Review by Da Dood

"You can have a new first love."

Metroid Prime 3: Corruption (2007), Retro Studios - R006 - 10.08.2007

What is it that defines a particular series? Should we ignore the fact that some changes are inevitable, or should we embrace those new elements as part of natural evolution? In other words, why trap yourself in a dull, comfortable past when there's such an exciting world out there, waiting for you, ready to be explored?

Dude, move on.

Metroid Prime 3: Corruption takes off from where the second Prime installment (Echoes) left us: the presence of Dark Samus still haunts, and the mysterious Phazon still intrigues the Galactic Federation and the Space Pirates. This is the final chapter in Samus' first person advent-- shoot-- ah, what the hell, Metroid.

The first thing you'll notice when you create a new file is that Corruption is a lot more cinematic in comparison with previous titles, starting with the very first scene. The standard "your mission is..." phrase that opened both games is replaced by a status report that quickly dissolves into a wall of indecipherable text, as an ominous and Hollywood-esque take shows the main villain instead of the usual arrival of Samus on the planet. You better get used to that point of view because, in plain Hollywood fashion, "you're about to find out!" that Samus had a lot more in common with her evil mirrored self than she originally thought. After a brief interactive sequence meant to get player and Wiimote acquainted, Samus lands her stylish Gunship on the G.F.S. Olympus, a massive patrol vessel owned by the Galactic Federation. From this point on, do your best to erase the classic Metroidian silence from your mind. It's over. Unlike previous games, the Federation plays a much more active role in Corruption -- and this is the first out of many series trademarks shattered by Retro's third effort. Samus not only interacts with characters that don't look at all like bugs, she can actually hear people talk in Prime 3.

Yes.

Voice acting. You know. Metroid. Total blasphemy.

Except that it's handled brilliantly. It takes exactly one playthrough of Zelda: Twilight Princess to figure out how much voice acting could add to a game these days without destroying the point that quietness got across before. Sadly, Link's latest adventure chose to ignore that aspect in order to - among other reasons - avoid pissing off the more "religious" fans. Granted, it's a very risky maneuver in such a traditional series, even if the natural tendency in this case is to go with the flow. What if it's not well received? If it's not well received, you call Retro. In Metroid Prime 3, voice casting is perfect, from Gandrayda's I'm-hot-for-anyone tone to Aurora Units' electronique style. GF Troopers yell, react, express, whine and laugh, the same way you do while you play the game. But what about Samus? Well, Samus is the player, and that's the point about silence in Metroid. People talk, Samus doesn't say a word and it works for everyone. More specifically, it works for the experience.

If the cinematic approach still wasn't clear, it'll be blatantly obvious as soon as the Olympus is attacked by Space Pirates, only a few minutes after you gain control of Samus. Pick your favorite space battle and think about it for a few seconds. Now look out the window. Lasers, spaceships, vacuum-powered explosions for dramatic effect! Everything's more urgent, and it's unbelievably fitting. The fast-paced prologue in Metroid Prime 3 lasts a good hour, and ends with one of the most visually impressive boss fights in recent history. Shortly after you save the Federation from Space Piracy, your main antagonist shows up for a visit and Samus becomes corrupted... by Phazon.

And that's when the game starts.

Phazon was always the central element that held both previous titles close, as opposed to Metroids playing the role in most 2D games. The thing is, Phazon was implemented in a way that made it look like a highly dangerous ore that could easily consume one's life... but at the same time, manipulating it was necessary to save the galaxy. Prime 1 offered a one-of-a-kind Phazon Suit that protected Samus 100% from the material, but it was literally stolen by a certain enemy in the end. Samus never had enough blue venom, though, so using Phazon to defeat the final bosses in Prime 1 and Echoes was probably a sign of things to come. You see, being corrupted by Phazon is awesome.

