Later this year (August 27, in the States, to be precise), Metroid Prime 3: Corruption — the third instalment and closing act in arguably (an argument I will gallantly shout for) one of the best trilogies of games of all time — will “celebrate” its tenth anniversary. While the entire Metroid series has already celebrated its 30th anniversary (though Nintendo didn’t exactly roll out the red carpet to commemorate it like it has its other beloved IP’s…or at least not in the way fans would have expected/wanted), that didn’t stop players around the globe celebrating one of Nintendo’s most respected series. Some going as far as to, perhaps, rub Nintendo themselves the wrong way. Nevertheless, it hasn’t taken long for another milestone in the series to be met and while we may be around half a year until that mark actually rings true, one very off-the-cuff remark on social media had me somewhat agasp at the very mortal strain the concept of time truly has. It’s been ten years since Retro Studios closed the Prime trilogy off in superb fashion. Coincidentally, that’s the same amount of time it’s been since we actually had a Metroid game that merited a similar level of praise — Other M & Federation Force need not apply.
Metroid Prime, as a trilogy however, is a very fascinating and interesting collection of games to look back on though. It’s one of the few collections of games that get me thinking like some entrenched academic on the vast many highlights of said trilogy. What’s more, it has me constantly switching my preferred rankings at a near monthly cycle. One minute it’s 2 > 3 > 1, the next it’s 3 > 1 > 2, the next it’s 1 > 2 > Swi-I mean 1 > 2 > 3. And this carries beyond the admittance that I am quite the fan/follower of the Metroid Universe with not just its games, but also its mythos — a mythos that expands even into other mediums. Its lore, its setting, its cast of characters that go beyond the mere albeit much-respected bounty hunter Samus Aran and her plethora of weapons, items and silent protagonist personas alike.
Looking back, Prime 3 was a very interesting entry into the Metroid series at the time. It certainly wasn’t the first time the series had ventured into thematic realms with its presence of character dialogue, action set-pieces and even dabbles in more darker narrative leanings on the concept of “corruption” and the many semi-related themes that branch off of that. Nintendo had at the time billed Metroid as having “big plans” when it was somewhat-announced at E3 2005, back when the Wii was referred to under its codename, Revolution. I remember this moment in the conference very clearly and not just because it was Metroid. Sure, Metroid and Nintendo may well be a rather fantastical occurrence ten years down the line, in the here and now, but back then the Prime name was garnered with a kind of joyous enthusiasm and respect fans could still affiliate with Nintendo. As if doubting anything Nintendo did was heresy.
I also remember Prime 3’s moment in the spot-light pre-release for the trailer that came with it, a year later, when the Wii was officially unveiled during that memorable E3 of 2006 (for both the right and wrong reasons) was…even I had to admit back then…bordering on laughable. I mean…just watch the trailer; did Nintendo — blissful mentality over motion controls notwithstanding — honestly think people were going to play a first-person game like this? Yet, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption (thank God!) didn’t prove to be one of those unfortunate cases where a forcibly-implemented waggle here and waggle there meant the game’s lasting quality was hindered or fated to be some tech demo that had escaped the confines of the dreaded “launch window”. If anything, the motion controls only made the gameplay — particularly boss fights — all that more engaging and interesting to tackle.
But outside of the Wii’s very gimmicks, no one can deny that Retro Studios continued to pour an incredible amount of effort into the game’s very look and feel as not just a Metroid game, but a first-person, 3D Metroid game. Let’s not forget that Metroid was rather late to the 2D-3D transition period, when the likes of Mario & Zelda made huge strides in proving once 2D/2.5D IP’s could very well work in a 3D plane. Sure, Prime may have done justice for Metroid and Metroid Prime 2 cemented the behind-the-visor immersion those two games brought, but Prime 3 felt like the pinnacle of what Retro were trying to achieve from both an artistic and aesthetic stand-point.
As undeniably superb a game the original Metroid Prime was, one of the bare few, minor gripes I had with the game was the safety at which Retro applied when deciding on what kind of locales/surroundings/ecosystems the in-game setting of Tallon IV would have players navigate through. And if Mario games are audibly criticized for following the grass-desert-tropical-ice-fire trope, why should Metroid be given a free pass regardless of the game it’s stapled to. Don’t get me wrong, Phendrana Drifts is still one of my all-time favorite game locations and unlike a lot of games, Retro — in all their supposed safety with recognizable ecologies and themes — at least made Prime’s setting so undeniably palpable and downright gorgeous to stride through. Yet Prime 2: Echoes felt like the point where Retro — having grown in confidence with their level design and visualizing of certain art directions — made great strides to embed both narrative and reason into their chosen settings. Prime 2’s setting of Aether, as a result, feels far more focused and purposeful; each of its semi-ruined, once-habitable locations carry with them both context and meaning in the greater length and breadth of the story being told.
