[18 October 2007]
+ Another review of Metroid Prime 3: Corruption by Arun Subramanian can be found here.
When Nintendo announced that its beloved Metroid franchise would soon receive the 3D treatment back in 2001, the internet exploded with howls of indignation. Fans saw this as Nintendo capitalizing on the popularity of the FPS genre while sacrificing the classic platforming gameplay. Between this and The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker‘s new cartoonish cel-shading, the faithful were left feeling like Nintendo didn’t share their reverence for the canon.
Fortunately, Nintendo’s developers didn’t listen. On both accounts, these GameCube games were adored by critics and fans alike. Eschewing traditional FPS mechanics, Metroid Prime exceeded fans’ expectations with an immersive and gripping play experience. It was everything a next-generation sequel should be. Metroid Prime moved in new directions while nodding frequently to classic moments in previous Metroid titles.
Five years later, Nintendo brings Samus to the Wii in Metroid Prime 3: Corruption. The gameplay remains faithful to the previous two games in the trilogy with the addition of the Wii Remote controls as a crucial gameplay element. Although the much-hyped gestures used for opening doors and pulling levers have a nominal effect on overall immersion, the aiming and shooting is exactly what I hoped to see one day when Iwata and Miyamoto first unveiled the Wii Remote. After spending ten minutes flailing around while getting my bearings, I was dispatching creepy crawlies with ease. Much more than a gimmick, the controls eventually gel into the definitive FPS experience.
But Corruption is about much more than just shooting everything that moves. What initially set Metroid Prime apart from every other brainless shooter is its atmosphere. Corruption‘s non-combat sequences are unique in that they never feel as though they were tacked on to break up the action. Even when the player is required to trek across previously-explored territory, there are new discoveries to be made with each passing. I never felt as though I was being sent on a “fetch” mission devised exclusively to increase play time so that Nintendo’s marketing team could boast the game’s length. With an exceptional eye for pacing, it is clear that the level designers never view the peaceful exploration of Samus’s universe as “downtime”.
Corruption‘s plot is entirely linear, leaving Samus with no choice but to trudge forward. However, this is rarely ever directionally “forward”, as the level designers have given Samus the opportunity to crawl beneath and climb above the landscape. Through twisting pipes and soaring ziplines, Samus will explore the ever-changing architecture of her fantastic world. These moments of simple discovery make up some of the game’s most rewarding experiences.
Samus doffs her helmet for a look around
Although you won’t be able to see individual blades of grass waving in the breeze, the developers at Retro Studios have worked with what they’ve been given, pushing the Wii to its graphical limits. A chef will tell you that adding spice covers up mistakes. Corruption has spice to spare. Players will trudge through grotesque alien landscapes that would make H.R. Giger blush. Going far beyond the narrow corridors and industrial locales common to FPS games, Retro’s designers have crafted a lush atmosphere that breathes with looming mountain peaks and fluttering fireflies. It is truly a joy to navigate Samus’s universe; so much so that you’ll never realize that you are playing with nearly last-gen graphics.
The sound also plays a large role in creating an atmosphere. Burbling synths and lilting strings fit each locale perfectly while shifting to pulsing battle music to meet different combat situations. The electronic score, composed by Kenji Yamamoto, has an almost organic quality that sounds simultaneously robotic and primordial.
Not all of the game’s sounds are welcome. Perhaps the most irritating addition to Corruption is the copious use of dialogue. Since the first game in the series, Samus’s adventures have always been one-woman affairs. Samus was alone on an alien planet, with no one to point her in the right direction, no one to talk to, and no one to save her from a grisly fate. The “In space, no one can hear you scream” aesthetic was pulled off masterfully in Metroid Prime. An added feeling of claustrophobia was also employed via Samus’s ever present visor. In Metroid Prime, Samus received messages from friendly aliens. However, these were aged broadcasts from a long-dead race. Hearing the pained laments from this ancient people only magnified the illusion of isolation.
That feeling is largely absent from the third installment in the Prime series due to the addition of several dozen faceless soldiers, a tough-talking commander, several comrades-in-arms, and an advice-spewing computer that tells you exactly what to do throughout the game. All this and the hackneyed dialogue made me hope Nintendo will pass on the wisecracking sidekicks next time around. Their presence just doesn’t mesh well with Corruption‘s atmosphere.
On the other hand, it’s difficult to take this game too seriously. After all, the bosses all have weak points that flash red when you hit them. Each planet and space ship is tailor-made for Samus’s Power Suit. There are floating power-ups, Space Pirates, and save points. These and other videogame clichés show that the Retro team was more interested in preserving the fun of the original Metroid titles than creating the next great American video game. It’s silly and we know it—so what?
Quibbles aside, where Corruption really stumbles is in its lack of originality. While the artwork never stops surprising and the unique controls inject a little immersion, Corruption is basically the same game we’ve played twice now. Explore an area. Get power-ups. Gain access to a new area. Fight boss. Rinse. Repeat.
The gunship: cool as hell and useful, too
Thankfully, Retro Studios has eliminated most of the quirks that plagued Corruption‘s forebears. First, they’ve given the player control of Samus’s gunship, allowing her to traverse miles of terrain in a few moments. This eliminates a large part of the backtracking that disrupted the pacing and excitement of the first two entries in the trilogy. Secondly, Samus’s actions are much more streamlined in this adventure. Simple actions like scanning or switching guns have been simplified, allowing the player to focus on the action at hand. Corruption is the result of five years of refinement. The formula has remained the same, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. While few games hold me in thrall for marathon sessions these days, it’s easy to lose oneself in this adventure until dawn breaks.
Players are free to revel in videogame tropes, even if it requires us to turn off our brains for a while. We can delight in the camp, knowing that Corruption‘s creators included it for our benefit. Like a Tarantino film, one might say that Corruption is stuck firmly between two distinct ages, paying homage to the first while looking forward to the second. Straddling this line surprisingly well, Corruption is the first must-have Wii title.