The concept is simple: Samus will sacrifice one of her Energy Tanks to enter Hypermode, and Hypermode is basically Metroid's "Devil Trigger". You'll see everything black and white with the exception of mission-critical objects, and Samus' current beam will be temporarily replaced by the Hyper Beam (a version of the Phazon-energized weapon used in the first game). The Hyper Beam is very powerful, and charging the weapon makes her cannon spin and shoot rhythmically like a gatling gun. The catch: the Energy Tank that Samus sacrificed will become her only life gauge in Hypermode. You're invincible to enemy attacks, but if you stay in Hypermode for too long, Corruption level will rise and Samus will die. It sounds harsh, but the feature is much more favorable than dangerous to the player: since the only way to "vent" Phazon when Corrupted is by shooting it out, you're encouraged to eradicate anything in your path; plus, seeing as Corrupted Samus is a lot more powerful than normally, you can manipulate Hypermode to become Corrupted for a good amount of seconds per E-Tank. It's fantastic. Samus' Corruption is treated like a separate mode with its own elemental properties; in fact, Hypermode affects not only Samus' status, but her entire main arsenal as well: beams, Missiles, the Morph Ball and... the Grapple Beam.

The Grapple Beam is the symbol of Metroid Prime's entry in the addictive Wii universe. By thrusting the Nunchuk forward as if you were Simon Belmont cracking a whip, Samus will lasso special locks that look exactly like the ones seen in the first two games. This can be used to grapple your way across pits, pull levers, destroy panels, kill or stun enemies and disrupt enemy shields. In addition, all the exaggerated scanning from Prime 1 and 2 has been beautifully traded for context-sensitive Wiimote switches and puzzles. If you had to scan an orange icon to activate a lift in Prime 1, now you'll take control of Samus' hand and input the security code yourself, or perhaps you'll pull out a lever, or pump a fueling device, or solve a mini-puzzle by rotating the cannon and connecting energy circles as necessary. Roll into Morph Ball, flick the Wiimote and-- what the...! Spring Ball! You can jump in Morph Ball form without laying Bombs now, a very welcome feature for those who get easily tired of hearing tzz-kaploosh-tzz-tzz-kaploosh every two minutes in previous titles.

But the greatest accomplishment regarding Wii interaction is certainly the new control scheme. Even though the GC controller handled its own limitations pretty well, always responding instantly to any necessity, many players who decided to give the Prime series a shot weren't fond of controls back then. It's understandable, definitely, considering how much freedom you have in other games that utilize the same perspective for combat. Metroid Prime doesn't focus on combat as much as your usual FPS, but it doesn't mean that Retro couldn't optimize controls to make combat more challenging or entertaining; not to mention that improving controls would consequently improve the game as a whole. What we have here is quite simply the best control scheme ever implemented in a videogame. Retro never got rid of the lock-on, but now your actions aren't limited to the locked object. In short, you can actually aim by pointing the Wiimote where you want to shoot. That's it. You can use the control stick to strafe or walk backwards as you get rid of three enemies at the same time, you can turn around as fast as you're able to push the Wiimote pointer out of the boundary box. The improvement is so apparent that getting used to the old scheme after Corruption can be as hard as it was in the beginning. If you have a strict view, it might even hurt the first and second game's entertainment value, which is a pity, but... it's evolution, baby. This is the one aspect in which this third installment is undoubtedly superior to its predecessors. It's one of those things you just can't possibly imagine how developers are going to top, if ever. I guess it's never a bad idea to follow the old videogame maxim: if it ain't broke, fix the controls.

And controls aren't the only aspect that makes Prime 3 a more natural and convenient experience. Four essential areas have been improved and/or modified to better suit this new "modern" Metroid universe:

Scanning
Scanning thankfully carries over from one playthrough to the next now -- even those trivial scans that aren't stored in your Logbook. If you missed an old enemy that only appears once, don't worry, you'll be able to scan it on your next run without being forced to scan everything else all over again. The Logbook system maintains most of the clever solutions from Prime 2, though it'd be great to also have Echoes' organized categories and items displayed with exact percentage. Scanning itself feels easier because of the Wiimote, as you may point at the item you wish to scan instead of holding R and directing all of Samus' view towards it. You'll find yourself less forced to use your Scan Visor, even though it can be pretty interesting because there are more characters this time around, and you'll definitely want to know more about them. I personally had a blast reading about the Galactic Federation hierarchy.

