Since its introduction last year, Metroid: Other M has been touted as several different things. Some promotional materials suggest it’s a brand-new take on the franchise, depicting Samus Aran as an ass-kicking, skull-crushing heroine with hot new moves from developer Team Ninja. Other days Nintendo claims it’s still the Metroid you know and love, full of hidden power-ups and long periods of total isolation – just you against the hostile environment. And there’s still a third angle that says Other M is all about Samus’ personal background, and the story will be the most intense, cutscene-filled extravaganza a Nintendo console has ever seen.
These three viewpoints are indicative of the game itself – it’s a collection of very different ideas sandwiched into one game that occasionally can’t pull them all together. It often feels like Team Ninja had an idea, and Nintendo had an idea, and neither game was fully realized, opting instead to mash together first and third-person views when one or the other would have sufficed. Make no mistake, Other M has a few outstanding, franchise-defining moments as it draws to a close, but overall it’s a bit of a letdown.
Let’s begin with the most prominent addition to Other M, the thing that really sets it apart from the others – the Team Ninja-led action. Instead of simply blasting enemies to death over and over, now you engage them in a much more hands-on manner. Holding the Wii Remote like a classic NES controller, you press 1 to fire auto-targeted blasts (or hold to charge for a stronger shot) at enemies until they stumble. Once they do, Samus moves in for a flashy finishing move:
Above: A quick tap of the d-pad lets you dodge an incoming attack and instantly charge your cannon for a retaliatory blast
Above: With her enemy dazed, Samus moves in for the kill, Team Ninja style
Boom. Dead lizard. It’s startlingly cool to see a Nintendo character behaving so viciously. However, the actual combat mechanics never truly evolve, with no unlockable moves you’d find in any other Ninja Gaiden or God of War-style game. Yes, there are new weapons and abilities a la past Metroid games, but they’re more for exploration and item collecting, so they barely affect your combat strategy. Eventually you’ll start running past all the various creatures in search of your next objective or cleverly hidden power-up. And once you start avoiding the combat… well there goes one of the game’s biggest bullet points.
But that doesn’t make Samus’ acrobatics any less exciting. Here’s a small sampling of enemies and a couple of bosses to get the idea across.
If you know your Metroid, you know Samus’ armament always includes missiles. In the other third-person (aka non-Prime) Metroid games, you’d hit Select or some other button to flip between beams and missiles – in Other M, you literally point the Wii Remote at the screen, lock on to a target and fire. The catch is that you’re unable to move while in this FPS view, so all the monsters can creep up on you, or fire back and knock back into third person, forcing you to line up the shot all over again. While some rather ingenious boss battles put this feature to good use, missiles are nearly pointless during a regular battle – a first for a Metroid title.
Above: Most of the game’s enemies are inconsequential, fast-moving critters. First-person view isn’t advised, as they crowd around Samus too quickly
The combination of repetitive combat that doesn’t require a great deal of skill and a largely unimpressive collection of enemies makes the action side of Other M a bit of a drag. If there were more emphasis on this aspect of the game, say with upgradeable melee moves or a wider variety of enemies that actually put up a good fight, it could have been as badass as the trailers would have you believe. Instead, we get a swath of ho-hum enemies and a handful of moderately tough monsters, neither of which require the kind of attention or reflexes the trailers would have you believe. It’s not until the end of the game that you’ll enjoy a couple of brilliantly laid out, highly demanding boss battles that pay serious fan service as well as make you wish the whole experience were that cool.
So the action falls short. At least there’s a solid Metroid experience underneath, right? Well, not entirely. The “figure it out yourself” gameplay that made the original games (and their Castlevania copycats) so successful has been jettisoned for something closer to 2002’s Metroid Fusion, where Samus is given orders and coordinates to follow. That means you’re moving from save point to save point, battling the same blah-y monsters and solving some admittedly challenging puzzles until the credits roll.
We don’t mind a more linear take, but Fusion did it better, with more colorful areas and a fearsome new foe right out of the gate. By comparison, Other M seems even more restrictive, forcing you down a path and frequently denying you access to the rest of the map. Backtracking became such a hassle that we actually stopped exploring the map for extra missile and energy tanks at one point, which has always been a hallmark of the series and one of the simple joys of playing Metroid games. Furthermore, you can refill your missile supply at any time by holding the Wii Remote vertically and pressing the A button. Not much point to hoard missile expansions if you can never really run out, is there?
This “keep going” attitude is in place to keep you moving forward rather than let you explore at your own pace, and is explained in the game by having Adam Malkovich as Samus’ commanding officer.
Above: Adam oversees the entire mission, opening and closing areas as well as authorizing which weapons Samus can use
You know how almost every Metroid game finds a way to take all of Samus’ powers away, just so you have to collect them all over again? This time around, Samus has all of her beams, missiles and various gadgets from the get-go. However, Adam runs the show, and doesn’t think Samus’ arsenal is necessary, so he only “authorizes” new weapons once a dire situation unfolds. So, even though you can plainly see a grapple beam location that would let you scale a sheer wall instantly, you can’t use it because Adam hasn’t cleared it. Nope, you gotta wait until one of his team members is being mauled before Adam says “oh hey, yeah you can use it now.”
Above: Similarly, the classic Wave Beam isn’t “allowed” until Samus is pinned down by enemy fire
It sort of makes sense as a story element, but as a means of introducing new powers it’s a clear mistake. In other Metroid games we know Samus doesn’t even have a grapple beam, or an ice beam or whatever, so we have to find it and come back to the area that requires it. In Other M, we know Samus has all her powers and just isn’t using them, so when we’re reluctantly granted access to a new one, it’s more of a “finally!” than a “cool, new power!” moment. Contrived as it is, finding new powers in each game is still a ton of fun, even if the reasoning is always a little silly. At least it’s better than knowing you have everything at your disposal and can’t use it.
