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by Ethos

Metroid: Other M Review – There is Exploration in Metroid

Monday, August 30th, 2010

LIKED:

-Fast and varied combat, way beyond a button-masher

-Surprisingly engaging story and voice-acting, despite some cheese

-Challenge, optional paths, good puzzles, and spooky moments

DISLIKED:

-The rare, but annoying, forced first-person sections

-The controls for the just as rare, just as annoying 3rd person suspense building sections

-Not as much environmental authenticity as the Prime series

Metroid: Other M was a game that nobody was expecting in a great number of ways. After the Metroid Prime trilogy was completed and saw moderate – but not blockbuster – success (the entire trilogy combined sold about 20% of New Super Mario Bros Wii sales alone), the entire gaming population was neither clamouring for nor expecting any new Metroid titles for at least a little bit. But then along comes Nintendo at E3 2009 to announce a collaboration with Team Ninja to make an all-new story-heavy 2D-3D hybrid Metroid game. It was both unexpected and a risk, but the major question is: did it all pay off? Largely, the result is not only a “yes” to that question, but a promising effort for the future of Nintendo’s dwindling hardcore fanbase.

Story

This is fun

This is the one that might have the masses split. Not so much because of the story itself (although it gives a rather bold backstory for Samus), but because one of this nature exists at all. Metroid has traditionally been told largely through mood, implication, and optional in-game research rather than the involved cutscenes that Other M brings to the table. Personally, I think the story-telling is refreshing for a Nintendo title. It is sincere, introspective, and fits the mood of what (little) I have seen of the Metroid series. I love that Samus frequently gives her personal take on what people say and the things around her. It solidifies her character as solitary, critical, yet very human. While the plot, style, and even characters are nothing new, I can’t compare Other M’s story-telling style to any other game. In fact, I found myself wishing for more of Samus’ commentary during extended sections without a cutscene.

But despite these scripted elements, Metroid: Other M doesn’t abandon its predecessors’ ability to foreshadow and create the appropriate atmosphere through gameplay and natural surroundings. Windows in a hallway overlook directly into a boss’ liar, and room and puzzle designs give clues as to the nature of the facility that Samus is exploring.

Still, while I’m pleased to see Nintendo take big steps – for them – toward immersive and admittedly unique story-telling, Other M is not particularly well-written, is prone to being occasionally hokey and melo-dramatic, and isn’t very surprising. That being said, my previous comparisons to Kingdom Hearts aren’t far off in the sense that despite these short-comings, the result is greater than the sum of its parts. Not to say that the style and themes are similar to Kingdom Hearts, so don’t be turned off if you’re not a fan of keyblades.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about Metroid’s story, however, is how well it stacks up to modern HD titles. Sure, it’s no Bioshock, but the tale is engaging the entire time and even has moments that are completely badass, something not seen in a Nintendo title for quite some time. Other M’s story was the element that had me the most skeptical going in, and after completion, I am sold.

Young and naive... naive and young... young and naive...

Gameplay

It works. Other M’s bizarre hybrid of 2D and 3D simply works. Not only that, it is a better experience for it. 2D combat uses the Wiimote held sideways and is fast-paced and frantic. Samus runs quickly, shoots quickly, dodges quickly, and jumps like crazy. In 2D, as long as Samus is facing an enemy, she will shoot it. This auto-aim doesn’t dumb anything down, however, it just allows the focus to be on positioning and strategy instead and this is a great design choice.

To dodge, Samus needs to tap the directional button in any direction. It’s very easy to pull off – which is good because it’s an essential move – but the catch is that if you want to take advantage of Samus’ speed, you need to be holding down a directional button, and not be tapping.

Of course, there’s always the option to point the Wiimote at the screen to make the smooth transition to first person. This lets Samus gain the ability of powerful missiles and precision aiming at the expense of mobility. The transition works incredibly well from a mechanical standpoint although there are a few intense instances in which the transition is unfortunately a little disorienting.

Perhaps more important than combat, is the freedom the first-person perspective gives you in platforming and exploration. A 2D perspective can feel limiting sometimes, especially in a game like Other M, when there are hidden paths, secrets in corners, and long hallways. Thankfully, the first-person perspective is a godsend for any meticulous player. Of course, the game was designed for players to make full use of all options, but that just means it was designed well.

In fact, all abilities that Samus gains are consistently useful. While some of them stack, others aren’t just useful for a short time after they’re gained, but can be implemented in combat and searching for hidden items and upgrades throughout the experience.