Arsenal
Yet another subject of infinite controversy, Corruption's weapon system tries to recapture the essence of 2D Metroids, especially the recent Metroid Fusion. Unlike Prime 1 and Echoes, Samus won't add new weapons to her arsenal, instead finding direct upgrades to her fixed weaponry. To put it simply, yes, beams are stacked. Once you acquire the Plasma Beam, for instance, you won't ever be able to switch back to the Power Beam, and it's the same thing with the final upgrade. Their main effects aren't exactly inspired (Plasma burns things, Nova retains the burning and goes through special alloy), but there's room for a couple of nifty side features that make each upgrade worth having when you get them. Since there are no different beams, it means that you don't have to keep switching weapons to open doors, a definite plus in a series where running from one place to the other can get absurdly repetitive. You'll obtain two upgrades for Missiles as well, one of them being the good ol' ice-elemental weapon and the other a fast Phazon-powered Hyper Missile. Unfortunately, this whole thing means that Charge Combos are absent. It might cause players to question how useful Missiles really are, since Prime 1 and 2 abused them as Charge Combo fuel and there aren't many enemies that absolutely require them in Corruption.

Gunship
Surprised? Metroid Prime 3's world is divided into planets and a couple of separate locations in outer space. Instead of using elevators a la classic Metroid, Samus will travel by flying her ship. The wonderful difference between both methods is that each planet has more than one landing point, and you can travel between landing points as you wish by simply calling your vehicle with the new Command Visor. In the end, the feared backtracking becomes much more tolerable. After a certain event, the Gunship will be equipped with Ship Missiles, that you may use to bomb outdoor areas packed with enemies. The ship will be used for puzzles as well, thanks to its own Grapple add-on. Finally, Samus' Gunship has a built-in save/recharge station, and the many blinky gadgets inside will provide some mindless entertainment. A really useful option in the cockpit is a red button that lists many game statistics, like number of enemies killed, shots fired and Hypermode uses.

Go! Fetch!
Ah, the best part. Remember when videogame developers were minions of evil and scattered several meaningless items for Samus to fetch near the end of Prime 1 and 2, in an obvious attempt to artificially increase playtime when you had already explored those environments enough? They did it again! However, the quest is thankfully lenient this time around. You don't need all Energy Cells to finish the game, and you'll probably have enough of them before you even start looking. If you care enough to collect the rest, you'll be rewarded with more expansions. Bravo, Retro. Bravo.

With so many good stuff going on, sometimes it's easy to forget that the game actually heads somewhere. Many somewheres, in fact.

Metroid Prime 3 revolves around the closure of the Phazon incident. The Federation is getting closer and closer to revealing the origin of the mineral, and they have tracked strange-looking organic entities called "Leviathans" on separate locations throughout the galaxy. Those Leviathans are responsible for major Phazon spreading on the three planets where they have landed, and so the Federation sent their top three Hunters to investigate each planet: Rundas (the icy Hunter; think Frozone without snakes or planes), Ghor (the Transformer rip-off) and Gandrayda (a woman who can morph into several forms like any other). Samus never got the memo, being in a half-coma state ever since Dark Samus attacked her in the prologue. Worse, contact with all Hunters was lost quite a while ago. In short, you'll have to visit those places to investigate the investigators, and let's be honest here: it doesn't look good.

But the places look good.

Metroid Prime 2: Echoes is a solid game, and there's no denying that its efforts to steer away from overused elemental-themed areas were valid. The problem was that, aside from Sanctuary Fortress, those areas didn't have a lot of personality. We can argue about fire and ice being unoriginal until the end of time, but it's impossible to ignore that they work fabulously in any game as potential gameplay/level design elements. The point is, it's not about abusing the cliche, it's about being creative while implementing its familiar characteristics.

To give an example, two Galactic Federation spaceships are used as big areas in Corruption. The G.F.S. Olympus is Samus' training zone in the prologue, full of life and people to interact with, a state-of-the-art technology paradise and an information oasis. Security is everywhere, but they're on your side. Rooms and corridors are so bright that it almost feels like daytime, while music is practically unnoticed in the midst of a busy intergalactic scenario. The space-y feeling comforts like admiring snow from a cozy shack; it's your territory and it feels like home. The other spaceship is the G.F.S. Valhalla. A ghost ship, lost in vague inexistence, a portrait of sadness and destruction, riddled with darkness and fear of the unknown. Any trace of docile life is disintegrated with the slightest touch, in the same way that happens when a Metroid drains one's very soul in Super Metroid. The place is crumbling and shaking, and you can't help but feel uneasy at the thought of what could have happened -- more importantly, what could still be happening there. Those are two successful examples of how to use the exact same thing twice and make each of them appropriately distinct.

