-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
-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.
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...
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.
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
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.
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.