"With the arbitrary ranking of things being all the rage nowadays, Iíd say that Metroid Prime 3: Corruption doesnít even TOUCH the first game but lands head and shoulders above the sequel. But it didnít start out that way, heavens no. No, I spent the first hour or so of Corruption writhing in pain and cursing the heavens for allowing Retro Studios to befoul their once glorious sub-series. "
With the arbitrary ranking of things being all the rage nowadays, Iíd say that Metroid Prime 3: Corruption doesnít even TOUCH the first game but lands head and shoulders above the sequel. But it didnít start out that way, heavens no. No, I spent the first hour or so of Corruption writhing in pain and cursing the heavens for allowing Retro Studios to befoul their once glorious sub-series.
Iíll start there, yes? Corruption was the first Wii game I owned if we are to disregard Wii Sports (Iím comfortable with that if you are), and its functionality with the remote took me by complete surprise. One of the earlier press demos for the system, waaaaay back when it was still called Revolution, took a level out of Metroid Prime 2: Echoes and gave it a control scheme that seemed like a viable option for first-person shooters on the system: The nunchuk was used for movement, while the remote replicated the motion of a mouse, mimicking the aiming control seen in PC games. Seems logical, right? I always figured Corruption would follow suit, but instead Retro went with a newer, more Wii-specific strategy. The remoteís pointer is now used to aim and fire directly at on-screen targets, and the player turns Samusís head by moving the cursor towards the edge of the screen.
This is very, very difficult to get used to, because think about it: Aiming and turning are now two separate entities. Aiming is fine. Hell, aiming is great! Unloading on enemies is an action that feels not unlike an arcade-style light gun shooter, and you can even set the fire button to the remoteís B-trigger if youíre feeling really old school. But now turning is an awkwardly analog sensation that functions separately from aiming, and it takes some getting used to. If there were more shooters on Wii, then perhaps this issue was due to Corruption simply being my first game for the system. Because really, this new control setup is a wonderful thing, as it finally answers the cries of those who might have enjoyed the first two games but grew frustrated by the controls. Corruptionís setup works, but itís so new and weird that itíll likely come off as wonky until you give it more time.
So thereís an adjustment period required if youíre to really get engaged in Corruption, which isnít easy, because the first level is absolute crap. Samus is called upon to defend a nearby military base under pirate attack on the planet Norion, and the chaos that follows feels like a wholly unnecessary attempt to shoehorn action into a series that has really never been about action. Your previous run-ins with the space pirates served their purpose as ice breakers designed to keep the first two installments from getting too slow-paced, and thatís understandable. But when youíre standing on a landing platform fighting off waves of pirates being carried in by dropships Ė and youíve been doing that for a while now, and you know youíre going to keep doing that Ė it loses its appeal fast and you come to realize that this isnít the most engaging side of the series. Putting aside an absolutely epic boss battle against Ridley while youíre falling, this introductory level makes a bad first impression and almost convinced me that Retro finally just went the way of Halo, like so many other developers.
Things get better around the time Dark Samus rolls around. Anyone who earned the full ending of Echoes will recall that our heroineís sinister lookalike isnít exactly dead yet, and if youíre not one of those people Ė whoops! Sorry. Now you know. Anyway, sheís pretty pissed at Samus for killing her twice now, and she arrives to crash the Norion party right when Samus and her fellow bounty hunters seem to have cleaned things up. The attack puts Samus in a coma for a month, but she awakens to discover that the damage actually has a positive impact on her. It seems the Phazon corruption has fused with her suit, allowing her to trigger a Phazon-powered hyper mode that functions very much like the one she used to kill Metroid Prime back in the first gameís finale.
