So how do you really control a first-person game on the Wii?
Graphically, Metroid Prime 3 is not a shocking improvement over the last game in the series. There are some new effects for beam blasts, missiles, grapple beam, etc., but the environments look about the same, at least in the demo. Character models are more detailed, particularly the Space Pirates, who have more detailed bodies and are more colorful than before.
But what is shocking about Corruption is the control, which is of course radically different with the Wii controller. You move with the nunchuk control stick and aim with the remote as a pointer. Within the central area of the screen, you can aim the blaster without turning. To rotate the view or look up or down, you point towards the edge of the screen. It’s pretty easy to keep track of, thanks to the targeting symbol. But actually moving with the joystick and aiming/turning with the remote, at the same time, takes a lot of coordination. I did feel more comfortable with it after several minutes, eventually getting into some shootouts with the Space Pirates in which I no longer had to think about the controller as much.
Unfortunately, my comfort level with the remote was irrelevant during the times when the pointing feature would simply stop working altogether. Several times during the demo, my view would freeze up, no longer responding to my pointing gestures. The natural inclination is to wave the remote all over the place to find the cursor, as you might do with a computer mouse, but that doesn’t work at all. The Nintendo employee at the demo station suggested that I hold the remote in a central position to give it time to re-calibrate, which the game apparently does on the fly, and this method worked much better. At this point, I’m still not sure how to prevent the pointer freezes, but at least they can be fixed quickly.
Morph Ball is activated with the round C button on the nunchuk, and it is controlled entirely with the joystick. The nunchuk’s Z trigger button activates lock-on, which helps tremendously with aiming in a chaotic situation. The remote’s B trigger jumps and double jumps (the demo doesn’t call it “Space Jump" for some reason), and the big A button fires Samus’s blaster and Charge Beam and also drops bombs. Left, right, or up on the D-pad turns on Scan Visor, while down on the D-pad immediately shoots a missile. I found that hitting the D-pad in a hurry can be difficult, since it’s a bit of a reach up from the A button, which is your home position when playing this game.
The Grapple Beam is used quite a bit in the demo, and its control implementation is interesting. You lock onto an object with the familiar grappling icon, then swing the nunchuk forward (as if casting a fishing line). Once the beam is attached, you press down on the control stick to pull the object towards you. I think it would feel more natural to pull (or maybe jerk) the nunchuk back towards your body for this latter function, as mixing the buttons, accelerometer, and joystick all for just one move is drastically more complex than the old method of just pushing the L trigger. Of course, the greater difficulty in using this move is balanced by its increased utility. The Grapple Beam is now used to clear away heavy debris that may be blocking your path. You can also use it in combat to disable shielded enemies. I’m pretty excited about these new uses for an item that was nearly worthless in previous Prime games.
The game demo begins with Samus flying her redesigned ship through space and then landing on a planet. A Galactic Federation soldier greets her at the landing pad and explains (in text and a clearly audible, English-speaking voice) that the station is under attack by Space Pirates. You then take control of Samus and move through the installation, where you encounter the typical corridors and ambushes.
Eventually you come out to an exterior bridge, where you must fight Space Pirates (some shielded) and flying enemies that may also be pirates, though I’m not sure. (Didn’t think to scan them.) When all the smaller enemies are gone, a medium-sized gunship flies in and hovers near the platform, firing energy blasts at you. It takes a lot of shots to put down, but it’s not too hard, especially when using jumps to dodge laterally. Then comes a real surprise: a mysterious character enters the scene to dispatch additional gunships. This character flies around on an ice slide, exactly like Ice Man from the X-Men, and he fires blasts of cold at the incoming ships, causing them to slam together and crash. The character then approaches Samus and suggests that they work together to clear out the rest of the enemies. This guy would seem to be Noxus from Metroid Prime: Hunters, and he looks similar in the close-up view, but not quite the same. In any case, this character and Samus appear to be on friendly terms. He flies off at the end of the cut-scene, so it’s not like you are fighting side-by-side with him…at least not yet.
My own demo session ended at this point, but that’s only the half-way point in the floor demo. I watched as other people played deeper into game, though. The next area is a vertical shaft populated by small flying robots, which are easy to dispatch if you can keep them in your sights for long enough to shoot. After those guys are all defeated, you begin a long Morph Ball section to climb to the top of the shaft by navigating tunnels in the wall. Meanwhile, an enemy in the center of the shaft is shooting at you, so it helps to be fast. At the top of the shaft, you encounter Ridley and somehow end up falling with him down a huge tunnel, two kilometers deep. A counter at the bottom of the screen shows how much farther there is to go before you hit bottom…in the interim, you have to deal with Ridley. He has two phases: in the first, he faces you from far away and fires shots at you, which can be destroyed by your own shots if you have good aim. You can only hurt him when his mouth is open to charge up a big fat laser. After a while, he gets much closer, within melee distance, and begins to charge up physical attacks that do a ton of damage. The trick here is to fire a Charge Beam at his hands while he is preparing to attack, which will prevent him from finishing the blow. Sometimes his mouth will open, and that’s your chance to unload missiles or a Charge Beam into his noggin’. If Ridley is defeated before you both land at the bottom of the shaft, the demo ends with a “Mission Accomplished" screen.
I’ll be playing a lot more of Metroid Prime 3: Corruption and may post more impressions if needed. Definitely check back on Thursday for tons of new preview info on the game, as we’ll be speaking with some of the top developers at Retro Studios to learn what the game is all about, what’s new, and how the gameplay is being adapted for Wii controls.