But on that note, I unfortunately have to move on from the great combat, varied exploration, and well implemented unique gameplay mechanics and talk about some of the duds.

I hate these guys

While missile ammo, beam charging speed, and health can be upgraded by searching the various areas in classic Metroid style, major upgrades are handled terribly. Samus is fully equipped the entire game but only uses weapons that she’s authorized to use. Now, the game gives a bit more justification for this, so it’s not quite so awful as it sounds in that simple summation, but overall it’s a frustrating mechanic. Thinking “I could have got that extra health earlier if this stupid weapon was authorized” took me out of the experience on more than one occasion. I know it’s just a pretense for releasing the equipment, but at least finding it scattered across the game is familiar and consistent with finding the other upgrades.

In addition to that annoying quirk, there are two other gameplay instances that frustrate during Other M. One is a forced first person perspective. This happens a few times for either research or combat. Both cases are contrived and feel antithetical to the rest of the game. The other instance is during times that are meant to build suspense. The camera zooms into a tight 3rd person over the shoulder shot and Samus can only walk slowly and without using her weapons or abilities. In and of itself, these sections actually work to build tension. But the controls are horrible. Walking in a straight line is fine, and even some turning is okay. But trying to backtrack or maneuver tight spaces is a nightmare.

Another thing that might be more of a personal annoyance is a small frustration at the location of the game itself. All of Other M takes place in a single facility. Now this facility manages to work in a lot of other classic Metroid sceneries, but it just doesn’t feel as authentic as the locales in, say, the Prime trilogy.

But to end my gameplay thoughts on the positive note that the game deserves, Metroid: Other M was a pleasantly challenging experience. Experts won’t have a terribly hard time, but the title thankfully does not feel dumbed down and the only way to fully recharge health is to find a save point. No health bonuses for defeating enemies. Although at critical health, Samus can take about 10 seconds to recharge a portion of her health at the risk of leaving herself incredibly exposed. Because of the risk and the only partial recovery, I am very thankful for the mechanic.

Graphics

Other M does not look as good as Metroid Prime 3. Other M does not reach the excellent level of art design that the Prime trilogy possesses. Of course, Retro Studios’ work would be hard to match, so this isn’t really a surprise or a disappointment. Especially because Other M is still a very pretty game, just not the best the Wii has ever seen. And with so much production value and attention to cinematics both in scenes and gameplay, it’s occasionally difficult to come to terms with the fact that there isn’t a HD version of the game that you could switch to. Of course, that is a hardware issue, so I cannot fault the game for that.

However, because the only way to move around the world is in the 2D perspective, there is a distinct lack of more epic terrains. Smaller rooms and tight hallways make up the majority of the environments, which isn’t new to Metroid, but can feel a little claustrophobic when coupled with my previous gripe of the overall location choice.

Jump on the head, blast off the face

Sound

Metroid: Other M successfully combines music and sounds reminiscent of both the classic Metroid games and the Prime series as well as throwing in some more epic elements into the mix with even a small taste of Mass Effect in there. Still, the sound design isn’t as detailed and unique as the Prime series, although still quite impressive because – again – comparing technology to Retro’s trilogy is a bit of a lost cause. In fact, I played with the volume louder than I usually have it, and the score was always appropriate in tone and volume.

The voice acting was way better than I expected. Samus’ somber thoughts were able to portray her serious nature with genuine emotion, and the supplementary characters ranged from believable to good. Sometimes a few lines were ridiculous, but that was more a fault of the writing than the actors.

Final Thoughts

Do not let my nitpicking deceive you, I really enjoyed Metroid: Other M. Despite its ridiculous name, Nintendo and Team Ninja were able to make a unique, ambitious title that was largely able to bring the best from all of Samus’ adventures into a new form. Other M is an extremely promising effort from Nintendo, showing that it is, perhaps, willing again to try and push boundaries to make unique hardcore titles. Oh, and did I mention that the game continues beyond the credits? Other M isn’t super-long, but it’s worth your money as a Metroid fan, or a gamer looking for a moody action-packed adventure with – yes – exploration.

Review Outline

Some Semblance of Order and Also: A List!