Corruption's four major planets have received similar treatment. Norion is a quiet GF homebase that sees a lot of action in the prologue, being fully optional after Samus begins her mission for real. Bryyo is the elemental planet, split into four sections with reasonable attention to fire/ice interaction: the main "hub" in Bryyo is home to a civilization's ruins much like the Chozo in Prime 1, but the presence of colossal rock golems all over the place and the strange melody of satellites in the sky bring uniqueness and personality; the icy section is delightfully short and empty, a welcome break from the heated action from Fiery Bryyo's gel frenzy; lastly, the jungle-themed section is linear and more combat-oriented. From the angelical views of Elysia's SkyTown to the claustrophobic Pirate Homeworld, Corruption's environments parallel the game's natural pacing, presenting a refined balance between peaceful moments and those of pure war.

In fact, pacing in Metroid Prime 3 is so elegant that you shouldn't be surprised if you sense a tough battle or a new upgrade coming every so often: everything happens precisely when it should happen. Moreover, the journey is structured in a non-episodic way (not to be confused with non-linear) that doesn't make your objectives feel as choresome as collecting three keys after three keys after nine keys. You also have a lot more freedom than you had in Echoes and sometimes even Prime 1 regarding your next step: Norion and the Valhalla are completely optional places after or until a certain event, and even though the game lamentably pin-points where Samus needs to go (no, turning off the hint system won't work), you can go back to most places or take detours at any time to explore and find more expansions, a real breath of fresh air when we look back to Echoes closing off previously visited areas.

Distribution of upgrades also plays a huge part in how passionately the game is structured, considering how each new item affects your journey. Purists will complain about lack of Power Bombs and Super Missiles, but the truth is that most power-ups do their best to portray their usual roles in the grand Metroid scheme. By the time you get the Plasma Beam, for instance, you'll be almost tired of bumping into flammable debris and ice barriers, and finally going after them is just as exciting as ever. There aren't many new gadgets aside from Hypermode powers, but receiving the Screw Attack halfway through is only one of the game's many surprises reserved for the player. You no longer have to struggle past boring underwater sections, not every item is guarded by an annoying boss, and basic abilities like Morph Bombs and Space Jump Boots are available from the get go.

Enemies and bosses will join the party showing weaknesses to your many upgrades, in good Metroid tradition. On the plus side, you'll definitely feel more powerful as you advance and earn new abilities: irritating enemies like Phazon Metroids and even some mini-bosses can be defeated with one shot thanks to a certain late-game combo. On the minus side, most foes don't require much intellectual work to have their weaknesses figured out, generally being as simple as equipping a shield that can be removed with your Grapple Beam or entering Hypermode themselves. Bosses won't ooze that imposing vibe faced against Omega Pirate and Quadraxis, and you can expect to make use of Grapple and Hypermode at some point during each major battle. They're all pretty fun to deal with, regardless, if only because Samus is such a powerhouse and due to the new element of, well, aiming. A few specific combat sequences will be remembered fondly, like the very RE4-esque and climax-y Trooper escorting. Teamed with the versatile control scheme, enemies and Samus' arsenal contribute deeply with the game's much more forgiving difficulty level. As soon as you get the hang of Hypermode, you may consider yourself pretty much invincible.

Other classic challenge errands like Morph Ball puzzles are toned down, making the game easier to conquer and overall shorter. You'll be taking advice from an entity or a person throughout the whole mission, which diminishes your role a fair bit. Then again, the fact that we're not at the mercy of a cheap fetch quest and the ability to reveal the location of every single expansion or not are worth of praise and show how Retro never cared for artificial longevity solutions this time, appealing to both rigid and loose crowds at once.

