IGN Review of Metroid Prime 3: Corruption
Five years ago, the first-person adventure Metroid Prime re-invented Nintendo's famous science-fiction franchise about a space-traveling female bounty hunter. Now, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption has re-invented the way the series is played, unarguably for the better. If you were on board Samus Aran's Hunter-Class Gunship for the critically acclaimed first outing and its sequel, you will be ready for the third and final act in the trilogy because, at least from a design standpoint, there haven't been too many major changes. The heroine still explores exotic alien terrain and fights fearsome alien creatures, and the re-traversal backbone that has powered Metroid projects since the NES classic that started it all remains completely and thankfully intact. So if you've never liked these titles, Corruption probably isn't going to make you a believer, even with its enhanced graphics and spectacular new controls. If, on the other hand, you'd rather play with Samus than, say, Master Chief, Retro's Wii-overhauled new addition to the Prime family is going to take you on a great, satisfying ride that you won't soon forget. Indeed, as far as we're concerned, the Texas-based studio has made Wii's best game.
Corruption is the evolution of the Prime series and a game that is very highly polished in nearly every respect. It's got better control. Better pacing. Better visuals. Better cinematics. And better bonuses. Yet, even with all of these improvements, it still feels and looks very familiar to its predecessors, which is both a statement of praise and criticism. You will recognize the blueprint and style of a winning formula and at the same time you aren't likely to experience the downpour of surprises that overwhelmed you upon playing the original Prime -- an endeavor that brought Samus into the third dimension without sacrificing the guts of the 2D efforts. There is also no getting around the fact that 2002's Prime featured cutting-edge graphics for its time and Corruption instead boasts cutting-edge graphics on Wii. What Retro has done with Nintendo's underpowered console is nothing short of amazing, of course, but if you dare to compare Prime 3's visuals to games beyond Wii, you'll notice a chasm in technology. The artistry? We'd pit it against anything on the high-definition-ready consoles with confidence.
If you've never played a Metroid Prime game before, we'll give you the footnotes now. You jump into the armored shoes of Samus Aran, a stoic-cool blonde heroine who lets her beams do the talking. As the most trusted bounty hunter in the business, she's regularly contracted by the galactic Federation to do battle with Space Pirates, an evil race of menacing aliens obsessed with life-draining blobs called Metroids and a toxic substance called Phazon. Metroid games always start Samus off devoid of any major abilities and challenge you to upgrade her as you explore atmospheric locales. You'll see places that you cannot enter or reach along the way and you'll know that, just as soon as you get the right weapon or item, you'll eventually have to come back to those areas. This happens to be a very intentional design choice and also one that you either love or hate. Let's be honest, though: if you'd rather just shoot stuff, the Metroid franchise has never been for you and the Prime games are no different. Still, some players have over the years made a valid point that Samus always starts at zero and that it's grown tiresome. They've also noted that the re-traversal nature of the offerings can be tedious because the worlds are so large. Corruption addresses both complaints and it's a better game for it. We'll get to that, but permit us to start at the beginning.
Prime 3 kicks off with cinematic flair as Samus awakens from a cryogenic sleep and lands on the S.S. Olympus. Aran doesn't have anything to say, but the troops and hunters on the ship do and their lines are delivered by way of well-acted voice work, a welcome surprise given Nintendo's resistance to such audio in the majority of its titles. The voices continue throughout the game, adding ambience and an extra layer of realism to situations. A giant-sized organic super-computer known as the Aurora Unit guides Aran through the majority of the adventure with helpful instruction, all of it delivered quite brilliantly via voice. Combined with a bevy of atmospheric and well-choreographed cut-scenes, the storyline in Prime 3 takes shape and flows much more smoothly and believably than it has in previous titles. At one moment, you're gliding across a caged platform in a cinematic designed to mask a level load time and in another, you're fighting alongside Federation Troopers in a scene that seems inspired by something out of Halo. We've made an effort to keep our written review relatively spoiler free so we're going to refrain from posting more detailed specifics, but Aran's quest will take her across the galaxy to several planets and ships, she will meet up with some recognizable hunters, do battle with Dark Samus and strive to keep from becoming corrupted herself. (To learn and see much more, be sure to watch our spoiler-filled video review.) The yarn that Retro has spun is not exceptionally original, nor is it altogether deep, but it does drive the action and it also gives fans a little more than they're received before.
