By Geoff Keighley
Updated November 22, 2002 at 05:00 AM EST

Funny thing: after a few hours with Metroid Prime, you begin to wonder where you should start pumping quarters into your GameCube. That’s because this futuristic action-shooter plays just like a classic 1990s arcade game: It’s filled with over-the-top battle sequences, spectacular visual effects — and a pretty weak plot.

As in previous versions of Metroid, you suit up as Samus, a female bounty hunter who faces off against space pirates on an unexplored alien planet. Only this time, the familiar side-scrolling perspective has been replaced with a much more immersive first-person 3-D viewpoint, just as in Quake. The new point of view works surprisingly well, especially since you’ll be hard-pressed to find another game with smoother controls or environments that eclipse the beauty of areas like this game’s network of ice caves.

This improvement, among others, makes for a snazzy and polished game presentation. Less refined, however, is the story, which isn’t quite ready for, uh, Prime time. In fact, the game is devoid of any spoken dialogue and has no supporting characters. What passes for the narrative is a series of text blurbs that have all the drama of a fortune-cookie message. Yet the lack of plot doesn’t totally knock the wind out of Metroid’s sails. At its core, the game delivers what matters most: well-designed gameplay with interesting puzzles. In the end, Metroid Prime’s plot won’t rouse your emotions, but its great action sequences will hook you. Just don’t look for a novelization anytime soon.