So I recently got the chance to watch a friend of mine play through the three mainline Metroid Prime games, and after seeing someone new experience them for the first time, I felt like now would be a decent opportunity to address some of the flaws with the Prime series. So while it's still fresh in my mind, I decided to make a fairly long post of most of the major areas in which the Prime games fail in one way or another and how future Metroid games (or future adventure games in general) can learn from them.
With that said, I do want to clarify something beforehand: This is by no means meant to indicate that I dislike the Prime series in the slightest. In fact, it contains some of my favorite games of all time. With that said, I think there are a number of places that the games make mistakes, and these are worth analyzing.
So with that in mind, let's get started.
Criticizing Prime is perhaps the hardest of the three, mostly because it feels very much like the modern standard for exploration games. Still, there are a number of flaws worth mentioning, first and foremost being the artifact fetch quest towards the end. It's certainly not awful, but the fact that most players likely won't have worked much on it by the time the game's ending rolls around means that everyone's momentum towards the end gets killed when they realize they have to go find a whole bunch of keys right when they think they're about to fight the final boss.
Prime's area design, for the most part, is spot on, but there's a couple areas where Retro went overboard and went from making a room that's challenging yet fair to navigate to one that is simply obnoxious. Most of these areas are found in the Phazon Mines leading up to the Omega Pirate, but one in particular that deserves mention is the big room in the Impact Crater before Metroid Prime. This is partially due to the existence of Fission Metroids, but most of what makes these rooms annoying is the fact that you are forced to return all the way to the very beginning if you screw up and begin the platforming process once again. As Prime goes on, it tends to make its rooms more difficult to traverse by simply making them more frustrating rather than fairly challenging.
A couple of Prime's enemy types deserve special notice as well. Beam Troopers and the aforementioned Fission Metroids suck in large part due to the fact that they simply artificially limit your arsenal in the lamest way possible, and have been discussed to death, but one enemy that I don't feel gets nearly enough derision tossed its way is the Omega Pirate. The Omega Pirate itself isn't bad, but as a boss battle, basically the entire challenge revolves around the minions it summons to attack you. The Omega Pirate itself is far too slow and unwieldy to pose much of a challenge on its own, so it relies on summoning Pirate underlings to make things a challenge. This turns the boss fight into a frustrating game of multitasking, and, worst of all, the minions it summons are the ones that artificially limit the weapons you can use against them. Bosses are most interesting when they pose a unique challenge, and the only challenge the Omega Pirate poses is how well you can babysit the grunts it throws at you.
METROID PRIME 2: ECHOES
Right off the bat I'll get through the repeat lessons that were definitely not learned inbetween Prime and Prime 2. The key quest returns in Prime 2, only even more obnoxious than before (now you get 3 mini quests and one giant one at the end). A number of the enemies are just chores to kill, though instead of being invincible to all but one weapon type, they either just teleport around and have health bars the size of Mars (Dark Pirate Commandos, I'm looking at you), or tend to just make themselves impossible to hit (Hunter Ing).
Now that that's done, let's talk what's new that's bad about Echoes. I like the concept of the light/dark world in general, but what I'm not a fan of is a dark world that's artifically blocked off in a number of places, making it impossible to stay in the dark world and go from place to place easily. What this means is that it's oftentimes very difficult to get to a specific place in the dark world, because doors that work in the light world will be randomly blocked by the game, and the only way to get to them is to enter a very specific portal in the light world. Not only does this kind of hurt the sense of the dark world being an entirely equal and seperate dimension rather than just a bland extension of the light world, it makes the game a chore to navigate.
The boss design gets particularly lazy at times. The game likes to fall back on the idea of taking a previously fought common enemy and beefing them up to turn them into a boss fight, and while this works out really well at times (Quadraxis in particular), at other times there just isn't enough effort to differentiate them. The Boost Guardian, Jump Guardian, Grapple Guardian, Alpha Blogg, and Bomb Guardian all suffer heavily from this. Another longstanding hated boss, the Spider Guardian, gets plenty of hate already. I like the idea of it as a boss, and I don't feel as inclined to complain about it, but I will complain about the obnoxious walking time inbetween it and the last save point, especially considering the difficulty of the boss and the fact that people will almost assuredly being dying here.
