Upon finishing the last chapter in the Metroid Prime trilogy, it occurred to me that I had experienced a relatively rare achievement in today’s game industry. It wasn’t the fact that Prime 3 is a great adventure game, the masterful use of control, or the brilliant graphics. You’ll find those things in other games too. Metroid Prime 3: Corruption is special because it’s a satisfying final installment in a trilogy.
Very few games in recent memory have stayed fresh and entertaining through three chapters. Corruption does this with style, taking the best pieces of its predecessors, plugging any holes in the formula, tweaking the gameplay and tying it all together with some genuine Metroid series nostalgia. Prime 3 knows its family history well but isn’t afraid to push a few boundaries, the most important of which is control.
Corruption single-handedly silences any doubts about first person controls on the Wii. While Red Steel was a bad first impression, and games like Call of Duty 3 and Medal of Honor Airborne only marginally hinted at the promise of Wii FPS, Prime 3 clinches is. Prime 3 comes with three aiming sensitivities, but I recommend “expert” aiming mode as the choice for experienced gamers—anything less feels sluggish. With expert aiming enabled, pointing and shooting are razor sharp and come close to touching the hallowed union of the keyboard and mouse. All other controls follow in a comfortable and logical pattern.
To make the most economic use of the Wii remote’s limited buttons, the interface has been streamlined. The lock-on feature that made the first Prime revolutionary is still a large part of the control scheme, but it now has the added versatility of free look, if the player so desires. Swapping visors is handled through an overlay screen, activated by holding the Minus button and selecting the needed visor with the pointer. Other items, like the morph ball and grapple beam (more on that later) have been given equally comfortable spots in the control scheme. Retro Studios has made dual analog control look outdated in comparison to what they’ve accomplished. If other developers can follow Retro’s lead, then the Wii will become the new home of console FPS. It just works so well.
That doesn’t mean Corruption is a perfect fit for a multiplayer deathmatch; Samus moves crisply, cleanly, but not with the speed and hectic pace needed in an arena with human opponents. Prime 3 is still a solo experience. It is meant to be explored, investigated from top to bottom at a somewhat leisurely pace. After playing through Corruption’s lengthy adventure, all of my complaints about an absent multiplayer disappeared. Corruption doesn’t need multiplayer, just as Bioshock is a purely solitary experience. Like Irrational’s game, Corruption is intended to be savored.
From start to finish, literally, from the intro screen to the end credits, Prime 3 displays an uncommon level of refinement. Retro has had two great games to perfect their take on Metroid, and it shows. The game kicks off with Samus awaking from cryogenic sleep and docking with a Galactic Federation cruiser. The player must activate various controls within Samus’s gunship to send authorization codes and engage thrusters. These skills are performed with the Wii remote gestures and used in sequences throughout Corruption. This small control tutorial makes it clear: Corruption is a very interactive game. Once docked with the G.F.S. Olympus, Samus can test her other latent abilities within the large vessel and for the first time in Metroid history, interact with fully voiced non player characters.
Before long the ship is attacked by a fleet of Space Pirates and invaded by boarding troops. Some reviewers have compared this opening sequence to the first Halo, and while there are some similarities, I found it to be longer and a bit more cerebral than Bungie’s shooter. Regardless of inspiration, the opening battle on the Olympus, the first boss fight and Samus’s escape on her gunship set the cinematic tone for the rest of the game. The intro ends with Samus being infected with Phazon, by none other than Dark Samus, the mutated abomination of the original Metroid Prime.
Once free of the introduction, Samus is given her Phazon Enhancement Device (P.E.D.), a suit that allows her to control the Phazon within her body. The PED is the mechanic around which the game is built, and it’s a whole lot more fun than the light/dark duality in Prime 2. When the Plus button is held down for a couple seconds, Samus enters hypermode. An entire energy tank (99 units of health) is fueled into Samus’s weapons—she is essentially shooting her health away, using it as ammo. Her beam cannon does much more damage and her other suit upgrades gain special abilities. There is a drawback, however. After a few seconds in hypermode, Samus will become corrupted with Phazon. Her Phazon meter will start to refill itself, and when it overflows, she poisons herself and dies. The only way to keep the corruption at bay is by rapidly discharging all of the Phazon, until the meter is empty and Samus returns to her normal self.
The whole corruption scheme is handled very well, as a kind of Phazon arms race. Most of the enemies in the game can go into hypermode too, and the only way to kill them is to risk corruption. This goes for bosses as well, so the player has to strategically balance their health against firepower. Using up several energy tanks will leave Samus practically drained of health, so when a boss enters hypermode she has no way to damage the Phazon-charged behemoth. Health conservation isn’t just a vital survival strategy, but is essential when that health needs to be turned into Phazon ammo. Hypermode is the key theme of Prime 3, but isn’t overbearing the way the Dark World was. It fits snugly into the whole Metroid formula, encouraging some extra shooter action but never detracting from the series’ fundamental concept: exploration. And there’s plenty of that to be done in Prime 3.