Visually, the game is astonishing. Most locations are a joy to explore and observe, architecture is unique to each planet and coherent with culture and creatures that linger, lighting is unbelievable. Samus herself spent a fair time perfecting her visuals in the beauty salon. Her Suit visuals, at least. The PED Suit may appear generic and odd-looking at first, but as you progress further into the game and become more Corrupted, the armor will adapt itself to Phazon by subtly adding more and more blue. It's possible to see how Samus reacts to the Corruption by paying close attention to her reflection on her Visor (Scan Visor makes it easier to see), and... let's just say that Linda Blair would be proud. There's a bit of an exaggeration when it comes to the color blue, mostly near the end, but it doesn't even scratch Prime 2's constant mass of purple all around. Most areas provide inspiring sights that you'll certainly want to relive in this or the next playthrough. Much like with Prime 1, Retro was careful enough to polish even the unnecessary: please refrain from drooling over the armor glow caused by contact with acid rain. Frozen gel, lavafalls, welding, character design, it's all unseen and inviting. Sound is vibrant and suitably set, whereas music tracks aren't particularly memorable, being either formulaic (Bryyo hub), too shy (Icy Bryyo) or a rehash of what has been done before (Pirate Homeworld). Even so, music corresponds accordingly when necessary and no track will go as far as to detract from enjoyment. Corruption borrows Prime's classic door-loading mechanics and it takes a good ten seconds to ready the next room in some cases, but it won't happen often and they still do a great job at masking those load times.

For those who need an extra something after clearing the game, there are two harder difficulty modes and the Credit system, which is the only way to earn currency for unlockable extras. Scanning important items, defeating bosses or hunting down Red Phazoids will grant Samus bonus tokens that can be exchanged for image galleries, soundtrack files and even bumper stickers for the Gunship. Credits go online, too: special medals (Friend Vouchers) can be traded for Green Credits with other people. The Friend Voucher tasks can be immensely fun even if you don't have Wi-Fi, due to how entertaining and varied they can get (humiliate an organic wall, use the Boost Ball to strike robots, save the G.F.S. Olympus Troopers during the Space Pirate assault...). There's also the series-mandatory extended ending for completing the game with a certain amount of items and then with 100%. The official sequence-breaking squad is already working on ways to break the intended course, but it doesn't seem like Corruption will allow many major skips. Finishing the game with little percentage is recognized and approved, though, if only because the final area and its direct connection with Hypermode can add monstrous difficulty depending on how many Energy Tanks you have.

So, what aspects does Corruption surpass and how is it inferior to both previous Prime games as the trilogy reaches its conclusion? Morph Ball and Morph Ball puzzles consolidate Echoes' accepted superiority in the category, as do boss fights. Prime 1 will be forever viewed as the most "Metroid-like" in the first person series, while Corruption will spend a long time trying to win rigorous veterans with its cinematic approach and occasional action emphasis. On the other hand, Prime 3 has by far the most refined control scheme and combat in the series, and exploration will be more convenient for the impatient while at the same time tingling old-schoolers with plenty of variety and freedom. Storyline's charged with much more adrenaline and sense of urgency in comparison, which some will ultimately embrace and others will blindly despise. Given how this is supposed to be the end of a series of events, a closure, an incident's final solution, they couldn't have made a better choice.

No, this is not the Super Metroid substitute people were praying for. It's a lot better in some ways, equal in most and naturally worse in others. The important thing is that Metroid Prime 3: Corruption is precisely what the series would eventually evolve into. And we should just dance along, because the swan song is marvellous.

Move on.

Plus
- Responsive, intuitive, refined controls;
- Enhanced combat;
- Less painful backtracking, convenient pacing;
- Lots of exploration to do;
- Welcome cinematic approach;
- I feel foolish for putting this here, but: no artificial fetch quest.

Minus
- Music isn't particularly memorable;
- Massive hand-holding;
- Running back and forth instead of just blowing stuff up might still bother some;
- Likewise, too much blowing up might bother those who only wish to run around.

Similar Titles
- Castlevania: Symphony of the Night ][ Metroid's gothic relative.
- Perfect Dark ][ Elvis lives.

Ten out of ten.

EDIT: Corrected factual info about Hypermode.


Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 10/08/07, Updated 10/29/07

Game Release: Metroid Prime 3: Corruption (US, 08/27/07)


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