Hard-core gamers know Metroid's star, bounty-hunter babe Samus Aran, has been kicking ass since 1986 -- back when Lara Croft was but a gleam in her Tomb Raidin' daddy's eye. Think of Samus as Alien's Sigourney Weaver with a hella-big arm cannon, making the galaxy safe for cartoonish wussies like Mario and Luigi.
Nintendo is certainly guilty of trotting out the same small stable of characters 20 years running (the Legend of Zelda, Mario, Donkey Kong, etc.), but it usually backs up the reruns with ingenious game design for each new incarnation. Metroid Prime 3, though packed with similarities to previous entries, is a masterpiece unto itself. Whether you're a Metroid veteran or a first-timer, Corruption is the richest, most rewarding experience available on the Wii, rivaling even the near-perfect Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess in design and challenge.
Metroid always has been the thinking person's action game. The original, with its open-ended level design, was both fantastic and frustrating, requiring players to solve puzzles on a dangerous planet instead of simply running from Point A to Point B and blasting wildly. Corruption continues this tradition while incorporating the Wii's unbelievable controller.
One remarkably nerve-shattering mission -- more riveting than anything you'll find at the cineplex -- sums up the Metroid 3 experience: You're riding atop a flying platform that houses a thermonuclear payload, set to drop on the evil Corruption entity miles below. Space Pirates of the non-Johnny Depp persuasion arrive with guns blazing, and you gotta unload missiles on them to protect the bomb and your hide.
Some of the baddies have energy shields, requiring you to thrust your Nunchuk controller at the screen and yank it back, ripping away at their defense. Naturally, when it comes time to drop the bomb and beat cheeks out of there, your escape pod malfunctions. So Samus goes into "morph ball" mode and enters a tiny maintenance hatch (how a hulked-out bounty hunter turns into a kickball-size woman is beyond me, but it's effective). As a voice announces, "Two minutes until impact," you must use your plasma ray to weld a circuit by pointing the Wiimote at the screen and steadily, carefully tracing a line. That's right: It's no longer enough just being a bounty hunter; now you need an ITT Technical Institute degree to boot.
At the last second, you'll grab the ignition and thrust your Wiimote with all your strength, pushing the thrusters forward to escape death. If you've Wii'd in your underwear by this point in the mission, you won't be the first.
The Metroid galaxy is both enormous and eerily claustrophobic, with narrow, winding passageways and face-sucking nasties at every turn. As always, the missions require a ton of backtracking: Once new weapons and tools become available (say, an x-ray visor and Ice Missile), previously impassable areas suddenly open up. And this means a lot of hopping back into your ship, examining your map, returning to past planets, and more dreaded load times. Prepare to consult an online strategy guide at least once, as you find yourself flying aimlessly around the universe, trying to figure out what you missed. And yet somehow, even this task is more gorgeous and exciting than almost any other game you could play.