Metroid Prime 3 Review
Metroid fans thought that Nintendo was crazy when they announced a brand new development company in Austin was set to make a new first person Metroid game. What happened to the original Japanese developers? Why a first person shooter? But when Metroid Prime was released in 2002, suddenly it all made sense, at least to most of the fans. Retro Studios kept alive the things that make this series so much fun: exploration, atmosphere, some action that includes plenty of classic pattern-dodging and timing your own shots, and some eerily quiet and beautiful settings that today's games just can't seem to do anymore. Now, the third game in the Prime series is out, still made by Austin-based Retro Studios, and this time it's got a new control scheme on the Nintendo Wii.
First, let's talk about what this new Metroid is and what it isn't. It is a game in a very similar style to the last two, and it is using a relatively new control scheme that takes some getting used to. It isn't an actual first person shooter, though, in that while the perspective is the same, it focuses much less on the usual things we see in FPS games and much more on others. Sure, there is plenty of action - more so, probably, than some Metroid fans would actually like - but it's still got a lot of adventuring, puzzle, and exploration elements to it. Of course, opinions do differ on this matter: if you thought Metroid Prime was a FPS despite what people said, you'll probably think the same about this one.
The story in Metroid Prime 3: Corruption has you playing as Samus again, taking on Space Pirates and a new threat that has infected an organic AI system. Unlike in past games, you'll have allies this time in the other Bounty Hunters (seen first in Metroid Prime: Hunters on the DS) and while the game does have a decent amount of speech and voice acting, Samus is as stoic and silent as ever. Most of the game just lets the ambient sound, music, and shots you fire fill up the soundscape, and you'll only usually get speech with a few incoming communications and some cutscenes.
As you travel through several brand new alien worlds, you'll notice that Retro Studios seem to have spent less time making up unique scenarios for fighting normal enemies, and more time on the boss fights. This turns out to be a good thing, and you'll realize this quickly with the first boss fight, a multi-stage affair where you've actually got a limited amount of time to win. It was very epic and actually a pretty long fight, one that takes place almost an hour into the game but really gets you hyped up for the rest of the game. Unfortunately, the hour or so up until that point can seem rather dull, with the long non-combat intro dragging out just a bit too long.
I understand why it takes so long to get to any real action, however. While Red Steel's first person shooter controls were the first on the Wii, few people played that and Corruption does take some getting used to, and while there are some crucial options allowing you to tweak the controls, the game never bothers to tell you about them; you have to go find them yourself in the options. The default settings work better than Red Steel did and will allow you to aim and move smoothly, while pressing a button on the Nunchuk allows you to lock on to an enemy. You still have to aim, though, unlike in the past games on the GameCube, and while there is an option you can set that truly allows you to lock on to an enemy without aiming, that will still get turned off temporarily for boss fights. Since most of the bosses are big and require precise aiming in specific places, it will be up to you to get this kind of thing right.
As far as the key elements that make Metroid stand out from the rest of the FPS genre, Corruption gets just about everything right. From the very interesting, highly organic worlds to great special effects with Samus' face and her visor, excellent puzzles to well-paced action, it works great. If there's one thing that's disappointing, it's that we've got this new control scheme yet somehow it feels so damn similar to the past two games that I forget I'm even playing the Wii rather than the GameCube.
It's the combination of the same gameplay formula (which, admittedly is great) and the slight - at best - graphical upgrade that the Wii version has that really does this. As you probably know, the Wii is not capable of doing real HD resolutions, and while this certainly looks sharper than the past Metroid Prime games in the not-quite-HD 480p widescreen mode, the first-person view and more realistic look of this game (compared to many Wii games) make it more obvious that the Wii's graphical capabilities really lag behind the other consoles as well as modern PCs. Don't get me wrong - Retro Studios has done a great job, and the art style of Corruption blows away pretty much everything seen on the Wii so far - but I wonder what these guys could really do if they had more powerful hardware to work with.
But let's get back to the game. Metroid Prime 3: Corruption may not stray from the formula, but the inclusion of Wii controls along with Samus' new abilities - including one that allows you to turn the series' mystical dark energy, Phazon, finally into a powerful weapon for most of the game - do breathe new life into the formula. The Phazon weapon system still is a form of corruption and can sometimes turn into more of a curse than a blessing, but that's all part of the fun. When some new weapon upgrades and plenty of new enemies get mixed in with the many original puzzles set on planets we've never seen in Metroid before, this game will easily become one of the best additions to any Wii owner's library.
I did wind up getting stuck in this game for quite a while, not long after landing on Bryyo, the first planet you must travel to. Most of the problem was related to how the first-person camera works in the game and I wound up having to go to the internet to see what I was missing. After reading what I was supposed to do, I'm convinced that I would have given up on this game long before actually finding the solution myself. While I didn't get stuck nearly as badly anywhere else during the game, I feel like maybe the developers are a little disconnected from gamers when these kind of things happen, and they don't realize just how frustrating it is to get stuck in a small area with no obvious way out. Sure, you do still have the ability to scan your surroundings for clues, but when the thing you need to scan is so well-hidden that you never even notice it in the first place, that's when it is really frustrating.
My final gripe, one that is rather minor, is that Wii developers are always looking for ways to add in motion-based controls - even when there isn't much point. Now, I can understand why Corruption makes you flick the Nunchuk forwards to use the grappling beam, as there really aren't that many buttons on the Wii's controller. But having to screw around with the Wiimote to pull, twist, and push things (when they otherwise could just be done automatically by Samus when you tap a button) can start to wear on people's nerves. This can be compounded by Corruption's rather unforgiving motion sensing where doing these motion moves too fast or just a little bit off means it won't work. Retro Studios made an effort to make it feel like it's all part of the Metroid world, but it still feels gimmicky.
Even with a few complaints, I still love the Metroid experience on the Wii. The new controls allow for precision aiming once you get some practice with the Wii Remote, to the point where you need to lock on only rarely. It lets you spend more time immersed in the worlds and the boss fights will really get you pumped up. While the hardcore FPS players out there would likely scoff at many of the things that make Metroid Prime 3: Corruption unique, these guys are still innovating and trying more new ideas than many developers - even the ones whose games are in HD.