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Lame discussion – What makes Metroid Metroid? Part 1

posted on October 11th, 2007 by the gang

After finishing Metroid Prime 3, resident Metroid fanatics Don, Matt and Christian were eager to discuss not only Corruption, but the Metroid series as a whole. Presented here is the first part of an in depth look at what, if anything, makes a Metroid game a Metroid game.

Don: I think the most relevant issues are what makes this a Metroid game, what makes it NOT a Metroid game and how it can compete in what is, frankly, a pretty badass set of this-gen titles.

Matt: Which Metroid titles have you played, Don?

Don: All but the original Gameboy ones. I’d like to get the move to 3d out of the way.

Matt: Ok, so you’re good with Metroid lore then.

Don: Yeah — totally. 3d: it works, it has since mp3 and we’d all be bitching if it was 2d

Christian: I wouldn’t bitch.

Don: Let’s establish that it is bang-on, or as good as it will get for Metroid, and move on.

Matt: Well, there is a vocal contingent that likes 2d Metroids. I want both, actually.

Christian: Now Don makes a sound point. This game wraps up the prime saga, and really we’ve seen about all we can see from this style of 3d Metroid.

Don: Well, Christian, by ‘we all’ I mean the gaming populace mean. 1) We all want/like both – and HAVE both – but read the public sites, everyone bitches that 2d Metroid is ‘more of the same’.

Christian: Right.

Don: I think, to be honest, that this title wraps up a huge chunk of the Metroid arch.

Christian: In any case, the next metroid needs to be more like say, Fusion and not another prime

Matt: So 2d?

Don: Agreed 100%.

Christian: In terms of style, not dimensions. Doesn’t matter what the dimensions.

Don: Well, the problem is that if we switch too much we get the Zelda effect. The Cellda effect, to be sure.

Christian: Or the Phantom Hourglass effect?

Matt: Explain to me what you want from a Fusion-like game?

Don: I think he means art style and game flow.

Christian: Well Fusion was different in many ways. It drove the Alien comparison further.

Don: That it did.

Christian: The X virus was such a dangerous threat to Samus.

Matt: While enjoyable, it felt too linear.

Christian: Her interaction with the ship AI., it put the character in such a new light

Matt: I like exposition, as well.

Don: Matt, the linear fence will NEVER be right. Too much is too much, too little is too little and the public will NEVER find a balance.

Matt: But the very essence of Metroid is non-linear.

Don: Matt – though I agree with you, I think there is a vocal sect who would scoff. The original Metroid game (not exactly games) was non-linear, but that doesn’t mean much.

Christian: Here’s an interesting new idea I have. Out of the recent metroid games, Corruption seems the least friendly to speed runs. Not sure about sequence breaking. Well people love speed running Metroid games. Beat it in 5 hours, 6 hours, whatever. And much of that comes from sequence breaking – getting powerups when you shouldn’t be. Corruption contains the most exposition, and arguably the most travel between locations, both on the planets and between the planets. And I haven’t heard from the Metroid community how easy the sequence breaks are. But it doesn’t seem like a game geared towards running through like a demon after memorizing the puzzles and map. it drives the exploration/archaeological emphasis of the Prime games to its logical conclusion

Don: Agreed. But it is a PRIME thing that it is concluding. Prime seems to have its own rules. Good ones, but how relevant is it in the Metroid universe as a whole?

Christian: Which is why the focus needs to shift again.

Don: Agreed. Now that that’s out of the way I have to ask this: why would I want Metroid – outside of brand recognition – if I’ve got Halo3 and Bioshock?

Matt: Those aren’t the same kind of games

Don: Hold on, Mr. Game Designer. Not everyone sees or thinks that. I am asking a question I get EVERY time I try to preach MP3 – by gamers, not game designers or game writers.

Christian: Don makes a sound point.

Matt: Have these people played any Prime games then?

Don: Most have, yeah.

Christian: And some haven’t because hey, this is the Wii.

Don: Outside of jumping, how is MP different from Bioshock?

Christian: Now their interest is piqued.

Don: (Story aside, of course.) Exploration, compelling story, interesting weapons…Why does Joe gamer want MP3 and not Bioshock?

