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Metroid: Other M – mega hands-on

Before Samus has time to spot her quarry it has a 15-foot tail wrapped round her neck. Ah, so this is what was being observed, then. One of Other M’s many minibosses, the chameleon is a hulking great brute. The tail alone spans half the room. With Samus ensnared, the lizard spins on the spot, whipping her into the air. Around and around she goes, the camera drunkenly pinwheeling along with her. We’re sure the intention is to frighten and disorient, but we can’t help marveling at how smooth the motion is. Captured in one long graceful shot – from entering the room to flying about its lofty heights – it’s a brilliant technical showpiece.

Above: Samus coolly observes a chamber of writhing cocoons. These pods crop up all over the ship. We smell a plot point! And lots of cocoon goo

Ogling, however, will not sort out our cold-blooded friend. Or, for that matter, his chum who decides to join him. Two on one? No fair! Where’s the ref? We expect that’s him spattered all over the glass. No use crying over spilt internal organs. On with the fight!

The scrap demonstrates the carefully choreographed dance between first- and third-person. Cloaked in invisibility, the chameleons deftly weave past the arm cannon. Their shields ripple against the background and it’s not unlike fighting two panes of frosted glass - albeit frosted glass that hacks up smoldering spit and headbutts you until your insides resemble jam. The trick is to knock them out of their hidden state with a well-aimed missile. Swinging the remote at the screen we lock on with B and fire with 1. With a second invisi-fiend on the prowl it isn’t safe to stay in visor mode. Swing the remote back around and the killing commences.

Above: The grapple beam returns to whip Samus over fields of suit-melting lava. How Team Ninja has squeezed a volcano into the Bottle Ship is beyond us

Team Ninja’s most obvious addition to the classic Metroid formula is the focus on lightning fast evasive play, familiar to anyone who’s cursed/yelped/wept through the recent Ninja Gaiden games. Quickly tapping the D-pad lets Samus dart from incoming danger, propelled by back-mounted jets. This is not only incredibly cool (as nimble as she was in Prime, you never got a feel for how she was getting around so quickly), but turns every fight into a raucous struggle. Watch her skid backward to avoid a chameleon tongue or dive out of the way of a whipcracking tail and it’s hard to believe this is the same gal who awkwardly bounded over projectiles in 1986.

For every cinematic beating poor Samus takes, she deals out one twice as bad. Stun an enemy with successive hits and she can execute a lethal strike - just get close and fire once. In the case of the chameleons, a lethal strike involves putting one in a headlock, wrestling him to the floor and ramming her arm cannon in his gaping maw. If it weren’t for the very loud bang, the image of Samus easing her cannon into a monster mouth could almost be maternal, like feeding a bottle to a baby. Choose to jump on a dazed foe and Samus performs an overblast: a foot on each shoulder and a cannon pressed to the top of the head. In this case, either method will do. There is a second chameleon, after all.

Above: Samus has killed Dessgeegas in 8-bit, 16-bit and tiny GBA form. With visor view she can get up close and personal with shiny new 3D versions

From the very start, Sakamoto wanted the purity of NES controls, and here he has them. All this chaos and agility from two buttons: one to jump, the other to shoot. The art lies in context-sensitive doubling up. What shoots and charges beams on foot will drop bombs and generate power bombs in morph ball form. Computer terminals and save stations are automatically activated. The D-pad handles movement and evasive dodges. Messing around ekes out other novel tricks. Fully charging the arm cannon and entering morph ball mode, for example, plants five bombs on the spot, a move we entirely missed in our first play test. What further secrets await on the Bottle Ship?

Above: When exploring claustrophobic corridors we’re treated to an over the shoulder view (well, with shoulder pads that big, it’s more of a behind the shoulder view). Combine this perspective shift with Samus slowing to a creeping pace and it becomes a tense moment

Unexpected it may be, but the union of Team Ninja and Nintendo bears enticing fruit. The former gets to offer its revered brand of sharp, brutal action, but held to the latter’s impeccable design standards. As much as Other M looks and flows like Metroid, it handles like you wished Metroid always had. Samus is a tank, gymnast and sniper all in one. More than this, she has the heart and depth Nintendo rarely affords its mascots. Link may be the classic hero, and Mario the enthusiast, but both are simpletons in the wake of Sakamoto’s weighty Samus Aran.

Jul 28, 2010