Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Sometimes I forget that Metroid is a woman

So I started playing Metroid Prime (Wii Trilogy version). I'm not very far into it yet, but Retro Studios definitely got the atmosphere down. I never experienced the GameCube version, but even over seven years after its original release, the graphics and audio hold up quite well.

The Wii Remote controls are pretty nifty, though again I don't know what it was like on the GameCube. This is the first "FPS" I've played on the Wii, and comparing this setup to a 360 controller, I wouldn't say this is more accurate necessarily for precision shots, but I do feel like I can track enemies more quickly and naturally. My experience with traditional gamepads with this genre is not that great either, but it usually feels clumsy and disconnected unless I'm sniping. Being able to point with my wrist, on the other hand, it's very easy to zip (roughly) in the direction of the target. The enemies I've faced so far haven't really had "weak points," however, and I suspect the hard part would be trying to focus in and keep it steady on a small target.

What I don't so much get is the scanning mechanic. It seems very tedious and cumbersome having to constantly scan everything, especially since you have to turn off your cannons and manually activate scanning mode just to see what you can scan. I'm not even sure why I'm scanning these things. It certainly doesn't make any narrative sense for Samus to have to take fire without responding for several seconds so that she can download some mostly irrelevant data on an aggressive hostile. In a lot of other games, enemies just get added to the bestiary after you defeat them. In this game, it seems as though I seriously spend more time scanning than doing anything else. I guess that's what it's like to be an explorer, but I thought I was supposed to be playing a bounty hunter. Am I just not getting it?


Czardoz said...

At the time of the release of the real game, I had read that, in the minds of either the developers or various pundits, all that scanning was meant to constitute the "narrative" of Metroid Prime. Kind of a bogus excuse for not having more story sequences, but it didn't matter for me, because I actually enjoyed the scanning, and I tried to scan not just all of the archive items (which were tracked in your save file), but also all the scannable items that didn't "count" for anything, but were just to add to the player's knowledge of the world.

For the player who just wants to run and gun, that's a perfectly viable option, and nothing about the game suggests that you couldn't beat it just fine without ever scanning anything (other than maybe bosses if you get stuck trying to beat one).

There's a dilemma for the player who does buy the explanation that the game's story lies in the scans, but who finds the scanning to be annoying or unrealistically intrusive (e.g., scanning during a firefight), and it seems that you are in this position. Just from watching you play, I think that in the real game, it was easier to switch between the scan visor and the battle visor, so it didn't feel like such a cumbersome transition. Even so, I didn't like having to go back and forth in the middle of a fight. However, the only thing you'd ever have to scan in the middle of a fight is your enemies, and then only the first time you ever face them. Any Chozo lores or plants in the background could wait to be scanned until after you annihilate your foes.

In most games, enemies get added to your bestiary after you beat them, but does that make any more "narrative sense" than what Samus does? If it's sense that matters, I would say that it makes little sense to have a complete profile of a downed enemy suddenly appear in your bestiary. Samus actually has the technology and presumably galatic reference guides to analyze enemies, but only if you're willing to take the time to scan.

I would say that the scanning, if not enjoyable in itself, is most similar to collecting videos in Dirge of Cerberus, or any similar collecting of items or achievements that are irrelevant to completing the actual game. If you really don't know "why you're scanning these things," then I would say the reason is to complete your collection. And if that doesn't matter, you should probably just stop right away, and you'll start enjoying the gameplay a lot more.

Some collectibles are more important than others. Would I go back to Dirge and try to collect all those video files? Maybe, even though the game is a slog, because the videos are cool. Would I go play Metroid Prime again simply to scan that one thing I missed? No way, but I might play the game again because it's a fun game. Would I go back to any of the Castlevanias and try to fight any enemy I missed, just to get it into my bestiary? Not a chance, just because the bestiary wasn't all that important to me.

Henry said...

The bestiaries in other games don't make narrative sense, but they don't have to, because they aren't intended as part of the narrative. In those games, it's just useful reference data for the player. In Metroid Prime, it so far seems to me that they went to great lengths to make the scanning the major part of the experience, yet they haven't actually provided any explanation for why Samus would be doing it. The mechanic would be cool if this were some sort of photography or research game with no weapons, but here the priorities seem out of order. I mean, I know why I am doing it, but I also know that my reasons are irrational, and that makes me a sucker.