Christian: Prime’s problem since the beginning is that it’s an adventure game robed in FPS sensibilities and it’s hard to see that when it walks and talks like a duck.

Don: What adventure? The one where I collect things and shoot things in the first person? Because I spent a LOT of time shooting things in the first person. And a good deal of walking around in Bioshock as well as MP3. Now – let’s be clear – I am likely the hugest MP3 fan here – I am not arguing against it – I have answers to all of these questions – I just want YOUR takes. (This question baffled me when posed to me when I spent two weeks trying to get the ENTIRE WORLD to buy and play MP3.)

Christian: For me, the Prime games are the closest thing we’ve seen in gaming since Myst went out of style in that it presents worlds of grandeur that I like to walk around in and investigate. Then Corruption tossed in much more shooting, and I wasn’t sure what to make of it.

Matt: I like the fact that Metroid is more about traversal of the environment. It’s the setting that grabs me. Bioshock uses that idea very little.

Christian: Bioshock lets you explore just about everything, but it didn’t always felt like exploration. It felt more like….rummaging.

Matt: Only Arcadia felt like a Metroid title and it was used sparingly.

Don: So it is the aesthetics – the concept is essentially the same?

Christian: The Prime games give you both pretty statues to glare at, and caves and temples to traverse. It’s the design. Because in the end I’m still going through stairwells and apartments and shit in Bioshock. Prime lets you travel through caves and temples and mines and mountains.

Matt: Metroid games have a cohesive environment that sucks you in.

Don: Right – ok – that brings us to the next question.

Christian: There’s a remaining sense of mystery, where you aren’t sure what’s around the bend.

Don: Thank you for the wonderful segue, Christian. Why is MP3 different from Halo? Plenty of caves and mountains in Halo3…temples, mines…

Matt: Halo is explosive. The gameplay is different – the shooting mechanics.

Don: Ss far as I remember, a SHIT TON exploded in MP3. Ok – so the shooting mechanics and aesthetics are the only differences I am reading here.

Matt: And the fact that Halo has people helping you. Samus is alone. That draws you into the environment even more.

Don: Matt, I would count that as an aesthetic choice. All good answers. Next question:
Is it stubbornness, pride, arrogance or loyalty that makes us swear up and down that MP3 isn’t an FPS but is instead some weird hybrid?

Matt: Halo can be set in any location, and it will still be fun. Metroid needs a well-designed level to be fleshed out. FPS games are more about the shooting. I haven’t found many that emphasize exploration and level design like Prime has, even Bioshock.

Don: I would argue that everyone and his mother are ranting about Bioshock’s level design and exploration. Every review is strewn full of it. In fact, some reviews say “just another FPS but with a great environment.”

Matt: I think the very look of it is what they’re talking about. Not how everything is interconnected.

Christian: The answer here is simple. Halo is a game that is first an foremost about combat. It emphasizes the conflict between squads. It forces you to asses both enemy and situation in order to determine what weapons and tactics to use. The rich lore of Halo 3 (AKA the terminals) are hidden away. It gives the college frat boys what they want, and they’re giving guys like us a wink and a nod with the deeper narrative. Halo is as deep as you want it to be.

Metroid … the combat isn’t about how to tackle the battle. Once you figure out the weakness or pattern for an enemy, that’s it. Every other engagement is close to automatic. The combat isn’t as much to challenge as it is to overwhelm. If it kicks your ass enough you may not survive later pitfalls — it’s erosion, where Halo is – impact? And Metroid Prime needs its lore and its story to succeed -it wraps you up in it. Halo and Bioshock are more about spontaneity and experimentation. Prime is about immersing yourself into every square inch of the world that has been crafted.

Don: Just so I understand: Halo and Bioshock are more about spontaneity and experimentation. Prime is about immersing yourself into every square inch of the world that has been crafted.

Christian: Yes.

Don: Just like Bioshock.

Matt: I don’t think Bioshock pulled it off as well as Prime.

Don: I agree, Matt, but it sure tried.

