Nothing lasts forever and finality surges through Metroid Prime 3: Corruption. Although Nintendo has confirmed development on Prime 4, Retro Studios’ take on Metroid came to a natural enough conclusion with Corruption’s release. Prime 1 set the foundation for 3D Metroid, Echoes refined everything from gameplay to level design, and Corruption upped the ante one last time courtesy of stronger hardware. The first two Prime games were both developed for the Nintendo GameCube, whereas Prime 3 was intimately designed around the Nintendo Wii. Along with being a more powerful console than the GameCube, the Wi is defined by its motion controls — an important gimmick that infers most of Corruption’s design philosophies.
The Wii trades a traditional controller for the Wii Remote and Nunchuck: the former designed to look like a standard remote control and the latter a two-button handgrip with an analog stick. The tip of the Wiimote also has an infrared sensor that emulates your physical movement in-game via the Wii’s Sensor Bar. Naturally, this demands an entirely new control scheme for Prime. Where you once aimed by holding down the R button to lock Samus in place and reposition your Arm Cannon, you can now move and aim at the same time. Since the analog stick is mapped to the Nunchuk and aiming is done exclusively through the IR sensor via Wiimote, there is no longer a mechanical need to restrict Samus’ movement.
You can reorient Samus’ vision up or down as you move, the Wiimote analogous to your Arm Cannon. Pointer aiming lets you quickly swap between targets on the fly without the need for a lock-on mechanic. You can still lock onto targets by holding Z on the Nunchuck, but free aiming means a steady hand can shoot just about anything without assistance. Fluid movement means smoother platforming as well. Prime 1 and 2 will occasionally force you to stop in your tracks and reposition before a big jump. Prime 3’s controls allow you to turn mid-jump, lending Samus tighter mobility at all times.
It should be noted just how effortlessly Corruption controls on account of the Wii. The Wiimote comfortably sits in your hand, requiring just enough physicality to move the Arm Cannon, but not to the point where it causes any joint discomfort. Tying the Wiimote’s strap around your wrist almost gives the illusion that Samus’ Arm Cannon is locked onto your arm. Pressing A on the remote shoots while B jumps, but these buttons can be swapped in the options menu. Holding down Minus brings up the Visor Menu which you swap between via pointer controls. Along with the Combat and Scan Visors, the Command Visor lets you control Samus’ Gunship and the X-Ray Visor allows you to find vulnerabilities underneath thick surfaces. Both are given a fair mix of attention combat and puzzle-wise, but the X-Ray Visor ultimately gets more use.
Holding down Plus triggers Hypermode (more on that later) and pressing the Bottom D-Pad (positioned right above the A button) fires Missiles. The 1 button pauses the game to open the menu, while the 2 button brings up a hint box. Pressing C on the Nunchuck triggers the Morph Ball and pressing A after the fact drops Morph Bombs. Shaking the Wiimote as a Morph Ball also activates the Spring Ball — an upgrade that was omitted from both Prime 1 and 2. The Spring Ball lets you jump as a Morph Ball without the need for bombs, making the act of chaining Bomb Jumps together much easier. Shaking the Nunchuk while locked onto specific targets will fire Samus’ Grapple Beam. Lock-on with Z, then flick the Nunchuck forwards to launch your Grapple Beam and pull it towards you to pull the beam back.
As well implemented as the vast majority of motion controls are, you do need to wade through a fair share of Wiimote gimmicks — pulling down levers, twisting lock mechanisms, pressing buttons on a keypad, etc. These gestures are mainly to show off what the Wii can do, but add little value to the experience. Playing as Samus does not feel more immersive because you need to stop and physically move her right hand every so often. Immersion comes from strong art direction, smart game design, and a tight core control scheme. It is a shame that Corruption falls victim to typical Wii nonsense, but their implementation is inoffensive enough and only makes gunplay look better by comparison.
