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Metroid Game By Game Reviews: Metroid Prime 3: Corruption

The Prime comes to a head, simultaneously elevated yet diminished by technology.

Review by Jeremy Parish, .

Nintendo ruled gaming in the ’80s; the NES console reportedly gave the company a staggering 90% control over the U.S. and Japanese home markets at one point. With each successive console generation, though, that percentage shrank. That wasn't necessarily a bad thing. Nintendo owned less of the market because the NES set the market along a journey of ongoing growth. The company still had a healthy slice of the pie, but it pie itself became larger with each passing year.

Alas: Nintendo's shrinking market share actually did reflect dwindling sales. The Super NES sold fewer total systems than the NES; the Nintendo 64 didn't sell as well as the Super NES; and the GameCube practically bottomed out altogether. It was around that point that the company stepped back and made a concentrated effort to get back to its philosophical roots. Both the DS handheld and Wii console saw Nintendo's put an end to its pursuit of the horsepower arms race. Rather than competing on sheer power alone, DS and Wii fell back on less expensive (and thus less powerful) processors than the competition used and placed the bulk of their manufacturing costs into innovative interface concepts. Critics jeered that the Wii was "two GameCubes duct-taped together," and they weren't wrong… but power wasn't the point. Accessibility, ease of use, and competitive pricing together were the point.

The Wii's emphasis on a remote controller-like interface over sheer graphical prowess made sense for sports and party games. It did not, however, work so well for first-person shooters. In principle, Wii was perfect for the FPS; the motion-based interface allowed the sort of point-and-shoot directness that made light gun games like Duck Hunt and Time Crisis such hits. But the Wii also happened to make its debut right as the entire world undertook the transition from chunky CRT-based standard-definition televisions to slim HD flat panel sets. Shooters on competing systems could offer a degree of precision detail impossible in standard definition… plus, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 shooters didn't suffer from the input lag that dogged Wii games when played on HD sets.

It was into this complicated transitional space that Retro Studios and Nintendo delivered the third and, until recently, final chapter of the Metroid Prime series: Corruption. Fittingly, then, Corruption goes down in history as the most complicated entry in the Prime series. On some levels, it exceeds both of its predecessors; on others, it falls flat.

Unsurprisingly, Corruption falls flattest on a pure technological level. The original Prime stood out as perhaps the single most beautiful first-person shooter that had been seen to that point; it glowed with the same luminous high-tech designs as Halo and other, similar shooters, but with a richer, more pleasing color palette and cleaner textures. Echoes in turn stood toe-to-toe with the best-looking graphics seen in its own 2004 contemporaries, including Half-Life 2 and Halo 2. With Corruption, however, Nintendo's decision to go with reduced hardware power and standard definition output on Wii made it difficult to view the game as serious competition to its own contemporaries… which, once again, included another Halo game. Halo 3 on Xbox 360 brought the series into HD, and it incorporated all kinds of dazzling tech tricks like simulated high-dynamic range lighting and meticulously crafted sound stage design. Metroid Prime 3 still had knockout aesthetic design… but mired in 480p resolution, everything felt chunky and simplistic.

On a more conceptual level, Corruption frequently offered oddly backward explorations of the Metroid concept. Many of the designs and puzzles Retro incorporated into the game came off as bizarrely literal interpretations of long-standing series concepts shoehorned into a new context without much consideration for the underlying logic of the resulting scenarios. Corruption took place across a wider variety of settings than ever before — not just in a single planet's ruins per usual — but Samus's progression through these locations operated on the same fundamental principles as usual. This resulted in moments of sublime ridiculousness, such as ancient mechanical foundries that could only be operated by someone with Samus's weapons loadout and lost temples that could only be traversed by destroying ancient statuary.

Corruption also wrapped up the saga of the Metroid Prime itself — the artificial life form from which the series took its title — in a decidedly uninspiring manner. In the end, the game pits you against what for all intents and purposes appears to be a prototype of Mother Brain. It should have made for an absolutely incredible FPS showdown. But instead of riffing on the Mother Brain battles in Metroid or Super Metroid, Corruption turns it into a ridiculous bit of nonsense where the whole Mother Brain/Aurora Unit apparatus — you know, the mechanical tank and tubes filled with malevolent space brain — spins around a big empty arena at you. That kind of thing was fine in early 3D action games of the ’90s like Super Mario 64 and Mega Man Legends. By 2007, and at the climax of a series so steeped in thoughtful design sophistication, we deserved better.

So, that's where Metroid Prime 3 misses the mark. But to simply write it off for these creative missteps would be a mistake. Corruption succeeds admirably in many respects, and many of its off-the-mark shots result from Retro's efforts to recontextualize Metroid and freshen up the game universe. For the first time in a decade, Corruption doesn't feel like a recreation of or attempt to push back against the gravity exerted by Super Metroid. Instead, it explores a different facet of the fundamental concept behind the series: Samus as a bounty hunter.

