Briefly teased during E3 2009 and then spirited back into the shadowy halls of Nintendo, Metroid: Other M was one of last year’s most talked about games that no one knew a damn thing about. The only tidbits revealed were the developer (Team Ninja, best known for Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive) and that it was a brand new take on the long-lived series. Other M wasn’t going to be an FPS like the Prime series, nor was it a traditional 2D game like the beloved originals. Then radio silence for months. Now, having played a full hour, we know quite a bit. And it’s… interesting.
Above: Samus… with people?
The game opens with a stunning CG recreation of Super Metroid’s final moments. You’ll see the baby Metroid saving Samus from Mother Brain and her subsequent destruction at the hands of a hyper beam-toting Samus/Metroid hybrid. Then, some indeterminate time later, Samus intercepts a distress call dubbed “crying baby,” (not so) subtly hinting that perhaps the baby Metroid isn’t all that dead.
Once you arrive at the source of the signal (a run-down space station, of course), you bump into that group of Galactic Federation officers, headed up by Adam Malkovich, who was heavily referenced in 2002’s excellent Metroid Fusion. As Samus’s only former commanding officer (and perhaps more, judging by their behavior together), their initial meeting is tense. Samus elaborates on their relationship via a flashback narration, suggesting the entire game may be some kind of recollection.
Above: Samus served under Adam years ago, but has been a bounty hunter ever since an incident – not sure what
At this point it’s clear that Other M is not like any Nintendo-published game in recent memory. It’s loaded with cutscenes and voiced dialog, big on plot and eager to do something totally different. We admire Team Ninja for their efforts; if there’s one series that deserves a more serious, elaborate take, it’s Metroid.
That said, we’re not big on Samus’s voice acting. The voice is a bit too high and inexperienced. She’s a hardened bounty hunter, not an anime chick. Jennifer Hale voiced her through the Prime series (plus the female Commander Shepard in Mass Effect) and was a perfect fit. Not sold on this new voice, though we’re admittedly early in the adventure. Room to grow, perhaps.
From there Samus and the team spread out into the station, each with a specific task to complete. Samus is told, by Adam, to get the electrical systems back online, though he’s not authorizing the use of any bombs. This “authorization” system appears to be how you unlock most abilities in Other M. You begin with Charge Beam, Morph Ball and Missiles, but the rest, even though you possess them, cannot be used until Adam deems it safe and necessary.
A map displays your destination, so we took off towards the power room. Most of the gameplay is shooting enemies on a 2 and a half D plane, meaning you run left to right but can also move in and out to a certain degree, sort of like an old beat ‘em up. It’s all done with the Wii Remote held sideways like an NES controller, so yes, you’re navigating a 3D world with a D-pad. Kind of clumsy, especially with no target lock (yet, we hope). Nintendo invented the controller analog stick with the N64 – very strange to see this control choice. Feels like a pre-stick PlayStation or Saturn game. The aim-assist helps keep your shots directed at enemies, but there’s still a sense of oddness.
Above: There are also hallways that have you running “into” the screen
While shooting various enemies was the focus, there’s still time for Metroid-style exploration. Certain areas were blocked off, able to be accessed later once we acquired bombs. Finding these power-ups is a bit easier than past games, thanks to glowing icons on the map. We’re not sure if every single hidden item will show on the map, but it appears that missile expansions and energy tanks do.
Instead of scanning the environment as in Prime, you actually point the Remote at the screen to initiate a first-person view. Here, Samus can look around for objects to interact with, which in our session was almost always “blast it with a missile.” It would seem that this first-person view is the only way to fire missiles, as they’re not available in the regular run-and-gun third-person view.
Above: Point the Wii Remote at the screen to start FPS mode, though you’re forced to stand still while looking and aiming
We didn’t fight a true boss, but a giant purple bug-monster did act as a miniboss of sorts. Normal weapons have no effect, so Adam authorizes the team to use ice weapons (classic Metroid standby). You’re supposed to go into FPS mode, fire a missile to stun it so the other guys can freeze it. Once chilled, you can blast its limbs off with further missile attacks. It’s definitely a different kind of boss battle, and kind of disorienting to shift views so often, but it was assuredly unique and we’re curious to see what else the game has in store.
Above: This guy causes some trouble early on
We didn’t see much in the way of “in-your-face” attacks hinted at in the trailer. Sometimes, when an enemy gets up in Samus’s shit, a pre-made struggle is shown, ending with her batting the thing away. Other times you can actually jump on top of the baddy and blast it into oblivion. We really want to see and play more to fully get the nuances of this combat system.
Other M arrives June 27, just a month after Mario Galaxy 2. It’s a grand experiment of cutscenes, dodgy-shooty gameplay and classic Metroid exploration, one that appears to hold promise. At least we’ll know sooner rather than later how it all pans out. Looking forward to more in the coming weeks.
Feb 24, 2010