The World Design of Metroid Prime 3: Corruption | Boss Keys


It seems like there are basically two types
of Metroid game. There are games like Super Metroid and Metroid
Prime, where Samus is alone and isolated, in the caverns of an uncharted alien planet. And there are games like Metroid Fusion and
Metroid: Other M, where Samus is told what to do and where to go, by characters and computers
who bark orders down her headset. Metroid Prime 3 can’t quite decide what
type of Metroid game it wants to be. This game was released in 2007 for the Wii,
and it wastes no time in showing off the unique possibilities of a motion-controlled Metroid
game, with, well, a bunch of goofy, gimmicky waggle bits for inputting passwords and opening
doors. But also! A fully realised FPS control scheme that remains
pretty much unparalleled to this day, and was so good that developer Retro Studios re-released
Metroid Prime 1 and 2 with these controls. But it also used the added power of the Wii
to create moments that make Prime 3 almost indistinguishable as a Metroid game. So, when the game begins, on board the GFS
Olympus, we get long expository cutscenes with fully voiced characters. And then, we blast off to the planet Norion,
where we’re working alongside other characters – being told what to do and where to go, as
we race down linear corridors. Here, you’ll find dramatic set pieces, cinematic
explosions, bonkers boss fights, and a last ditch effort to stop a meteor strike. I’m sure i’m not the first to say this,
but at this point in the game – Prime 3 feels more like a Halo game than a Metroid one. And it seems like maybe the days of quietly
uncovering abilities and backtracking through spooky caverns are gone – in favour of bombastic
action sequences and nannying objective markers. But it turns out that this is just a prologue. Not a quick one like Super Metroid’s Ceres
Station or Metroid Prime’s space pirate Frigate, mind you. This thing takes about 90 minutes to finish. But it is just a pre-game teaser. Because at the end of Norion, everything changes When Samus wakes up a month later – her suit
now corrupted by Phazon energy – her allies, Gandrayda, Ghor, and Rundas, have left the
scene, leaving Samus free to explore on her own. Also, the world opens up: so now Samus can
make more choices about where she goes and what she does. And the more traditional Metroid structure,
of finding items and backtracking to clear blocked paths, has returned. So if Prime 3 wants to open up with a crazy action
scene to get you all excited, before returning to more classic Metroid action – then that’s
cool by me. Except… the spectre of that opening section
never truly goes away. So, with the hilarity on Norion out of the
way, Samus now has a clear and defining objective: the meteor blast showered the galaxy with
corruptive leviathan seeds, and now Samus has to go purge them and whatnot. Usual saving the universe type stuff. Now, Prime 1 took place in a single, interconnected
world – where unique areas like the Phazon Mines and Phendrana Drifts, criss-crossed
into each other with a maze-like network of elevators. Prime 2 was similar, but its three areas felt
much more self-contained. They splintered off from a hub world, they
were called temples, and for the most part you focused on one area at a time – all of
which made Prime 2’s areas feel almost like Zelda dungeons. Prime 3 splits its areas even further apart
– like, millions of miles apart. Because instead of exploring a single planet,
Samus uses her gunship to bounce between several. And that means, yes, Prime 3 marks the first
time Samus’s ship actually gets used outside of the opening and closing cutscenes, which
is cool. So after getting your mission on the GFS Olympus
and repelling the space pirate attack on Norion, you’ll also get to travel to Bryyo: a sort
of mini Metroid Prime with ruins, lava chambers, and icy corridors. Elysia, a prototype Bioshock Infinite, where
Samus uses zip-lines to whip between floating platforms. The Pirate Homeworld, which is a military
base, beset by pounding acid rain. And the GFS Valhalla: a wrecked ship, teeming
with familiar alien lifeforms. Each area is memorably distinct, which is
good. Though the street-level layout of the areas
can make them a little challenging to navigate. Elysia looks pretty similar everywhere you
go, for example, making it tough to remember the exact locations of key areas. And the two main locations, Bryyo and Elysia,
are not exactly a knot of interconnected tunnels, but more stretched out highways that you’ll
need to traverse. Like Metroid Prime 2, these areas are pretty
self contained, and you’re often forced to explore them in a particular order. In fact, while the game lets you pick between