Combat is where Metroid Prime 3 shines above all else. Retro Studios recognized the inherent strengths of pointer aiming, leading to several action-packed set pieces. The fact you can quickly shoot between multiple targets by just tilting your wrist necessitates greater enemy variety and creative placement. Be prepared to aim all over the screen during firefights as you regularly need to keep track of where enemies are moving, sometimes shooting where they’ll be rather than where they are. To keep the flow of battle moving, beams finally stack. You no longer need to swap between different beam types, allowing you to dive headfirst into the action. This does downplay the amount of strategy needed in battle — especially with the omission of Echoes’ beam ammo system — but not without reason.
Corruption is much faster-paced than its predecessors and enemy AI is fluid enough where limited ammunition or needing to regularly swap weapons would make battles frustrating. It’s also just nice for the sense of progression that Samus no longer has to swap between beams at the end of the trilogy. You start with the standard Power Beam; upgrade to the burning Plasma Beam; and finally, the Nova Beam which phases through certain walls. Missiles also upgrade linearly like in Fusion, with your Missile eventually becoming the Ice Missile. Although there are no Charge Combos, Samus’ baseline kit is rounded out by Seeker Missiles. Holding down the bottom D-Pad lets you lock onto targets and fire multiple missiles at once.
Unique to Prime 3 is the inclusion of Hypermode. By holding down Plus, Samus will enter a super state where she deals extra damage at the expense of draining an Energy Tank. Staying in Hypermode for too long corrupts Samus’ body with Phazon, forcing you to button spam all the Phazon out before it kills you. The idea behind Hypermode is that you take a calculated risk to increase your chances of survival mid-battle. In practice, Hypermode is extremely abusable and the inherent risk vs reward aspect tied to Energy Tanks has little consequence. You can trigger Hypermode, kill every enemy in sight with a few blasts, and then deactivate it by holding down Minus. Doing so allows you to inject an Energy Tank without fully draining it, usually resulting in Samus taking less damage than if you just fought normally.
Hypermode is unbalanced enough to trivialize firefights completely. Not helping matters is how abundant health pick-ups are or the mere fact Prime 3 feeds you Energy Tanks over the course of the main story. Corruption has a lot of well-designed action to get through, but Hypermode makes for the easiest entry in the whole trilogy. Coming off Echoes’ bump in challenge, Corruption’s difficulty curve is downright jarring. Enemies die too quickly in Hypermode while tanking damage otherwise, placing you in a paradox where your best course of action is not always the most engaging. If nothing else, the mechanic makes you feel powerful and is actually well implemented in the aptly titled Hypermode difficulty where injecting Energy Tanks straight into your veins is necessary for basic survival.
Hypermode (the mechanic, not the difficulty) also has its own set of upgrades. Hyper Missile is a Phazon-induced missile, the Hyper Ball unleashes a surge of Phazon in your general vicinity while a Morph Ball, and the Hyper Grapple lets you overload certain enemies or objects with Phazon through your Grapple Beam. Hyper attacks offer you some extra variety in the confines of Hypermode, but their main purpose is to bypass gate checks in the level design. While Hypermode could have been better implemented, it does tie into the story’s overall theme of corruption while staying true to how overwhelmingly powerful Phazon has been depicted as.
Aesthetically, Hypermode corrupts Samus’ visor, tinting the background in grayscale and slightly blurring your peripheral vision. Important on-screen information like your Energy meter, mini-map, and radar are obscured as well. It’s a fantastic visual effect that’s par for the course for Prime 3. Corruption looks damn gorgeous, continuing Prime’s trend of stellar art direction working around Nintendo’s hardware. The main HUD is the slickest it has ever been. Samus’ eyes reflect back at you when you use the Scan Visor. Visor effects have never looked so good, from something as simple as Prime’s signature raindrops to steam fogging up your view. A wider field of view, crisper textures, and beautiful lighting go a long way in helping you see things from Samus’ perspective. Metroid Prime was always immersive, but Prime 3’s presentation breaks down the fourth wall even more.