Retro's new game is a visual stunner. In fact, it's the best looking title on Nintendo's system to date, a feat made possible through truly awesome art design and a profound knowledge of Wii's technology. Prime 3 comes alive thanks to an updated 3D engine that draws larger, more detailed environments, more particle effects, crisper textures, and layered backgrounds such as rooms with crisscrossing piping systems beneath half-broken tiled walkways. So many first-person shooters on more powerful consoles feature very high-resolution textures, but do nothing with level geometry. Prime 3's levels curve and are drowned in jutting architecture that seems different at every turn. In addition, the title does more with bloom lighting than most games we've seen, save for efforts like Ico. As Samus runs through a mixture of high-tech space stations and organic earthly locales, everything from fire and lava to gunfire, explosions and display panels are illuminated with a neon-like hue that looks fantastic and moody. Adding to the ambience are screen shakes, motion blur and more pronounced reflections, like Aran's face in her visor. The game also runs in progressive-scan and, for the first time, in 16:9 widescreen mode. The widescreen resolution is not exactly 854x480, but something closer to 825x470, which means that it may show some thin black borders on your screen. We suspect most people won't notice the difference. Perhaps most impressive is that the adventure jams along at 60 frames per second through 99.9 percent of Aran's quest. This simple truth makes a huge difference -- it's much easier on the eyes and the hands. The musical score by Kenji Yamamoto fits the atmosphere very well. It's more grandiose than it's been in previous Prime titles and yet there are some throwbacks that fans will like. For instance, when Samus enters a beautiful snow-filled scene, a remix of the song that originally played at the Phendrana Drifts chimes in the background.
The upgraded visuals may have come at a small price, though, because the load times between some doorways have increased over the original Prime and its sequel. The majority of the time -- say 95 percent -- the doorways will seamlessly open to reveal the next area, but every so often you'll be forced to wait as long as 10 seconds for a door to open, which breaks the momentum of the action. Worse, sometimes you might have no choice but to fend off attacks from enemies like Metroids while you wait.
In Corruption, Samus never loses her trademark abilities, which is a relief. She begins with an arsenal of suit upgrades -- morphball, double-jump, bombs, and a power beam -- and keeps them through the end of the adventure. About 10 minutes in, she gains missiles, and then an original suit, which facilitates the biggest new gameplay mechanic to the series. The Phazon Enhancement Device or PED Suit enables Samus to harness Phazon to jump into Hyper Mode, transforming her into a much more powerful fighter, but at a cost. If you're not careful, you may overload Samus with Phazon and she'll need to continually discharge her weapon or she could die. Knowing when to jump in and out of Hyper Mode is a skill and a necessary component to successfully advancing. It's also fun. Simply, we dreaded traveling to the purple Dark World in Metroid Prime 2: Echoes, but in contrast, using Hyper Mode in Corruption is incredibly satisfying because Aran's weapons do so much damage and also because you can jump back out at any time.
Aran doesn't pick up as many different weapons and visors as she does in Echoes, but the ones she does acquire are more meaningful. For example, Samus can now command her Gunship to attack certain points in the worlds, to pick up some items, or merely to land nearby so that you can save your progress. Rather than selecting between different beams, your weapon takes on new functionality -- all of it used via a single blast -- as you upgrade. The Nova Beam can shoot through walls, but it can also burn ice, like the previous beam. It's a simplified design probably developed as a workaround to the limited buttons on the Wii remote, and yet it functions very well. To be fair, though, we also liked the freedom of manually switching between beams in original entry and its sequel.
You'll still explore and travel across epic environments, but re-traversing the locations is made just a little easier thanks to several additions. The first is that you can fly between planets or even to different locales on a single body using Aran's Gunship. This inclusion alone eliminates so much of the excessive cross-world backtracking and as a bonus it's very pretty on the eyes because the flying cinematics are downright gorgeous. Retro has also included shortcuts within maps so that you can, for instance, take an underground railway to quickly jump completely across a world. Moreover, it's much easier to traverse the lands because there is now an on-screen 3D map in the upper-right-hand corner of the screen -- in preceding games, you had to load a map screen. You can still do the latter and you're also able to bookmark specific locations so that they change color, making them easier to spot. We couldn't be happier with the aforementioned changes. One addition we'd have liked that isn't included, however, is on-screen arrow guidance. Even with the visible map, you may sometimes need to enlarge it to figure out exactly where to go and given that Retro has included a bookmarking option, we don't see why it couldn't have also featured one for arrow guidance for the directionally challenged, us among them.
Metroid Prime 3's new Wii-enhanced control scheme is so good and so responsive that by comparison the original title and its sequel feel clumsy. In fact, using the nunchuk's analog stick to control Samus through environments as you point the Wii remote to target with speed and accuracy obliterates just about every dual-analog control setup currently available. If there is a game that proves the potential of the Wii remote for first-person experiences, this is it, and our hat is off to Retro for stepping up to the challenge when others couldn't or wouldn't. There are three sensitivity settings available to you: standard is designed, we think, for stupid people who may not have a full command of their arms and hands; using it, you drag the screen Red Steel style and movement is painfully slow. On the other side of the spectrum is advanced mode, which comes highly recommended because it's very precise and very responsive, two attributes integral to any shooter. Turning around is still a little slower than it should be, in our opinion -- a 180-degree flip takes about two and a half seconds -- and hence Corruption doesn't one-up a mouse and keyboard configuration, but it is easily the next best thing and certainly the ideal option for home console owners.
