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Review: Metroid Prime 3

Posted Nov-25 2007 by ron, created under common review policies
For Nintendo Wii, optional 60Hz and widescreen support (any combination), 480p support

Bounty-hunting is serious business in any case, but Samus Aran seemingly just can't help getting caught up in the biggest messes imaginable. After a seminal first outing on the Gamecube and an arguably disappointing sequel, Retro Studios again deliver a rare fusion of first-person shooter gameplay with the strong exploration and puzzle-solving elements that the Metroid heritage affords them, now on the native Wii format for the first time. Initially intended as a launch title for the system, it got delayed quite a bit, to wide dismay. So now that it's finally here, let's see if the final product makes up for the wait.

A path lined by giant statues and alien vegetation

Samus Aran is back to investigate yet more strange events in and around ancient alien architecture. This first-person view through the visor is your primary perspective for exploration and combat in the game.

When you only scratch the surface, Metroid Prime 3 appears to be a first-person shooter with the now canonical Wii fps controls: camera turning and aiming is performed with the infrared pointer in the Wii remote while you strafe and move about with the analog stick on the Nunchuk, and Metroid Prime 3 refines this scheme to perfection, offering highly sensitive turning with virtually no dead zone in the middle of the screen, but just the right amount of acceleration. To complete the basic set of movements you can also perform double-jumps which will become useful in the many platforming situations the game throws at you.
You start in a controlled, tutorial-esque environment where you get familiarized with your basic abilities, such as target lock-on, double-jumping, interacting with computer terminals, blasting containers to get health and ammo refills, and getting a line or two of monologue out of the friendlies that stand around. Before you know it, around the twenty-minutes mark, your newfound friends find themselves confronted with not-so-friendly attackers, and the game proper can begin. You're sent off to investigate the origins of the assault.

A federation soldier

The starting area of Corruption features strange entities known as "people", a concept that draws considerable hate from the Metroid elitist fringe, but does some good things for the delivery of premise and story. You'll act alone for more than 85% of the game, so it's no big deal either way.

Now we've tried for a while, but one can't really begin describing a Metroid Prime game without first talking about the old 2D Metroid series staples and how they transfer into 3D.
The first Metroid game on the NES featured a huge non-linear world that was stitched together from rooms that scrolled either horizontally or vertically. What was most likely a quick workaround for a technical limitation has proven so instrumental to Metroid gameplay that it still lives on to this day: the entire game world is segmented by doors that have a little force-field or shield on them, and to open them and pass through, you have to shoot the shield. Different weapons open different doors, so returning to an area you've already visited after collecting some new upgrades allows you to dig deeper, to open more routes, find goodies and make shortcuts for yourself.
This allows the world designers to give the player a clear way forward – or a metaphorical "You are not ready yet, turn back" sign – for their first pass through an area, when they are still learning the ropes, even though that same area is a part of a complex non-linear network of rooms that will eventually open up fully.

A large, lava-themed room

Rooms such as this can be pretty open and large, but all exits, such as that blue door on the far ledge, need a specific weapon or ability to access. If we may divert your attention to the map overlay in the top right, you can see one of the four doors to this room represented in light blue, which means we can open it right away, but there are also orange doors that require a certain upgrade to pass.

Because in Metroid Prime 3, like in every Metroid game before it, weapons double-up as tools to open doors, activate machinery and to clear obstacles, traditional key items become largely unnecessary. Finding a weapon upgrade obviously also enhances your combat abilities, and as such feels immediately more meaningful than a contrived rusty key, that has no other function than to open the equally contrived old door, ever could.
Unlike refills, which can be earned everywhere, weapon upgrades reside in fixed locations in the environment and must be uncovered, or earned by defeating a boss. This is a great motivation for the aspiring explorer-and-puzzle-solver and allows the game to naturally lure the player forward in smaller steps, in addition to the few big goals imposed by the story.

A morph-ball maze

Another classic Metroid feature is the morph ball. By transforming into this convenient shape, Samus can not just lay bombs and roll around elegantly in the full environment, but also enter narrow passages and mazes situated in many of the walls.

The big divide between proper first-person shooters and Metroid Prime 3 is that combat is optional more often than not. Enemies are relatively tough, they take a while to kill, but the same is true even more so for Samus herself, especially as you gather more and more energy tanks (which upgrade the health bar). Enemies respawn anyway as soon as you go a couple rooms away, so there is no sense of permanently clearing an area. Neither do enemies pursue you across room boundaries, and whatever beating you may take will be fully recharged at save stations or when you enter your ship, so making a run for the next door is a viable option whenever you want to just get somewhere quickly.
Yes, in some rooms you will be locked in until you defeat all enemies, and enemies will also limit your ability to solve puzzles, so combat is still a big part of the experience, and that's even before you consider the monumental boss fights the Metroid series has always been famous for. It's just that you will eventually outgrow your novice shoes so much that you no longer need to feel threatened by early-game enemies whenever you decide to make another pass for upgrades.

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