It’s all okay, they told us. Sure, the majority of the wii’s first year offerings have been shallow and uninspired. Sure, the wiimote has yet to be successfully integrated in an immersive gameplay experience. Sure, legions of bright-eyed Nintendo fans seem to be on their last energy tank of hopefulness. It’s all okay, they told us. Metroid is coming. Well guess what: Metroid is here.
“Metroid Prime 3: Corruption” is the first appearance of the legendary Samus Aran in the next-gen. Unlike “The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess,” the only other heavy-hitting Nintendo franchise out on the wii, “Metroid” was designed bottom up for the wiimote and nunchuck, and it shows. While “Red Steel” caused some to doubt if the wiimote could ever be a truly revolutionary force in the FPS world, “Metroid” finally sees it used to its full potential. It takes a little getting used to, but after the first hour or so the controls feel smooth, natural and more accurate than dual-analog. The nunchuck too, is incorporated as the control for Samus’s grappling arm to great effect — yanking enemies apart with a quick flick of the wrist feels incredible. Both the nunchuck and the wiimote transcend gimmick for one of the first times on the system, silencing the naysayers and finally giving the wii-faithful a substantial bone to bite.
The wii, however, encounters two challenges where the PS3 and Xbox have only one. The wii has to not only sell its bold new control design, but it also has to sell great games. “Metroid” sells the controller, but does it sell the game? The answer is yes, with reservations. Past the flair of the control scheme, and past Nintendo’s promise to reinvent videogaming, comes a fabulous but flawed game that more closely resembles its SNES great-grandmamma than any contemporary FPS. Despite appearances, “Metroid Prime 3” is old, old school.
It’s the same old formula — the one where a blend of puzzle and action bring you through richly designed and varied worlds, upgrades your character’s abilities after boss fights and allows you to access previously locked areas with new powers in pursuit of your grand goal. This is by no means the exclusive providence of Nintendo, but there is a certain application of it here that feels consistent across “Zelda,” “Mario” and “Metroid.” It works pretty well here, but falls short of offering any surprises. The puzzles, bosses and fights are reliably satisfying and challenging, if not surprising. The suit upgrades provide that old feeling of “now I can get past X obstacle!” time and time again, but this is tempered with knowing essentially what’s on the other side.
The graphics are far and away the part of “Metroid” changed most since SNES, and even given the comparative technological shortcomings of the wii, they are excellent. The fantastical alien landscapes are back, ranging from thorned jungles, to cities in the sky, to fiery caverns and tunnels coated in blue crystals. You won’t find the grand epic vistas of the Halo series, but “Metroid” isn’t really trying to be “Halo.” While “Halo” and other first person shooters strive to take place on battlefields, “Metroid” unabashedly takes place on a videogame level.
Each level comes with the distinct feeling that this place is nothing more than a playground for Samus Aran. They beg the player to question why it is the aliens have built their temples to provide a difficult but manageable challenge for the endeavoring hero of the future who could transform into a tiny ball. It’s as if the ancient Egyptians had filled the great pyramids with morph ball tunnels because it just seemed like the right thing to do.
It’s not that having a videogamey videogame is a bad thing. After all, nobody questions the scores of floating platforms in the Mushroom Kingdom. But “Metroid Prime 3” occupies a strange place in this regard — cinematic in storyline and presentation, but not in gameplay. The result is a disjointed narrative that fails to move seamlessly through both action and story. The dramatic arc of the game does not drive forward sufficiently, and so even though each puzzle and boss fight may be well-designed, the accumulation of them can begin to wear.
This is not to say that “Metroid” is a bad game, quite to the contrary, it’s in fact a very good game. Every bit of the level and game design in “Metroid” is fun from an objective standpoint. After all, it’s the same kind of thing that has been fun time and time again. Who doesn’t want to kill space pirates and hear a nice little ring when they solve a puzzle? It’s just that the game lacks a sense of excitement and fails to drive the player from level to level. It feels a bit tired. Nintendo may claim to be driving the world of videogames to new and exciting places, but their core franchises are the same thing as they ever were.
But hey, its okay. Mario is coming.