Retro has further capitalized on the Wii remote by identifying its limitations and working around them. Take, for example, the new visor selection setup. The developer might have assigned visors to the controller's D-Pad, which would have been uncomfortable, to say the least. Instead, you hold down the minus button and simply flick the Wii remote left, right, or up to select between the different views, a process that feels great. To go into Hyper Mode, you hold down the plus button. The only downside is that missiles are mapped to D-Pad down, which take some getting used to and never quite feels intuitive.
Zelda had fishing, but all around Prime 3 makes better use of the Wii remote and nunchuk's motion-sensory equipment than any "hardcore" game to date. As Samus, you will regularly be challenged to pull levers, twist locking systems into place, press buttons, or charge pump stations, all with the Wii remote. To twist a lock into place, you'd pull back with the peripheral, twist left or right, and then push forward again. Oftentimes, Wii gestures have a way of not working just as much as they work, which tends to create a gimmicky vibe, but thankfully this is not so in Corruption. By and large the gestures work extremely well and are in turn highly satisfying and immersive to perform. One of our favorites relates to using Aran's Grapple Lasso. You cast it by first locking onto an enemy or item with the Z button and then making a throwing motion with the nunchuk. Afterward, you snap the attachment back to pull panels off walls, tear the tails off some enemies or drain some stations of electricity. The only gesture that has proven problematic relates to morphball jumping. Laying bombs will still propel Samus upward, but you can alternatively motion up with the Wii remote. When it's working, it's fantastic because you're able to quickly jump while rolling, but sometimes your gestures aren't read, which is disappointing.
If you're thinking that the new Wii controls equate to a dumbed-down or shooter-emphasized Metroid experience, don't worry. Sure, you can more easily target and dispose of enemies while on the run, but you gain this benefit without any sacrifices. The bulk of Prime 3 is spent exploring and trying to discover how to reach specific points that you can see, as always. There are some spectacular environmental puzzles that make great use of the morphball, of the screw attack and of the spiderball. There are hidden items and locations that can only be seen with the X-ray Visor and sensor points that can only be shot with the Nova Beam. There are areas that can only be crossed with the Grapple Lasso, or blockades that can only be passed in Hyper Mode. Discovering how to solve these challenges is what makes the Metroid games fun, and Corruption retains that experience in full. On the other hand, the action is increased over previous affairs, too. Certain enemies require precision gunfire and you'll need to be quick on the trigger with your Wii remote to best them. Meanwhile, the boss fights in the game come in both mini and major sizes and are incredibly epic and engaging. Our only complaint about the bosses, in fact, is that the final one isn't quite as challenging as some of the others.
Corruption runs about the same length as its predecessors, which is impressive. It took us in the neighborhood of 20 hours to complete the experience with a rating of 85% finished. (Your percentage goes up as you scan more items and find more missile and energy tank pick-ups.) The game moves at a quicker pace than other Prime outings because of the new travel system and also because it's just slightly easier, in our experience. This does not mean Corruption is an easy affair by any stretch of the imagination, but yes, especially compared to Echoes the overall difficulty has decreased, which may please or displease you depending on your preference. You can choose to play the game in normal or veteran difficulty, and when you complete the quest you will unlock the gameplay-extending ultra-hard hyper difficulty, which considerably ramps up the challenge. We're still planning to go back and scan the remaining items and find the remaining pick-ups to up our completion rating, which speaks volumes about how much fun it is simply to travel the planets and look for objects you may have missed. While we greatly enjoyed the single-player quest, it wasn't completely perfect. At one point near the end of the game, Samus is sent on a fetch quest to retrieve some energy cells. The quest itself is no worse than any of those in the first two affairs, but we spent a day looking for these cells because the game indicated hints about their locations could be found in our logbook; as it turns out, they were hidden away in Aran's inventory. Don't make our mistake and you'll be much happier.
On top of your completion ranking, you can earn various medals for successfully performing specific tasks. For instance, you'll get one when you amass 500 kills and another for defeating certain bosses, or for scanning lore. You can take these medals to a special extras menu to purchase welcomed additions like a screenshot tool that enables you to snap in-game photos and send them to friends over WiiConnect24, a bobblehead for Aran's cockpit, new bumper stickers, or concept art and music. This is the closest thing Prime 3 has to a full-blown achievements system and these bonuses really do offer incentive to play the game to the best of your ability.
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