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Metroid Prime Remastered makes one of the best games of all time even better

After countless rumors and years of disappointment as those leaks failed to materialize, Metroid Prime Remastered is finally a reality. Though its existence may not have come at a shock at this point, Nintendo’s surprise shadow launch of it following this week’s Direct showcase certainly caught fans off guard. Shortly after the presentation wrapped up, I was unexpectedly revisiting my favorite video game of all time with all of its creative glory intact.

As its name implies, Metroid Prime Remastered isn’t a total overhaul of the Nintendo GameCube classic. Every second from the first-person adventure game unfolds exactly as you remember it, from its thrilling opening aboard an abandoned space frigate to its mournful trek through Phendrana Drifts. The visuals have been modernized and a new control layout makes it play like a modern shooter, but those are the only real changes you’ll find through the adventure.

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That’s the right approach for a game as perfect as Metroid Prime. While it might have been tempting to give the original a Dead Space-type remake treatment, the GameCube title didn’t need modifying. Instead, the remaster does some quiet technical work to remind players why Samus’ first 3D outing is still an unparalleled adventure two decades later.

A prime remaster

For the uninitiated, Metroid Prime is a unique game whose genre-hybrid style has only been replicated successfully a few times since its release. At a glance, it’s a first-person shooter, but that’s a slightly reductive read of it. While combat is an important part, it’s much more of a puzzle-platformer. Samus must navigate an alien planet by using her visors and abilities to complete environmental puzzles that build in complexity. Like a regular Metroid game, the adventure also has her regaining powers gradually, with each one opening up new paths and secrets as she backtracks through previously visited areas.

Samus stares out at Chozo Ruins in Metroid prime Remastered.

That gameplay style has found its way into games like Journey to the Savage Planet and High on Life in recent years, but Metroid Prime remains the best in its class. Upon picking it up, I’m immediately stunned by how ahead of its time the game still feels to this day. Movement is incredibly smooth, allowing me to perform precise platforming from a first-person view. Samus moves at a fast pace and her lock-on allows me to easily snap to enemies and interactable objects with the press of a button. Within two hours, I’ve already made my way through three biomes and picked up a slew of core abilities. I don’t even look up to check the clock during that span; it just whizzes by.

That’s where the remaster’s small changes make a difference. For instance, the new dual-stick control layout is an important change. In the original, Samus only moved with one stick, relying on strafes to get around. The GameCube’s C-stick was used to swap between her four weapons on the fly. In the new control scheme, the left stick now controls movement and the right handles camera like a standard shooter. Visors are flipped with the D-pad, while weapons are changed by pressing those buttons while holding X.

While the switch is so natural that some players might not even notice it, I quickly find that it improves my experience. I’m able to freely aim in a much more fluid fashion, allowing me to run and gun as opposed to stopping to fire. In one classic hallway in Chozo Ruins, I have to shoot eyeballs that fire green lasers to close them, granting me safe passage. In the original, I’d have to stop and shoot each one, making the room a bit annoying to backtrack through. This time, I’m able to barrel forward, shooting up at each eye as I pass under it. Tiny moments like that better keep my momentum up, emphasizing the game’s quick pace.

Samus aims her arm cannon at the Parasite Queen in Metroid Prime Remastered.

What’s especially great, though, is that there’s a bit of extra control tinkering available. In addition to the classic scheme, players can enable the motion controls used in the Wii port of the original. A classic control scheme even combines those controls with the vintage one-stick setup. Further options allow me to enable gyroscope camera controls, swap my beam and missile buttons, and flip how I access beams and visors on my D-pad menus. That slew of options opens up a game whose one barrier to entry was restrictive controls. With that removed, Metroid Prime is essentially as close to perfect as gaming gets.

Metroid shine

Of course, the main draw of any remaster is updated visuals — and Metroid Prime Remastered absolutely delivers on that front. The touch-up is apparent right from the game’s astonishing opening, where a destroyed frigate floats through space as an enormous orange planet looms in the background. The sequence has always been a striking, atmospheric opening and it’s even more jaw-dropping with cleaner visuals and smoother lines.

What Retro Studios understands here is that the original Metroid Prime didn’t need much of an overhaul. Its memorable art direction, which combines sci-fi machinery with natural alien landscapes, is timeless in the same way The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker’s is. Rather than rebuilding its levels, it simply adds a bit more detail and tunes up its lighting. The difference is notable when you look at screenshots from the original and remaster side by side, but the latter just emphasizes the gorgeous art that was already present in the former.

Side by side of the original and remastered Metroid Prime (second image is super lo-res since its very old). Obviously a notable difference in detail, smoothness, and lighting. But look how fantastic that baseline vista is even in the old game!

— Giovanni Colantonio (@MarioPrime) February 9, 2023

I especially notice that change in Phendrana Drifts, the game’s ice world. The biome has always been a standout level thanks to its snowy vistas and thick patches of ice. The remaster honors that by making the whites whiter, reducing some of the gray slush tone of the original, and adding more detail to its rocky cliffsides. That’s frankly all the original needed. A smoother image allows me to marvel at its awe-inspiring landscapes through fresh eyes, giving me that same sense of the sublime I felt 20 years ago.

In terms of new upgrades, there’s not much else to speak of. Doors load much faster, which means you won’t find yourself impatiently waiting for one to open anymore. A UI tweak adds a few slivers of metal to the screen, making it feel more like players are looking through Samus’ helmet. Could it have used more changes? Sure, there’s always room for improvement. A lack of auto-save means I find myself having to backtrack through three biomes after dying during the Adult Sheegoth boss battle. More flexible modern touches like that could have alleviated a few headaches, but I have virtually nothing to complain about. My favorite game of all time is even better now. What more can you ask for?

Metroid Prime Remastered is exactly what it needed to be: a simple preservation effort that doesn’t go overboard with changes. Sometimes a full remake is necessary to keep a game’s legacy intact; sometimes the original speaks for itself. The latter is true of Metroid Prime, which still feels as inventive and forward-thinking as it did in 2002. If that doesn’t get you excited for the long-delayed Metroid Prime 4, I don’t know what will.

Metroid Prime Remastered is available now on Nintendo Switch.

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