Corruption’s soundtrack is composed entirely by three Metroid music veterans: Kenji Yamamoto, Minako Hamano, and Masaru Tajima. For as action-packed as the campaign is, Prime 3’s score opts for melodic and somber tracks that help instill a moody atmosphere. SkyTown, Bryyo Ice, and Planet Phaaze’s themes are as catchy as they are ethereal. One big change regarding audio direction is the inclusion of voice acting. Both Prime and Echoes did feature voiced lines, but mainly in the background and just for flavor — the same way Super and Fusion use voice acting. Every line of dialogue in Corruption is voiced. Even nowadays Nintendo has a bad track record with their English dubs, but Prime 3 is actually solid. Voice direction is tight, characters all have distinct voices, and Samus intelligently stays silent.
It’s a good thing Corruption looks and sounds as nice as it does because it has the weakest level design in the Prime trilogy. Linearity is not bad and Fusion proves that a linear Metroid can work well, but Prime 3 is occasionally too awkward for its own good. The overworld takes a page from Hunters in that none of the major areas connect (something Retro Studios went out of their way to ensure in Echoes). There is almost always only one clear way forward at any given time, making it rather pointless to backtrack or explore too much. No interconnected levels mean no need for elaborate shortcuts or inter-area bridges. You can even fast travel via your Gunship, removing the need to explore to find new areas.
Worse, Samus has a Zelda-esque partner called the Aurora Unit constantly telling you where to go, marking waypoints on your map, and generally interrupting gameplay. Metroid has proven that the franchise can handle dialogue well — in moderation. Corruption has a fine story and its script is not poorly written, but characters like the Aurora Unit throw a wrench in the series’ sense of style. An AI leading Samus around is nothing new, but Adam’s interactions were relegated to specific rooms in Fusion. The Aurora Unit pops up whenever she pleases. The AU is not so distracting as to ruin the overall experience, but she certainly does not help.
Part of why Prime 3 suffers so much in terms of level design is also because of how it chooses to open. Olympus and Norion are two of the blandest settings in Metroid, and forcing players to go through both back to back at the very start of the game does Corruption zero favors. Olympus is a completely linear Federation Battleship that gets under attack shortly after the story begins. Olympus is an action set piece at the end of the day that is offset by its boring militaristic layout and rigid structure. While getting context into Samus’ relationship with the Federation is interesting, Fusion already did the whole “restricted by the boss” bit better.
Olympus is then followed by Norion, a forest planet that you explore next to none of. Instead, Samus visits another Federation complex in another action heavy set-piece. Like Olympus, Norion is also painfully linear despite tasking you with getting three different generators online. This should have been a natural opportunity to open up the level design, but Prime 3 prioritizes spectacle and introducing Samus to her three rival Bounty Hunters in a set order — something that could have realistically been done non-linearly. Norion just comes off lackluster, both due to a missed opportunity to open up gameplay and the beautiful forest backdrop begging to be explored.
Thankfully, Prime 3 does start to open up after Norion. Bryyo is the most varied setting in the game. Even though the planet’s main sections are segmented, diverse geography mixed with clever puzzle design takes focus over action. Gunplay is Corruption’s greatest gameplay strength, but this is still a Metroid game. Bryyo offers an important respite and paces its action much better than Olympus or Norion. Split up between a mining area flooded with burning hot fueling gel, an overgrown jungle of thorns, and mystical ice caverns, Bryyo is as alien as it is fun to explore. The level design actually hints at future upgrades, urging you to come back later, and the ruinous architecture feels at home in the franchise.
Elysia is an orange gas giant and the lost homeworld of the Tallon IV Chozo. The Elysian Chozo built a city high above the clouds they named SkyTown. Now abandoned, SkyTown is a high-tech cemetery basking in a golden glow. Elysian scans shine a new light on the Chozo — the divide between the culture’s pursuit of technology and their waning spirituality. Elysia is the most traditional map in Prime 3, sporting the most shortcuts and densest puzzle design. In general, Corruption continues Echoes’ trend of strong puzzles. Especially since upgrades like the Space Jump and Power Beam are available out of the gate, you’re often forced to think critically sooner than you would in other Metroid games. Elysia is also full of bottomless pits, forcing you to ride ziplines with your Grapple Beam or platform across massive stretches with the Screw Attack.