Christian: At no point in Bioshock did I feel like I had to do everything. Bioshock let me take a recording – and sometimes I didn’t listen for three hours! Sometimes I listened while setting up a trap or wrenching people in the skull. Prime makes you sit there and read the text. You have to follow along.

Don: You don’t really though – you can not use the scan visor…

Christian: And without it the game loses a lot.

Don: Right – same with the recordings.

Christian: So does Bioshock, but I feel it isn’t as much because Bioshock can be played in a very goofy, reckless way.

Matt: Yes, in subtle ways they are alike. But one has guns, and one as some weird shooter as an arm.

Don: Which is a gun.

Matt: It’s abstract though and shooting doors to open them. That’s also abstract.

Don: This is my main issue with the high-minded ‘it’s adventure wrapped in an fps shell’ company line. People who don’t know the lore of either, I believe, see the game as it is. Our differences here are SO subtle.

Matt: the generic gamer, you mean.

Don: I think WE are blinded by the game’s history and lore. The everyman — yeah. WE know what ‘Metroid’ is supposed to be and we apply that and when challenged we have tiny little things – shooting doors or the need to read – that somehow tip the scales for us. My fiancée, the one who kicked the SHIT out of gears on hardcore – can’t see the difference. Here’s the kicker – she can tell me the difference between gears and any of those titles in a heartbeat

9 Comments

  1. Jeff said on October 12, 2007:

    Why the hell would I want to eat captain crunch when froot loops taste so much better? We can defend our much loved Samus til the cows come home but we gotta face it. She’s like a comfy pair of jeans. I grew up with her as my gaming idol and no other game givess me the same solitude and hopelessness as any Metroid title. Even the linear fusion.

    Is it so much different form other FPS’s? If I was looking form an outside perspective then I’d say deffinately not. But grow up playing Metroid, Metroid II and Super Metroid, my answer is very different by contrast. Gimmi Metroid ANY day.

  2. christian said on October 12, 2007:

    Note that the reason we could even stage this debate is by being diehard Metroid fanboys who will play every game Samsu is featured in.

  3. Stefan said on October 14, 2007:

    Being an Atari kid, then a Sega fan, I never played much Metroid growing up. I had tried metroid 1 and super metroid, but never got more than about 30 minutes into either title. So I feel comfortable saying that from the perspective of someone who didn’t grow up with Samus, Metroid Prime felt different from most FPS games.

    For me, the thing I noticed the most initially was the auto-aiming. Being able to lock onto a target (like in the 3D zelda games), de-emphasizes twitchy skill with the controller, which makes combat less important, or at least something I didn’t need to focus on as closely. Because of this de-emphasis, the more subtle elements of the game (which may not by themselves have been enough to differentiate it from other FPS games) become more important. The backtracking, exploration, and building of information through the use of the scanner all have analogs in other FPS games, but in Metroid they became more important.

    I think the Thief series pulls a similar trick. All the elements of an FPS are there, but the parameters which govern their interaction are tweaked in such a way as to make you focus on very different aspects of gameplay. In Metroid combat is made easy, and in Theif it’s made insanely difficult, but in both cases this shift moves it out of its role at the core of the game, which allows other aspects to step in as defining elements.

    In either case, categorizing the game solely by the elements that are present ignores the hugely important issue of their interaction and balance. In the end, our impressions of a game are governed as much by how we end up using a gun — and the impact that use has on the game world — as by whether or not the gun exists.

  4. jay said on October 14, 2007:

    I understand the argument was artificially created to facilitate discussion of what makes Metroid Metroid, but I still think asking asking “why does this game exist?” is silly. Why did Final Fantasy exist in a world that already had Dragon Quest? Why did Bioshock exist when Metroid Prime 1 already existed?

    As for what makes Metroid what it is, I have only played Prime 1, but the way you guys glossed over platforming is criminal. First person is a perspective, not a genre. From this perspective the Prime series offers exploration, platforming and shooting, in that order of importance.

  5. TrueTallus said on October 15, 2007:

    Perhaps it isn’t so much familiarity with the legacy of Metriod itself that makes it’s games stand out as so unique, but rather a breadth of experience with games in general. The many qualities that make the series special (like the balance of platforming to fighting that Jay mentioned or, as Stefan described, the way it utilizes it’s shooting mechanic) are not readily discernable to those who haven’t spent enough time with games to recognize or care about the difference.

