Metroid Prime 2: Echoes proved to be another success for Retro Studios, and was declared by many publications to be the GameCube’s finest offering of 2004. Unfortunately, even as many exclusive games received positive reviews, Nintendo’s fourth major console ultimately failed to match its predecessor, the Nintendo 64, in terms of sales, having moved approximately ten million fewer units. While not considered an outright failure, it paled in comparison to the competing Xbox and PlayStation 2 consoles. When Microsoft released their newest console, the Xbox 360, it was clear Nintendo had found themselves in a sink-or-swim predicament.
Around the time the GameCube launched in 2001, Nintendo conceived a new project. Shigeru Miyamoto, one of the company’s premier game designers, stated that the concept for this project, codenamed Revolution, involved focusing on a new form of player interaction. When it was unveiled in the E3 gaming conference of 2005, fans learned that the console primarily employed motion controls. Suddenly, after nearly a decade of lagging behind Sony and then Microsoft, Nintendo’s console, dubbed the Wii in 2006, became the talk of the town. When it launched later that year, it managed to outsell the Xbox 360, itself a hot seller.
Nintendo chose to showcase the Wii’s controller, the Wii remote, with a modified version of Metroid Prime 2. They demonstrated that Retro’s upcoming project, the concluding installment to their trilogy, would take full advantage of this novel control scheme. Though not comparable to the problems which plagued the development phase of Metroid Prime or its sequel, director Mark Pacini related in interviews the difficulties he and his team faced when creating this game. One of the biggest concerns was that they had too many buttons for the amount of functions they wanted to implement. The game was slated to coincide with the Wii’s 2006 launch, but the project ended up being delayed until the following year. Despite being the second sequel to one of the GameCube’s most beloved titles, the game had a minimalistic marketing campaign. The press speculated that it was part of Nintendo’s new focus on casual games for their newest console. Only after it was pointed out did they release a preview. Named Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, this game finally saw its official debut in North America in August of 2007, whereupon it too amassed critical acclaim from several publications. Considering that Metroid Prime and its sequel were the products of particularly troubled productions, what were the developers at Retro capable of under less taxing circumstances?
Playing the Game
Six months after Samus’s expedition on Planet Aether, she headed for the G.F.S. Olympus to meet with the Galactic Federation. While there, she met three other bounty hunters: Ghor, Rundas and Gandrayda. Ghor is a cybernetic warrior capable of merging his body with a large armorsuit, Rundas is an ice being from a frigid world, and Gandrayda is a shapeshifter capable of perfectly replicating other organisms. The four of them were called for an important assignment.
Twenty years ago, the Galactic Federation announced a breakthrough technology: an organic supercomputer dubbed Aurora. They were originally designed for scientific purposes, but now, they’re used in government, business, and military roles as well. This network has allowed communities to access tremendous databases, proving to be an invaluable resource. The bounty hunters were informed that their assignment was to cure the system of a Space Pirate virus. However, before they could act, the outlaws attacked a Federation outpost on Planet Norion. In response, Fleet Admiral Castor Dane orders them to defend the installation.
Shortly after Samus arrived on Norion, she encountered her nemesis, Ridley, the leader of the Space Pirates. After fighting him off, she along with her fellow hunters were commanded to activate the facility’s defense cannon to blast an incoming meteor. Said object, called a Leviathan seed, was made of Phazon, a deadly, radioactive substance Samus previously encountered on Tallon IV and Aether. Before she could activate the defense systems, Dark Samus, an enigmatic being whom Samus clashed with on Aether, appeared and attacked them. Everyone was critically injured, but Samus retained just enough of her strength to turn on the cannon before collapsing.
Samus has woken up one month later only to learn that Dark Samus’s attack caused a strange side effect – her body began to produce Phazon. She finds that her suit has been modified with a Phazon Enhancement Device (PED). She then learns the three other hunters had been sent on separate missions on different planets. Seven days prior to Samus’s awakening, they lost contact with them. She now has a twofold mission: she is to discover the whereabouts of the missing hunters and destroy the Leviathan Seeds currently residing on the planets to which they were sent. Knowing the full danger these seeds have presented her in the past, Samus resolves to complete this assignment and hopefully save the galaxy from Dark Samus’s machinations once and for all.
