November 8th, 2009
Areas Covered: Landing Site Alpha (Elysia), Research Facility (revisited)
Discussion Points: No map prompt to Elysia!, awesome Spider ball and zipline sequences, Steam Lord side quest, rewarding player curiosity, hazard suit, intents of Metroid Hatcher battle
Landing Site Alpha (Elysia)
So where to now exactly? After taking out Gandrayda, acquiring the Grapple Voltage and circling back to the ship, where are we suppose to go next? The map keeps directing me back to a room we’d previously passed, Craneyard, but the centre of the room is closed off by glass, with a lone spider ball track wrapping around the ceiling into the glassed off exterior. Clearly that’s where we need to go which means that we first need to the spider ball, but where to get it? Every time I loaded my save the map hints would prompt me towards the Craneyard room and to no avail could I find the spider ball there, after all it’s just a small room—so I stopped playing for a week and in the meantime finished Eternal Darkness instead.
After my frustration simmered, I referred to the same IGN guide that I’m pinching all of the screen grabs from and realized that you’re meant to go back to a random, undiscovered point on Elysia. Oh…
If you stop off at Landing A on Elysia you can zipline straight on in to the next point with little backtracking in between. This is the perhaps the 3rd or 4th time now that Sky Town has shed its own skin to accommodate the retreading of old ground.
You’ll cross through Zipline Station Alpha on the way to your destination, but we’ll hold out on any discussion for now.
In the next area you’ll use the grapple beam to launch a gear into the air and then, whilst spinning, shoot with an ice missile to launch it back into place. It’s kind of bizarre, semi-Matrix even, but a neat use of the grapple beam all the same. You’ll be rewarded with the spider ball for your efforts. Take note of the stone Chozo grasping the power-up in his hands, he’s a motif from prior games.
As is the case with all weapon upgrades, the player can only exit the room after demonstrating use of the latest upgrade. This opens up a series of external spider ball tracks, presenting fantastic views from underneath the floating spire. The outer area has been severely damaged and worker drones are busily whizzing around the exterior doing their best to mend the broken track. The damage has resulted in crevices which leak fire, this sets up the premise for the player to practice dropping and jumping along the track to avoid said leaks of fire. Once you’ve made your way underneath the structure, the boost ball will help you on the upwards ascent back to the exit. This small area familiarizes the player with the entire repertoire of techniques available when in the spider ball mode. It’s also perhaps one of the most memorable sequences in the game thus far, a juxtaposition of fear and tranquility is created by the tense mid-air suspension and gorgeously sceneric views.
Equally awe-inspiring are the views along the spider track on the tread back to your ship. The camera work here takes full advantage of the surrounding views, capturing wide angles of the windy track in the foreground and the other spires, the rest of the track and the stunning clouds in the background. The versatility of the track design here pushes the boundaries further than in prior games. It’s much more windy with a greater number of intersecting moments for the player to react rather than just follow the track. The same can be said for the majority of other spider ball sections in Metroid Prime 3 too.
When you arrive back at Junction (room title) you can either go left or right—being a junction and all. Now after all those lovely vistas you’ve probably forgotten your way back to the ship, I know I had to stop and think, fortunately both ways are well accommodated. Going right and morph-balling underneath the rubble will put you on course to return to the ship. Accidentally going left will conclude the Steam Lord sub-plot from our first romp through this area, as well as scoring you another energy cell. That is, instead of being punished for making a wrong turn, you’re rewarded for accidentally diverging off course….or exploration even, whatever you wish to call it.
The side quest, of sorts, wraps back into the arena where you took on the Security Drone, neatly incorporating all of your new weapon upgrades too. The grapple voltage is used to activate a lift and overload some fans while the X-ray visor is used in the Steam Lord battle once he turns invisible. Genuis. Again, old material brought back to life through re-application of tools, plus you’re saved from returning here in a fetch quest later on.
Spider ball in tow we can now head back to the Craneyard and zip our way over that glass wall!
Research Facility (revisited)
If you cheapen out and use the transit trains to shortcut your way to the Craneyard rather than take the longer route, you’ll miss out on a number opportunities to nab yourself some extra missile upgrades by using the spider ball on the areas discussed in the last article. Again, divergent paths and supplementary exploration are accommodated for, but in a way which doesn’t impede on the experience of players taking the shorter course. I wonder if this design works for the entire game, whereby all upgrades can be picked up on a single play through just by straying off the conventional path every time you’re presented with a crossroads. My player percentage is quite high—and I’ve accidentally taken the wrong path a several times already—so it seems quite possible.
Over the glass and through a few tunnels shielded from the rain and you’ll be presented with a boost ball puzzle which requires you to use two spinners to rotate the sides of a wall to form a connected track. You can actually build the track to either end at the left or the right. Building to the right will reward you with another missile upgrade. Building to the left will take you to the hazard suit. There’s that player divergence thing again.
Funnily enough the hazard suit isn’t a new suit per say (there appear to be no new suits in MP3), instead Samus’ shoulder pads are bolstered in size, giving her the same cloak that shields the space pirates from the acid rain. When you’re in the rain your suit will glow a transparent orange, it’s certainly a cool look. The acid rain too is neat, you’ll notice that if you look towards the sky the droplets of rain splash black on your visor. After you’ve acquired the suit, some pirates will smash the windows allowing you to trawl around in the rain. Here we see the player again familiarized with the latest upgrade before they proceed. I really should write a rule book on these design tricks.
Now that we’ve got the suit we can swing on around to the other side of Metroid Processing. Just through this area is a surprise boss encounter with a Metroid Hatcher. Think of it like a floating octopus. You attack its tentacles and mouth then, whilst stunned, rip them off one at a time. I rather enjoyed this confrontation, partly because I wasn’t expecting it, but predominately because it was treated as a minor boss encounter and therefore didn’t need to superfluously pile on layers of needless complexity. All you do is use your beam and the grapple, very simple and also very gratifying too. It very much plays on the visceral feel of the grapple.
I think the battle was surprising because it seemingly interrupted a puzzle sequence, yet in the end the battle allows the next part in the sequence to be completed. In a way, the hatcher is a trigger for the switch over to the action-orientated half of the homeworld section. We now have all we need to storm the command center, so the hatcher battle, with the tugging of the grapple, the alternating levels of resistance from the tentacles and the vicious attacks (the tentacle spin covers a large distance of the playing field and can therefore be tough to avoid), kick-start the shift in pacing.
In regards to the puzzle, I like the way Retro use verticality in propelling to morphball above ground into the overhanging morphball slots. Very cool.
The next room links to another transit station which loops back around into the second floor of the Command Center, effectively saving he player piles of backtracking. We can see that as with the cannons in Elysia, transit stations are used to alleviate on backtracking and link separated areas.