Prime 3’s settings — which spanned numerous planets this time — while not exactly driven by the game’s plot itself, still weren’t dictated or otherwise restricted by safe-bets and unnecessary conflicts of visual flair. Prime 3’s three main settings of Bryyo, Elysia & The Pirate Homeward are fully distinguishable from one another and each house a unique aesthetic that not just makes sense to the overarching story of planetary corruption by the trilogy-spanning mutagenic substance referred to as Phazon, but actually gives meaning to each of the three branches of lore the player may (like the previous two games) decide to invest in should he/she wish. No question that the collectible-like discovery of lore was one of Prime’s hidden and often least-talked-about hidden strengths, but to carve out three entirely separate strings of story-telling (each standing on their own as independent tales of science vs religion as well as the dangers of over-indulging in technology — themes very common within the Metroid Universe) while at the same time finding a way to have all of them still weave into the all-round theme of corruption — be it a literal sense, or a rather more metaphoric one — it’s why this trilogy reigns so highly in my mind as a series of games that, when picked apart, reveal a much grander plethora of small but finer little details.
Retro Studios were kings of fine detail and this came across no better than in the game’s cutscenes (of which there were few, but more than effective). There’s no shying away from Other M’s complete disregard for the already-established set-up for Samus Aran as a character and the over-reliance on dialogue — more specifically, Samus’ indulgent, long-winded monologues — went against nearly everything that the Prime series had established, but respected more so, about Aran as a protagonist. A silent protagonist, but one whose body language, actions, reactions and subtle movements illustrated as much demonstrated exactly the kind of heroine we’d only assumed was packed into that 2D sprite pre-Prime era. One of my favourite scenes from Prime 3 takes place on the Pirate Homeworld after defeating fellow bounty-hunter, the shape-shifting now-corrupted Grandrayda. Unlike most post-victory cutscenes, this virtually no dialogue exchanged between protagonist and antagonist alike.
Instead, Retro do what Retro are so clever at doing, in that they allow the body language of the main character, Samus, to illustrate both the strain and context of killing a former ally at the start of the campaign in order to continue one’s mission at purging the threat of Phazon from the galaxy. In all its many burdens of coming across former friends and outnumbering foes alike. These kinds of moments, let alone cutscenes, don’t need dialogue for the player to get why this scene might be, to say the least, a little hard to bear. And it’s a technique that continues to do wonder to this very day — fellow silent protagonists shining in much the same way because of it. Take last year’s DOOM and the numerous cutscenes that had Doom Guy/Doom Slayer say nothing, especially when secondary characters were, unlike Metroid, giving him an earful of exposition and excuses for their rather disastrous actions. It helped fine-tune and cement the main character as one with both intent and likability. Very much like DOOM’s protagonist, Samus’ lack of a voice in an otherwise talkative setting doesn’t degrade her otherwise established motives or indeed her line of thought. Be it in the more reflective of times…or in the heat of the moment.
Why some developers outright mistake talk (for the pure sake of it) for objectionable character-building is beyond even the wisest of us. Not that a wise-cracking or otherwise extroverted character can’t be built on their choice of words/language — good or bad — but Metroid has always been a series told, in terms of story, through its environments and its locales. Sure, the lore of the Prime trilogy was what gave each of the game’s settings its meaning, but Samus has always been one to be judged by her actions and her abilities. The fact that Retro were able to build on that via character interaction only proves Aran is a capable personality that doesn’t need internal monologues rambling about “their feelings” or the current state of affairs as if treating the player/viewer like an idiot. Show don’t tell folks, it is [and was] as simple as that.
To think Prime 3 released in 2007 does demand a second glance, even if said glance is a rather baffled double-take on the fact that father time is by no means a saint. Whether you want to do so with one’s glass half-full or half-empty, it’s hard to look forward to the possible continuation of Metroid without, at the very least, a sense of skepticism and dampened frustration at the Big N. Nintendo have historically never really allowed lady luck to shine on this particular series, despite numerous releases and promises of supporting Samus and co on future ventures. You may hope for a future title on the upcoming Switch, but then again isn’t this the exact same spiel you (and I) put forward during the Wii U’s life-cycle? I know I did…and look where that got us. Federation Force eh?
Even still, what would a new Metroid game (that actually centred around Samus, it pains me to specify) even be about, given the likes of the Prime games and, unfortunately, Other M have pretty much filled in any potential missing gaps to explore between the main events of the original, II, Super & Fusion in the series’ time-line. I for one am somewhat cautious about a post-Fusion setting — as I am the existence of a supposed for-lack-of-a-proper-title Prime 4 — but at the same time I’d only be lying if I said I denounced any possible avenue and rejected it straight away. Of course some games deserve not to have a follow-up, Mother 3, pure-and-simply because there’s nothing left to tell. But I wouldn’t be against someone/anyone at least trying to explore that murky void of the unknown that is the post-Fusion Metroidverse. A verse minus (retcons aside) Metroids and minus an ally-considered Samus Aran, a swirling, living-breathing cocktail of human, bird and parasitic genomes alike.
Until that time comes — when another wonderfully-made fan project is taken down and refused even a nod at a video game award ceremony — be grateful my fellow readers that we at least had, and still have, the likes of Corruption (and its fellow Prime brethren) to remind us that Metroid can not just excel on new platforms for new generations, but remains one of the most creative and constantly-innovative series in the entire video game industry. It has great ideas, great music, great opening/closing themes, great menu selection themes that played before you even started the game for goodness sake…and this was even after the likes of Super Metroid had long been out there. This August, pull out your copy of Prime 3 (or the Prime trilogy for the Wii if you’re fortunate enough to own a copy, like me) and bask in what might…just might…be the last great [official] Metroid game.