October 12th, 2009
As of this post I’m live, writing as I play, which’ll likely mean that after the next two posts I’ll hit a stump. Let’s see how far I can ride this train. Toot! Toot!
Areas Covered: Elysia (Main Docking Bay), Bryyo (Revisited 2nd), Imperial Caverns
Discussion Points: Backtracking, Tutorializing backtracking, Ghor battle, suit design, Imperial Caverns’ cyclic level design, Imperial Caverns and Phendrana Drifts
Elysia (Main Docking Bay)
As I moaned about for far too long in the Bryyo portion of my walk-through, backtracking is a chief concern of mine. Thankfully Retro have cut out a lot of backtracking (or at least removed the boredom out of it) for the next few sequences in the game. This’ll be the key point of discussion for the next stretch, so pay attention!
The trek back to your ship in pursuit of Ghor is treated as part of the continual training of the boost ball technique. The boost ball is required in generating power for the cannons which shorten your route back to the ship. The re-routing gives the environment a bit of zest, as is usually the case for good backtracking. Furthermore, as you probably noticed on your way in, there is a series of half pipes and other devices which each require the boost ball. These devices all aid in rejuvenating the path back to your ship as well as familiarizing you with the various applications of the boost ball technique.
I suppose I ought to talk about the fight with Ghor now, but I honestly don’t feel like discussing it. I can’t say that it was another regurgitation of the oft-repeated outer shell, inner core design, but simply put, the battle just felt stale and unresponsive. To make matters worse, Ghor’s clunky armor is an eyesore to look at. Another assurance that almost all of the boss battles up to this point have been a sour-y letdown. On the flip-side the plasma beam is awesome. ^_^
The plasma beam will probably trigger off a pulse in your brain reminding you of all those ice blockages throughout Bryyo. It’s a pity then that the ship is damaged and in a self-healing mode, meaning one thing: back to the Aurora Unit! It’s another retread, however Retro have twice managed to avoid the grind of repetition by again pinching from page 251 in the rule book of Nintendo game design which states “new abilities equals new ways of subverting troublesome backtracking”. This time the plasma beam can clear rubble lying around cannons, ziplining back to your destination. Again, backtracking becomes a tutorial. The cannons integrate well in the open environment and allow for new routes to be mapped onto the existing path structure.
I love Nintendo games, they all utilize the same shared set of common-sense design principles. Did you take note of the block-the-exit-with-obstacle-that-requires-the-new-ability trick after the Ghor battle? You should have, they’ve been pulling that one forever.
Anyways, after using the plasma beam in a series of welding exercises, the Aurora Unit will blabber some nonsense about leviathans, shields and some over-sized components. I really like Samus’ powerful stance and the angle which frames her in this sequence. There’s something visually attractive about the subdued colours and exoskeleton frame of Samus’ suit. She’s not quite human nor does she bear much resemblance to a space marine. Something about the design commands respect and I can’t quite put my finger on it. Flag this idea for another article.
With obligations aside you can go back to Bryyo and unearth whatever’s behind the frozen blockages. On the way you’ll stumble upon the green wall panels in Sky Town. The Aurora Unit will alert you that the required upgrade (screw attack) is available on Bryyo. Planting a seed and foreshadowing the next interval of gameplay. Another neat trick.
Bryyo (Revisited 2nd)
Heading back to Bryyo resurrects some old dilemmas: which airdock do you stop off at? Both places have uses for the plasma beam, which choice is the right one; the one with the screw attack? Fortunately making the wrong decision won’t punish you. Firey Airdock progresses the story while Cliffside Airdock sends you on an impressive upgrade trail which spirals around previous areas in a stupefying fashion. Damn. Retro are pulling out all the stops when it comes to addressing my previous complaints!
The same tutorial/backtracking trick is still in operation on your way back through Bryyo. It doesn’t take long before you find a warp which’ll take you to Imperial Caverns. A warp? Ok, this seems a little strange (why not just connect the two areas?), but I swear it’s happened before in a Metroid game. Oh yeah, Metroid Prime 2, light-dark world portals.
Players of the original Metroid Prime will likely feel sentimental towards Imperial Caverns. It’s a visual copy and paste of the much adored Phendrana Drifts. Sadly the assets appear to be ripped straight from 2002 with no considerable servicing to speak of. It’s unfortunate as it dampens much of the charm and makes everything feel a little old.
Imperial Caverns only houses the screw attack upgrade and not much else, giving it a relatively minor and, considering it’s connection to the rest of the planet, obscure presence in the scope of things.
I really dig the cyclic level design of this area, it clearly communicates to the player that they’ve traversed in a loop by structurally designing the caverns in series of circular shapes. Much of Metroid’s level design operates in a loop fashion; you enter an area, acquire a weapon and then loop your way to your initial starting point. It’s just in this area the structural design paints an appreciable representation. The verticality helps too, not sure that I’m in favour of smashing the floors of ice though.
Side note: I figured out my problems with the Sky Town map. Basically the different floors are connect to the exterior hub. Sometimes the ground floor will connect to a centre point which then sends you to the first floor of another area. When looking at it from above (as the map is presented) it’s difficult to determine which floors contain the appropriate exits. That is, unless you zoom in right up close, but that becomes a hassle into itself.
Another random aside: I just figured out why the ice missiles have the ice property. Freezing make-shift platforms is a compulsory part of your repertoire, by assigning ice properties to the missiles there can be no conflict from the regular beam. Incidentally the regular (plasma) beam achieves the opposite purpose by melting ice and is in the same way assigned.