Metroid Prime and I had a very unusual relationship. I bought Metroid Prime Trilogy because I figured it was probably some sort of modern interactive crime to have never played any representative from that series, but I wasn’t sure if I would actually enjoy playing it. To tell the truth I’m still not sure. It was, almost literally, Super Metroid in the third dimension from a unique perspective. I enjoyed Super Metroid quite a bit, and should have been theoretically delighted with that sort of design applied to current (well, then current) technology. Objectively, there was nothing wrong with it.
But, like I said, I’m not sure if I technically “enjoyed” playing it. I play nearly every game I start until it’s completed. Sometimes it’s effortless because I feel consistently rewarded by my actions, and other times I try and develop a reward from the satisfaction of completing a game. The latter is usually typical games of I don’t enjoy, as it clearly isn’t doing enough to keep my attention. It’s easy to interpret that as bad game design (and it often is), but occasionally it just doesn’t click with me. Such was the case with Metroid Prime. It wasn’t objectively a bad game, but its tedious backtracking, cumbersome interface, and the overwhelming feeling of being consistently lost was too much for me. I finished it, but then I decided that was as far as I was going to go with the trilogy.
Yet, months later, I inexplicably began to crave more Metroid Prime. I turned on my Wii (with trilogy still in it, har har) last winter and decided to give Echoes a shot. That started out fine, but the light/dark world, finite ammo, and idiosyncratic distress created by reacquiring the exact same power ups from the last game left a sour taste in my mouth. The mechanics were still incredibly solid, Prime games demonstrate a remarkable amount of movement-control (excluding the few areas where the Wiimote clearly was at fault for my failings), but it was all wrapped around a terribly obtuse interface. I didn’t want to be forced into doing a majority of Echoes’ activities with that toolset, it seemed like a waste. Still, I managed to finish it (with 97% completion to boot).
Corruption, unlike the previous two entries, made a great first impression. Motion control concessions, like ripping shields off or circuit welding, were a given, but the control scheme feels the most benefit from a world that was actually designed for it, rather than on top of it. Additionally, despite the Wii’s lack of technical prowess, Corruption looked dramatically better than its prequels. The particle effects and draw distance are particularly impressive, and it stands with Dead Space: Extraction in making the best of its limited tool set. Additionally, the color pallet, which emphasized bright pastels over Prime’s typically organic and dreary landscapes, were a huge step up from the bold blues and purples of Echoes. I would never, ever mistake Corruption for a current generation title, but it looks just fine, and if other Wii software featured a similar level of execution consistent with inspired art direction, I wouldn’t be one to complain.
I was also really into the reworked interface. Though it could always be broken down into bunch of interconnected sections, the massive worlds of Prime 1 and 2 felt intimidating, and made going from A to B a laborious journey rather than a simple transition. Part of that is Metroid’s charm, but at a certain point terms of endearment are replaced with tedium. Hoping from set points with my ship in Corruption was a fantastic way to expedite the entire process, and the mental blockade of a “giant world” was completely removed by the new planet-hopping system. Given it’s basically the exact same traversal in a slightly different package, but it granted me me the illusion of difference I had been looking for.
Isolation is Metroid’s atmospheric calling card, but I was delighted to see that mood eschewed in favor of something different. Landing on a populated spaceship and walking around talking to people was the last thing I expected, at least until I met up with the other Hunters. Criticism at the time judged an increased focus on interaction as wandering too far off the series’ path, but said path has been carefully trotted enough. I like having known antagonists, and the mystery and intrigue of the ghastly unknown still permeates every fiber of every world. In the case of Corruption, you really can have your opposition both ways, and the game emerged better because of it.
Who the hell knows what Retro is up to nearly three years after Corruption was completed, but you can bet I’ll be amongst the first in line for Other M at E3 next month.