Review by HailToTheGun
"Samus may have developed emotional instabilities, but she still knows how to kick ass."
Genesis of a Heroine
Following the aftermath of the destruction of Planet Zebes, the death of Mother Brain, and the extinction of the Metroid race along with the galaxy's long-standing space pirate threat, interstellar bounty hunter and Chozo-blessed Samus Aran picks up a distress call codenamed Baby's Cry originating from a free-floating Bottle Ship just outside of the Galactic Federation's orbit. Upon her investigation of the distress call, she meets up with a team of GF soldiers led by former allies during Samus's earlier days in the Federation, among them Anthony Higgs and her former Commanding Officer, Adam Malkovich. The two put aside mutual differences and Samus agrees to aid the 7th Platoon in their investigation of the ship, once again finding herself under the direct command of Adam.
In the first thirty minutes to an hour of Other M, you will notice a strong departure from past titles in the illustrious Metroid franchise: expository cutscenes. The game's immediate sense of storytelling and character-driven narrative may scare away old-school fans of the series, and admittedly the story rarely achieves the level that Sakamoto may have been hoping for, but buried somewhere beneath Samus's frequent and nonsensical internal monologues beats the heart of a true Metroid game. The story's greatest flaw is that it seeks to humanize Samus and make her a hero to empathize with. That might have been appropriate more than 20 years ago when Samus was still a fresh face on the gaming scene. But after nearly a dozen titles, turning one of gaming's most iconic and beloved female leads, a symbol of strength and personal will, into a tender and sometimes even frightened woman clinging desperately to the beckoning of one man seems insulting.
Luckily, the story gives way to the majority of the game following the introductory cutscenes, and throughout you will only have to endure a few minor cutscenes here and there. It's not until the end when the story is once again dumped into your lap that you realize how long it's been since you've had to listen to one of Samus's cringe-worthy monologues. Upon completion of the game, the Theater Mode is unlocked, allowing you to watch through the whole game's worth of cutscenes again, should you for some masochistic reason desire to.
A Fusion of Old and New
It's been said that fans of Metroid Fusion will immediately find something to love here, and that is very much the case. The greater focus on story is what connects both games together on an exterior level, but it's also because Fusion is chronologically a sequel to Other M, whereas Other M is a direct sequel to Super Metroid. What makes Other M shine so brilliantly despite the ominous dark spots of its story is how it brilliantly manages to blend nearly every single aspect of the Metroid franchise into the gameplay. Never before has the series seen such an odd and questionable amalgamation of gameplay mechanics in a single game, but somehow, some way, Nintendo and Team Ninja made it work.
Perhaps the most striking feature of the game is its unusual perspective. In a single area you can go from a fully three-dimensional side scrolling plain to a third-person perspective tunnel and then right into a first-person view. The first two are manifestations of the level design itself, which will very frequently and intelligently use the different angles to make platforming and combat feel consistently fresh. The first-person, however, is controlled entirely by you. Playing the game normally requires only the use of the Wii remote held horizontally to emulate the NES style controller. Turning it and aiming it toward the sensor bar will immediately switch into a first-person view, allowing you to aim around the screen and target anything in view. It works quite similarly to Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, with the exception that you cannot physically move while in first-person, only aim. Playing normally with the remote held sideways, the controls are simplified, allowing for ease of use but also offering a very quick and precise combat system. The 2 button is used to jump while the 1 button controls Samus's arm cannon. Holding it down will charge her beam. Pressing the A button will roll her up into Morph Ball, and again the 1 button will control the bombs while 2 makes her jump. In first-person, the A button controls her shots while B allows her to auto-lock onto targets. Switching into first-person on the fly is easy, but can sometimes create a dizzying situation when you have to adjust for a moment and find out where the aiming crosshair is on screen.
New additions make for some exciting gameplay moments and certainly turn this into a more combat-oriented game than the rest, as was expected given the pedigree of Team Ninja. The D-pad will control Samus's movement on a 3D plain. A new Sense ability allows Samus to quick dodge an enemy's attack at the last second and counterattack with a charge blast of her own. Samus now has access to something called Concentration, which will fully replenish your Missile stock, and when used in critically low health, will restore back a minimum of 1 energy tank (collecting certain hidden items will increase the amount up to a maximum of 3 energy tanks). Both moves work well with Sense being one of the most prized assets of this game and Concentration being a necessity in a pinch. In addition to those, Samus gains the ability of a new shot called the Diffusion Beam: a fully charged shot will explode upon enemy impact and scatter out to nearby enemies, dealing damage to them. This makes group fights much more manageable and it's a wonder why it took so long for such an ability to make it into the series. Samus also gains a few melee abilities that will allow her to finish off weakened enemies and bosses with a point-blank charge blast to the head or otherwise vulnerable area.