Corruption has five sprawling worlds to investigate, whereas all previous Metroid games had one branching planet. Each of the planets has multiple locations, usually with a high degree of variety between them. The first planet, Bryyo, begins with a trek through crumbling ruins and progresses to subterranean lava mines, which then transition into an alien forest, and later into an ice-encrusted shrine. Amid these areas are an abandoned Galactic Federation stronghold and a Space Pirate military installation. As the game progresses, these places change; an arena may appear empty once the resident boss is defeated, but revisit the location at a later time and you’ll find that the Pirates have set up shop (and a number of gun turrets). Once I began exploring the other worlds, I discovered that every planet has the same level of depth and variety of Bryyo. .
These individual locations are ultimately smaller than the “worlds” in past Metroid games, but as a result they are tighter, stay fresher, make more sense, and put together they build some truly expansive locations. In contrast, Prime 2: Echoes’ four worlds were massive but also confusing, and more than a bit monotonous. I enjoyed the raw challenge and brain teasing of Echoes, but the mainstream gamers found it intimidating. The extra year Retro took to make the level design more intuitive, is apparent in each of Corruption’s varied environments. They have once again achieved that elusive perfect pacing that Prime 1 nailed. Corruption is a sequence of environments that become more complex the farther you dig, but are easily digested in small individualized chunks.
Ambiance and atmosphere is the glue that holds all these pieces together, and for the last chapter of their trilogy, the creative team behind Corruption made sure that every aspect of the game’s craft sparkled. Retro Studios is nearly unmatched in artistic talent in today’s gaming industry. Using the Wii’s comparatively limited graphical hardware, Retro has pulled off some incredible environments and effects. Like the previous two games, attention to detail is what makes Corruption so gorgeous.
Examples of this detail appear all over the place. Skytown’s diligent repair robots swarm through the ancient Chozo towers, and the forests of Bryyo teem with elaborate flora and fauna. The Space Pirate homeworld is an industrial wasteland, characterized by a drenching acid rain that is actually a significant gameplay factor. The Galactic Federation fortress on Norion is replete with flickering holograms and the bustling activity of officers and techs. Talented digital brushes clothe each of these places with uncanny realistic touches, and the creative use of bloom lighting is seen in the soft glow ebbing from walls and objects. The common theme of all the planets is Phazon. The sickly blue stuff is slowly consuming every environment, with blue tendrils and splotches that grow from the walls, increasing as you get closer to the source of the corruption. The fact that Retro pulled off such visually immersive locations with the Wii hardware is a testament to their talent. They even managed to work the Wii remote’s battery indicator into Samus’s visor—watch those four little lights at the top of the HUD, they do something now.
To accompany the rich graphical presentation, Kenji Yamamoto returns to provide an epic score. His music reflects the game’s broader scope; this time the pieces feel less claustrophobic and lonely. The signature creepy Metroid techno theme remains, but with an action oriented flavor and more traditional influences. One or two of the pieces felt a bit too generic for my tastes, like something out of a 2002 era shooter running on the Quake 3 engine. By and large, however, the score has a sense of finality and cohesion among the three games in the trilogy, with just the right amount of nostalgic touches borrowed from Prime 1 and Echoes. For longtime Metroid fans, at least one classic tune has been recreated, keeping with Yamamoto’s strategy for the last two games.
The polish from the music and graphics carries over from the presentation aspect and into the core gameplay. Corruption fixes a lot of small nagging problems with the Metroid series in general, from storyline to progression and how that progress is made. For example, traveling between worlds and areas takes a lot less backtracking—instead of hoofing it, Samus uses her ship to get around.
In past games the Gunship was basically a save station that replenished ammo too. Corruption practically makes it into a character, an extension of Samus if you will. Each planet has at least three landing pads (some must be located and activated), which allow Samus to call in her ship as a mobile save point, take her to a location halfway across the planet, or even the galaxy. This eliminates the need for numerous save stations that cluttered the worlds in previous games. Like Samus’s armorsuit, the ship can be upgraded with new features and abilities. Once tricked out, it can lift huge objects with a grapple crane and act as a platform to new areas. Samus can even order missile strikes against enemies, minibosses or heavy obstructions that block her path. The gunship has always been underused in the Metroid series, but Prime 3 makes it a reliable friend and an integral gameplay element.
Where the ship handles the backtracking issues, the item system fixes the redundancy that has started to plague Metroid. Most previous games started with Samus losing all her powers and weapons. Corruption gives Samus all of her latent abilities and lets her keep them too—you’ll never have to hunt down the morph ball, bombs, double jump or Varia Suit, and missiles are acquired almost from the word-go. The Screw Attack also shows up sooner and gets a lot more use. Samus collects her most versatile powerups early in the game, and the best example of this is the grapple beam. Activated by casting the nunchuck, the grapple lasso can be used in a variety of innovative situations, from tearing away shields and debris to charging dead power conduits, and it is upgraded like most of Samus’s other gear.