Retro’s Metroid Prime installments proved that first-person gameplay is every bit as viable on consoles as it is on PCs. With the transition from the GameCube to the Wii, they were able to add another degree of innovation on that front. The key to their success for Metroid Prime 3 lied in the Wii’s selling point: its novel motion controls. It is played with a Wii Remote and its Nunchaku attachment. The control stick on the Nunchaku is used for advancing and strafing. Instead of utilizing an auto-aim system, you must point the remote at onscreen enemies in order to shoot them. You make Samus turn by pointing the remote towards the edges of the screen.
Metroid Prime 2 was notable for taking the series in a more action-oriented direction, boasting a wider array of boss fights and a higher difficulty. Metroid Prime 3 continues down this trail, as there is far more emphasis on gunplay and quick thinking in the face of danger, arguably creating the fastest paced installment in the series thus far. It is, perhaps, a natural consequence of wishing to showcase the hardware’s new capabilities. After all, it would be counterproductive to conceive a game that allows players to shoot enemies by physically aiming at them only to not make action the forefront.
Even so, the Metroid ethos ultimately shines through, and writing it off as a creatively bankrupt first-person shooter would be a grievous error in judgement. You will explore several alien environments in your quest to stop Dark Samus. Once again, the scan visor can be used to get information on the wildlife and gradually build a backstory through the pieces of lore you can uncover.
I could see some people struggling with the motion controls, as becoming fully accustomed to them takes some practice. Once you do, you will be astonished how well they work – especially in light of the game having been released only a year after the Wii’s debut. Then again, one might say that, number of buttons aside, Retro was given the ideal controller for their concluding installment, as its properties were tailor-made for the shooter genre.
The game also mostly lives by the rubric established by the original Metroid Prime. Samus’s Power Suit is capable of firing a beam and launching missiles. The former can be charged by holding down the appropriate button, though it lacks the percussive power of missiles. That being said, you’re only afforded a finite amount of missiles, so it would be wise to conserve them for when you really need them. One notable deviation is that beams can no longer be switched. Once you’ve obtained the first beam upgrade, it overrides the standard one. Keeping in the spirit of the series, however, the new beam is still used for puzzle solving in addition to boasting a superior damage output.
The original Metroid Prime could be seen as a straight interpretation of the series as a first-person adventure game. Once they established a formula, Retro decided to experiment with it in their sophomore effort, Metroid Prime 2 with its dual-world mechanic. This helped give it an identity distinct from its predecessor despite retaining its core elements and overall aesthetical presentation. Metroid Prime 3 continues this trend by means of its Hypermode mechanic.
With her newly modified PED Suit, Samus is capable of utilizing the Phazon within her body, turning it into a powerful weapon she can use to smite her foes. It is entered by holding down the “+” button. In this state, Samus is invulnerable to most enemies, and her own attacks receive a noticeable boost in power. Hypermode could be seen as the result of the developers asking themselves, “What would happen if we were to give the players a power they would normally obtain and use in the final battle when the game begins in earnest instead?” It’s an interesting change of pace from standard conventions, and Retro proceeded to balance it in a way which seamlessly ties it into the story in true Metroid fashion.
At first, Hypermode exits automatically after twenty-five seconds, so you can’t stay in it indefinitely. Furthermore, entering Hypermode sacrifices Samus’s energy tanks, meaning she will be susceptible to enemy attacks if she’s low on health and the immediate threats have not been satisfactorily dealt with. These methods are a good way to balance out what would normally break the game’s challenge, but what I particularly enjoy about this mechanic is that Retro introduces it early only to make players never want to use it unless absolutely necessary. A certain event will have Samus enter a state of Phazon overload, forcing her to vent all of the excess. After this, remaining in Hypermode for more than ten seconds runs the risk of terminal corruption. The bar indicating her Phazon levels will turn red and if it completely fills, she will be fully corrupted, turning her into a second Dark Samus.
Another new aspect of Metroid Prime 3 I find refreshing is how much more of a prominent role Samus’s gunship plays. In previous titles, it only functioned as a glorified save point. It was justifiable in the 2D installments, as Samus’s adventures were primarily underground and in Metroid Prime 2 when Aether’s atmosphere severely damaged it, but it felt like a facet of the setting the games never expounded upon. Out on the field, you can use the Command Visor, which allows you to remotely take control of the ship. The visor detects hotspots, and the executed functions depend on context. For example, using it on a beacon will cause the ship to land there. You can even use the visor to conduct a bombing run to destroy obstacles and large enemies Samus couldn’t on her own.