Bryoo and Elysia at the start of your adventure, you’ll soon find out that the front door
to Elysia is completely locked – and won’t be open until you beat the boss at the end
of Bryyo and unlock the Hyper Ball. Not much of a choice, then. And so, outside of any sequence breaking silliness,
you’ll get the missiles on Olympus, then the grapple on Norion, before heading off
to Bryyo to get a bunch of items and destroy the seed. Then more items on Elysia, and destroy the
seed there. And finally off to the Pirate Homeworld to
open access to the final boss rush at the end of the game. There’s also Valhalla, but more on that
later. Except, just like Prime 2, there are indeed
moments where you need to go back to the other planets. You’ll hit a dead end on Elysia, forcing
you to return to Bryyo and get the screw attack. And you’ll be stuck in the Pirate Homeworld,
if you don’t return to Elysia to get the spider ball. Unlike Prime 2, though, the game does tell
you to go back to previous planets. When you enter this wall-jump room, the game
says “the item you need may reside on a world you have previously visited”. and
when you get the grapple voltage, you’re told that there’s “hidden Chozo artifacts
on Skytown”. But while that’s preferable to the situation
in Prime 2 – is it really the best solution to just have some omnipotent voice tell you
where to go? Because Metroid Prime 3 is a game that doesn’t
shut up. Like, as soon as you step off the ship on
Bryyo, an organic supercomputer called Aurora pipes up to let you know what to do and where
to go. There’s a nearby downed ship, apparently,
and we need to reach it. And from that point onwards, the Aurora regularly
pipes up, giving you new objectives and directions. And this is with the hint system turned off,
as i’ve played all three Prime games with hints disabled to see how the game communicates
where to go without these nagging tips. Now, sometimes it’s okay, I guess: the computer
tells you where to go, but not how to get there. You can’t just wander towards the map marker
to get to that downed ship, because you’ll come across this dead end. Meaning you’ll need to explore elsewhere
on Bryyo, find the grapple beam, and come back. And there are long spells where the computer
shuts up for a bit and lets you explore for yourself. But there are also times where you essentially
need these prompts to progress, and that’s because Prime 3 regularly breaks a key part
of the Metroid design formula. You see, typically in Metroid games, you come across
a blocked path – like a corridor filled with lava. You then find a new ability – like an ice
missile. And then you must make the connection between
these two things, remember where the blocked path was, figure out how to get there, and
use your new ability to make further progress. It’s basically just a series of locks and
keys, but it’s those logical connections between the keys and the locks that allows
you to explore Metroid games without a single word of dialogue In Prime 3, the lock and key metaphor breaks
apart, as new areas unlock at seemingly random intervals. When you get the screw attack, the Aurora
says you can now go explore the Valhalla ship. When you find the x-ray visor on the Space
Pirate home world, a soldier calls up and says you can now explore a new zone. When you fix these panels on Elysia, your
ship – which was previously broken – suddenly becomes repaired and capable of flying. When there’s no clear cause and effect between
these events, between these keys and locks, the only way the game can communicate where to go is to explicitly tell you, leading to a lot of the had-holding moments that the game exhibits. And then, if you’re like me, you get so
used to being told where to go and what to do that it can be overwhelming when you finally
have to go find something for yourself. Like using the plasma beam – found on Elysia
– to melt a frozen entrance back on Bryyo. Because when you’re led to believe that
the game will just tell you where to go, you kinda just stop taking the time to remember where locked doors and obstacles are altogether. A reccuring aspect of the Prime games is the
key hunt: where you must track down a number of items throughout the game, to unlock something
at the end of the adventure. Metroid Prime had the Chozo artifiacts, and
Prime 2 had the Sky Temple Keys. Both were cool in how they rewarded exploration
and let you find them out of order, but both had issues: especially in how they killed
the pace of both games by suddenly asking you to explore the entire world map before
you can finish. Prime 3 also has a key hunt, but the execution
is quite different. In the game, you’ll come across energy cells:
big batteries that you rip out of power conductors. And these act as keys inside the GFS Valhalla,