The Space Pirate Homeworld has an oppressive red atmosphere and what can be seen of the landscape resembles a Hell. Acid rain falls from the sky, every room feels like a puzzle, and the layout is refreshingly confusing. From stealthing into the base underneath the Pirates’ noses to leading a full on assault to Omega Ridley’s domain with a dozen Federation soldiers, the Space Pirate Homeworld benefits from its well paced set pieces. Olympus and Norion go big too soon, but the Pirate Homeworld is set late enough where it doesn’t need to dampen its spectacle with tutorials or deliberately easy gameplay.
The Valhalla is yet another Federation Battleship, but it does not suffer from any of Olympus’ flaws. Environmental storytelling is the star of the Valhalla as dead bodies and structural damage can be seen all over the ship. Enemies are in an abundance and a hostile red sky looms over the stranded vessel. Your main goal in visiting Valhalla is to track down the Pirate Code that gets Samus to Phaaze, the final planet in Prime 3. Doing so requires five Energy Cells, Corruption’s equivalent of the Artifact and Sky Key Hunts.
Unlike in Prime 1 or 2, however, you do not need to find every Energy Cell — only five. In fact, most are found as part of the main story and chances are the hunt will already be over by the time the quest formally starts. Of course, going out of your way to find all nine lets you unlock every room in the Valhalla for some extra upgrades. Prime 3 even goes out of its way to introduce the concept of the Valhalla and Energy Cells early (although this can consequently lead to players wasting their story obtained Energy Cells on optional rooms, requiring late-game exploration to find the rest).
Phaaze itself is one of the more unique final areas in a Metroid game. The entire region is covered in Phazon and Samus’ arrival is undershot by her nearly succumbing to the full effects of her corruption. Gameplay becomes a mad dash to the final boss as you try to stay alive on the cusp of Samus’ demise. That the corruption lasts all the way through the final battle is a nice touch, as is the Gunship outright refusing to recognize Samus now that the infection has spread so much. While getting through Phaaze is actually relatively simple, staying in Hypermode for so long adds an inherent layer of tension to the finale.
Bosses on a whole are a step down from Echoes, erring on the repetitive side. Both the Berserker Lord and Metroid Hatcher are fought multiple times, neither one varying up their battles. Gunplay is always superb, but some encounters just feel like going through the motions — waiting for an opening to shoot. Fortunately, Prime 3 does have its share of excellent encounters. The fight with Gandrayda is a multi-form battle that has her body morphing into your rival Bounty Hunters and Samus. Gandrayda jumps all over the arena, forcing you to keep steady aim and quickly follow her movements. Similarly, Omega Ridley demands that you aim for specific weak points in order to dodge, all the while Ridley rushes from attack to attack. At their best, Corruption’s bosses are exhilarating and demand actual aiming on your part.
The battle against Mogenar is so intense that Samus actually takes off her helmet to puke out Phazon in one of her most vulnerable moments in the franchise. Prime 3 regularly juxtaposes Samus’ stoic strength with moments of weakness. She is the most composed Bounty Hunter at the start of the story, but she just as easily gets infected by Dark Samus and is comatose the longest out of the four hunters. Samus’ eyes undergo massive strain throughout the story, losing their natural coloring while Phazon veins grow over her face. Samus is forced to kill all three hunters, failing to save them from corruption and clenching her fist in rage after putting down Gandrayda.
Depicting Samus in so many moments of weakness does not make her come off weak, but instead makes her moments of strength all the more impactful. She resigns herself to fighting Ridley to the death as they plummet down a massive shaft. She leads a team of Federation soldiers to route the Space Pirates from their own homeworld. Samus’ body is falling apart at the seams, but she still flies headfirst into Phaaze because no one else can. Even her armor isn’t immune to corruption. The Galactic Federation modified Samus’ Power Suit into a PED (Phazon Enhancement Device) Suit that can channel the Phazon corrupting her. The PED Suit gradually loses its orange coloring as blue and purple take over as the primary color scheme. By the end of the story, Samus is almost unrecognizable.