For the first time in the series, entering the ship allows you to examine its interior. Among other features, Samus’s gunship is outfitted with a transmission console, a blast shield, and a computer that allows her to fly to any known destination. Admittedly, most of these are only used when the situation warrants it, but the ability to fly the ship to any discovered landing point makes navigation far easier than in any game in the series thus far.
Anyone who has read my reviews of the first two Metroid Prime installments will probably believe that, having said everything good about this one, this is the part in which I describe how tedious the endgame key hunting is. That moment will never arrive, for I am proud to say Retro learned from their mistakes by making the process much more reasonable. Scattered throughout the various worlds are batteries you can use to power machines in a dilapidated space station. By exploring this area, you can access the final stage. How is this any different from collecting artifacts in the first game and hunting down temple keys in the second? Not only are some batteries impossible to avoid, you don’t even need to find them all to complete the game as long as you’re careful about how you use them. This further alleviates the monotony of backtracking to the point of being a non-issue. If your main focus is to complete the game as quickly as possible, you will only have to go out of your way to find a few of them.
All in all, Metroid Prime 3 stays true to the gameplay of its predecessors – albeit with a new control scheme. The Morph Ball tunnels are still fun to navigate, almost turning the process into its own separate game, the boss battles remain equal parts memorable and creative, and the environments manage to tell a story all their own. After establishing that it also eliminates the few persistent issues haunting the subseries from its first installment, only one question remains. Coming off of two critically acclaimed games, does Retro stick the landing?
Analyzing the Story
WARNING: The following section will contain unmarked spoilers for Retro’s Metroid Prime trilogy.
Countless times have there been instances of the third entry in a trilogy failing to live up to the reputation of its two predecessors. Was the Retro Studios staff able to successfully defy this all-too-common trend? I believe that answer to this inquiry to be a firm yes.
How they accomplished this task is too complex to parse in a single sentence, but to begin with, Metroid Prime 3 sets itself apart from previous entries by featuring a far richer plot. While Samus interacted with one of Aether’s denizens in her last adventure, this game goes a step further in that for this mission, she is constantly receiving feedback from the Galactic Federation. The previous games had shades of this in the form of their hint systems, but Metroid Prime 3 justifies its presence by having Samus receiving new orders from mission control. As with Metroid Fusion, this switch is something of a point of contention, as many longtime fans have suggested that it discourages exploration, which is what they consider to be the series’ greatest appeal.
Metroid Prime 3 is also similar to Metroid Fusion in that I will relent it’s not necessarily a great example of the Metroidvania subgenre. It’s a bit more accurate to describe this game as a methodical, occasionally open-ended action title with an extensive backstory that incidentally takes place in the Metroid universe. Because of this parallel, I find myself making the same argument in its defense. That is to say, focusing on what it is rather than proposing what it should have been reveals Retro perfectly captured the type of experience they were shooting for, exceeding all expectations.
Like Metroid Prime 2 before it, we’re introduced to the overarching villain, Dark Samus, relatively early. Resurrecting the primary antagonist is a trickier proposition than most people give it credit for. On one hand, and as Ridley’s repeated survivals have indicated, a popular villain can keep people interested in following a series. Then again, it generally doesn’t pay off if it turns out they were brought back only for the author to retread ground sufficiently covered in an older work. The important thing to remember is that Samus’s mission in Metroid Prime 2 was to destroy Dark Aether; therefore, Dark Samus’s survival doesn’t automatically nullify her accomplishments. Quite the opposite – it gives Samus, and by extension the player, even more of a motivation to discover the means by which she can rid the galaxy of this powerful threat.
Even though she returns as the main antagonist, Retro went in a different direction with her character. While in Metroid Prime 2, she clashed with Samus many times, for this installment, she has a noticeable, persistent impact on the plot, yet isn’t fought until the very end of the game. Her biggest contribution to the storyline is when she infects the four bounty hunters with the Phazon spores. From there, you discover one by one that all of the hunters have been fully corrupted, forcing them to bend to Dark Samus’s will. Upon defeat, she appears so she many absorb their remains only to vanish immediately afterwards. It’s an intriguing example of the antagonist learning from their mistakes. After repeated losses against Samus, she resorted to far more indirect, manipulative tactics to deal with her nemesis. Considering Samus manages to be a dynamic character despite never uttering a word, it’s appropriate that the same could be said of her doppelgänger.
