series like this are designed in 3d for the first time. Super Mario 64 and Zelda: Ocarina of Time were much slower and had an unprecedented amount of moves, items, and action choices unavailable in their predecessors. A larger focus on story and cinematics is a trend that crosses all games during this time as well. I think the analysis of Metroid Prime 3 is really crucial for the context of comparing Metroid Prime and Super Metroid in the direction that the Metroid Prime series took the design.

      • malek86

        Actually, I believe Mario 64 is a very cool rendition of Mario games in 3D. As for Zelda, yes, that one does feel slower, must be the reason why I don’t like Ocarina of Time.

  • I still haven’t beaten any in the Prime series.

    Conversely, I’ve beat all the games outside of them. The original, Return of Samus, Super Metroid and Fusion. I don’t know what it is about the 3D series that turns me off but I’ve never been able to get into the first-person feel of it.

    • cowcow

      Agreed. The only 3D one I’m interested in is the upcoming one with Team Ninja behind it

  • Saturnus

    I love the Metroid Prime series (well Metroid in general, but I started with Prime)! It really is a solid game all around, and I’ve never felt ‘well they could have’ or ‘well they should have’ while playing the game. Mostly everything was done right.

    The one thing that lured me in was the feeling of being completely and totally alone. When playing MP1, I felt lonely. Every living creature was hostile, and you couldn’t just stop to hold your breathe you never know what creature is gonna come out. The atmosphere really creeped me out and kept me playing (One part I particularly remember is storming the pirate base. There is this part where you are in a building and all the power shuts off, so it’s dark… But it also releases a bunch of metroids. Ugh).

    • Oh lord, yea. The Research Lab in Phendrana Drifts. That scared the hell out of me, too. Plus, you had all those flying security drones flying around in the dark that caused your visor to go crazy. Prime was brutal at times.

  • Aoshi00

    I just ordered the trilogy from Amazon (along w/ Muramasa and Wolverine Origins PS3 for the buy 2 get third free deal). I have never finished the first Prime on GC to this day, got stuck in the part where the ghosts started to appear. I wonder if I should just forget replaying that and start w/ Corruption. Truth is I’ve never been a fan of the Metroid series (I guess it just wasn’t on my list back in the NES/SNES days), I just bought Prime back then because of the hype and FPS is certainly not my forte. Also it seems that Metroid is more popular in the US than in Jpn right?

    • Metroid isn’t popular at all in Japan. Even going all the way back to Super Metroid.

      Thought I’d add some more text to this. Try starting with Prime 2 if you don’t want to play Prime 1. I really, really want to do a separate feature on Prime 2 because I think it’s the most unique and “Metroid-like” of the three games.

      • jarrodand

        The original trilogy did okay in Japan. Metroid was a million seller actually, and Super Metroid sold over half a million itself.

      • jarrodand

        The original trilogy did okay in Japan. Metroid was a million seller actually, and Super Metroid sold over half a million itself.

        • Right, but compare that to what Nintendo’s other properties tend to do in Japan — or did, at the time — and Metroid never really caught on like the others did.

          It’ll be interesting to see if Other M does better than the Prime games, since it’s a return to the more traditional Metroid style.

          • malek86

            Technically speaking, Metroid was always the black sheep of the three. Its sales, not just in Japan, but everywhere, were always a lot lower than any Mario or Zelda game.

            Actually, I never even understood why people put them on the same level. Not only is Metroid much less popular, it isn’t even made by Miyamoto.

          • I believe the “big three” thing started around the Gamecube era when Mario, Zelda and Metroid were the three franchises chosen to push that system. Metroid Prime is definitely where Metroid gained the most popularity.

            Yea, I was very surprised (and pleased) to see Other M announced at E3. After the way Nintendo handled Prime 3’s marketing, I was sure they didn’t want anything to do with the series any more. Good to see they’re still interested in it.

          • Metroid may not be made by Miyamoto but they definitely had some important people on that team. I loved the series when it was in 2D and never understood why Super Metroid was not high ranking in Japan. The stuff they did on that cartridge was a godsend if you ask me. Not sure how I’ve ever felt about the 3D series as I haven’t beaten any of them but I would love to try it out. It’s just not the same though. I’ll get around to it one of these days. What’s this I hear about the ports on the Wii not looking as good? Should I stick to my Gamecube copies?

          • That’s just a couple people bitching about some effects they removed from the Wii version because you can now free-aim with the pointer. Get the Trilogy version, it’s incredible with the new controls. Plus, that tin box is amazing for any collector in general.

            About the Miyamoto thing: I don’t understand why people believe every good Nintendo game comes from Miyamoto. Most of my favourite games are the ones he had less of an influence on, like Metroid or Majora’s Mask or Smash Bros.

            It’s a little frustrating sometimes. Rhythm Heaven and WarioWare are both excellent games from the Metroid team as well, and Miyamoto doesn’t touch those.

          • malek86

            They are pretty much the same. Actually, the Wii version was a bit improved in some areas. Too bad you can’t use the GC controls though, I kinda liked them better.

          • jarrodand

            Well sure, by Nintendo standards Metroid really isn’t a stand out. I still it’s something of misnomer to say it was never popular though, when something like Super Metroid outsold say every Persona game in Japan.

            I think Other M will definitely do better than the Prime games (3rd person, Japanese pedigree) but I’m not expecting huge Japanese numbers. Probably in line with the GBA games (100-150k) or a little better.

  • Ishaan, nice read, I hope these longer impression pieces continue to become a staple of Siliconera.

    While I agree with most of your praise, I do find that the boss battles in Metroid Prime 3 are be vastly inferior to the previous two games, particularly compared to MP2 which very much appealed to the sensibilities of the hardcore player. Bosses feel very clumsy and poorly handled in MP3, relying on the same pattern remapped over and over again (that is, destroy the outer core and then attack in the vulnerable inner core). They definitely don’t stack up to Quadraxis and the other bosses nearing the end of MP2.

    I don’t like to advertise, but recently I’ve been writing an extensive series of articles on Metroid Prime 3 which are the the same vein as your own. You may be interested in taking a look:

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