Corruption follows on from Metroid Prime: Hunters, the DS-exclusive multiplayer spin-off whose demo came packaged alongside the first wave of DS systems. (We'll look at Hunters in a later Game-By-Game entry.) Together, both games represent the first time the franchise's designers ever really took a step back from the standard Samus-versus-Metroids concept and said, "Wait, isn't there more to the character than just fighting space pirates?"

Indeed: Before the first Metroid incident, Samus had already earned acclaim as the toughest bounty hunter in the galaxy. Much of that backstory would effectively be unraveled by the next entry in the series (more on that next week), but Corruption arrived before Other M hit with the dull thud of needless retcons, and its storyline explored Samus's relationship with her professional peers. While the addition of other bounty hunters didn't substantially change the game mechanics — aside from providing a few interesting boss encounters — they gave the narrative a different vibe than usual. There's a lot more conversation in Corruption than in previous Metroids, save Fusion; unlike in Fusion, though, Samus seems an active participant in the proceedings rather than a penned-in rat running through someone else's maze. Much of Corruption takes on the feel of a race against other hunters, which adds a hint of urgency to the action… even if, in practice, it's all every bit as scripted as Fusion's SA-X encounters.

This goes hand-in-hand with the somewhat radical restructuring of the game. Rather than taking place on a single world in a vast, interconnected labyrinth, Corruption spans multiple planets. Of course, previous games had broken their monolithic world into compartmentalized spaces; Fusion went so far as to create hard divisions with a uniform structure for its different areas. But even in Fusion, the map designers could take advantage of the fact that these standalone areas nevertheless existed in close proximity to one another. Corruption made that impossible. There were no opportunities for surprising inter-area connections like the glass tube in Super Metroid, or Fusion's Portal-like escape into the hidden structure of the space station. Metroid Prime 3 sends Samus from one world to the next, and each planet presents a wholly self-contained environment and attendant set of challenges.

Many fans at the time decried Corruption's divided world, but in practice it doesn't cause that big a change for the flow of the game. Most Metroid excursions funnel players through a single conduit from one region to the next, and Corruption's landing points serve the same purpose. And the game even had Retro's obligatory tedious late-game fetch quest — a search for nine energy cells scattered throughout the galaxy — which proved to be neither more nor less of a hassle across multiple small regions than in a single contiguous map. For the most part, the compartmentalization worked in Corruption's favor, creating firm boundaries for each phase of the adventure to minimize the likelihood of players becoming lost and wandering in the wrong direction without the need to impose arbitrary gates to steer players in the right direction. This approach would probably feel more limiting in a 2D setting, but in a 3D space where movement around the world is more time-consuming and slower-paced, it creates a smoother overall play experience.

But none of that gets to the game's greatest achievement. Corruption may have lost the graphics race against its competition, and it may have broken up the design traditions of the franchise, but it nevertheless plays better than any other Prime entry for one key reason. Heck, it arguably plays better than any of its better-looking contemporaries, for that matter. And it all boils down to a simple detail: Motion controls.

Motion controls and the FPS proved to be a match made in heaven. Corruption wasn't the first shooter for Wii, and it wasn't the first to turn the Wii remote into an analogue for its protagonist's weapon. However, it was by far the best use case for the concept. The precision aiming of the Wii remote could work well in fast-paced shooters, but it absolutely soared in Prime's more deliberate format. Players didn't need to worry about thumbing around quickly and making instant snap turns when the game had been designed around puzzles and complex enemy encounters. Instead, the remote aiming helped streamline the sometimes cumbersome control scheme of Prime, long a sticking point for the series. It helped enhance the puzzle-like nature of combat, giving players greater precision for their aim without the need for the previous games' lock-on mechanics.

In fact, Corruption's motion control system worked so well that Nintendo folded it back into the previous Primes a couple of years later. The Metroid Prime Trilogy reissue for Wii compiled all three games, with motion aiming integrated into Metroid Prime and Echoes. In a way, it almost felt like Prime and its first sequel arrived too early — only with Wii's interface did the games at last feel natural. On the other hand, Corruption felt like it arrived a little too late, with its visuals failing to stand up to those of contemporary releases on other platforms due to their low-definition limitations. In a sense, there's never quite been a perfect Metroid Prime that manages to lead the way in both visuals and interface. But maybe Metroid Prime 4 will bring fluid controls and high-impact visuals together for the series at last.

While uneven in places and plagued by both a weak climax, Corruption in many ways plays better than any other Prime entry. Unfortunately, its host platform — the Wii — giveth, and it taketh away. Metroid Prime and motion controls were a perfect match… but the system's limitations meant Corruption fell a long way from the cutting-edge visuals the series had boasted a mere five years earlier.

4 /5

Metroid Game By Game Reviews: Metroid Prime 3: Corruption Jeremy Parish The Prime comes to a head, simultaneously elevated yet diminished by technology. 2017-09-20T16:50:00-04:00 4 5

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Comments 8

  • Avatar for SpoonyBardOL #1 SpoonyBardOL 2 months ago
    Corruption is my least favorite of the Prime Trilogy, though it's still pretty good.