where sections of the ship are inaccessible until you turn on the power. Like the other Prime games, you can get clues
about where these energy cells are hidden, and they are found outside of the main item
hunt – meaning you can get them out of order. But there are differences to Prime 1 and 2. For one, you can start the hunt very early
on, with the first cell becoming available for pick-up while on Bryyo for the first time,
and with only a handful of items under your belt. There’s no need to wait until the end of the game. And also, you don’t need to get all of the
keys. You only need 5 out of the 9 possible cells
to get to the most important room in Valhalla: a place with the password to the space pirate’s
battleship. The other keys merely unlock secret rooms,
containing upgrades and items. Of course: because you don’t know which
doors are optional, you might spend them unnecessarily and still end up needing to go off and do
a last minute key hunt. But overall: I think this is a good change:
those who are ready to just finish the game don’t need to find all nine, but it does reward
players who really take the time to explore every nook and cranny of the world. Especially because these cells are sometimes
locked behind cool puzzles and optional boss fights. Energy Cell 4, for example, makes good use
of the gunship’s extended abilities. The ship can be equipped with missiles to
blow holes through walls, and also a big grapple beam. And for this fourth energy cell, you need
to build a bridge between two areas, so your ship can carry a power generator halfway across
the planet. This is the sort of macro-level puzzle that
I enjoy in Zelda dungeons, and is often missing from Metroid. So while Metroid Prime 3 does have some really
cool puzzle box moments with shifting areas and giant mechanical contraptions, they’re
almost always limited to a single room, removing the need to think beyond the four walls around
you. Anyway. While the energy cells are cool, one big problem
is that there’s really nothing that interesting to find on Valhalla, beyond the password you
need to finish the game. Other than that, it’s just typical power-ups:
there’s an energy tank, a ship missile, and a few missile tanks. This is because Prime 3 is the only Prime
game without secret weapons or optional upgrades, like the charge combos in Prime 1 and 2. And, also, the game is very generous with
energy tanks. You’ll find a bunch on the critical path
and a few more very easily, giving you loads of health. And so while Prime 3 is the only game in the
trilogy where you can show all of the items on the map, thanks to the handy Chozo observatory,
this stuff is really only there for completionists who want to see 100% on their save file, I
reckon. So Metroid Prime 3 is an interesting game. In moments, it feels like classic Metroid
with interesting environments, cool new power ups, intriguing contraptions, and so on. And I think the gunship is a really cool addition
to the series, as it ties into exploration, combat, and puzzle-solving in interesting
ways. Plus, I like the planet hopping nature of
the game. I’m not such a Metroidvania purist that
i think the whole game has to take place in a single contiguous space, and zipping between
planets adds to the sci-fi feel of the game – even if it is just, functionally, a long
loading screen. But at other times, Prime 3 strays closer
to the problematic end of the Metroid spectrum, with long linear paths to traverse and way
too much hand-holding. At one point, when the Aurora computer finally
gave Samus permission to dock at a landing site, it really reminded me of a certain moment
in a later Metroid game on Wii. And there are so many moments in this game
that make Metroid stray away from what makes the series great, like a time where you have
to fight an army of enemies while defending a flying bomb. It’s at these points that it starts to feel
like every other sci-fi shooter. Because if you want to play Halo, just play
Halo. We play Metroid for exploration, solitude,
and adventure – not shooty shooty bang bang. All in all, Prime 3 is maybe just below the
quality of Prime 1 and 2. And while it brings lots of new ideas to the
series, not all of them are successful. And for many, many years it seemed like a
bit of a shame that the Prime series would end on its weakest point. But now, with Metroid Prime 4 in development
for Switch – at Retro Studios, no less, fingers crossed that the studio will find that magic
again. Thanks so much for watching! That brings the Metroid section of Boss Keys
to a close, for now, at least. Next time on the show… well, let’s just
say, it’s gonna be a big one.

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