Review by Gameboyguru
""Crazy how something good can come out of something bad""
It's finally here; Metroid: Other M. We salivated, then all the naysayers began finger-wagging and spewing doom while the fans took up arms and violently defended the game before any it was out. As time passed, we got more information to fuel both sides of the debate. And now, Other M has been released for a week and I have played the normal mode to 100% completion. Good game, or Stockholm syndrome? Let us see.
Two words: Team Ninja. That's all you need to hear to know that anything bearing their influence will look pretty. And Other M is indeed pretty. Just like when they developed Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword for the DS, Team Ninja shows us all what Nintendo machines are capable of in the right hands. The attention to detail is astounding while the designs themselves remain true to the storied Metroid brand. Even when the game pulls out elements that should be familiar to longtime fans, they are designed with homage and throwbacks in mind.
However, there will be times when you'll wonder if a certain object or background had been fully rendered. Samus's ship is a prime example; one which you won't see so much. The environments, however, might cause a sour look or two among the sticklers for graphical quality. I remember a very specific moment when I entered a field and thought, "Behold! The majestic fields of Gamecube quality." Regardless of how mixed a bag the gameplay graphics are, I think plenty will agree that the cinematic graphics are just awesome.
I never noticed it until I just now typed up the heading for sound, but it saddens me greatly: Other M has a very mediocre soundtrack. There's plenty of the Metroid staples in there, including the fanfare when you resume playing, and even the prologue music from Super Metroid for plot recaps! When I first heard it, that track was pretty cool. Aside from that, a very nice rendition of a familiar fight theme, and other derived remixes of classic themes, there is hardly anything to Other M's credit. They even did without the famed item collected theme, another major bummer. The sector themes are atmospheric instrumental moans and stings, and most of the boss themes are generic intense scores. It sounds nice while you play, but I can't recall a single track that wasn't a Metroid throwback. These few tracks are great and respectfully composed, but hardly save the music aspect of Other M.
Sound effects, I swear, are derivative directly from the Prime trilogy. They were fitting.
Lastly, in more ways than one, is the voice acting. There is a wide variety of talent in this game of all ranges. Some actors seem to flux in and out of quality voices and others have two modes: Monotone and melodramatic. That isn't to say that there aren't any good examples. Anthony Higgs (who is best known for saying "Remember me?" in the trailer) was always a delight to encounter and Adam Malkovich's businesslike tone was too sure of itself to sound rushed. There is the tendency for characters to sound too matter-of-factly in this game, as if they're getting through the script and not actually living in the moment. Samus herself has been critically panned, but more on that later.
It's 2D Metroid gameplay in three dimensions! Using only the Wii Remote! Just the remote! Really! By default, you control Samus in the classic third-person platforming sidescroller fashion. You run, jump, shoot, and curl up into the Morph Ball. In this mode, shooting utilizes an autoaim function to deal with that pesky third dimension. It's so potent that you can even run on by and frag everything in the room without stopping. To be honest, it's much more satisfying than any degree of game-breaking. In addition, paths are optimized for 4-direction navigation. In some cases, Samus will snap to a curving path and run along it with only needing to hold in a single basic direction. It's small touches like this which really promote the motif of classic Metroid gameplay for the modern era.
When you point the Wii Remote at the screen, perspectives literally shift. The game goes into the first-person with wherever Samus was standing and facing at the time. You can manually aim in this mode and lock on, charge, and fire. This takes some getting used to, but if you stick with it and don't immediately thing "WHAT IS THIS!?" then you can not only seamlessly transition, but do what you need in this mode quickly and efficiently. I just wish I wasn't rooted to the spot when this happens. It makes me nervous about switching during a fight, even when I know I have an opening. You can dodge roll out of the way of an incoming attack with motion controls, which counts for something.
When you begin playing Other M, this control scheme will seem too functionally simple to be true and will cause some confusion. Stick with it, however, and you'll find yourself having a lot of fun running, jumping, dodging, and switching perspectives on the fly to check out your surroundings. By the way, dodge rolling tends to happen on its own, but don't count on it.
Team Ninja succeeded in creating a Metroid platforming experience in the third dimension. Every other game underwent a genre change or merely went into 2.5 dimensions, using purely 2D gameplay and the graphics were 3D. What Team Ninja did was make 3D out to merely be a side function in an otherwise 2D game. Just like the old-school Metroid games, you control Samus Aran as she runs, jumps, and shoots to explore the BOTTLE SHIP and get to locations of interest. In terms of how it feels to control Samus and play the game with its engaging battle system, this game is AMAZING. Turning on a dime, scrambling around the room to avoid enemy attacks, activating dodge rolls and delivering fully charged beam shots are all experiences that are very unique and fresh when compared to all the other games today. I dare say, when gaming first went 3D, THIS was the sort of game we were all expecting.
