Review by pixielate_com

"Why Metroid Is Like Madonna"

Popularity is a fleeting thing, and nowhere is this more clearly visible than in the music industry. Even the biggest acts tend to age badly, and the vast majority vanish utterly in just a few years. Some few, like Madonna, manage to not only stay popular, but continue to build their fame and bring in new generations of fans as time passes. Madonna, and others like her, manage this difficult feat by recognizing when they have started to become stale, and reinventing themselves as time passes.

Nintendo has accomplished the same feat in pretty much the same way. It's been just about 25 years since the NES reached our shores, and you won't find many of Nintendo's original competitors still in the business these days. Like Madonna, Nintendo's success is due to a talent for reinvention, and as the company has periodically transformed itself, so too has it transformed its flagship franchises.

Mario, Zelda, and Metroid are the three big names that have most defined Nintendo's identity to gamers over the years, and fans have developed a certain attachment and loyalty to these characters. This loyalty, however, can develop into a certain amount of concern and frustration when the parent company decides to turn things on their heads.

Now Nintendo has reinvented itself yet again, and by doing so has leapfrogged the Sony/Microsoft HD fight into a whole different arena of gaming, and almost overnight has gone from a distant also-ran in the console wars to almost having the crown again within its reach. As would be expected, the launch of the new console is followed immediately by new entries in the great old franchises. The Wii launched with Zelda: Twilight Princess, and now we have Metroid Prime 3 : Corruption.

I have to say that I was one of those who found the controls for Metroid Prime on the Gamecube very annoying and awkward, to the point that they really ruined the game for me. I was very excited then to see how well they handled things with the Wiimote, and I was not disappointed.

The Wiimote works very well for this type of game, allowing a level of precision shooting that is rather harder to attain using a joystick. This eliminates the need for the controversial lock-on system and simultaneously allows for the independent moving and shooting that is common to most conventional FPS games. Moving around and fighting in Corruption's gorgeous environments, then, is a very fluid and intuitive experience.

And make no mistake, this is a very pretty game. Nintendo understands better than most that stylish graphics are often just as pleasing to the eye as super-realistic high-poly count backgrounds. More importantly, fast paced games can suffer badly if they try to deliver more data than the eye can process. The environments in Prime 3 are expansive and colorful, and different zones even on the same level can be very visually distinct. It's also fairly easy to pick out the parts of the environment that you need to interact with, especially with the use of the visors.

The scanning visor in particular is an invaluable tool. You can scan just about anything, and this is worth doing for a couple reasons. First is because you can unlock bonus features by scanning enough stuff (ie: everything you see). Second is that scanning things often gives you very useful information. Scanning enemies will give you clues on how to beat them, particularly useful on bosses. Scanning doors and environmental objects will give you clues on how to complete puzzles or where you need to go next. There's also a lot of stuff that's just there to look cool, but that's ok.

New to the Prime series is the Command Visor, which allows you to summon your gunship to pick you up at landing pads, fire missile volleys at enemies, and interact with the environment in various ways necessary in order for you to solve puzzles. The puzzles are very well done, as one would hope. Environmental puzzles have always been the mainstay of the Metroid series, and there's no shortage of them here, with all sorts of different clever ways to solve them. This is by far the most entertaining part of the whole game, and gives you reason to spend hours backtracking back and forth through the entire game every time you get a new upgrade.

Still, I do have to level one criticism here. All of your beam upgrades, new weapons, and movement ability upgrades come as you progress through the main story. There are also energy tanks to find, but most of these you'll be able to snag the first time you reach the puzzle. The rewards for backtracking, however, consist almost entirely of missile capacity upgrades, and the annoying thing about this is that you don't really need them. You'll do the vast majority of your fighting with your beam. While you do need missiles occasionally for certain enemies and certain puzzles, they're not nearly as useful as in previous games, to the point where I almost never used them at all.

The other unusual choice in Prime 3 is that all weapon upgrades are cumulative. The heat beam, x-ray beam, and so forth just add their capabilities to your standard beam, so there's no weapon switching, Missiles are the same way, you've just go the one kind that does everything, based on the upgrades you've acquired. The only real choice you have in combat then is wether to use Hypermode or not.

This is a new addition to Samus' array of firepower that allows you to expend an entire energy-tank worth of health in order to dramatically increase your firepower for a brief period of time. Certain enemies are more vulnerable to Hypermode attacks than normal ones, so you will be using it frequently, but you're still fighting the same way, it's just a different color.

Boss fights are pretty much as you would expect from a Metroid game. They all require you to do very particular things in very particular patterns. This could be really frustrating, but generally your scanning visor will do a good job of telling you what you need to do. In addition, most of the bosses don't really do much damage to you, and always give you periodic opportunities to rebuild your health. Even so, if you don't really have the pattern down, boss encounters can take as much as ten or fifteen minutes of constant fighting, and that can really wear your arm down. Good thing you can pause the game mid-fight to give your muscles a rest.

In the end, it's really the storytelling that makes the game. Prime 3 uses every available tool to really draw you into the Metroid universe. There are NPCs in some of the levels who will talk to you, data terminals with all sorts of background tidbits, and scans with your visor will reveal reams of background information. The cutscenes are well done and, while frequent, are generally short and fast-paced. The use of lighting, music, and level design to build mood has always been the core of Metroid, and Prime 3 doesn't disappoint here.

In the end then, you may find that the obsessive backtracking for upgrades that has always been a Metroid hallmark isn't really worth your time. It's really the storytelling that makes Corruption sing, and moving through the game quickly only improves the experience. My suggestion is to wait to backtrack for upgrades until you've gotten all the equipment you need, and make it a single trip. You won't really notice the lack of missiles and such in the meantime, but you will notice a more enjoyable Metroid experience.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 11/01/07

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

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