Could this game be the best in the series? The best of what series?
"Nintendo's Epic Trilogy Concludes…" And so it does. Corruption may fall right into the middle of the overall Metroid timeline, but it is also certainly the conclusion of the Metroid Prime games and their Phazon saga. Prior to its release, many fans (including myself) wondered if Retro Studios might be veering too far into the first-person shooter genre, compromising some of the adventure elements that made the Prime games so unusual and compelling. The answer there is a resounding "no". There was also some measure of worry about the game's story and presentation, what with the extended dialogue scenes, introduction of voice acting, added control of Samus's ship, and involvement of new bounty hunter characters. Those fears, too, will vanish after the first hour of the game, as nearly all of the game after that introductory sequence is presented in the same way as the first two Metroid Prime games.
However, a few things dawned on me as I played through this final chapter in Retro's saga. Elements such as voice acting have been around in limited form since Super Metroid. Extended dialogue (in text) was done years ago in Metroid Fusion. The other bounty hunters turn out to be not such a big deal after all, because Samus can't really interact with them in complex way without speaking herself. But if you look at the major presentation differences between the 2D Metroid games and Retro's Prime games, the biggest one by far is the use of scanning to deliver information about the worlds, characters, and plots. Of course, this mechanic was introduced back in the first Metroid Prime game, and that made me realize just how much Retro Studios was already expanding the Metroid universe back in 2001. From the very start, this untested development studio was bold enough to create a new planet for Samus to explore, to develop an extensive back story for the game that elaborated and greatly expanded the series canon, and to devise a new force of evil that could not be contained to a single game. With their second game, Retro introduced the idea of limited beam weapon ammunition, created entirely new upgrade abilities that wouldn't even make sense in two dimensions, and added direct interactions with other living, sentient beings. By comparison, the changes introduced in Corruption are no more dramatic or important; they are incremental, natural progressions of what Retro Studios was already doing.
Now, the most interesting thing I realized when viewing this trilogy as a whole and recognizing all the cumulative changes to the original 2D games is that Metroid Prime could now be viewed as a parallel series, inspired by the main Metroid games but quite separate. Corruption, because it has added its own deviations in addition to those inherited from the previous two Prime games, is particularly unrecognizable as a Metroid game. That is to say, it is still based upon the core ideas of exploratory gameplay and expandable character abilities, but otherwise the links to Super Metroid and its ilk are quite superficial. In my mind, the Metroid Prime series is now as distinct from the Metroid games as are the last decade of Castlevania games. This is not to attack in any way the quality of the Prime series; I just find it fascinating that I can now think of, and defend, the Prime series as being largely distinct from the not-Prime series. The point is simply that Retro Studios should be given credit not just for updating a beloved franchise in 3D, not just for providing the most beautiful and immersive games across two Nintendo consoles, but for creating a unique and original property that goes far beyond the source material. The Metroid Prime games deserve to stand on their own merits and not be endlessly compared to the original series.
With all that out of the way, let me say that Corruption is a brilliant game and easily the best reason to own a Wii for anyone who wants more out of the system than just bowling or tennis. The new control method is phenomenal, and I would argue that it is superior to both the dual analog setup and the mouse/keyboard setup used in most other first-person games. It's just as responsive, and yet more natural than those other methods because you are literally pointing your hand to the spot you want to shoot. The button layout is very thoughtful (and partially customizable). Retro Studios made the smart choice of stacking your beam upgrades, which both simplifies the controls and eliminates frequent beam switching as a minor annoyance from the previous two games. The addition of a Spring Ball-like hop is also very welcome, as it slightly speeds up the pace of Morph Ball puzzles. On the subject of pacing, the only step backwards in the entire game is with the loading times between rooms. Maybe it's due to the larger disc size of Wii games, but sometimes you'll be left waiting for ten seconds before the next door will open, and it can be distracting. Other times, doors will open instantly, so it definitely depends on the size of the area you're in and the one you're headed into.
Blamed on the early demos and most of the screenshots released by Nintendo, you couldn't be blamed for thinking that Corruption looks exactly the same as its predecessors. Seeing the final version in motion is a different matter. There are tons of subtle (and occasionally not so subtle) touches that would never be possible on GameCube hardware, while the new widescreen option is a great feature for those who can use it. Corruption obviously can't compete with Xbox 360 and PS3 games on technical terms, but Retro Studios has come through yet again with stellar art direction that makes you completely forget about the Wii's technical limitations. One of the most amazing things about all three Metroid Prime games is that they don't really recycle art. Every room in every game –hundreds in all—looks different or has unique elements that make it visually distinct from the surrounding rooms. This accomplishment is even more pronounced in Corruption. The environments are so easily recognizable that I rarely had to use the in-game map to get around, except in one level where the map is broken into several chunks connected by long railways that branch off in multiple directions.
One thing almost universally loathed in the first two Prime games is the dreaded "fetch quest". This was a lame attempt to make the game longer by forcing you to backtrack across the entire game, looking for items with no effect except to unlock the final boss area. Thankfully, Corruption's variation of the fetch quest is dramatically streamlined, and depending on how you play the game throughout, you may not have to backtrack at all. Not only is it possible to find all of the fetch items in the course of normal exploration, but you can actually use these pseudo-keys in any order, and some of them are optional. You can even partially complete the sequence to come back later to finish it. In other words, the required fetch quest is now much more flexible, and it actually feels like a valid and enjoyable part of the game.
One last thing I have to praise is the level of originality in the new upgrades for Samus. As loyal readers may know, I criticized the otherwise brilliant Metroid Fusion because it did so little to capitalize on the Samus character's development with new gameplay additions. Nintendo spliced our heroine's DNA with that of her greatest nemesis, and the only truly new upgrade to come out of that unholy union was… Diffusion Missiles. Retro Studios has done far, far better with backing up Samus's corruption by Phazon with several cool new abilities that significantly change how the game is played. One or two of the upgrades still feel like glorified keys, but all of them at least have some odd combat utilities if you experiment enough. Corruption even revives and tweaks a couple of lousy abilities from past Metroid games, converting them into surprisingly fun and interesting upgrades.
I won't bother to offer consumer-level advice for a game of this caliber. You either own the game already or should be strongly considering it due to peer pressure and/or critical consensus. Metroid Prime 3: Corruption is a true gamer's game, a lovingly crafted science-fiction magnum opus, a showcase title not only for excellent motion controls but also stunning artwork that rivals anything in gaming. Play it, love it, and start dreaming of the next project from Retro Studios, whatever it may be.