    It's too combat-heavy, I find, even more than Echoes was. Some of the bosses are just an exercise in tedium (hi Mogenar), though to its credit it has some fun ones as well (hi Rundas).

    The decision to have the game take place on multiple planets actually winds up making the game world feel smaller, for one reason: Docking platforms. Every single docking platform on each planet (and most of them have multiple ones) acts, effectively, as a teleporter to any other docking platform in the game. Up until this point the exploration of Metroid games relied on clever shortcuts to get around the map quickly, never teleportation hubs. It might have been a necessity (you can't really have clever shortcuts across planets, after all) but it did feel like it shrunk the world. And it did remove the game of the feeling of 'oh neat now with this upgrade I can get from this side of the map to this side quicker!', now once you advance enough into a planet you just find another docking platform.

    Samus Returns does this too, and it's one of my least favorite additions. Getting around the map quickly in a Metroid game is important, but I wish they devised a more interesting solution like, say, AM2R did? Sure the pipes were, effectively, a teleportation hub, but at least the implementation was more interesting than 'literally here are some teleportation pads'.

    Curmudgeony combat and map-design gripes aside, I should revisit this game and see how I feel about it now. I haven't replayed it since it came out on the Trilogy.
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  • Avatar for guillermojiménez88 #2 guillermojiménez88 2 months ago
    Great review, but it does make me wonder: if/when Jeremy finishes Samus Returns, will he review it for this series of for Retronauts? Or for both? :O
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  • Avatar for greenwichlee #3 greenwichlee 2 months ago
    Finally playing through this after leaving it untouched for nearly a decade.

    I gave up on 2, then the awful intro to 3, with the weird new characters and bad writing and voice acting.

    I'm enjoying it now though - it gets better as it goes on and its a suitably dark twist that you end up having to murder your new friends.

    I agree the graphics are dated compared to its peers but I think time has softened this and now the unique alienness of the environment shines through.

    Not sure about the controls. They give it a different feel but the combat feels a bit too late 90s, lots of strafing in circles and hopping.
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  • Avatar for thecleverguy #4 thecleverguy 2 months ago
    @SpoonyBardOL
    I don't know how long it's been since Mr. Parish has played the game himself, but I wonder if it's been a while: I was surprised to hear so little harping about the tedious bosses and the Wii-specific puzzles, which have aged poorly (Prime 1 and 2's trilogy ports get the best end of the motion controls deal with all the precision aiming and none of the "pump the Wiimote at the screen" nonsense).

    I agree about the world feeling small. There's been quite a bit of talk among video game players recently about the importance of interconnected level design thanks to/because of Dark Souls, which as a series has its own way of dealing with this, but for Metroid (even a 3D Metroid, which, yes, they are slower to navigate) I don't think splitting the world into such bite-size pieces was the right choice. I think it just makes the world feel extremely fake and uninteresting.

    And the soundtrack! It places a heavier emphasis on string arrangements and atmospheres, and I'm glad the team tried something new with it, but I don't think it works very well. The title theme is great, though.
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  • Avatar for pimento #5 pimento 2 months ago
    I always felt when playing this game that the Wiimote could have used a slider on it for strafing. Other than that the controls were great.. but the jamming in of series norms to the world felt pretty silly. 'Hey Samus, walk around this military installation shooting doors to open them, that's how we do here.'
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  • Avatar for LBD_Nytetrayn #6 LBD_Nytetrayn 2 months ago
    I loved the motion controls; I am not a fan of FPS due to the controls they use, but breaking down the boundary between light gun game and FPS made this one feel refreshingly and delightfully intuitive to me.

    Incidentally, Nintendo now seems pretty adamant that Samus is not, in fact, a bounty hunter: http://m.ca.ign.com/articles/2009/08/29/a-space-bounty-hunter-in-texas?page=8

    Retro definitely wanted to play up that aspect, but Nintendo was against it, so Retro joked that she's a "pro-bono hunter" instead.

    Stick that up next to Mario being an ex-plumber, I suppose.
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  • Avatar for manoffeeling #7 manoffeeling 2 months ago
    @greenwichlee haha I didn't know about that twist. I couldn't get past the opening section, but now I'm kind of tempted to pick it up again.Edited September 2017 by manoffeeling
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  • Avatar for sylvan #8 sylvan A month ago
    I definitely liked Corruption more than Echoes, but not nearly as much as the original. I remember the opening chapters dialogue and setup was a little silly and made me think about the universe Samus inhabited more than I cared to. A series that once felt, lonely, mysterious and ominous now kind of felt like pulpy, comic book superhero schlock. I guess Hunters really started down that path though. But, it was all in service to a plot that did at least make sense and drive out the gameplay. It's been quite a while so I would like to come back to it and try it out again. Maybe even all three games.

    Trilogy was a fantastic idea and one of those rare, wonderful things that happens for fans like once in a lifetime. Playing the first Prime with motion controls is almost like playing a whole new game. And it came in cool steel case with a neat, transparent plastic sleeve. Best thing I ever bought for the Wii.Edited 4 times. Last edited September 2017 by sylvan
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