Metroid: Other M
Review by 94067
"Deviation in tradition is acceptable so long as it's not accompanied by deviation in quality."
Other M just isn't just a mediocre Metroid game, it's a subpar game on its own merits. After Corruption and Fusion, I've warmed up a bit to Metroid games that provide very specific guidance about where to go next and really, I can live with it. I'd prefer not to have it of course, since Metroid is one of the few series that has retained non-linearity and open endedness, but I am capable of liking a Metroid game that keeps you on a very tight leash. Just not this one. Other M isn't getting this score because "it's not Metroid", it's getting it because it's a genuinely poor game. It is boring, uncompelling, has a combat system so flawed in design I'm surprised it passed testing. Above all, it is genuinely unrewarding. It's a short experience though--only 7 hours long including cutscenes, and there are many of them. In fact, there are so many and so much emphasis is put on the story that it feels like they would rather have simply made a movie to fill us in on Samus' patently uninteresting and derivative backstory (does the M stand for Movie?). So little focus is actually put into the game that it feels like your sole purpose is to cart Samus around for her to experience the next story event. The lackluster gameplay would have been acceptable had the story actually been good, but Other M comes up short even in the department it invests so much in, and as a result, feels unrewarding and disappointing.
The start of Other M's problems begin with exploration and presentation, major components of the series. One of the most distinctive features of just about any Metroid game is the sense of isolation, atmosphere, and having to find out on your own how to progress. In fact, when Metroid games directly and unavoidably tell you where to go they are often condemned for it, look no farther than Zero Mission, Fusion, and Corruption. The difference between those three and Other M is that they at least had branching paths. While you needed to eventually go to an area, you were rarely forced to go there immediately. Other M does this by design. Nearly all of the rooms have just two exits: the one you came in, and the one you'll need to go out of. This choice really speaks for itself--how do you add exploration when the architecture of the world does not allow for it? The few paths that do branch out do so only shortly and are without fail blocked off by some obstacle or even worse, a locked door that is only opened when the game feels it necessary to allow you passage. Compounding this problem, we have environments that look very similar to each other and this makes the whole ordeal much more repetitive. Much of the space station Samus "explores" is composed of identical-looking long, straight hallways. It is no argument that this makes sense in context, because by no means were the designers confined to making a game take place inside the indistinguishable dull gray halls of steel of a space station. After all, even Fusion had many more rooms with branching paths, and quite a number of secret passageways and shortcuts to find, and that used to be the most linear Metroid game. As if the hyper linearity weren't enough, you are very frequently forced to stop at a save station to check where to go next. Again, not content with simply showing you the room, Other M gives you the full map to your destination. Let me stress that linearity itself does not make a game bad, nor does open-endedness make it good. What we must keep in mind however is that Metroid is known for its emphasis on exploration and leaving it up to the players to find out where to go next. Not including one of the series' biggest traits would be a bit like making the next Terminator movie a romantic comedy. You play Mario expecting to jump, you play Metroid expecting to explore, and Other M does not deliver in this regard. Even collecting powerups has been stripped of its excitement, as the location of them is revealed to you after you clear the enemies from a room. Although there are two new powerups to get (which increase the rate at which your beam charges and the amount of energy you restore), you don't feel compelled to get them. Normal missile expansions only give you one you extra missile, and when you can restore your entire stock at virtually any time within a matter of seconds, this doesn't feel like an accomplishment. Getting your beam to charge more quickly is nice, but there are only very few of them scattered throughout the game, making the probability that you'll find one quite small. Annoyingly, Other M decided to split up Energy Tanks into Energy Parts, which work on the same principle as Zelda's Pieces of Heart do. This only pads out the amount of extra items you have to collect, and they seem to be scattered randomly--collecting an easy to find power up might be a Energy Tank, but spend 5 minutes trying to track it down and you might find a comparitively useless Part instead. Not only does the linearity defy the conventions of the series, it's very elementary and pedestrian design. The game is only 6 or 7 hours, which is quite short for something that provides next to no replay value and whose price likely won't decrease for years. While other Metroids are also around this range, they can only be easily completed within such a short time period after you've memorized where to go. Because Other M forces you down a very specific path, there is no wandering, no awe in finding out for yourself where to go next. Every playthrough will be virtually identical. In short, Other M does not have that essential exploration element of the Metroid franchise and becomes very dull and repetitive as a result, even when collecting power ups, which seem like filler.
