Version tested: Wii
Far longer, more intricate, more challenging and just simply more imaginative than most shooters cluttering up the shelves, Metroid Prime 3 is another master-class of design brilliance from Retro Studios and the perfect end to an almost perfect gaming trilogy.
Sow your oats
Set six months after the events of Echoes, the general idea of Corruption (as detailed in our recent hands-on preview is that the Galactic Federation's network computers (the Aurora Units) have been infected with a virus. Swift action prevented all of them going down, and it turns out that entire planets are being corrupted with a mutative substance called 'Phazon', via gigantic 'seeds' called Leviathans. In a nutshell, your job is to go to each and every one of these infected planets and take out the seeds in an attempt to reverse the devastating corrupting effects of this deadly Phazon. Very early on the game, it transpires that the nefarious being behind all of this meddlesome nonsense is actually the yang to Samus's yin - Dark Samus.
But in corrupting Samus with the effects of Phazon, the Galactic Federation comes up with a Phazon Enhancement Device which allows her to enter what's known as 'Hypermode' (by pressing the + button on the Wii remote), allowing you to harness its powers, and - you guessed it - bolt on a whole array of new abilities as you progress through this rather wonderful game. On the downside, though, entering this super-powerful Hypermode actually drains Samus' health in the process, so it needs to be used with a degree of caution, and within a strict time limit. Failure to observe these restrictions means you run the risk of overdose and imminent death unless you frantically stab the fire button to vent it all out of your system. Remember: winners don't do drugs.
Kill your television
Aside from this new weapon-enhancing ability, the fundamentals are all very similar to the previous games in the series. Once again, with the press of a button you can change into the Morph Ball and, viewed from a third-person perspective, rolls around the environment and access parts of the level that are otherwise off-limits. This central dual ability has always marked out the Metroid Prime games as something distinctly difference from the first person shooter herd, and allows Retro to craft levels in a way that's simply not possible in standard shooters. Your approach to exploring the intricacies of each planet is always with the knowledge that eventually you'll have all the abilities you need to access its tempting secrets. No other shooter demands the level of re-exploration that Metroid Prime games do. Some might not appreciate the back-tracking but, for me, the puzzle-esque approach to the level design gives the game an immersive sense of 'place' that's quite unique.
Where Corruption really progresses over and above the previous games in the series is the sublime implementation of the Wii controls. By giving over the targeting to the Wii remote, you're afforded mouse-like targeting precision during combat, with strafing, forward and backward movements assigned to the Nunchuk. Admittedly there is a small learning curve before you'll become truly comfortable (or proficient) with the new control system, but it helps no end by the ability to lock-on to target with the Z button. Given the choice of lock-on aiming (where all shots automatically hit the target) or lock-on free-aiming the latter option is far and away the most enjoyable way to play the game as it allows you to keep your target in your sights easily while giving you the benefit of precision aiming. Having enjoyed it throughout the whole game, I'd go as far to say that this lock-on free aiming system gives a degree of fluid, accurate control that's far and away the most intuitive, satisfying system anyone's come up with on a console. It's that good.
Less easy to get to grips with is the system of turning, which involves pointing the reticule to the edge of the screen. You'll probably have no problem with this system while just avidly scouring and scanning the environment, but during the white heat of boss battling, it's something that may just tie you up in knots if you're not steady with your aim. Overshoot too much, and, whoops, suddenly you're turning when you don't mean to. Again, there's a definite learning curve here, and once you adapt it feels like a great system that's far more than a bolted-on novelty. It genuinely adds something special to an already unique feeling game. Also worth mentioning are the other pleasing areas where the Wii remote's motion sensitivity comes into play, such as having to rotate switches, pull levers and press switches. Sure, they're a rather gratuitous and superfluous novelty, but nevertheless good use of the technology.
Know your rights
As with all the previous Prime games, the gameplay ebbs and flows between gentle exploration (where your scan visor allows you to effectively mine the environment and its inhabitants for contextual detail and narrative) and furious combat. At the gentle end of things, it might seem a little unnecessary to spend ages stopping and flicking to the scan visor just to find out some rather unimportant fine details on what an acid-spitting bug is called, but there's something peculiarly moreish about it once you get going. Far from being a pointless interruption, it adds colour and depth to what might otherwise be Yet Another Alien World. Other games should take note.
Because of the inevitable back-tracking that persists throughout every single Metroid game, it's also a little jarring that the game feels the need to respawn enemies whenever you revisit certain sections of the game world (but not necessarily all - it's inconsistent in that respect), but it's something you get less irritated about as soon as you realise you can generally just run past most of them if you can't be bothered getting into a pointless scrap.
With the slightly negative disclaimers out of the way, the game, as a whole gels fantastically well - as all the Prime games do so expertly. Never less than hugely satisfying to pick your way through, Corruption refines the concept with its perfect sense of pace. Always ready to throw another challenging, wrist-shattering boss encounter in your way, such moments of wide-eyed fire-button pummelling mayhem eventually give way to new abilities and new areas to explore. And unlike some of the ridiculously challenging bosses you'll have faced in previous Primes, there's a sense that Retro actually balanced them properly this time. Sure, you'll be stuck on a few of them, but not in a 'for-god's-sake-I've-been-at-the-same-boss-for-two-hours' kind of way. If you really want that level of challenging insanity to wreak havoc with your carpal tunnels, there's a third difficulty level awaiting those who see it through to the end. For mere mortals, it's pitched perfectly.