Now, Iíd personally thank Dark Samus for granting me such a nifty ability, but Samus is forever determined to stick to her mission. The pirates are still fooling around with Phazon, and some suspicious activity has popped up on a few planets relating to the sudden appearance of giant organic ďLeviathan seeds.Ē Furthermore, Samusís hunter buddies were also corrupted in the attack and have since vanished, which means, yep, youíll be fighting them at some point and gaining their special abilities. That so much of Corruptionís campaign occurs in so many different places hints at the gameís one major departure from other Metroid titles: Rather than being set in one enormous world, Corruptionís levels are separate from one another, and Samusís gunship is required to travel from one to the other.
This is not a bad thing. The reason why backtracking was never an issue in the original Prime Ė well, not for me, anyway Ė was because the world never felt segmented, and as such, the gameís pace unfolded naturally even when we were revisiting places weíd already been. Echoes went through the trouble of dividing its regions while still laying a heavy emphasis on backtracking, which led to a lot of unnecessary running back and forth. Corruption now gives us a galaxy map and the means to travel to each locale, and while what little backtracking there is tends to drag (this is especially true of the obligatory endgame fetch quest), Retro mostly stuck to a far more linear and focused story structure this time around. There are three ďmainĒ planets that will suck up most of your game time (with a few interludes elsewhere), and each phase of the game tends to stick to its own location. When you arrive at a new planet, chances are youíll be there for a while.
That Corruption is gorgeous probably goes without saying, because even the people who hated the last two games had to admit that they looked pretty damn good. Retroís crowning achievement in the visual department is the entire middle portion of Corruption, set in the dazzling SkyTown, a floating city teetering hundreds of miles above the enormous gas giant Elysia. Retroís sense of scale has never been more aptly demonstrated, with each building up to a mile in distance from the next, and the means to get between them resting with morph ball cannons or rip lines that damn near paint the illusion that Samus is flying. The elegant detail of each towering structure, both interior and exterior, is a marvel of artistic excellence. Exploring such a unique and beautiful environment as this, soaking in the details and getting totally absorbed in the whole thing, is truly what Metroid Prime is all about.
Hell, I could even spend all day raving about the planet Bryyo, because you know youíve got talent when even the generic desert, fire, and woodland worlds look new and interesting. (This also goes for a sidestep into a stunning ice world, with an accompanying musical score that strikes me as a subtle nod to Phendrana Drifts.) But as Echoes proved, cosmetics are only skin deep and a lost cause if Retro canít make their games feel like Prime titles in design as well. And any steam that the trilogy lost in its second entry is recovered in the third. Corruption fares best when itís sticking to the formula that made the first game such a smash it, and Iím delighted to say that the platforming challenges, side-scrolling morph ball segments and suit upgrade treasure hunts are all back in full force. Retro finally figured out that louder is not necessarily better, and that the Prime sub-series gained critical acclaim through its subtlety instead.
Theyíre not afraid to occasionally crank up the volume, though, and frankly, Iím okay with that. Disregarding the dull intro level, Corruption is peppered with a few relatively chaotic bursts of all-out action, such as a thrilling bomb drop sequence in which a gargantuan explosive must be protected from enemy dropships, or a Federation raid on a pirate stronghold late in the game. What hurts the Norion level is that Retro overdid it, and itís thanks to some reservation and the newfound control scheme that later instances arenít a drag. Being able to aim at will makes gunfights all the more engaging, and while the targeting system is still here, itís less sensitive than it was in previous installments to prevent Corruption from being too easy. The integration of Samusís grapple beam into combat via the nunchuk only works to raise the excitement level even higher.
Corruption seems to be the most universally disliked of the series, but Iím willing to bet that many of its detractors simply played through the opening level, settled for a first impression, and never gave the game a chance to unveil its many surprises. (Samusís ship figures far more heavily into the design than it did before and even has its own grapple beam, to be utilized in the gameís most creative sequence Ė the construction of a nuclear bomb.) Does the rearranged level structure and increased emphasis on action make for a pretty jarring transition? Sure. Cinematics could have been better, too. But Corruption is the real deal. Enjoy it before Team Ninja comes along and ruins everything.
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