A Space Odyssey
Fall is sprung, dear readers! I know this because like many other Wii owners, my nine months of long waiting are over and it’s time for Nintendo to release some serious titles for my rare, funky game-box. No, not that game. No, not that one either. Where have you been? Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, the final entry in Retro Studios’ studio-consuming shooter series, is a flagship hardcore title for Nintendo’s hardcore-deficient Miracle Console.
[image1]As I spent every conscious hour outside of work and drinking to slug through this title, however, it wasn’t all smooth spacefaring – sit back, and let me tell you about both troubles and triumphs in a galaxy far, far away from that other Nintendo galaxy.
Corruption traces a path across the galaxy as Samus hunts down the Leviathan Seeds - three gigantic boss arenas which have lodged themselves into the sides of Chozo ruins and the Space Pirate homeworld. The seeds threaten to ‘corrupt’ each world into a Phazon-mutated nightmare, while Samus and her fellow bounty hunters fight their own individual Phazon infections. Each step teases the final showdown with Dark Samus, your doppelganger and the Prime trilogy’s wraith-like recurring villain.
Phazon poisoning is the least of Samus’ troubles - the first quarter of Corruption suffers from weak plotting and frustratingly uneven difficulty, which ultimately cripple the game’s wow factor. Cute but underwhelming rewards only prove that you’ve gone out of your way to explore the product completely.
Beyond those first worlds and their overcomplicated bosses, Corruption is a wonderful labyrinth, a testament to the Nintendo philosophy of pure, unadulterated gameplay. Metroid is not buried under voiceover noise and political confusions; you’re left to enjoy roller-coaster zip lines and free-hanging corkscrew tracks, one-by-one, at your own quiet leisure. Samus’ arcadey jumping and shooting abilities are mixed with Wii-centric pointer games and a brand new ship control feature, carefully distributed so no two rooms share the same combination of play elements in 20 hours.
[image2]This game flow also does a great job of capturing the sci-fi experience. Samus can and often must scan every object in the (literally) alien landscape, letting players piece together solutions and background stories at their own pace. In Corruption, all this reading is rewarded with bonus credits for buying storyboards, music and other special features. It’s been a clever hint-driven experience since the first Metroid Prime, and Corruption finally ties it all together.
Another nice sci-fi touch is how you can order your ship around; there’s nothing finer than calling in a bombing run and watching some poor Space Pirate look up into a half-dozen air-to-ground missiles. Classic.
Tight controls demand too much precision from the start, but hardcore gamers should have no problem activating their ballooning inventory of abilities. Retro has nailed a steady Wii Remote point-and-shoot scheme, even as your abilities start to fill up every button twice over. The Remote and Nunchuk feel like they were made to be Samus’ cannon and whip, and even clunky parts like selecting a visor are made as painless as possible,. It’s overkill to make players point-and-click keyboards and tilt levers, but these motion puzzles add a nice variety to the typical bag of jumping and shooting puzzles.
The game is as brilliant as ever, but it shows some serious growing pains as it tries to tap into the next generation. Though I appreciated the game’s ambitious puzzles and situations, Corruption falls short when it tries to push its cinematic and emotional aspirations.
[image3]Visually, the story plays like a montage of everything sci-fi. The world of Samus is seemingly made from everything Tron, Star Wars and Halo tossed in a blender. Some locales like the floating Skytown offer Kodak moments, though the bland color palettes can hide key objects and create a boring, monochromatic atmosphere. Even the most vibrant and colorful environments come off flat, like a Gamecube title with occasionally massive draw distances.
If the graphics barely pass, the sound also stumbles over a number of problems. The choral anthems drown under an ocean of synthesizer, it’s enough to put you under as well. Corruption features more voice acting than any other Metroid game, but the hammy dialogue is mistakenly reserved for the ultra-clichéd banter between objectives, and left out where it would be most compelling. It’s the difference between reading the journals in System Shock 2 and playing the diary tapes in Bioshock - voiceover narration keeps you in the game, while all of the scanner text in Metroid constantly pulls you out of the experience for hours of reading. It would be nice if Corruption kept up with the times.
[image4]All these various elements are cobbled into an unclear story about evil ghosts, friends turned foe and a galactic war - all fine ideas, but none of them receive enough attention to succeed. Call it a general problem with video game pacing, but the game makes one lone attempt to get you on board with the cast and premise, on the first world. Then for the next 18 hours, you just don’t feel anything for the vanilla plot and the throwaway characters, with only one truly thrilling encounter very early on. At times I felt like the story was unforgivably mediocre, and in this way Retro Studios failed this attempt to make Corruption its epic opus, while still making a good game.
That’s the big unsettling problem with Metroid Prime: Corruption - it becomes so sharply split between its stellar gameplay and its ho-hum story. The story and linear pathways get so bland that at times, it’s possible you’ll waste an hour flying to the wrong world, searching for the next door forward.
The truth of the matter is that the storytelling is just one not-so-great addition they’ve made in a series of other great additions, like the spot-on implementation of the Wii controls. Metroid Prime 3: Corruption blossoms into a fun, massive game with a tiny bit of heart, and if this is the high note in the trilogy it is a perfectly agreeable conclusion.