    Like Stefan, my time with Prime 1 (my first exposure to Metriodom) felt noticeably different from what I’d call a FPS experience. The light combat combined with a hefty focus on exploration and environment navigation most closely reminded me of the King’s Field series of RPGs for Playstation. Had my repertoire of videogames been limited to a handful of sports games and the occasional Halo, however, I can only imagine that MP would have come across as sort of bland.

    I’m in the casual boat with a lot of stuff, and I can sympathize with the “this looks the same to me” attitude that comes with not being an aficionado. Someone else might be able to tell me how clearly different a Monet is from a Rembrandt, but without an eye trained to appreciate that difference (and no particular compulsion to cultivate one) I’d be pretty well satisfied going to a museum and saying “One art, please.”

  6. Dave said on April 23, 2008:

    I honestly think that Prime is great. You were saying that Prime should be converted to 2D, and to me, I think a 2D Dark Samus would be awesome, too. I think the games should just be plain easier, too. But thats not happening.

  7. CoCo said on December 21, 2009:

    Look the Prime Series pulls into to puzzles as well as violence. Metroid in general is pretty much the game for the guy who hates tons of blood in games but still likes to shoot. It also fills your crave for exploration because you can never explore the full of the game because their is always something new in each room. Metroid was made to show that violence isn’t everything in life. If you want to complete Metroid you have to be good at puzzles. Not just shooting.

  8. Sanchez said on January 7, 2010:

    I hadn’t ever known much about metriod growing up as a kid, I first found her on the N64 Smash Bro.s kinda stuck with her to Meele too, When Prime came out for the gamecube i’m sure you can imagine what I did, And now i’ve played all the of the Primes along with fusion, Super Metroid, Metroid & Metroid 2 Return of Samus.

    I have to say that my friends give me a LOT of crap about Metroid, They’ve enver played it but they are cant help but wonder why I like teh game so much.

    It’s fun, It’s got action, The environment of the game forces you to pay attention to what is going on, Every enemy is unique in the fact that you usually cant just gun them down with whatever you have at hand.

    There are bosses fights which are actually engaging & hard if your not quick to think.
    I remember when Halo3 came out i’m not going to lie i was pretty excited but the entire time i played the game i dont think i really understood what was happening in terms of story line.

    In the Metroid series the game is built on the storyline likewise with other games the storyline is built On the character, The Metroid universe was made & Samus compliments the storyline in each title changing with the storyline.

    And since the character you play as evolves based on the story you pay much more attention to the game as a whole because what is going on around you in the game affects you the character.

    In Halo you are god, The story line revolves around you, The story does not play you, You play the story, Everything is in your control you kill everything & keep going, The only thing that poses a threat is how many enemies there are what kind of guns you have & ammo.

    Halo 2 i feel was the best in the series, when you played it felt like you were playing the game according to what happened in the story, You were fulfilling a role, Halo 3 is a perfect example of a FPS, Shoot shoot shoot, Kill kill kill, cut scene!!!.

    Metroid has for em always been a mix of good games, What I like to call a hybrid of Halo & Zelda.

    A futuristic version of zelda with puzzles exploration & bosses, The first person shooting & action of Halo.

    Either way no one will ever make a point to valid as to move em away from this game series, In a nutshell, I like playing as a bad ass female bounty hunter in a rare powerful custom power suit, I like being the only big dog on a planet, I like fighting really hard giant monsters & i like the feeling I get when I explore a new area that makes me think.

    “I really hope nothing big jumps out at me”

    I like having to kill monsters in different ways.

    And most of all I love cut scenes where you actually get to see your “Hero” doing something OTHER than talking.

    METROID FTW!!!!!

  9. Cunzy1 1 said on March 1, 2010:

    I’ve literally just got around to playing MP3. For those old timers still here, do you still thing Metroid trumps Bioshock? Three years down the line and with a Bioshock sequel out, MP3 doesn’t seem to have reverberated with the community as much as Bioshock did.

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