Returning abilities like Samus's speed booster, screw attack, and especially the Shinespark make this feel like a true Metroid game despite the obvious differences. The latter is perhaps my favorite ability in Other M, and the way it's designed is just so much fun to use. The auto-aim was one of the most talked about features of the game pre-launch, but I can safely say it is an appropriate and fitting addition. It behaves intelligently and does not hinder the experience in any way, certainly not making the game any easier. The difficulty curve is actually quite a surprise, as the game slowly eases you into the unusual control style and then quickly amps up the enemy aggression. A staple of the franchise seems to display Samus's massive combat potential early on, and then completely inhibit her abilities to use said powers by some kind of accident that corrupts her suit or some other convenient excuse. Other M applies the same tactic, but approaches it differently. Instead of losing her abilities, Samus is simply restricted from using them by Adam until he authorizes it. It's a contrived concept, but honestly, so is losing all of your powers at the very beginning because of a hard fall. There are some moments where this could have been a little more logical, though: for instance, having Samus walk through areas of extreme temperature before authorizing her to use the Varia Suit's heat shield just doesn't make sense.
More than the story, my greatest complaint is in the actual use of the Wii remote. For what it's worth, it handles as well as it can. The controls are precise and easy to use. However, the D-pad is a severe hindrance compared to an analog stick. I find it impossibly hard to believe this same game could not have been played with the inclusion of the Nunchuk using the analog stick to move, holding the remote normally as it was intended to, and simply assigning a button designated to switching between first-and third-person. That would have provided a much more sensible style of playing and alleviated some of the issues with the stiff D-pad. I can honestly say that they used the remote only for the nostalgia factor, and again, it works, just not as well as it could have.
Additionally, there are certain portions of the game that force you into first-person mode to scan often vague or inconspicuous things in the environment in order to progress, and frequently segments that put you into an over-the-shoulder perspective of Samus where she is limited only to walking at a snail's pace while you explore a room. These two sequences break up the otherwise fantastic pace of the game whenever they rear their ugly heads.
What's In a Metroid?
Common ingredients to a successful Metroid game: the feeling of isolation, the exploration of diverse environments, and the brilliance of an atmospheric soundtrack. Add Metroids, Space Pirates, and Samus, and voila - you have a Metroid game. A little tongue and cheek, but it gets my point across. There has been a tremendous outpouring of people crying foul that Other M has ruined the franchise. I can guess that these people were under one assumption: they wanted another Super Metroid or Metroid Prime. It was clear from day one of this game's development that Nintendo wanted to once against change the franchise so it didn't suffer from stagnation and monotony. Those expecting something akin to Super or Prime were dead-set on disappointment. But Other M, for all its faults with story, still delivers on a fantastic Metroid experience - the experience that includes all of those ingredients I listed above. Once the game opens up and frees you from the bonds of the initial cutscenes, you will certainly feel isolated and alone. Holograms serve as a clever mechanic to simulate different environments on an otherwise cold and dark ship. The music takes time to build up, allowing the suspense to draw you in before you're once again hooked by the wonderful sounds. It's all here, and it all comes together the way it should.
Some slight texture blemishes in the terrain are noticeable especially in the large open areas of the game, but creature design is excellent and particle effects of Samus's weapons fill the screen with an explosion of colors. Pre-rendered cutscenes are absolutely gorgeous and the opening cinematic, which is a 3D rendering of the ending of Super Metroid where Samus kills Mother Brain, is one of the most beautiful things I've seen on the Wii. A minor nuisance are frequent and sometimes long loading times between areas. Usually the game has no problem flowing seamlessly from one room to the next, but on few occasions, you'll hear the disc spinning and the Wii trying its hardest to process the next environment before you reach the door. If it's unsuccessful, you'll see a Now Loading text pop up in the lower right while the door remains closed and the game loads the next area.
Voice acting is spotty at best, with Samus getting the bulk of most of the spoken dialogue in the game, and for the first time in Samus's voiced career, it is not being done by Jennifer Hale (although to be fair, Samus's voice has been no more than a few grunts from the Prime trilogy). What makes the sketchy voice acting stand out is that some of the dialogue itself is just so oddly phrased, sometimes with a single word repeated multiple times in a sentence. Again, though, for the bulk of the game, cutscenes - and dialogue included - take a back seat to the action. Just be ready to endure it at the flanks.
And the Verdict Is
Though Sakamoto's merit as Metroid's story designer has become questionable as of late, it's still very clear that as one of the co-creators of the franchise, he loves the series just as much as anybody else. Other M is the result of a joint effort between Team Ninja, Nintendo, and D-Rockets under the collaborative name Project M, and just like its development team, the game proves to be a bizarre and ingenious synthesis. What comes together is a tight and exciting entry into the franchise, and what falls to the wayside is a story that consequently was never necessary to make a good Metroid game.
Pros: Simple but exciting combat; new and old abilities come together flawlessly; the look, sound, and feel of the game is fresh; considerably longer than most Metroid games at roughly 10 hours; appropriately difficult with lots of hidden power-ups to find
Cons: Unskippable cutscenes of an overly-melodramatic story; some loading issues; questionable choice of control scheme; forced gameplay segments interrupt the pace
The Final Verdict: 8.5/10
Samus may have developed emotional instabilities, but she still knows how to kick ass.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.0 - Great
Originally Posted: 09/13/10
Game Release: Metroid: Other M (US, 08/31/10)
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