The moment I saw it at E3 I knew it would be one of the Wii’s killer apps. If you read any of those lesser video game sites around you know that their reviews have borne my predictions out. This review then is not meant to tell you whether or not you should buy this game.
I can tell you that right off the bat: if you have any interest in FPS or adventure games, or, to use the portmanteau generated by the ever clever gaming forum communities, first person adventure games, you need to play this game. Buy it, rent it, whatever your wallet allows, it deserves a play-through because it is one of the best games currently on the Wii and it has a lot of innovation to offer.
The purpose, then, of this review is more to focus on a list of do’s and dont’s for videogames, a list of what we ought to expect out of developers as we proceed in this new generation of consoles. That said, enough with the metadiscussion and onto the review.
Let’s start with the controls. One thing MP3 makes immediately apparent is that the Wii really features two sets of controls not one, and they are both critical to making games playable. The first aspect of the controls is the mapping of actions to buttons, the second is how the game decides to make use of the various motion controls in order to provide an innovative, fluid gaming experience.
Metroid prime really nails the motion control. The Wiimote is used to point and shoot as well as turn right and left by dragging the crosshairs to either side of the screen. This feels incredibly natural and the responsiveness of the Wiimote is superb.
Even better is MP3’s lock-on system: by z-targeting a monster, you lock-on to an enemy so that it stays centered on your screen. Using the nunchuk (which normally allows you to strafe) makes you pivot around or approach/back away from the monster. Meanwhile, the wiimote can now be used to aim anywhere on the screen, all the while preserving the target’s position at the center. This is great for dealing with multiple enemies, as you can keep one in your sight while you blast the hell out of a few others, and even better for staying locked onto bosses while dodging attacks or aiming at various weak spots without having to constantly recenter yourself.
Beyond this, the Wiimote is used for a number of novel interactions with the environment: metal pieces of armor and grating are ripped off enemies and the environment using your grapple beam by physically jerking the nunchuk, various locks require you to physically insert and turn keys. While some may call this gimmicky, I envision a world where all interactions with games are like this. In this alternate reality I’d be pretty pissed if someone handed me a controller and told me that my only options for control were pressing a few buttons.
Developers (you know, all the ones reading this) take note: There is certainly the risk that over-implementing these sorts of controls make for complicated, exhausting control schemes. Done right, however, these controls can make a game feel much more real and interactive, and I fully expect that future Wii games will mimic and improve on the innovations Metroid Prime 3 has offered.
Unfortunately, the controls are much less intuitive when it comes to button mapping. Shooting missiles by pressing down on the d-pad is unsatisfying, especially in contrast to the aforementioned experience of ripping a door off its hinges by flicking the nunchuk remote.
Other features are just clunky: to change visors you have to hold down the — button and then point the Wiimote toward the corner of the screen with the visor you want. Unnatural, and given the fact there are three visors, and the right, left, and up buttons of the d-pad aren’t used, this design choice was unnecessary.
Some controls just aren’t explained at all. Pro tip: you can jump while in morph ball mode by motioning the Wiimote upwards. Yeah, I beat the game with one fucking hundred percent completion without ever figuring this out. Going back today, it’s actually a pretty sweet mechanic, but it would have been, uh, you know, nice, if they’d bothered to make it a little more obvious.
The Wii has a million damn buttons, I should never have to hold down one button, point somewhere on the screen, and chant in Sumerian to accomplish a basic task like changing visors. Also, we live in the 21st century, every game should allow you to map your own damn controls.
Moving on to the rest of the gameplay, MP3 makes great strides of improvement over its predecessors as well as other games in the genre. To start, it was inevitable that MP3 would involve a lot of backtracking (and, like MP2, an annoying collection quest). However, the inclusion of multiple planets, each with multiple landing spots, allowed for easier access to all areas of the game. The creation of such discrete environments meant that I never felt I was running around for hours looking for that one door that I saw three days ago but couldn’t open only now I had the right beam.
Instead, a combination of good hints from the game as well as more memorable layouts allowed me to navigate the universe much more easily, making for a more pleasant experience. The downside, of course, is that the game also feels a lot shorter because there aren’t those ten extra hours built in where you’re running around pissed off looking for some door you saw three days ago that you couldn’t open then but you’re pretty goddamn sure you have the right fucking missile for now.
