While Super Mario Galaxy had to live up to some lofty expectations, it had always been Metroid Prime 3: Corruption that had the most to prove. One of the first games announced for the Wii, Nintendo had been touting the game’s “revolutionary” control scheme for years. But beyond the motion controls, Prime 3 was also Nintendo’s sole “hardcore” entry this past fall. While the 360 and PS3 may have be flooded with gritty shooters of both the first- and third-person varieties, Prime 3 had both the luxury and tremendous pressure of being the only significant game of this type on the Wii. Factor in the (perhaps unfair) critical failure of Metroid Prime 2: Echoes and it would seem that the odds were stacked squarely against Retro Studios. However, much like with the rocky transition from Super Metroid to the original Metroid Prime, Retro has once again proven that they have an intimate understanding of both the series and Nintendo’s latest hardware.
To be perfectly honest, that game makes a pretty poor first impression. Before you really get a chance to control Samus Aran, you’re forced to wonder around some nondescript space station in order to familiarize yourself with the Galactic Federation. Samus is quickly introduced to some general (or something to that effect – he’s not exactly memorable) and the lamest collection of bounty hunters since Dengar, 4Lom, and Zuckuss paraded around on the Star Destroyer in The Empire Strikes Back. I know Retro wanted to have a sweeping, Halo-esque space opera unfold, but the end results just feel forced and distracting. Luckily, the station is attacked in true Metroid fashion and Samus is forced to hightail it to a nearby planet to prevent damage to the Federation’s Aurora unit (heavily hinted to be the next-gen equivalent of Mother Brain, but I’m warning you right now not to get your hopes up).
Once you touch down on Norion, the first of several new planets, the tried-and-true Prime game play immediately shines through. The intricately detailed alien architecture, immersive special effects (steam vents, reflections, heat distortion, etc.), epic boss battles, and occasional Rube Goldbergian environmental puzzles are all still in place and definitely just as welcome as they’ve always been. Oh, and scanning is still there for the obsessive compulsive. However, thanks to the Wii remote and nunchuk, traversing across these planets is much smoother. Awkward L-button lock-ons are a thing of the past. While results may very, I found the advanced settings to be immediately accessible. At first, you’ll be cursing the placement of the missile and visor buttons (it will remain annoying but you’ll adjust), but give it an hour and you’ll wish you could at least try using motion controls for all other first person games. The level of precision and speed is a godsend.
So what else is new to this installment besides the awesome aiming and movement controls? Well, not too much. Since the series’ convention of stealing Samus’ powers has been done to death, Retro promised that she would retain all of her abilities in this installment. Now, they were somewhat true to their word, giving you the double jump and charge shot from the outset. Even so, most of Samus’ other famed powers still need to be rediscovered (Spider Ball, Multi-Missiles among others), with little in the way of new ideas. I did appreciate the Command Visor, which gives you slight control over Samus’ ride, but actual applications are pretty limited. And then on the other end of the spectrum is the potentially game-breaking “Corruption” mode, which I’ll touch upon in a moment.
With all of these powers, both old and new, you’ll systematically visit each planet and address the growing concerns regarding the Phazon outbreaks across the galaxy. Though I had initially feared that dividing the game into planets would diminish Prime 3‘s Metroid street-cred, by the end of the game, you’ll be jumping from one area to the next as if nothing structurally had ever been changed. In some respects, it actually makes travel easier, as each area has several docking stations to land your ship. The division of environments also makes much more sense, as the “fuel gel” (i.e., lava) area and cloud city area don’t clash as they would have in the previous Prime games.
As much as I admire Retro’s craftsmanship in terms of level design, I wish more attention had been devoted to the combat. In order to simplify your inventory, you now essentially only have two beams. One is your standard charge/ice/plasma all-in-one cannon. The other is your hyper-beam, one of the results of Samus’ increasing “corruption” after being exposed to Phazon early in the game. This ridiculous weapon lays waste to practically every enemy instantly. Hell, even bosses cannot handle it, which definitely raises concerns about balance. Sure, you’re health is depleted (slightly) when corruption mode is activated, and the game does feature infinite enemy respawns, but both of these are mere annoyances when they’re up against Samus’ hyper-shots. I would have much preferred smarter A.I. and more enemy variety, rather than Prime 3‘s misguided streamlining.
Luckily, the game’s weak combat is completely overshadowed by the series’ trademark exploration. As always, Retro has done a great job of encouraging players to explore every morph ball tube and crevice, with the usual-but-always-welcome ammo expansions as incentives. You also have plenty of lore to scan, but this is sadly another area whether the game falters a bit. OK, so the first Prime game wasn’t loaded with cutscenes or any of that newfangled nonsense, but if you took the time to read all of the journal entries of Talon IV’s Chozo ancestors, you began to appreciate the rich history of the world. A solid story was there for anyone willing to take the time to read it. In Prime 3 however, this is no longer the case. The stories of the individual planets are not at all intertwined, so that in the end, none of these failed societies are fleshed out. Worse yet, as cool as the Pirate Homeworld is (especially with the Norfair theme playing in the background), the backstory totally ruins what little had been compelling earlier. I suppose that’s a bit of an embellishment for a game that largely puts plot on the back-burner, but you’d be hard pressed to come up with a lamer central villain than…DARK SAMUS.
And at this time, the game jumps into scripted event overdrive, with marines charging along and ol’ General What’s-His-Face resurfacing to inspire you to finish the fight…Not derivative at all. And then you have the cell-collecting fetch quest, which isn’t the Prime 2 key-collecting nightmare, but still remains an absolute chore. You’d think that by now Retro wouldn’t try to pull this crap yet again, but apparently those guys were just that determined to piss off their loyal fans. Alright, before I go into total rant mode, let’s just say that the last hour or two of this game is a bit disappointing and leave it at that.
Even so, the eighteen or so hours in between the slow beginning and depressing end are phenomenal. I wish some more of the little things had been addressed, particularly the shooting (which is surprisingly minor in the grand scheme of things – First Person Adventure indeed), but the controls add a fresh spin to what worked so well in the previous games. It may not be perfect, but Metroid Prime 3: Corruption is on the short list of excellent Wii games and manages to excel in all the areas that matter.
Overall: 5 Stars