The Nintendo Wii has made a name for itself by appealing to casual videogame players, but “Metroid Prime 3: Corruption” is the system’s first decent title that isn’t really for them. Gamers who have complained that the Wii is just for Grandma to go virtual bowling will finally find the kind of tightly constructed, flashy sci-fi adventure they love. That should generate some good will, but it will hardly draw the hardcore away from Sony and Microsoft. Ultimately, gamers looking for a well paced, thrill-a-minute shooter with a compelling narrative are going to be disappointed. “Halo” this ain’t.
Along with the Mario Bros. and Zelda, Metroid is one of Nintendo’s trio of long-lasting franchises. Bounty hunter Samus Aran, “Metroid’s” space traveling heroine, has starred in ten different games in the past 20 years and also had an unsuccessful flirtation with Hollywood after director John Woo optioned the rights. But in all that time and with all those sequels, the “Metroid” experience has stayed largely the same: a staccato shuffle of quick shoot-outs, methodical exploration, frantic battles, puzzles in which Samus turns into a rolling ball, and long stretches of wondering just what the heck you’re supposed to do next.
“Metroid Prime 3,” the third installment since the franchise became a first person shooter for consoles, follows that formula to a tee. It’s not a very coherent game, particularly to anyone who didn’t closely study the last two. In pop culture parlance, “Metroid Prime” 1 and 2 were origin stories about the villain Dark Samus.
Now “Corruption” presents the pay-off confrontation between “good” Samus and her dark counterpart. The villainess flits about, without introduction, messing up stuff. Giant disembodied brains offer instructions and terse hints. There’s much ado about shield generators and phazon and chozos.
In addition to being borderline nonsensical, “Metroid Prime 3” is also difficult. It has the audacity to say, “Welcome to this strange place. Now go figure it out.” Much of the game consists of groping around strange places, puzzling out devices, and traveling back and forth to find new powers, which serve also as “keys” to get to previously unreachable areas.
The locations fold in on themselves in ridiculous unlikely ways, like an alien funhouse, honeycombed with secret doors and shortcuts. It’s two parts frustration and one part immensely satisfying “A-ha!” moments, having more in common with the “Myst” games than shooters like “Halo.”
The good news is how wonderfully “Metroid” has survived the jump to the Wii. Developer Retro Studios has created the first quality action game that was clearly built for the console’s motion-sensitive interface, rather than just shoehorned onto it.
Unsurprisingly, the Wii-mote serves as a weapon pointer, but there are plenty of Wii-specific gimmicks, such as yanking panels open, turning locks, and pressing buttons. With subtle but effective use of the first-person helmet interface (for instance, the character’s breath fogs up the lower part of the screen), “Metroid Prime 3” does a splendid job with its “you-are-there” vibe. Gorgeous graphics help, even if they are conspicuously chopped into small rooms to be loaded and played one at a time.
Too much of the time, though, “Metroid Prime 3” is more tedious than epic. This is particularly true of the boss battles, which are exhaustive affairs requiring dedication, patience, and most importantly, a familiarity with the vocabulary of videogames: double jumping, circle strafing, shooting weak points for massive damage, etc. Those who previously used the Wii only for party games will need a 13 year-old boy to explain it all.