Speaking of the right missiles, powerups were much more well thought out in this game than the previous entry. Weapon abilities stacked much like Super Metroid, as opposed to forcing you to switch back and forth between a million different beams as in previous Prime games. This made for puzzles that are more fun, less “pick the right weapon” focused and much more focused on Samus’ other powerups (grapple beam, morph ball, ship powerups, etc.) and unique methods of movement (screw attack, spider ball, etc.). One of my favorite traits of MP3 is that it doesn’t fall into the Zelda trap of introducing a powerup, having you exhaustively use it for one zone, and then never use it again. Metroid forces you to continually employ old powerups and combine your skills to solve much more challenging and fun puzzles.
One counterexample to this is the ship; while it plays a more significant roll, and you can even collect ship missile upgrades, this is more for novelty as you’ll never, ever bother to switch into the special ship visor to see if you might be in one of the, oh, five places you can actually summon your ship to pound the enemies.
Games should learn to follow the old theater rule that if you put a telephone on stage, someone better damn well make a phone call with it (this counts doubly for a gun; someone better get shot). If you’re going to give me a ship with missiles, I better not just have ample opportunities to use it, but I want a few bosses that require me to call an airstrike down to pound their asses.
Speaking of annoying visors, I’ve never liked the scanning visor, a staple of the series. I like being able to scan things as much as the next guy, but given the clunky interface used to switch to the visor, coupled with the long-ass scanning time for each item, I just think there could have been an easier, more streamlined solution.
Bosses are a lot of fun. There are also a lot of them. And a lot of minibosses, which prevents the exploration of the various worlds from getting stale. Bosses have very distinct patterns that require a bit of puzzle solving to figure out, but once discovered do not require a lot of luck to act out the pattern necessary to take them down. Unfortunately, I found very few of them to be actually challenging.
The above positive characteristics comprise what is easily MP3’s greatest asset: its pacing. I’ve always been of the belief that games should be fun. Unfortunately, most genres have built in features that seem to detract from this: RPGs have too many random battles as you proceed through dungeons, FPSs have too many rooms that don’t require skill but instead rote memorization of the location and movement of every enemy.
Unfortunately, in some ways, this perhaps leads to my biggest complaint of the game – it was a bit too short and far too easy. Especially given the lack of multiplayer, 13 hours to beat a game really doesn’t cut it for me when for the same price I can go find an RPG on the PS2 that will take me 20-40 hours. Of course, there is a ‘veteran’ difficulty that is open from the start and another difficulty to be unlocked to add some replay, but I’ve never enjoyed games that just raise the difficulty by making you learn to dodge every incoming beam or face certain death.
As for the aesthetics of the game, most of the graphics are great. Enemies and environments are detailed and slick, and both Samus and her ship look phenomenal. The inside environments contain a lot of nice detail: each planet had its own distinct sets of doors, bugs, and overall ambiance. The current limits of the Wii/Gamecube hardware are apparent, however, as the larger outdoor environments suffered in terms of detail and beauty, making the art much less shocking than the original Prime was for Gamecube gamers.
Finally, load times are horrific. Doors are used to hide the loading times, and there were times where I would sit in front of a door for a good 10 seconds before it would open. This sounds short but in-game it’s enough to make you happy you’re wearing a wrist-strap when you decide to throw the Wiimote at the screen. If your load times are that bad, then your game should not be on the shelves, end of story.
In terms of music, there’s not too much to write about. Loading the game, I swear the Wii-menu theme is a ripoff of the Halo opener, at least the five seconds I kept hearing before loading Metroid up. A couple of tracks definitely stand out and are just great, but overall the quality is unfortunately a bit lacking. Others have complained that the battle music is not employed enough and you spend most of your time killing space pirates and metroids to the normal background music. While I agree there could be more variety in music, my personal belief is that unless there’s a good chance I’m about to have my ass handed to me, I really don’t need the you’re-gonna-die adrenaline music to be playing.
Finally, the plot. This game has one. That’s a bit of a shocker given Metroid’s past, but they do a pretty good job of it. For their first go around, voice acting is surprisingly good, and the other hunters in the game have memorable character quirks and provide some good distraction to the normally isolated, alien feel of the game.
Hopefully this will become a trend: good storytelling shouldn’t be saved for RPGs; if games want to be taken seriously then they need to be willing to step it up and have real plots and characters, regardless of genre. And yes, I do expect to learn the backstory and tribulations of all Tetris pieces whenever Nintendo decides to continue the genre (although I think the last Tetris game actually did have some bizarre plot about planets on the verge of extinction….).
In conclusion, like I said in the beginning, this is a must-play game for the Wii, and a good reason to pick up a Wii if you somehow haven’t already.