Metroid Prime 3: Quarterly Diaries #5

October 8th, 2009

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Areas Covered: Elysia (Main Docking Bay)

Discussion Points: Hyper ball, Skytown Central Hub (my personal amnesia), engineering and interaction, Defense Drone mini-boss, Boost ball, license to kill

Elysia (Main Docking Bay)

In my last article I forgot to talk about the hyper ball ability gained after defeating Mogenar. Hyper ball allows Samus to enter hyper mode while in morph ball mode. The significance being that she can now radiate phazon to destroy overgrowth and other such matter. Considering that the morph ball bombs already do this, it seems like a needless addition and a pitiful award for the end of a chapter.

Anyways, back to schedule. I want to remark on the hub areas of Sky Town, but I’m not sure if my criticisms will be preempt and therefore unjust. Well, here goes…this area, much like the landing zones on Bryyo, often left me in limbo on where to go next, resulting in plenty of aimless wandering. Sky Town is a complicated web of multi-storied islands, so I naturally relied on the map quite heavily for directions. Yet, it seems as though the map screen split the world in a way in which I still can’t quite wrap my head around. There are at least two stories filling the interiors of the Sky Town area, yet the map seems to display only one floor at a time (the one you’re occupying). What made it tricky are the outdoor conduits and hubs which are represented the same on either floor. Maybe they aren’t, I need to seriously go back and check my facts, but it’s a tangle all the same.

In typical, if not a little excessive, Metroid fashion, the Sky Town area is riddled with plenty of new devices which drop obvious clues for the next slew of weapon upgrade. More points of interest to mentally flag down. Check. If you’ve played previous games, the respective power ups are obvious. In fact, your initial walk-through of Sky Town is practically a runway of upgrades including the boost ball, seeker missiles, spider ball and plasma beam. It’s a nice way to entice returning players in this way, I think.

It was somewhere around this point too where I got awarded the 400 kills achievement (and a stylish kill achievement for fending off the Steamlord). I don’t really like Retro using the word “kill” in a Metroid game. It doesn’t fit with the Metroid legacy nor the first person adventure (rather than FPS) theme of the Metroid Prime sub-series.

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Fast forward to 7 minutes in to see the room I am refering to, mind the commentary too.

Just before the Defense Drone mini-boss is a room called “Construction Bay” which I find of particular interest. Metroid Prime 3, most obviously with the boss battles already discussed, tends to layer abilities on top of each other to create interesting logic puzzles. It’s no new trick, but it’s clear in Metroid Prime 3 that Retro have become seasoned experts at composing these scenarios, and it makes Metroid Prime 3 feel all the more enjoyable. I like this room because of the way they pull in multiple assets and abilities into a single structure. You have the gates, also used on the flying fox, reused here along with the charge shot, grip pads, morph ball and grapple beam abilities. You must use the grip pads to climb up to the upper level of this structure and then crawl through a tunnel in morph ball mode to disarm the under-hanging gates so that you can freely swing across to the other side with the grapple beam. Your actions around the supporting structure, make you feel like part of the engineering and it allows you to appreciate not only the design but what the design speaks of in terms of cultural lore. By disarming the security measures it creates something of a kinship with it in understanding how it operates.

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In the following room you’ll find an innocent looking upgrade. Walking towards it will prompt a cutscene with the power-up dropping beneath the floor. A barred, spherical cage then suddenly clamps around Samus, descending into an arena below. The cage retracts back into the floor and Samus is faced with the Defence Drone mini-boss. It’s a pretty spectacular opening. Not much needs to be said about the defence drone though, it’s another pasting of inner core, outer core et al design.

The boost ball ability left behind is much more interesting, or rather its application is. Previously in Metroid Prime 1 & 2 the boost ball was used to gain momentum along half-pipes and push against inclines. These applications still exist in Metroid Prime 3, but, at least for the time being, the boost is used to built up kinetic energy along circular tracks. The design suitably plugs back into the industrialised aspects of Sky Town’s aesthetic. Again, your participating in the engineering of the place.

With the boost ball you can now open the door blocking off the Aurora Unit. Yeah, I forgot to mention – your objective is to get the Aurora Unit back online to the main network. The Mother Brain-esque unit (just like the one on Olympus) is unhealthy, requiring you to enter an area underneath the main chamber and administer an antidote.

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The Aurora Unit is a super interesting character due to it’s unmistakable similarities with Mother Brain. This is definitely no coincidence. Video from the Metroid channel Nintendo offered near release is also suggestive towards this assumption (see the end of the trailer, kinda suspicious, huh?). Colour me intrigued.

Once you’ve restored health to the unit, a corrupted Ghor reveals himself and uses his plasma beam to damage the mainframe and disconnect the unit from the main network. Ghor’s robotic nature makes him a suitable canidate for this area. I always liked Ghor because he’s just an asshole instead of a chest-beater like the other bounty hunters.

Shortly afterwards, the Aurora Unit asks you to obtain the plasma beam from Ghor, presenting an unusual dynamic which evoked a personal response. I’m not sure, something about this sequence felt out of place in a Metroid game, experimental yet at the same time within its means. There are two faces to this, let me cover them individually:

Bounty Hunter

Samus may be a bounty hunter, but she isn’t a gun for hire, she’s an investigator hired to check out conflict. The series has always made this distinction by presenting violence in a faceless manner, with Samus simply following through with her role as a law enforcer. Yet, in this off-beat moment you’re implicitly asked to kill with necessesary spoils granted for progress. Although the request isn’t overt about killing (acquire the plasma beam which is grafted onto Ghor who has gone rogue, hmm…I wonder what that involves), rarely has the series “discussed” your actions before with such loudness. Secondly, and maybe more importantly (I’m not too sure), you’re asked to attack a human-like creature rather than the local fauna/possessed version thereof. This is true of the other bounty hunters too though, but the games quite abruptly requested me to kill something non-plant-like, and that, to me, feels obtuse given the context. Maybe we’ll have to explore this one a little later.

The Ship

Upon leaving, transmissions chime in alerting you that your ship’s taking heavy damage. For some reason the destruction of my ship hastened my rush back to save the damned thing. It felt like a very urgent situation. The ship is practically the only other re-occuring “character” in the franchise, so you actually care about saving it from Ghor. I found that the transmission (two in total) legitimized my pursuit and eventual destruction of Ghor.’Ship as secondary character of Metroid series’, seems like another topic which warrants further investigation. Another time, another time.

Additional Readings

Commentaries and Examples of Work by Environment Artist