In its own right, a gem, but flawed when compared to other Primes
If you've bought or have played the Metroid Prime Trilogy edition - which comes with all 3 Prime games, complete with Wii remote functionality - then the gameplay will be largely familiar to you. But if not, you'll step out of your ship for the first time onto the GFS Valhalla and instinctively start pointing your remote at anything vaguely shootable. At first the controls seem a little odd, and different if you've experienced the previous two Prime games in their Gamecube form. You lock the camera with 'Z' on the nunchuk, but thanks to the Wii pointer you no longer need to press a button to look around, as you did in the Gamecube version (with 'R').
Immediately this makes a big difference ; you're more able to move around quickly, while strafing when locked on is exactly as you'd hope it to be. Using the 'B' button on the back of the Wii remote is a smart move, too, since it allows for easy double jumps straight from the get-go, and it feels more natural than using the Gamecube's 'B' button which was situated right next to your weapon fire.
Of course, good controls are nothing without something to use them on, and in this respect, MP3C does a great job of utilizing the Wii motion sensing capabilities. You soon learn to push, pull, twist and flick the Wii remote as you control many different objects. A lot of these ideas are shown to you early in the game, with an opening segment that acts as a tutorial. It's fairly thorough, although you may end up consulting the manual once or twice. It took me ages to realise I could do a jump in the recognisable morph ball mode simply by flicking the remote upwards, which allows for morph ball double jumps, which were previously done with double morph bombs.
Combat is by and large a fun affair, with the early battles proving pretty easy. By the end of the game you'll have certain moments when you feel a little stretched but overall the fact is that the improved Wii controls allow for much better aiming and quicker movement. To counter this, and to their credit, Retro Studios have been very inventive in their enemy design, many of which require your quick reactions and careful placement of shots.
New to the series is the introduction of Hypermode, a powerful but risky mode of combat, which is earned early in the game. You activate it by holding the '+' button on the remote for about a second (a process which sometimes actually feels like it's too slow if you're mid-combat), and essentially become invincible for around 10 seconds. Your attacks are several times more powerful than when in standard mode, and a charged attack unleashes a machine gun-like spray of destruction. It's fair to say Hypermode is a lot of fun. The risk it entails however is less well implemented, you lose one energy tank for every time you use a full spell of Hypermode. The problem with this is that often Hypermode is so overpowered, and health so readily available, that once you've mopped up an area of its creatures you usually get back the health you lost - or at least most of it. As such, you'll end up finding yourself resorting to Hypermode for even some of the smaller fights just to get them out of the way. There is a further risk of becoming 'corrupted' (and facing a game over) if you don't use the full dose of Hypermode, but again, it's so easy to discharge that it almost never happens.
Another gripe I have with the game - and this goes for all Prime games - is the respawning enemies. It gets very tiresome, working your way through 10 rooms to get to your objective, and then have to turn round and head all the way back, fighting the same enemies again. It just doesn't feel right, and it certainly isn't fun. Sure, you get tokens that unlock extras by killing 'x' number of enemies, but it feels a cheap way to extend the life of the game. Not to mention the overall lack of progression, by the end of the game the same enemies you face at the beginning feel relatively the same to kill, it never truly feels that by the end you are a tooled up badass that could wipe out anything in its path. This is a shame, and it's also odd, considering exactly how many upgrades there are to find, both in terms of new equipment and the prolific nature of missile upgrades (there are 100 'collectables' in the game).
Scanning, activated by holding the '-' button and pointing at the appropriate segment onscreen, is back, and is a staple of the Prime franchise, returns, and while it's not quite as streamlined as I would like - there are still too many throwaway displays that serve little purpose - it feels like a unique way to engage the player, and overall it works well. Largely down to who and how the player plays his games, the overall story of MP3C is better than the previous two Prime installments - it feels like there's a narrative, for starters - and depending on exactly how much time you want to devote to scanning every last document of ancient civilizations, it is there for you to explore at your own will. It won't surprise or wow you, but with some effort, you can get a flavour of the mysterious goings on, even if it is leaked to you slowly over the course of every place you visit.