Of course, there needed to be some added functions to the game. After all, this IS Team Ninja. These come in the form of dodge rolling and Lethal Strikes. If you press the D-Pad in a direction away from an enemy attack at the right time, you'll dodge out of the way and take no damage. In addition, if you were charging a shot, it will be fully charged and ready to unleash upon a successful dodge. At first I took this to be a weak incentive, but in the later fights, it proves essential when trying to find a way to outdamage your enemies in these battles of attrition. I can tell this was meant to be used with precise timing, but mashing the D-Pad when anticipating an attack works just as well. I've heard that this takes away from the function, but it's minor, almost a non-issue when you look at the combat as a whole. Lethal Strikes are done by running into your enemy while charging a shot, and will prompt Samus to acrobatically pull an enemy into a submissive position and deliver a shot directly into a weak spot. Not only is it seriously awesome to watch, but it deals the damage you'd expect. You'll really feel awesome when an enemy bursts as a result of your attack, or a huge chunk of a boss's health pops off. There's other variations in which you jump on the enemy's head to incapacitate them or cause a lot a damage, which makes getting up-close in combat not only a reasonable thing to do, but the preferable option when necessary.
When the situation calls for a closer examination or the use of missiles, you point the Wii Remote at the screen. The game goes into the first-person with wherever Samus was standing and facing at the time This is the only way to fire missiles, so you'll need to become intimately familiar with this control scheme. It also lets you look at your surroundings much more closely, and you'll be able to spot certain openings or have the game point out to you where you're able to use a certain weapon to open the way. However, you are rooted to the spot and are unable to strafe or jump or anything of the sort... and this is MADDENING. I'm aware that there's supposed to be a risk factor involved when trying to use the insanely powerful missiles during a fight or Samus is supposed to be really trying to focus, but there's just something really nerve-racking about being forced to stand in one place while all the enemies are free to run around and wreck my aim and focus. There is a perfectly good D-Pad on the top of the Wii Remote and I have a perfectly functional non-dominant hand. I can easily see choking up on the remote and moving around via the D-Pad with my left hand while locking on and firing with my right hand. Once again, I'm aware that enemies all have workarounds and openings to take advantage of, but it was just a pet peeve.
What I'm less forgiving toward, however, is the segments where the game forces you into first-person mode and won't let you go until you lock onto something and have Samus notice it Ace Attorney style in order to drive the plot. It was a fun gimmick when the object of interest was obvious, but the lock-on function was hardly helpful in finding what I was supposed to be looking at sometimes. The object I'm supposed to be looking at was often hard to find when I wasn't looking specifically for it. For instance, I was supposed to look for a green spot in a grassy field with patches of darker green grass around. I actually liked this mechanic, but the lock-on needs to be way more helpful if Team Ninja wanted to keep it from being frustrating.
Team Ninja? Frustrating? Sound like a good segue for the difficulty in this game. When you first play this game, you are going to die. It's only a matter of time unless you a pattern-finding prodigy. Every boss has something to exploit to achieve victory, and if you don't pick up on it very quickly, they will shred through your energy and send you to the last checkpoint. Yep, there are checkpoints and they save this game's sense of pace. As if that weren't enough, Team Ninja also decided to ditch the age-old system of enemies dropping health and ammo. I have to admit, I did not like this. Of all the alterations to the Metroid formula, I felt this was too much. Defeating enemies along the way officially has no purpose in Other M when you can just run by them, and that cheapens the awesome combat. In its place, you must recharge energy at a save point and missiles on the fly by holding the Wii Remote up and holding A. When you first start the game, this system will make each run from one save point to another a tense survival in which every hit will seem more permanent and deadly than in any other game where ways to recover are plentiful. If you run low on HP, however, the same means will also recharge your energy. If you're just running around it's great, but nine out of ten times, I got into that status during a boss fight. The bosses never gave me a chance to recharge my health.
Unfortunately, we have to take the bitter with the sweet when it comes to this sort of thing, and that bitter is the practically eliminated sense of exploration. At least, it will FEEL like the exploration has been eliminated if you think of this as a Metroid game more than a Team Ninja game. Other M is a very streamlined experience with clearly defined goals at every step of the way. The tasks it's oriented around are very specific and there's little sense of isolated wandering. That's not to say that this game isn't atmospheric (especially when the camera goes over the shoulder like in Resident Evil 4), it just isn't the same sort of expansive, majestic atmospheric that Metroid diehards love the series for.