Saturday, August 28th, 2010

Riddles was right, he and I talk a lot about TV. You can witness some of my own indignant, stubborn opinions in the comments for the post below this one. This will not be the last TV Week not only on account of this being a short week, but on account of my attention being elsewhere. I’ve been playing Metroid: Other M all week and feel like I’m close to being finished now, but I need to blitz to make sure you all get a full review by tomorrow. Not only that, but my girlfriend is finally moving to Toronto early next week and I’m scrambling so that she won’t realize that she’s dating a swamp creature living in a pigsty.

So to offset my absence, I’m going to quickly list some shows that I have my eye on for the upcoming season in the order that they interest me.

Gloria gets Most Improved Character. Also: Al Bundy!

1. Modern Family

While nothing on TV has come close to the comedic and calculated perfection that was Arrested Development, Modern Family is definitely the best show on TV since. A large, nearly perfect cast sell subtle moments, genuine character growth and reactions, and more importantly, absolute comic gold. The second season is always very interesting for a show that comes so strongly out of the gate, and in this case, I’m actually a little worried. Unlike Community, which steadily got better, Modern Family was completely consistent, and after a long break, critical and commercial success, and 14 Emmy nominations, I have some fear that the pressure might catch up to them and we might see a stumble. Fingers crossed, though.

2. Community

This was a show that I always wanted to love because of Donald Glover, but wasn’t completely sold on at first. About midway through, however, Community finally found its groove and began to make some really funny television. A lot of the writing is heavily based on pop culture references, so it tends not to be as clever as 30Rock or Modern Family, but its absurdity and endearing characters has made me a loyal fan and I expect the 2nd season to be far better than the first.

3. Mr. Sunshine

This is the only show on my list that hasn’t actually aired any episodes yet. Matthew Perry’s highly sought-after mid-season replacement is a single camera comedy about a 40-year old dude’s midlife crisis. As a Chandler fan, I’m interested in seeing how this ends up.

Hopefully the son character is around just as often in season 2

4. Cougar Town

Speaking of Friends, former castmate Courteney Cox had her own single-camera comedy launch last year to decent success. Which makes sense to me because it’s a decent show. A lot of people are – justifiably – turned off by the name, which is a shame because it’s a misleading title. Like Bill Lawrence’s last show, Scrubs, Cougar Town is more about character and silliness than it is about superb writing and intellect flexing. However, while I quite enjoy it, the show definitely doesn’t have the special place in my heart that Scrubs has. I’m just interested to see where the show goes from here, because unlike Modern Family, Cougar Town’s first season actually felt like a bit of a prelude to a long-running series.

5. Parks and Recreation

I’m surprised that this even made this list, but when I stop to think about it, it deserves the spot. I have not seen any of the first season, and only half the of the second (which I hear is way better anyway), but I found myself more and more endeared to it every time I watched. Not much else to say here, but that I enjoy watching a (not as smart) version of The Office that doesn’t have the same level of incredible awkwardness.

The Castaways

Like Riddles and I have talked at great length about on AIM, I’m sorta off The Office bandwagon now. I was a massive fan, but I feel like it has gone noticeably and drastically downhill and Season 6 barely held my attention. I’ll need to hear a lot of good things about Steve Carrell’s final season for me to care. 30Rock is another show that I really like, but it just seems to exist in the background for me now. I’m not really interested in it, but I haven’t become disillusioned like I have with The Office. I will watch and likely enjoy it, but I’m not doing jumping jacks for it and it doesn’t actively excite me.

Back to Metroid: Other M!

Welcome to TV Week

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

A bit late for a welcome, I know, but BLAH. Don’t care. Be happy you have a new banner to look at.

Usually, when we have a week labeled “TBA,” Ethos and I have an idea in mind, but we want to keep it secret for fun. This time, though, we had absolutely no idea what to do for the week. So we decided to do this.

Why? Well, you may not know this about us, but Ethos and I watch quite a bit of television. That is to say, we watch good television. And we tend to be fairly serious about it, watching entire seasons of shows in consecutive order, absorbing the entire experience. Oftentimes, when we get on AIM with the intent of discussing Riddlethos-related matters, we end up yakking about whatever episodes of whatever TV show we’ve recently watched.

Point being, we like good TV. We love it almost as much as we love videogames. So, for the three days that remain in this week, we’re going to talk about TV. So NYAH.

In order to get into the spirit of the week, I leave you with a clip from one of my current favorite shows, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Out of context, it’s not as hilarious as it should be. Regardless, this is one of my favorite TV moments of all time, so I’m posting it on my site, BECAUSE I FUCKING CAN.