Although Other M tries to remind us that organic environments do exist, the cliche and unoriginal grass/ice/fire areas lack any sort of detail and almost look as though they could have been made on the N64. I'm not one to complain about graphics, and to its credit, Other M's cutscenes look fine enough, but as a whole, the game looks very unpolished and comes up short of that detail that connects you with the world, something the Primes did wonderfully. This isn't a matter of comparing it to something out of its league--Metroid Prime was released a full seven years before and had an incredible attention to detail. As a result, you felt that Tallon IV was a real place, that you were actually walking around there. This element of immersion isn't just a superfluous detail--it's essential to creating to atmosphere, and Other M simply does not have it. Music is often used to create a mood about a place, but Other M lacks this as well. Aside from some brief, dramatic, stock-sounding percussion that seems to only occasionally play during battles, Other M is nearly completely silent. To not have music during the vast majority of the game takes an incredible amount of potential away from the game's ability to put you in Samus' place. While it may be true that Samus doesn't actually hear anything other than the sound effects of a door opening, her footsteps, or her power beam firing off shots, the goal of a game isn't (or shouldn't) necessarily be realism, instead it should seek to put us in her state of mind. Music does this wonderfully. Recall the militant march of Lower Norfair's music in Super Metroid--you knew that the stakes were on and that the battle would be tough because of the driving force that the song gave to the area. Likewise, the Crashed Frigate area in Prime touched you with its beauty with the soft piano tones that characterized the flooded ship. Music is not the sole factor in creating atmosphere though, as it is supported by the presentation and gameplay of a certain area. Again, referring back to Lower Norfair in Super Metroid, the compelling nature of the song was helped along by the threat the enemies and natural hazards posed to you, as well as it being the penultimate area before facing off against Mother Brain. Lower Norfair is also portrayed as the ruins of what was perhaps an old Chozo temple, featured two monsters that are formed by the scenery itself, and was flooded with harmful lava, creating a very hellish landscape. On the other hand, the frigate Orpheon was sunk in water, a typically soothing and relaxing environment. To add on to this, it had relatively few enemies in the area and was very still, all of which reinforce the tranquil surroundings. Other M has none of this. Its hallways are long, unremarkable, and nearly indistinguishable from each other. The areas that do identify each section are undetailed and lack anything that would give them a definite feel. Instead of being exciting and fun to explore, they are anything but. Exploration does not exist by the level design itself and the lack of effective scenery creates a patently uninteresting world that you feel no attachment to.
With all the energy diverted away from what typically identifies a Metroid game, the developers chose to focus on less-explored areas of the series: combat and story. This is where Other M really falters and is the deal breaker. The combat is incredibly awkward and clumsy. Fighting most enemies will take place in the same kind of 2D most brawlers use, e.g., you are restricted to a typical side-scrolling plane but also given a small modicum of death to move around in. This leads to the same problems that the brawlers that also employ this perspective have--it is difficult to hit an enemy that does not occupy the same depth as you. While Samus does auto-target, there is no way to explicitly aim, lock-on, or switch targets, nor does she seem to have any sort of threat appraisal system. You may be blasting at an enemy close to you one second, then switch to one across the room the next. She also has a strong dislike for aiming above her head, forcing you to jump up to hit them, rather than being able to tilt your power beam up. Samus can dodge attacks by pressing the D-Pad when near an enemy projectile, and this is where another problems crops up. I am not at all a fan of context-sensitive actions, especially dodging--it takes away control from the player and is reliant on how well the combat engine is programmed. Samus seems to only want to dodge projectile attacks, not the ramming attacks of enemies, and the lack of a dedicated dodge button forces you to use the unusually floaty jump to dodge attacks that aren't programmed in to be dodged via the D-Pad. The problem is that jumping isn't meant to get you out of the way, and neither is dodging, especially if you're facing a lot of enemies at once. For the most part though, the 2D combat is functional. The problem comes in with having to switch to first-person mode which is required for most boss fights because it is the only mode that will allow you to fire missiles. You switch to first person by holding down B and pointing the Wiimote at the TV, which has an inherent delay that can be deadly at times, especially during the last boss fight. You can also lock-on to enemies in first person, though it's a "hard" lock-on that is automatically controlled by the game and can be very difficult to shake off. The fatal flaw of the first person mode is mobility, as you are