When one discusses Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, one must also address both its place in the Prime series as well as in the context of the franchise as a whole. When Retro Studios was given the task of bringing Metroid to the Gamecube, almost all longtime fans were concerned that
their beloved franchise would be ruined, particularly after the announcement that it would be in the first person. Overwhelmingly, however, the gaming community recognized Metroid Prime for the achievement that it was. For years, the first-person perspective on consoles had only hinted at the complexity present in some PC games. Mostly run-and-gun affairs, most didn’t have much in the way of exploration and puzzle-solving, the hallmarks of Metroid.
With those fears laid to rest, Retro delivered Metroid Prime 2: Echoes, which followed in the footsteps of the first Metroid Prime. It too was well-received, though the impact of the first game, in terms of the surprise of the accomplishment, was understandably hard to match. Had Metroid Prime 3: Corruption been released on the Gamecube, it might simply have been seen as a proficient ending to the series and nothing more.
As The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess was released for both the Gamecube and the Wii with minor, if any, graphical differences, Nintendo was able to straddle the fence with the control scheme. The Wii controls were certainly entertaining and worked well, but I would hesitate to call them genre-defining, neither a huge leap forward nor up to the promise of the Wiimote. This is not the case with Metroid Prime 3. The control scheme reinvigorates the franchise and, as has been noted by other media outlets, will likely represent the goal when it comes to first-person controls on the Wii for some time to come.
However, talking about the controls at length seems like a waste, given that their mechanics have been detailed by many reviews before this one. Rather, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption brings to light a point about Nintendo itself: Nintendo (and in this case Retro Studios in particular) seems to understand the personality of its keystone franchises and the characters that inhabit them better than any other game company. As such, major design changes in the control scheme, graphical design, and even the perspective, cease to be issues when large jumps in presentation and user interface are made. Nintendo and Retro make a point of sticking very closely to the blueprint of what made these games intriguing in the first place. On one hand, this approach might make it seem as though we’ve been playing the same games for 20 years. On closer inspection, though, the changes nearly always keep things fresh, and as such, Nintendo games don’t suffer from the same sense of “sequelitis” that non-Nintendo franchises are so susceptible to. Generally, when Nintendo makes changes with regard to perspective and user interaction, it’s in the service of having the experience more closely match their initial vision of the game world.
The spider ball reaches new levels of usefulness…
This raises an interesting paradox. While many would say that by and large, technology is increasing at an exponential pace, clearly we’re reaching something of a plateau when it comes to certain facets of video games. The leap in graphics, for example, was not nearly as noticeable for this round of consoles as it was for the last. As has been well-documented, Nintendo recognizes this, and has chosen to opt out of the processing and graphical power arms race. But the question remains, how much closer will they be able to get us to stomping goombas and finding pieces of the Triforce before they too will have to address the blueprints of their hallmark franchises?
The Metroid blueprint in particular has to do with the creeping unfamiliarity of hostile alien worlds, the vulnerability at the beginning of the game with all but the most basic weapons stripped away, and the slow mastery of both the landscape and Samus’ abilities as weapons and items are accrued and the geography explored. Instead of the Zelda model of an overworld with a number of dungeons to go through, or the Mario design of a linear progression within worlds (though as the series has gone on, there has been some flexibility in this regard), Metroid is akin to waking up in the eye of a storm, unable to venture too far in any direction until the tools required to widen the accessible area are acquired.
...but still, nothing beats blasting giant bugs.
But at this point, the next major Metroid release will likely have to be retooled again. Super Mario Galaxy looks to be a marked departure from the formula of Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine. It has been stated that The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess will likely be the last game in the, for lack of a better term, Ocarina of Time mould. Similarly, Metroid is poised for a reinvention. If history is any guide, though, any new takes on the franchise will stay true to the core.
It will be interesting to see where Retro will go next, given that Corruption is an end to the Metroid Prime trilogy. If their handling of the Metroid franchise is any indication, they are well-equipped to tackle classic Nintendo properties. It might be even more interesting if their talents are used to launch a new franchise altogether. In any case, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption again validates the fundamental design of the franchise, as well as the Wiimote’s excellence as a user interface element.