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Metroid Prime Proves Curling Into a Ball & Rolling Away is the Correct Response to a Hostile World

We’re all used to an uncaring world where everybody is out to get you. We’re always jumping through a series of increasingly convoluted hoops to acquire precious items that might just make day-to-day existence just that little bit more survivable. Every day’s a struggle to the finish line, chasing that brief moment of rest before going through it all again. But enough about life in late-stage capitalism. Let’s talk about Metroid Prime Remastered

Even 20 years from its original release, navigating Tallon IV’s menacing perils remains just as sinister and intimidating as the Alien films that inspired the series. In Samus’s bipedal form, in which you spend most of the game, you’ll stumble through space station corridors in pitch darkness, guided only by the garish illumination of a heat-visor. You’ll take on the restless spirits of dead Chozos flickering in and out of reality. You’ll evade lava, radiation and elite space pirates 5 times your size and a thousand times angrier. Even with an increasingly formidable arsenal channeling every conceivable element towards your survival, the game’s sense of claustrophobic dread never lets up. 

But while Samus may have legions of Tallon IV’s space pirates and insectoid aliens to deal with, she has an option I wish I had in the face of Earth’s less lethal but equally daunting obstacles. Thanks to the Morph-Ball, it’s encouraged, hell, pretty much mandatory, to curl up into an innocuous little ball and merrily roll away from your troubles. It really makes me wonder, why don’t I get that option?

There must be at least a dozen times a week where, given the option, I too would become an orb swiftly vanishing from sight. Every email, tax bill or phone call from an unknown number makes escaping down the nearest vent look increasingly tempting. Games so often trade in power fantasies, but Metroid gives players the rare treat of the coward’s fantasy

It’s not the first game to cater to this audience of scaredy-cats, an audience very easily ignored thanks to their tendency to hide under the nearest table and respond via panicked whimpers. In any Metal Gear Solid game I’ve always been able to panic, looping around shipping containers with guards in pursuit as if Scooby Doo took a turn for Cold War geopolitics. Elden Ring indulged us by putting horseback evacuation just a button and some judicious dodges and leaps away. Even Sekiro allowed the coward’s way out for its toughest fight; did you know an exploit lets you goad the Demon of Hatred into falling to its doom while you gloat from safety? I may not be proud, but I stayed alive, and isn’t that the point of a fight or flight response jammed permanently in pacifist mode? 

In Metroid Primes intense atmosphere of extra-terrestrial terror, each rusty pipe offers a momentary oasis of calm. Moments of safety can be found whenever you impersonate a spherical turtle and shuttle through pipes, vents or any available crawlspace. Freed of the restrictive field of view, the stark overlay of your helmet’s HUD, and all those threats that are now so much larger than you, instead you can just enjoy the pleasing physics of playing as the most heavily armed pinball in the galaxy.  

In a game that is, essentially, one giant navigation puzzle, the morph ball pulls the game back to more playful territory. Chutes turn into 2D platformer sequences to bounce around. The spider ball upgrade opens up winding rollercoaster tracks of extra routes which extend around the stage, enabling shortcuts and loopholes that let you enjoy the ride and forget the distant hellhole you’re trying to escape from. It’s a relief to just contend with platforming issues Mario and Kirby faced on the SNES and forget you’re on a planet bristling with antagonistic foes, at least until you emerge from the next exit back into a cruel, bleak reality. 

The only moments of joy you’ll ever find in the game are thanks to the morph-ball. Each half-pipe gives Samus the chance to live out her Tony Hawk dreams. Instead of focusing on blasting away Tallon IV’s terrors, she can build up speed to greater and greater airtime. In the more demanding Super Monkey Ball-like platform sections, any stumbles are rewarded by how you satisfyingly ping against platforms on your way down – it nearly makes up for the frustration of having to climb back up from the start. Well, except the times you land straight into a pool of lava.  

Of course, even as an armored ball you’re not entirely safe. I definitely curled up by accident too many times when I meant to switch weapons in high-stakes shootouts. But for the most part (except for the giant toads who give you no choice but to bomb your way out through their entrails), the morph ball’s enemies are similarly diminutive. Weird robot ants will grab you in their pincers and offload you at the exit, or creepy robot caterpillars will spike you with sharp appendages. But it’s a far cry from the troopers blitzing you with elemental beams wherever you turn – bug spray won’t do the job there.

So the next time you’re stuck trying to find the next save point in Metroid Prime Remastered, do what I do whenever I face a challenge. Roll into a ball under a desk and hope the problem goes away. It’ll work… after all, your Switch battery only lasts so long.

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