Bottom Line: Metroid: Other M is NOT a game for extreme fundamentalists. Team Ninja has delivered an action game that has an added emphasis on item collection in an easter-egg style. It is a different breed of game thematically separate from the classic platformers and even the Prime series. If you come into it wanting to like it but also expecting classic Metroid exploration, you will need to rethink into an action game mindset.
If you end up liking the combat, completion of the game's plot unlocks a Hard mode. No pickups. Just 10 missiles and 99 energy. It's roughly a gameplay-standpoint survival horror game and what I played of it, the action enthusiasts will find a TON of replay value here.
Saved best for last, because this is the most controversial topic on the game. The first misconception that even I fell prey to was that Other M was scripted and directed by Team Ninja. In fact, Yoshio Sakamoto, the man who has directed the Metroid games since the very beginning, directed this as well... This makes what's to follow make more sense in some ways, and more baffling in others. Let me reiterate: Team Ninja is not at fault for any plot-related frustration you might encounter.
Metroid: Other M takes place after the events of Super Metroid Previously a Metroid hatchling sacrifices itself to save Samus and give her the strength to fight off Mother Brain. Despite her cold exterior, it appears that Samus was actually very attached to the hatchling and is experiencing a post-traumatic depression of sorts. After taking another call and arriving at a vessel called the BOTTLE SHIP, Samus runs into some old friends, including a comrade in arms, Anthony Higgs, and her old CO, Adam Malkovich. One major theme in Other M is how Samus has (and harbors) a father-daughter relationship with Malkovich. Samus and Malkovich's squad team up to figure out what has happened at the BOTTLE SHIP.
As hyped, Metroid: Other M's plot and character development is much more prominent in this title than any other Metroid. The game has cutscenes and flashbacks all over the place, some of them lasting for a while. This in itself has all the potential in the world, and in fact, I KNEW what Sakamoto aimed to do with the storyline. However, something stops these devices from achieving their intended effect at every turn. It's an okay plot at first and unfortunately, there are some moments that take too much creative liberty for little to no reason. Said moments were confusing in the 'why' and 'how,' and one moment which will live in blamed infamy is sure to cause an increasingly horrific fan backlash as time goes on. In time, it steadily gets better to make an overall good impression and solid entry into the Metroid mithos. If you look at the entire whole of Other M's plot and aren't out to diss at every turn, you'll find it's at least a storyline worth following to the end. The staunchest critics who are just looking for something to complain about, however, will have a lot to work with.
Let's start with the first of the controversial decisions: Samus. Jessica Martin delivers a higher-pitched, low-key performance as Samus Aran. When I say low-key, I mean talking in monotone as if reading directly off the script with no consideration for acting. However, we must consider the context. The Metroid hatchling was the only living thing that Samus let herself grow attached to, and it ended up being blown into confetti right in front of her eyes. Furthermore, it did so willingly to spare her own life. A person doesn't just bounce back from an experience like that. When she meets Adam on the BOTTLE SHIP, the sight of a familiar face is comforting to her. Since she still holds Adam in high regards and respects his judgment, she falls into old habits because she knows that this respected general will do what's right and most informed.
As part of the game, Samus doesn't lose her upgrades but instead refrains from using them until Malkovich authorizes it. I've heard a lot of flak on this plot point, but there are good reasons. Firstly, the Galactic Federation has protocols like any existent organized authority. Samus probably still has something to prove to Adam and does things his way to show it. Secondly and more importantly, it is a video game. Other M needed some reason to start the player out at a low level, and even integrate the evolution of the player's capabilities into the plot. Unfortunately, the game takes it a tad too far when Samus is forced to run through hostile areas that sap her energy, and doesn't turn on her Varia Suit function until Malkovich says so during a dire situation. Come on, guys.
There are other hits to Samus's character that occur during Other M as well, seemingly softening the character into something more passive. Whining constantly about the Metroid Hatchling (which she INFURIATINGLY refers to as a 'baby'), taking orders from a man, and becoming hesitant at a critical moment that proves to be nearly fatal. Let us consider the context: As part of the game, there is a mole in the operation killing people off. Samus starts off in poor mental shape, and now people on her side are dying left and right to some unseen force. Several times, her close friends have been endangered and she never knows when something will strike next to take something else away from what little she has left. It's only natural for her to be overly conscious and emotional when something she is actually ATTACHED TO is threatened. ATTACHED is a key word, here. Gamers are not used to these classic old-school characters forming relationships and furthermore experiencing profound loss from them. For too long, we have seen Samus as a stoic character who exists as an avatar into the game world.