Dark Samus’s presence also justifies the name of the trilogy itself. Metroid Prime is the designation assigned to a creature on Tallon IV heavily mutated by Phazon that was slowly causing the planet to decay. The parasite resided in the Leviathan seed’s impact crater, and prior to Samus’s encounter with it, her suit had been corrupted by Phazon. As the creature breathed its last, it latched onto Samus. Though she escaped its grasp, she was separated from her Phazon Suit in the process. From there, the remains of Samus’s suit merged with the biomass, and Metroid Prime was reborn as Dark Samus. It’s thematically fitting that the trilogy is named after the force which drives the plot of all three games, and the creature goes through a definable arc most antagonistic characters lack.
As evidenced by its subtitle and the plight of Samus’s colleagues, corruption is a running theme throughout the game. As Samus destroys the Leviathan seeds, the Phazon within her body grows, corrupting her further. Whenever she enters Hypermode, she runs the risk of meeting the same fate as her fellow, fallen bounty hunters. You don’t want to enter Hypermode, yet you must several times to circumvent obstacles or defeat enemies immune to normal attacks. It’s a game mechanic that also serves as an internal struggle, and maintaining it properly allows players to comprehend the enormity of Samus’s situation.
Perhaps the best reason why I can declare that Metroid Prime 3 is an effective finale is because it avoids the common pitfall associated with trilogies. Metroid Prime took place on a single planet, and your overall goal wasn’t clear until you made a significant amount of progress. Metroid Prime 2 also took place on a single planet, albeit with a dark reflection, but your ultimate objective was handed to you early. Finally, Metroid Prime 3 has you explore multiple worlds while carrying out a dynamic mission whose goals change to fit unexpected developments. Though it’s true the relative length of the game is comparable to the two that came before and thus none of the worlds are as extensive as Tallon IV or Aether, it still successfully makes the experience grander in scale than either of them.
Moreover, a bond the first two Metroid Prime installments shared was that one Leviathan seed catalyzed their plots. Both pitted Samus against the creatures brought forth by these space objects, and it was consequently an arduous struggle to eliminate their influence. In Metroid Prime 3, when you destroy a Leviathan seed on Planet Bryyo, it marks the end of the first act. By the endgame you will have eradicated three of them. With this, Retro effectively used their canon to gradually give players the full scope of the trilogy’s central conflict, staying true to the template of the original Metroid Prime despite going in new directions with it.
During the game’s final sequences, it’s revealed that all Phazon originated from a distant planet named Phaaze. The planet, and by extension, the substance itself, is a sentient being that has been sending Leviathan seeds to various planets in an effort to spread itself throughout the galaxy. This provides a great explanation for why a material that the Space Pirates originally went to great lengths to obtain suddenly became common enough to the point where even ordinary Federation troops were using it – the Phazon is knowingly and actively spreading itself.
The area itself is quite difficult to navigate, as there are no save points, and the circumstances surrounding your ingress mean that you only have a limited time to complete it. Fortunately, as was the case with Metroid Prime and its sequel, a successful run will leave you with a sense of accomplishment not many other games can provide. It’s a tough, yet fair challenge that makes you earn the ending cinematics.
Drawing a Conclusion
Retro had a seemingly impossible task when they set out to create their trilogy’s final installment. They needed to take the canon of two games, which rank as some of the best in the GameCube’s library, and send it off on a triumphant note. To say they succeeded is a gross understatement. Make no mistake – I’m not insinuating that Metroid Prime 3 wouldn’t have been good if the first two games didn’t set it up for an easy victory. Even if it were a standalone title, it would deservedly be heralded as one of greatest action games ever made. That it nicely warps up a solid trilogy is the mere icing on the cake.
Whatever the case may be, if you have not played any of these games, I strongly encourage you to do so, and the good news is that it’s easy to obtain a digital copy. Across every medium, one would be hard-pressed to find a more solid trilogy than the Retro-developed Metroid Prime games. It’s to the point where I think it should be studied by anyone attempting to create a trilogy themselves because they executed it nearly flawlessly. Metroid Prime 3 strikes a good balance between having a greater sense of scale while also not completely obviating its predecessors, which to this day still stand as excellent, classic titles in their own right. It is because of this that I steadfastly believe Metroid Prime 3 reigns supreme as the finest game in the franchise.
Final Score: 9/10