As strongly characterized as Samus is, her fellow Bounty Hunters do not fare as well. Rundus, Ghor, and Gandrayda are all rather flat characters. They have clear enough personalities that are established on Olympus and Norion, but they almost immediately get infected and then become bosses. None of their deaths are particularly emotional, but Samus needing to kill all three does lend her arc some pathos. The rival Bounty Hunters also just serve to flesh out Metroid’s world by introducing three characters with storied histories from completely different planets. Likewise, their presence establishes that Samus is not the only Bounty Hunter the Federation works with. Unfortunately, the rival Bounty Hunters have the added consequence of taking focus away from Dark Samus at the end of a storyline centered all around her.
Echoes had you fight Dark Samus three times over the course of the game while she regularly appeared in cutscenes to taunt Samus. This built a natural rivalry between the two characters that made each confrontation more impactful than the last. This rivalry stretches to Corruption, of course, but Prime 3 relegates Dark Samus mostly to the background. She is the chief antagonist and her actions on Norion kick-off the conflict proper, but her lack of presence is often felt. Even when her phantom appears after killing a rival, Dark Samus is always in the background. So much so that she has her role as final boss usurped by an Aurora Unit, and not even the one players have a relationship with.
As disappointing as Metroid Prime 3 can be, it really is only because Prime 1 and 2 set the bar so high. The Phazon storyline still comes to an incredible conclusion and all thanks to motion controls. Even with all of Corruption’s faults, Metroid Prime has never been so immersive. Controlling a character is an opportunity to convey their emotions through gameplay and to forge a unique connection that cannot be done in other mediums. Outstanding graphics and amazing controls make it easy to fall into a zen of playing Prime 3. 3 is the easiest game in the Prime trilogy, but also the easiest to pick up.
Olympus and Norion are a collective chore, but they pave the way towards a strong campaign. Such rigid linearity does not feel at home in Metroid, but it works for Corruption’s pacing on Bryyo and beyond. Elysia has some of the smartest puzzles in the series and incredible reflex-based challenges. You need to quickly shoot down targets on your path as you ride the zipline and carefully explore all of SkyTown to jerry rig a massive bomb. The Pirate Homeworld puts all your skills to the test, from Morph Ball platforming to hectic firefights and just figuring out where to go next. Taking the time to hunt down every Energy Cell also shows off the sheer scope of upgrades you can find. Most are Missiles, but Prime 3 is not lacking in optional content.
It would be fair to say that Corruption corrupts Metroid’s core in the march towards an epic finale, but Prime 3 shows that a little corruption can be a good thing. Prime 1 and 2 were both deceptively linear to an extent whereas Prime 3 simply embraces the fact that it isn’t. Voice acted dialogue adds to the spectacle while clearly moving the plot along. Inputting numbers on a keypad feels like busywork, but the fact of the matter is that every little action is now inherently deeper thanks to the Wiimote. The level design still leaves something to be desired at the end of the day and Corruption would have benefitted by taking a page from Fusion, but Prime 3’s pointer controls make for a damn good first-person shooter.
The original Metroid Prime trilogy ends with Samus throwing the audience a triumphant thumbs-up before flying off into space. It reads comically out of context but actually lands with a decent bit of catharsis. After three games of non-stop struggle against the threat of Phazon, Samus rids herself of her shadow and flies away a free woman with a bevy of adventures ahead of her. It makes no sense logically, but it’s cute that the most immersive Metroid is also the one where Samus directly acknowledges you. Corruption includes a post-credits scene typical of each Prime, albeit with no clear narrative hook. The trilogy takes place early into Samus’ career (between Metroid 1 and Return of Samus) so it makes sense to assert that this is far from the end for the galaxy’s greatest Bounty Hunter.
In the same way Echoes was different from Prime, Corruption is different from its two predecessors. Taken for what it is, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption is one of the best-looking games on the Nintendo Wii with a first-person control scheme that still puts some contemporary shooters to shame. And while Corruption forgets the core of Metroid, Prime 3 never forgets the core Metroid Prime: the immersion that defined Prime 1 and made Metroid’s transition into 3D so seamless to begin with. With the Wiimote as your Arm Cannon, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption is a motion control revolution.
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