Earlier we talked about the first-person view, and how it’s ill-suited for the type of combat Other M employs. Turns out that the very same view works pretty well for the explorative bits of the game where you’re scanning a room for exits, items or clues to the story.
Above: The usual third-person view gives you a wide look at the map (and yes, the game is often this visually bland)
Above: That same spot, with the Wii Remote pointed at the screen. You can do this at any time, so it does make searching each room easier
It’s a little jarring and cumbersome to have to point the remote at the screen so often (even more so during a battle), but it’s not as awful as some may make it out to be. It seems like either Team Ninja or Nintendo felt Metroid Prime’s FPS influence and wanted to keep that aspect in, even if the core of the game was a third-person action title. But wait – there’s a third point of view too!
Above: Now we get a close-up over-the-shoulder shot!
At pre-determined points in the game, the camera will swoop in and present this tighter, meant-to-be-claustrophobic view. While here, you can’t run or fire. You can only walk, very slowly, until you reach whatever point the game is funneling you toward. As you might have guessed, Other M is never really scary, so the intention of this viewpoint is pretty much lost, plus it slows down the flow tremendously. Every time you see this view, you will immediately want it to be over, even if it does let you appreciate the detail on Samus’ armor.
Thankfully, once the end draws near and Adam has authorized your entire repertoire of abilities, everything from the combat to the exploration starts to feel more like a standard Metroid title. You’re allowed to explore the map freely, using the screw attack, grapple beam and all the other classic stuff to track down the remaining power-ups and access the many areas of the map that your plot-driven route didn’t cover. It’s sad that the best comes so late, but that also happens to be the case with the game’s story.
Nintendo’s classic stable of franchises is not known for its gripping narratives. Mario beats Bowser, Link beats Ganon and so on. Metroid has perhaps the tightest storyline of all Nintendo’s products, so we’re excited to see such great attention paid to Other M’s plot. It begins with a direct shout-out to Super Metroid, then whisks Samus off to a gargantuan space station (called the Bottle Ship) in response to a distress call. Once there, she runs into her former commanding officer, Adam Malkovich, and his team of Galactic Federation troops.
Initially, it looks like Other M is going to sport an ensemble cast, as you’re introduced to each of these team members by name. However, after an hour of tagging along with them, you’re all sent your separate ways and the larger plot kind of stalls. It’s just Metroid as usual – isolation and room after room of tricks and monsters. Then suddenly the team is back. Then they’re gone again. And what about that distress signal? Or Samus’ past relationship with Adam? Focus people, focus!
Above: A corpse kicks off the mystery of the Bottle Ship, but both the group and the mystery are replaced by other characters and other mysteries
This makes the first four hours of Other M quite a trying time. The combat isn’t clicking, the exploration is almost nonexistent and the story is sagging. Even Samus’ voice acting is disconnected from any sense of emotion, yet she’s spouting emotional words about Adam and her past. It’s hard to get involved when the heroine’s own voice can’t seem to muster any enthusiasm.
But then, almost in an instant, the story hits you with two really cool twists and starts pulling together disparate plot threads from Metroid, Metroid II, Super Metroid and Metroid Fusion, making for an honestly kickass final third of the game. The last few hours are so flat-out amazing, from the escalating story to the authorization of Samus’ powers to the lengthy, gorgeous cutscenes, that it’s a travesty the beginning and middle are so middling. Hell, there’s even a post-credits mission, and that 30 minute excursion is cooler than 75% of the game.
Above: As the series’ primary antagonist, obviously Ridley is in Other M. But how and why he’s here is a great part of the story
In those last hours, it starts to feel like the game we were meant to play all along. The combat gives way to standard Metroid blasting, and the Bottle Ship is wide open to explore. But prior to that point, it’s just not as exciting, interesting or engrossing as Nintendo as any of the Metroid games it references. It’s also hard to justify why the whole game is played with a d-pad – Nintendo introduced the analog stick with the N64 because it knew d-pads weren’t ideal for 3D games. If you’re going to make a 3D world, just use the damn analog stick, don’t try to tell us holding the Wii Remote sideways is a sign the game is “for the hardcore.”
Metroid Prime ? No. Prime was a truly revolutionary step for the series, dragging it from the 16-bit days into the 2000s with cutting edge graphics and some of the best level design of that console generation. Even little things like the map (and controls) are better implemented in the Prime trilogy. Other M is a decent game with a handful of real problems – Prime was almost always astonishing.
Metroid Fusion ? No. Both lead Samus from point to point and shed some light on her as a person, as well as feature Adam Malkovich in a father-figure role, but Fusion did it with a thicker atmosphere, genuinely creepy scenes and a plot that changes our space faring heroine forever. If you skipped Fusion for whatever reason, get on it.
Super Metroid ? Of course not, but that’s to be expected. This is widely held as one of the greatest games of all time, so it’s a bit much to ask the same of Other M. It’s still a fair comparison to make, however, as Other M is a direct sequel to Super Metroid, and the same director (Yoshio Sakamoto) is at the helm. Given the potential on display with Other M, it stands to reason the next 2D game (on 3DS, perhaps?) could finally eclipse the SNES classic.
Other M divides its attention among too many viewpoints and gameplay styles to nail any one of them. Thankfully, the entire game soars so high in the closing moments that it ends up a must play for franchise followers.
Aug 27, 2010
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