frozen in place while you look around, much like a rail shooter. While it is possible to point the Wiimote at the edge of the screen to dodge, doing so disrupts your aim and the game is even pickier about recognizing an enemy attack than in the normal 2D mode. Because the game is so often reluctant to make you dodge, you instead decide to sacrifice your longevity for damage, and tank through enemy attacks as a result of a failure on the developer's ability to make an effective battle system. Why not use the D-Pad? It's right on top of the shooting button and would have been much more intuitive. The game doesn't even tell you how to dodge in first person--you'll need to look it up yourself in the manual as though it were an oversight. Like so many other aspects, Other M's flawed combat system isn't the only problem in this area; combat itself is downright boring. Beams stack as in Super Metroid and Corruption and that takes away a whole element of strategy from fights. Will you have to use the Wave Beam or the Plasma Beam to most effectively defeat this enemy? Neither, just charge it up and let it loose, repeat three to four times per enemy, per room, since many of them will not let you go on until all enemies are defeated. The deepest it gets is having to fire a missile after you freeze a fast enemy to the ground. As with the exploration, this makes combat boring and the boss battles very similar--shoot with charged shots, shoot with missiles. Enemies also never drop health or ammo, so the only motivation to trudge through a boring battle is to either open the door or to reveal the location of an item. In fact, because there is no reward for clearing a room of enemies after the first time, it's almost as though Other M is encouraging you to rush through and try not to pay attention to how lacking the battle system is. Even with the new and flawed combat system, Other M retains the dull battles of the 2D Metroids. It would have been better to simply keep battles strictly 2D and maybe have used the Classic Controller instead. As it is, Other M is an awkward mix between 2D and 3D and has a difficult time balancing the two modes and the transition between them has an inherent lag that can prove to be deadly and disorienting.
I am not opposed to story in a Metroid game or delving into Samus' personality. The concept is a great one, but the execution comes off as childish and juvenile. Females in fiction typically fall into two categories: the sarcastic, rogueish, frigid variety, and the damsel in distress. If they have a backstory, it is typically the same, rife with trauma that led them to their current disposition. In terms of her character, Samus actually walks a line between the two, appearing cold in demeanor and in normal circumstances (probably), but emotionally vulnerable in light of current events. Her backstory is a collage of tropes--she identifies Adam, her Commanding Officer, as her father, having lost her parents in an attack on her home planet when she was a young child. Unlike the rest of the Galactic Federation Troopers, she gives the thumbs down at meetings to express her disapproval (at what?), then mentions not a minute later in the same flashback that she was expressing her full approval and commitment to his orders. We then see another lengthy and groan-worthy cutscene where she witnesses the loss of a camarade whose death, as she so whinily and annoying tells Adam, she might have been able to prevent, had he allowed her to risk her life. This is followed about an hour later by the line "I never questioned his orders". Except that one time. Right. Oh, and don't forget that time in this very game that you pondered his involvement in the illegal operations going on at this space station. So not only do we get the same cliche dialog and scenarios common to almost-cold women, we get treated to very lengthy cutscenes delivered in almost monotone, and instead of being treated to an insightful view of Samus' past, we see a cliche, whiny brat. Unfortunately, flashbacks outnumber actual story progression by a large amount and are even more detestable because they pop up unpredictably, as though the hallways are so boring she feels the need to ramble on about how she was a punk and Adam was her surrogate father and this is becoming tedious. The story is, on the other hand, almost intriguing. At first. The biggest problem with it is that it's not paced well at all. You are at first given only slight glances into the scope of the problem, and for the first hour or so you're completely unaware of the problem on the ship, which makes things a little boring. All of a sudden, the story plops itself down in front of you in two massive chunks, throwing suspense to the winds. There is no sense of discovery in the levels, and there is no sense of discovery in the story, the game simply tells you it on its own. Worse still, it's a rip-off (I suppose the politer term would be "elaboration") of Fusion, only much less graceful and mysterious about it. The cutscene at the very end of the game actually made me say "This is ridiculous". If they all but ignored the gameplay, they could have paid more attention to the writing. The game seems so self-important in its longing to tell this story that it skims down the large worlds and reduces them to narrow, straight hallways that guide you directly to the next cutscene. The result? Derivative and laden with cliche; what Other M wanted so badly to be its defining quality comes up short.
