The Grand Finale
There’s no shortage of Metroid love here at Nintendo Enthusiast. While I’ve been retro reviewing games of recent vintage, Ryan wrote a meticulous retrospective that provided a historical overview of the entire Metroid series. With the anniversary of the original Prime’s release fast approaching, and Echoes having already received its due, today we’ll polish off Corruption. Why the flipped order for reviewing the Prime Trilogy? I think a bit of context helps us to understand the greatness of the original, don’t you?
Now, this isn’t to say that Corruption isn’t a great game in its own right. One can argue that it was the first truly great Wii game. It was the first title to appear on the little white brick that not only fully took advantage of motion controls, but also showcased that the system’s graphical prowess could offer up breathtaking beauty (unfortunately, Retro’s amazing artistry served as a high-water mark for the Wii’s visuals, rarely challenged by even Nintendo’s own EAD teams). The Phazon saga saw a fitting end on the Wii. But, like Echoes, it still couldn’t escape the mighty shadow of Prime.
Sight and Sound
Corruption is an ode to the type of visual splendor that only videogames can provide. Even compared to recent high-def heavyweights, Prime 3 is a master class in the power of art outliving hairy-chested processing power. To this day, you will rarely find virtual worlds constructed with such care. From craggy cliff faces to clever interiors soaked in little details and obtuse level geometry, there is so much to marvel at that it’s almost a shame to do anything but examine your surroundings. It’s not only diverse (Samus isn’t bound to one planet this time out), but quite a colorful batch of environments, too. Whereas Echoes featured muted tones, this edition to the Prime canon is gloriously saturated in hues of varying intensities. Some levels are obviously constructed around purposefully-limited color palettes: the orange glow of the Pirate Homeworld, the cold blue of Phaaze, the neon red that greets you at the G.F.S. Valhalla.
Of course, Retro being Retro, they had to do something to upgrade Corruption’s visuals on a technical level that would make other developers green with envy, so they doubled the texture resolution of damn-near everything, and bathed it all in a glorious wash of bloom lighting. Oh, and they kept it all at 60 fps, to boot. The results? Astounding. The game may start out on the sterile Norion, but don’t let it fool you. Bryyo’s jungle awaits, as do the aforementioned destinations. Of particular note are the Leviathan “seeds” (where you’ll encounter bosses) and SkyTown, Elysia. Both will leave your jaw on the floor.
The soundtrack, however, is a bit more hit-or-miss than the visuals. On the whole, it’s a tuneful batch, and yes, SkyTown has a chiming, meditative charm that is intoxicating. But Bryyo’s plodding chants? They could’ve been pulled out of Halo. More on that soon, by the way…
Corruption doesn’t require a working knowledge of the Metroid mythos, but it helps. The cliff notes? Dark Samus infects our heroine – and a few other bounty hunters – with Phazon. One by one, the hunters fall into madness, with Samus as the final holdout to the mutagen’s corrupting power. After briefly convalescing, she is given two things: orders to track down her erstwhile allies, and a new power suit that can harness her Phazon infection. Samus can, at any time, jump into “Hyper Mode.” As a gameplay mechanic, think of it as a BAMF button. Now loaded for bear, she must discover the origin of this glowing blue menace and put an end to it, lest it put an end to her.
You still scan objects and read logbook entries in Prime 3, but the real plot of the final chapter of this trilogy is mainly delivered via cut scenes. And unlike other Nintendo developers we could mention, the team down in Austin has no fear of voice acting. The narrative unfurls from the instructions of a military commander, the various bounty hunters (all quite insane), and a couple Aurora Units – giant, gelatinous, pickled brains that sound like Snuffleupagus on barbiturates.
…hey, I didn’t say the voice acting was great, did I? Although an admirable attempt at dragging Nintendo into the present, Corruption’s voicework is far from the elegiac cut scenes that silently powered Echoes’ opening. A good portion of it unfortunately falls into the straight-up cheese section. It’s quite telling that the game’s best section – an extended exploration of SkyTown – is also one in which you are interrupted infrequently. In fact, it’s the most Metroid-feeling part of the game…
Gameplay and Conclusion
Corruption’s greatest weaknesses all stem from a game trying so valiantly to not be just another Metroid Prime game.
The voice acting is one culprit, but the game’s opening few hours is another. Remember the earlier comment on Halo-y music? It’s not only the music. Prime 3’s overture (on Norion mainly, but also Bryyo) has a case of Halo-itis. You may love the early bombastic shoot-outs, or you may wonder why Master Chief would feel so at home in Metroid. Count me in the latter. It isn’t until the game gives you a chance to breathe in SkyTown that it begins to settle into a Prime-y groove.
However, the additional action is matched by a control scheme up to the task. The IR/pointer controls implemented in Corruption were the first real indication of just what the Wii’s unique controller could do outside of mini-games and sports demos. It was the fastest and most fluid control scheme this side of a keyboard and mouse (interesting footnote: many reviewers were complimentary of Prime 3’s controls in 2007, yet seemed to sour on the Wii remote for first-person shooting in later years…one wonders why?), and it still sits at the top of the Wii heap more than five years later. Yes, games that came after provided fully customizable schemes, but none ever quite matched the smoothness imparted by Retro’s excellent cursor sensitivity, coupled with a high, stable framerate. Also, using the nunchuck’s motion sensing capabilities for the grapple lasso? Genius.
The same smoothness can’t quite be attributed to Corruption’s progression structure. Whereas the first two games took place on large worlds (Tallon IV in the original Prime, Aether in Echoes), with different areas connected via elevators, Prime 3 features several locations and planets. This is both a blessing and a curse; you won’t ever feel the same sort of frustration of traversing the less-than-well-connected Aether, but the trade off is that the worlds are comparatively bite-sized. Plus, you can jump in your ship and fly off whenever you please. This severely limits retraversal, as well as crafting levels around reaching new areas with newly-acquired abilities – hallmarks of the series. They aren’t missing, mind you (especially not in SkyTown), but they are somewhat limited.
So, those complaints aside, what does this grand finale get right? Everything else. The visuals are wondrous, the action is deftly paced, the inventory is cleverly streamlined (beams stack in homage to Super Metroid, instead of being selected and re-selected constantly), and the action builds to a fever-pitched crescendo. Yes, you do get stuck with a late escort mission, and yes, there’s a final fetch-quest (don’t worry, it isn’t anywhere close to the game-ruining affair that took place in Echoes). But the final act is thunderous, closing out the trilogy in fine form.
Finer than its immediate predecessor, Echoes? It comes down to taste. I can’t deny that I admire Echoes as a flawed masterpiece. If you were to ask me tomorrow which game I prefer, I’d probably still go with Prime 2. But that’s a subjective view. Objectively, Corruption has flashier tech, a much more fair difficulty curve, better pacing and stronger replayability. I’m scoring it higher than Echoes on that front, but my heart probably still belongs to the middle child.
Finer than the original Prime? No. We’ll discuss why on Friday.