Beam Ammo is another failing that I find myself liking the general concept of, but in practice it winds up being more annoying than anything. Retro obviously wanted people to be careful with how they use their weapons to promote a more thoughtful approach to combat, which I can get, but since some bosses are nigh on impossible to kill without the use of a particular beam (usually light beam), it encourages the player to be unnecessarily stingy, which simply contributes to the enemies being annoying to kill.
One final mention is the areas in this game; they're particularly bland. None of the environments in this game are ones that I find all that memorable, and Torvus Bog in particular gets flak for being absolutely obnoxious to navigate, even in the light world. I find myself preferring the stock "fire/ice/mines" locales of Tallon IV to the more unique "desert/bog/techno city" areas of Aether, just because the level design in Echoes feels very cramped and bland in comparison to Prime's much more open and easily differentiable environments.
METROID PRIME 3: CORRUPTION
Returning complaints: Forced fetch quest (though it's admittedly much better done than either of the previous two installments)
I don't mind the existence of multiple NPCs in Prime 3, particularly the Hunters, since they mostly exist to get mind controlled by Dark Samus and show off Phazon's mind controlling powers rather than actually be meaningful characters, but the game does press things a bit too far towards the end with the "protect the Demolition Trooper" section on the Pirate Homeworld. I generally dislike being forced to protect things in any video game, but it's particularly out of place in a Metroid game. It makes little sense logically either; why not simply wait until the Pirates have been beaten back, and then send the troopers in? Or just send some bombs along with the fully armored troops? Oh whatever. Regardless, please, don't do linear "protect the X" sections in any video games, let alone exploration ones.
Difficulty labeling is one area in which a name can make all the difference. Corruption is often criticized for being the easiest of the series, but this is a conception that comes about mostly due to labeling above all else. The "normal" mode in Corruption is equivalent to some hypothetical easy mode for the two Gamecube titles, and the "veteran" mode in Corruption is equivalent to "normal" mode in the first two games. At the very least, have the decency to title normal "beginner" or something to differentiate it. Don't arbitrarily rename stuff, especially difficulty settings, please.
I like the wii remote aiming in Prime 3, but much like Skyward Sword, Corruption goes overboard and wants to make everything that can possibly be controlled by the Wii remote...be controlled by the Wii remote. From using the grapple beam, to flipping switches, to extracting full cels; everything that can use motion control will use motion control. It's not awful, but it certainly doesn't help immersion and it's just obnoxious at points, particularly on those train car segments in the Pirate Homeworld. Having a cool new gimmick is great, but when you're putting it all over the game, ask yourself if it really adds to the experience in any positive manner.
The Valhalla is a fantastic environment in theory...but it screws up in a couple critical areas. Recycling a Metroid Hatcher as the main boss battle really, really sucks, and the recorded message from AU 313 is extremely cheesy and spells out the plot far too much in my opinion. It's hard to take the closest the Metroid series has come to a horror environment seriously when there's a hologram of an AU unit slowly droning on about the darkness coming. Something else like this would be cool to see in the future...only perhaps with its own boss and maybe some lore about that location specifically.
As one final note, instant kills kind of suck. There's a couple in this game, and I wish they didn't exist. Terminal corruption is fine, but killing someone instantly for, say, walking into the mining beam blast in the Nova Beam fight seems a bit harsh. Also, I'm not a huge fan of how hazards do more damage to the player over time.
So yeah, there's the Prime series. Certainly not perfect, but still an excellent set of games and ones that I think set a very high bar for the adventure/exploration genre. I'd love to see a new Metroid game in the future, and I'd hope that, whenever we do get one, it manages to avoid most of these pitfalls.