One of the most frustrating aspects of the story is when it actively intrudes on the gameplay. I suspect that the normally expansive worlds were cut down to be simpler and more linear to speed the narrative up and show the player the next flashback. Though this is speculative, the game forcing you into a completely useless third person mode isn't. The only purpose this mode serves is to (I assume) provide a smoother transition into the next cutscene, which begs the question, why not incorporate these segments into the cutscene? You literally cannot do anything but move (no shooting, no jumping) in what I like to call "cutscene mode", and your movement speed is positively glacial. Instead of adding suspense, it brings things to a grinding halt. Tagging along with cutscene mode is Eye Spy mode, a forced first person perspective that requires you to hover the cursor over some minuscule supposed object of interest before moving on. The result is typically this: We see a long cutscene that may or may not build up suspense when we reach a sudden halt as the jeopardy music plays in our heads while the game expects us to know what to look at with little to no indication whatsoever. After we point the Wiimote at the screen to the game's satisfaction, it lets us view the rest of the scene. Why not simply make Samus look at whatever it is that was so important we had to direct her attention to it ourselves? As with cutscene mode, Eye Spy mode has a great way of chopping up pace and ruining what could otherwise be a decent moment.
It gets better, though. Outside of adding two completely useless modes, Other M likes to fake you out by adding pseudo-cutscenes that turn out to be sudden-death quick time events. These are actually a blast and the fun I derive from them is inversely proportional to the amount of sarcasm in the last two sentences. I'm actually ok with the authorization of Samus' items for her to be able to use them. She might not actually be under the command of Adam, being an independent bounty hunter, but considering her admiration and connection to him, it's understandable that she would agree to follow orders, especially for her more lethal weapons which could cause collateral damage to the station itself or to her friends. This stretches a little then when she stumbles into an area that causes her to lose health in extreme heat--she will literally sit and die rather than activate the completely harmless feature on her suit that would prevent it. For that matter, why doesn't Adam allow the use of all of her non-harmful items? What's the logic in disabling the Grapple Beam when it would help her get to her destination more quickly? Because it forces you along a very specific path. You don't even get that moment of clarity, of payoff, that Fusion had before the Ridley fight when the computer told you the truth. Samus does authorize the use of two items herself, but instead of feeling like a rogue, you feel like she's finally acquired the "common sense" item. Perhaps most disappointing is the wasted potential this feature could have had. For instance, what if, in subsequent playthroughs, you could authorize items yourself, or be able to use all the items at the start of the game? Not only could this have provided a much more traditional Metroid game because of the amount of exploration it affords you, but they could even show some new insight to the story. Had they done this, they would have satisfied both long-time fans and newcomers, the original game being straight-foward and simple, and the hypothetical New Game+, as it were, allowing for the standard non-linearity. Because the story is eager to interrupt the gameplay as much as possible, when you are authorized the use of an item, especially a weapon, you are introduced to the pause menu mid-battle, despite the game frequently using an unobtrusive pop-up menu. I won't say that the interruption will kill me, but it certainly does break your concentration. In order to get past one puzzle, you actually have to give up on it and return to a previous room when a bunch of enemies will ambush you and Adam will authorize the use of the appropriate item. We see but one new item in this game--a diffuser beam which makes your charged shots spread out to defeat more enemies at once. Fantastic. Even the older items feel as though they're simply keys. The Seeker Missiles, one of the most boring and utilitarian items in any game, is used on maybe all of three doors and has next to no combat application because the diffusion beam is much more efficient. The speed booster is actually boring to use because you don't pick up speed while charging it up, and shine sparking has been nerfed, allowing for only one jump. You will not need the skill that Fusion and Zero Mission demanded over being able to collect a particularly tricky power up, and there is little satisfaction because of it. It's a fantastic example of what happens when you emphasize story over gameplay as it makes Samus look like an imbecile and gets in the way of enjoying the game.
It is my belief that Other M sacrificed gameplay for story but was not able to perform well at either of them. It lacks the series' defining characteristics and experiments with a flawed battle system. The story it sacrifices so much to tell is derivative and ridiculous, and the character it strived to define is no more than a collection of angst and tropes delivered in monotone. It attempts to be a Metroid game without any concept of what the series is about and so deliberately focuses on its story that it forgets to be a game. At only 6 to 7 hours to beat the game with next to no replay value, it is a pricey investment. All this would have been forgivable if it were at least fun to play, but because of how bland and straightforward the levels are, it's a very dull and tedious game. Other M feels like an experiment, an itch that had to be scratched by the developer with no intent of pleasing an audience. It focuses so singularly on story that it forgets to be compelling and feels almost like a demo. It is not just an outsider in the series, but a unremarkable and amateurish game in general, and that is what disappoints most.
Reviewer's Score: 4/10 | Originally Posted: 09/07/10
Game Release: Metroid: Other M (US, 08/31/10)
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