clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile
Samus Aran touches her ear piece in Metroid Prime Remastered

Filed under:

In Metroid Dread, Samus is an action hero — in Metroid Prime, she’s a scientist

The 2023 remaster focuses on a more inquisitive bounty hunter

Image: Retro Studios/Nintendo

You don’t need me to recommend Metroid Prime Remastered to you. (If you do, please direct yourself to Maddy Myers’ distillation of the series.) If video games can be said to have a canon, Metroid Prime, originally released on GameCube in 2002, is certainly among the established greats. There are countless reasons why the game remains relevant — its world design, the atmospheric score, that classic Metroid magic — but in playing the beautiful remastered version on Nintendo Switch, which Nintendo surprise-dropped during February’s Nintendo Direct, I have a renewed appreciation for its inquisitive and empathetic incarnation of Samus Aran.

One of your first objectives in Prime, a game in which you explore, solve puzzles, backtrack, and combat the occasional enemy in search of Chozo artifacts, is to scan your environment. Playing from the claustrophobic, in-helmet perspective of Samus, you glean information about the world and its assorted flora and fauna, presented as text, collecting the entries in the bounty hunter’s Log Book throughout your adventure.

I played the original release of Metroid Prime when I was 12, when I had significantly less patience for reading than I do now. As such, I remember skipping almost all of the game’s inessential log entries, which are helpfully marked as orange squares on your HUD versus the progression-critical red boxes. What did I care about the behavioral patterns of something called a Geemer? What was there to know about a War Wasp beside the fact that I should kill it before it kills me?

Replaying the game now at 32, I find myself taking my time with it. The soundtrack and sound design of Prime still evoke a sense of loneliness that few games have achieved to date. This is an alien world, and you are alien to it. Metroid Prime Remastered looks great and plays smoothly in both TV and handheld mode, with new models and textures that are obviously updated but feel faithful to your childhood memories. What remains unchanged, insofar as I can tell, are the game’s many, many text entries.

Samus aims her missile launcher toward the sky in a snowy environment in Metroid Prime Remastered Image: Retro Studios/Nintendo via Polygon

You can scan trees and architecture and creepy crawlers and more in Metroid Prime. Scanning enemies and bosses reveals information essential to defeating them, which heavily incentivizes the action, since an enemy’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities are not always obvious just from blasting at them. Crucially, however, Metroid Prime does not throw a big block of text up on the screen that just says “Shoot the butt.” Instead, it situates this information in-fiction alongside scientific observations. Much of the text is inconsequential to the game’s mechanics but is hugely important with respect to character and the texture of Prime’s narrative.

Take the Log Book entry for Flaahgra, an early boss, for example:

Flaahgra’s growth cycle has been radically accelerated. As a result, it requires near-constant exposure to solar energy to remain active. This exposure has made Flaahgra’s outer shell thick and durable. Its lower root system is unprotected and vulnerable, however. Exploit this flaw when possible. Concentrated weapon fire can daze it for short periods.

While this boss battle does, indeed, more or less boil down to “shoot the butt,” before one can get to that phase, some deduction is required. In assessing the creature that stands before her, Samus considers what is required for it to live, outside of the context of her current entanglement. In doing so, it becomes clear to the player that one must deprive the creature of sunlight in order to make any meaningful progress. The deduction is confirmed when the player realizes that the arena is lined with solar panels, and that Samus can deactivate them. Victory shortly follows. What begins as a scientific observation ends with a dead plant monster and the Varia Suit, a welcome sight to the recently weakened Samus and your ticket to the next area.

Samus reads a data entry about a creature in Metroid Prime Remastered Image: Retro Studios/Nintendo via Polygon

Outside of these dramatic encounters with larger enemies, Samus’ entries reveal quieter details about the world and its inhabitants. The aforementioned Geemer changes his behavior when he feels threatened. The Sap Sac has evolved to be explosive in order to ward off hungry herbivores. Shriekbats are “fiercely territorial.” Reaper Vines “keep a constant vigil.” Unlike so many of the lore entries that fill up our pause screens, Metroid Prime conveys a sense of inquisitiveness on the part of its protagonist, and indeed empathy for the environments she finds herself traversing, both by its accumulation of what are, in terms of gameplay ramifications, extraneous details, and also its insistence on inquiry as a mode of moving through the world.

In Metroid Dread, you are encouraged to sprint through, keeping clear of enemies that, at the outset, you have no means of defeating. Your central relation to the game world is that of anxiety and, yes, dread. Metroid Prime, by contrast, wants you to feel inquisitive toward its lonely landscapes, to seek understanding of your enemies as much as mastery over them. Through its contemplative gameplay loop, wherein entering a new area means taking time to consider it, 20 years later, Metroid Prime might have even more to say about what it means to slow down, taking time to view the world with curiosity and wonder.

Metroid Prime Remastered was released on Feb. 8 on Nintendo Switch. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.