This time your ship is more powerful than ever, but this again reveals some flaws. You can use a new 'Command' visor, again operated with the '-' button, to do certain functions. For example you can find places to land your ship, providing a makeshift save station. But these areas are very limited and it would've been more useful if you could use it more generally in open, flat areas. You can use the ship to strike on certain targets, but only a rare few, pre-arranged areas that require it to move the story along. You can even find additional bombs for your ship, in the same way you find additional missiles, but this appears pointless since you never use them. You gain the ability to pick objects up, but you only ever use it once or twice.
More than ever before, the new equipment in the game you find feels tacked-on in the name of being able to simply have more. Towards the end of the game, particularly, this feels poorly implemented. There are certain weapons and equipment that you get after slogging past a boss, but their application is extremely rare and you feel almost no sense of powering up. In fact every time you use them seems to be a new area specifically designed simply so that you can use it. This contradicts with earlier Prime games where you would find an area that you could not progress through, then later on return, with new equipment that enabled you to discover extra secrets. This feeling is very rare in MP3C.
Graphically MP3C is probably the Wii's finest hour, and feels like every ounce of power has been extracted by Retro Studios. Environments still have a relatively 'chunky' feel to them, and while you won't confuse it with Uncharted, MP3C is impressive enough. If I have one criticism it's that the overall level design is not quite up to Retro's standards in the Prime series. There are flashes of brilliance, of course, but they all feel relatively enclosed and lack the large scale appeal of something like, say, Phendrana Drifts, from the original Metroid Prime. As such it's fairly difficult to enjoy each new room you come to, as you become accustomed to the mediocrity of the design of the environments. There's plenty of detail but there's less scope, and it's certainly less grand. There are very few memorable areas in MP3C, with perhaps the exception only coming in the form of SkyTown, which sits above the clouds, and you make your way around using rails, suspended mid air. But again even SkyTown feels limited and small, and overall the lack of true originality is disappointing.
Oh, and there's no proper snow level, if you've a fondness for the Phendrana Drifts like many a Metroid Prime player does. There is one brief moment where you think you've discovered this world, but no.
I always felt with Metroid games that their best asset was the overwhelming sense of isolation, which was immediately clear to me when I played Metroid Prime on Gamecube, and found myself alone, on this planet, with all my recently-learned equipment having been stripped of me. MP3C lacks this, in the search of narrative and story. There are only a few times when you truly feel alone, but these are few and far between, as you often receive instructions from people and you watch many a dialogued cut-scene.
Musically MP3C is weaker than previous installments and features less distinct themes. The opening music as you start up the game is eerie and chilling, but aside from that, I can honestly say I don't remember a single tune from the game. And again, that's disappointing considering the series' fame as having great music.
Technically everything holds together as you would expect from Retro Studios, I had absolutely zero crashes and zero bugs on my playthrough. There was one brief moment when the frame rate dropped inexplicably but other than that there were no real dips on that side of things. However the long loads while you open a door still remain, and this is frequently, but only mildly, frustrating. Meanwhile I don't recall any major screen tearing and it's clear that MP3C is a very solidly built game.
Overall MP3C is still a fantastically well crafted game and one worth your time and money, but the occasional flaw does let it down. It's not as long or as grand in scope as you'd hope it to be. My first playthrough on the standard difficulty took me 17 hours. Two notes about that, I do play quite slowly as I like to take my time and savour everything, but at the same time, I only collected 71/100 of the collectables. It's fair to assume a normal player on standard difficulty should look to get 20 hours out of the game.
One final note and that is the lack of multiplayer, MP3C seems like a perfect game for Nintendo to display as an online FPS but this non existent feature makes no sense to me. Why have it on Metroid Prime 2 Echoes, on the Gamecube, but not on MP3C? There is a dedicated following of Metroid out there and it would have offered a viable alternative to other online FPS if it was done right.