Many of the other tools and weapons get equal attention, and are worked into the motion controls in creative ways. The Plasma Beam is necessary to melt slag (a very cool effect), but is also used in a welding minigame. I cannot describe the fanboy glee I felt when I actually had to re-weld a circuit panel with the beam’s blow torch. Homing in on a Pirate’s vital organs with the X-ray visor, and then frying them was a similarly satisfying experience. The morph ball gets its spring ability back, and while a little unresponsive, jerking the Wii remote to pop the ball into the air was a cool addition and helped in a few of the puzzles.
To fit with the Wii’s limited button layout, some of the items have been reworked. The beams can’t be selected independently, but stack like in Super Metroid. This also requires the return of Ice Missles from Metroid Fusion (Plasma and Ice beams at the same time don’t make much sense). There aren’t any Power Bombs in Prime 3, but since they were basically arbitrary puzzle-solvers in the last two games, their exclusion isn’t a terrible loss. The Super Missile and other Beam combos are also gone, but Hypermode more than makes up for them.
For completionists, the process of tracking down all of those suit expansions has been drastically improved. In Skytown’s observatory, Samus can launch satellites which scan each planet in the game. Not only does this reveal every area on every map, but also the locations of those pesky missile expansions and energy tanks.
A number of critics have complained about the required energy cell hunt at the end of the game—much like the artifacts in Prime 1, or the keys in Echoes. Personally, I didn’t have much trouble with it. Unlike the Luminoth keys, which took some serious lore sleuthing to locate, I found all but a couple of the power cells just by poking around the worlds on my first run through. I take a kind of perverse joy in rooting out every last secret in a game, so maybe it’s just me, but I have a feeling that seasoned Metroid players won’t have much trouble with the cells (we adventure game junkies develop a kind of bizarre “instinct” for finding items). Action FPS gamers who blast through each area as quickly as possible might get a bit frustrated, so my advice is to slow down and take in the scenery. In any case, Corruption’s item hunt was the most logical and intuitive in the Prime series.
As a final bonus, Retro also trimmed up the extras package. Collecting all of the hidden goodies will net you the special endings as usual, but scanning every last thing isn’t necessary anymore. Instead, scanning items, enemies and lore gives you points in an “achievement” system of sorts. Defeating difficult enemies, killing bosses or taking out numerous baddies in a skillful way also gives you points, which you can spend on bonus material. Concept art is unlockable as before, with some new additions like sound test packages and even cool little stylistic upgrades for your ship. Most of these extras can be purchased with the points you get from the solo adventure, but a few require special “friend vouchers,” which must be exchanged through WiiConnect24 with your address list buddies. Chuck and I have already sent a couple vouchers back and forth. If you didn’t snag all of the achievements the first time through, no sweat—the game encourages replay with three difficulty modes. Normal mode should be welcoming to newcomers, Veteran mode has all the difficulty of Echoes without the tedium, and Hypermode difficulty should prove a worthy challenge to any Metroid player worth their golden power armor.
These extra features and the small online support are the finishing touches on an immersive, extensive and thoroughly fun game. I’m not saying it’s perfect—few games can come close to the hallowed score of 10. A few have criticized Corruption because its sense of novelty has worn off, but I have to disagree. By the third chapter in the trilogy the newness has faded, but that can be said of any long running game series. The difference is that Retro has still kept the experience involving, tied up the story nicely and managed to surprise me a couple times. Prime 3 has its small quibbles—it still has some backtracking, and there were a couple times where the game did drag a bit. After three games, Retro still hasn’t smoothed out the loading problem—you’ll still spend several seconds in front of a sealed door as the next room loads frantically.
I noticed a couple issues with the game’s content that might upset longtime fans. For starters, there’s really only one kind of Metroid in the game, and it isn’t used enough. The boss fights were more creative than daunting—I liked Echoes ridiculous, multi-part, health grinding battles, and Corruption’s end boss has more nostalgia than brutal difficulty. My personal beef is that Kraid wasn’t included. The classic Metroid boss was slated for Prime 1 but was cut because of time constraints, so I fully expected him to show up in Corruption. Even then, Retro makes up for it by giving us the best Ridley battle in any Metroid game, as far as I’m concerned.
So what do we have after three long years of waiting? The best game in the Metroid Prime trilogy, a gameplay design that has been polished to a blinding sheen, and an instant classic that rivals Zelda Twilight Princess in execution and depth. Metroid Prime 3: Corruption overcomes its small flaws with an adventure that will keep any gamer captivated from start to finish.
As a Metroid fanatic I’ve tried to stay objective with this review, but there’s no avoiding the fact that Corruption is an incredible game. The controls, the visuals, and the gameplay are so refined and polished, that Prime 3 can only find peer among the work of Valve or Irrational. Retro has proven FPS on Wii. Now go buy this game.