When art rules, and gameplay suffers...
When a successful franchise is irrevocably altered to a new genre, it will be met with resistance, or at the very least, skepticism. Metroid Prime, the first American incarnation of a Japanese title by Retro Studios, achieves a highly polished game with some surprises, and tragedies. Many were alarmed when Metroid fans heard the infamous news... First Person Shooter. The transition from side scrolling action to 3D exploration is no small jump, and Retro Studios answers the call with slick graphics and the morphing ball... a narrow glimpse into what Retro really wanted.
The visual appeal of the game is incredible. There are many places in the game where a player can just stand in absolute awe of what the artists have achieved with this game and GameCube's power. Effects are top notch, nearly second to none. Backgrounds in places are genuinely creepy. Mood, lighting all of these elements make for an extremely satisfying visual experience.
The morphing ball experience speaks untold volumes about what this game could have been... This was undoubtedly the most exciting and liberating aspect of Metroid Prime. Allow me to step in here in person and say that, I think this was the game Retro was shooting for. The sense of movement and response was so compelling! I get the feeling they were going for 3rd person but they could never get the combat / lock on system to work well enough, so Miyamoto opted for the solution he knew Retro could do well... a FPS.
Controls, the universal key to any game, in Metroid Prime is shot. It is Chaotic and non-intuitive and in terms of First Person Shooters it fails. Putting a camera lock and strafe mapped to a shoulder button is a mystifying concept. Why, when it is such an integral part of the game? Having you fingers fly all over the controller for scanning, aiming, locking, switching visors, switching weapons, strafing, jumping during combat is just ridiculous. It frustrates the player to such an extent of never playing again. Controls in Prime make no attempt to be logical or versatile.
If a characters abilities increase during the course of the game, "progression" becomes a relevant term. When the player gains new abilities Samus is enabled to do more, and it means just that. You have to do more, not less. In the standard rule of gaming, powerups are for the purpose of making your life easier, not difficult. Case in point, the visors. Switching visual spectrums is to view the world to find more is an incredible idea. Switching visors to fight a boss is tedious action and pulls the player right out of the gaming experience. In Super Metroid the X-Ray scope was only used for finding items or finding your way through the world... Why? because it stopped the game, literally. The same rule applies in Prime as well, it interrupts the flow of the game and is thoroughly annoying. Compare progression in a game such as Legend of Zelda, everything you gain makes your life easier and less tedious as you journey towards the end of the game. There are no powerups in Metroid Prime that enable you to do your job faster or with less tedious action. In fact, you could say the game becomes more tedious the longer you play. The challenge the game presents is not by what you are trying to defeat, but trying to overcome the controls! This is not logical game design.
The worlds are vast and visually diverse, but not gameplay diverse. The Magmoor caverns readily displays the fact it's hot and hazardous to be in there. In contrast Phendrana Drifts only visually show snow and ice... Well what are the characteristics of ice? Cold for one, slippery and brittle. All of those listed were potential gameplay aspects. Little or none of these aspects were incorporated into the design of the level to differentiate it from any other world.
The Bottom Line
Metroid Prime is pretty to look at. Had design been at the same level of the artists, I believe Prime would have been a truly extraordinary game. Metroid Prime frustrates the player on complexity of control, lack of progression and gameplay that is uninteresting by forcing the player to jump through gameplay hoops that don't work.