Written by  :  So Hai (371)
Written on  :  Jun 24, 2008
Rating  :  4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars

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Can Samus Survive Yet Another Stylistic Transition?

The Good

Few games cross the genre divide without losing some sort of vital elements. Sonic Spinball for example, undoubtedly inspired by Sonic's quasi ball-like nature, was not really the best Sonic game, nor was it the best pinball game. Mario Pinball on the Gameboy Advance saw an even stranger conversion. We can accept Mario as a basket baller, a golfer, a tennis-star and even as a doctor of medicine. I found it a little more difficult to accept Mario as a perpetually squashed and spheroid spinal-victim - it just seemed forced. Also, the game itself was a sparse, almost minimalist take on pinball, with little environmental interaction, and suspiciously flat surfaces. But enough about these preliminary pinball particulars, proceed promptly.

So, could another lovechild of platform and pinball pay-off? Or is this questionable, (yet highly repeated), Frankensteinian experiment doomed to pervert the laws of nature, like so many others?

Well, truly, Metroid Prime has been converted into a successful pinball title. The reason it works so well is that the core game play is built around a great physics engine. The ball (Samus) is fluid, controllable, and retains that feeling that you are in fact smashing a little bounty hunter around. The flippers control great, and give that addictive sling-shot feeling that all good pinballers give. All of these elements are heightened by the included "rumble-pak". This slots into the GBA port, and gives a satisfying rattle and rumble effect on a hand-held system. It's brilliant, and goes to show that some extra care and thought has gone into this title.

Graphically, this title is beautiful. The tables draw upon Metroid Prime series locations, and the heart and essence of these exotic and varied locations is rendered nicely and above all, accurately. Tallon Overworld is a monsoonal, volcanic and earthy table. The ramps and gutters twist and around the steaming vegetation and rocky outcrops. Samus looks at home here, and players of the Prime series will no doubt identify with this unique location. Again, the Pirate Frigate, is the well-worn insides of the industrial space-ship manned by the pirates themselves. Their battles cries are straight from the bigger-brother console series. Phendrana Drifts, and others that I won't spoil, make an equally significant impression, and offer their own dangers and environmental traps.

The Bad

Criticism of this game usually notes the lack of tables, with only six being ultimately available. This is a valid view, but, there is a lot to do on all of the existing tables nonetheless. Each table presents you with little missions to accomplish. Each one levels up individually, and before long, they are pretty difficult. One of these missions gets Samus to unroll into her human form, all while firing the beam at ever increasing numbers of bugs or bats. This gets very frantic, and I don't think anyone out there's ever hit much farther than level five. Further criticism is usually on the tilt system (you know, when nudge the machine so the ball takes a more favorable direction). This action is made by swiping the touchscreen left or right, and it's not always that effective. Neither is it that convenient, as I find that your hands must have unusual dexterity or flexibility (seeing as you've got them tied up on the trigger buttons).

The Bottom Line

The Metroid series really is one of the more stylish and maybe even misunderstood games. Samus is an understated hero-figure, with next to nothing to say (is she Link's aunt?) and a very isolated existence. This impenetrable facade that she has means she can be a flexible character for experimentation, and this pinball game does capitalise on her flexibility. Samus as pinball may sound silly if you're imagining a digitised version of a real table, but this game gives it a more natural and sort of inevitable feel. The inclusion of the regular foes, environments, music, weapons and art makes the experience more than a mere Metroid spin-off - it's more of a missing Metroid chapter.