To drive the point home further, Other M contains an EXTREMELY controversial scene in which an old enemy reappears before Samus, and in response she freezes up, stutters, and hesitates long enough for the enemy to potentially kill her. I can tell what was going through her mind: Everything she knows and loves is destroyed or killed, yet the destroyers never go away. This enemy returns, that enemy returns, the space pirates seem to be limitless, and revenge is never final. K-2L, her parents, the Metroid hatchling, Adam's crew, dead forever, and all Samus's efforts have done were to prevent specific incidents. Seeing an old enemy bear down on her as if she had never laid a finger on it fills Samus with a paralyzing futility. Also, killing something many times and still having it come back it just scary.
At least... that COULD be the case. The game cares too much about having Samus exposit the details of the plot where the players are perfectly capable of figuring it out themselves. In fact, that's the common complaint that Samus has TOO much talking time. Maybe it's the average scripting, Martin's performance, or just how all this talking breaks the flow of the game. Either way, I'm inclined to agree that Samus doesn't need to talk about what is exactly happening at the same moment. That makes it all the MORE frustrating when we wait for an explanation of why Samus freezes up in horror for a moment and completely forfeits her life if not for being rescued. All we have is conjecture. If I knew exactly what was going through Samus's mind at that moment, I might be more lenient. However, all we have is Samus giving up without firing a single shot. Couldn't Samus have broken down, collected herself, fought, then get into trouble through the superior strength of the enemy!? I can only cover for you so much, Sakamoto. I can only justify away so much of these plotholes before somebody has to come forward and explain what happened! I'm sure there's a good, legitimate reason that defines Samus better. However, Samus did not defend herself, which goes against the character for me.
Ahem... pardon that, but it needed to be said in full with the most carefully chosen words you'll find at such length. Lastly, Is Other M sexist? By my analysis, absolutely not. Other M is just full of extraordinary circumstances. Samus is grieving for the Metroid hatchling and at the same time, reunited with a father figure who she last parted with on bad terms, yet still seems to think highly of her after all that time. You don't see characters thrust into emotional rollercoasters like this all that often after a history of being a silent protagonist.
Exhibit no. 2... It's still up to Samus to save the day in the end. After her infamous encounter, she returns to being the steely heroine we all know and love her for. She faces her demons, kicks lots of tail, and has the courage to do what she needs to do to avoid disaster. Furthermore, her issues of needing Adam's permission for anything fade into obscurity when she starts activating her suit's features by her own judgment. The further you get into the story, the further Samus gets over herself. If you view the story as a whole, you'll notice it's a journey Samus takes. The death of the Metroid hatchling prompted Samus to really think about what she's doing and why. Malkovich's involvement brought closure to the father-daughter relationship and led Samus to a new outlook in which she does what she does with actual conviction rather than secretly sticking it to the man.
After I sat through the game's true ending, I had it all figured out. Samus being portrayed as emotionally vulnerable was intended to strengthen the player's bond with her, not cause fan backlash. We as the players, Samus's real partners through the adventure, are supposed to feel for Samus and be there for her in her time of need. Certainly this has been done before in video games, but never to an immortal icon of the golden ages when 'bits' were still being counted. I think everybody sees this as a clear destructive blow to Samus's image and sexist because Samus is a heavily guarded treasure in the gaming world: a progressive female character who does not rely on her physical gender to be memorable. Most of the old-school gamers will argue that Samus doesn't NEED to evolve as a character, but that appears to be her fate. If it's so, then perhaps we all need to be more like Adam Malkovich and know how to keep our distance and let things happen.
I still hate the copious use of the word "baby" in the prologue. It's a very polarizing word, was hardly used before, and I cringed whenever I heard it. Samus's use of the word "hatchling" in Metroid Fusion takes on new meanings now.
Final thoughts: 7/10 - Buy for a diehard action or Metroid fan, Rent for the curious onlooker
Metroid: Other M is an ambitious game that suffers from genre confusion. We all came into it hoping to see the same exploration-driven game we've played before, but instead got an action game that depends on its plot in more ways than one. The combat is engaging and difficult, a Team Ninja staple, but may be too shallow to justify the game's linearity. Sakamoto makes a very honest effort in creating a story that gives new depth to Samus Aran and the Metroid universe, but falls short. Be it the performances or the script's emphasis on point-A-to-point-B material over actual introspection, something is going to go over the gamers' heads and leave too much to interpretation.
This is a Team Ninja game first and a Metroid game second. Team Ninja worked their magic and made a game that is fun to play through with the right mindset, but fell short in living up to the Metroid name. It's a fun game that merits at least a rental just to experience a sort of platforming action that hasn't been done so much before.
Despite all my harping on Team Ninja, I liked what I saw. There's a lot of potential here to make an instant classic of this engine. I would support another Team Ninja-developed release, as long as they pay very close attention to Other M's shortcoming (and Sakamoto and/or the localization team polish the art of exposition).
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 09/07/10, Updated 09/09/10
Game Release: Metroid: Other M (US, 08/31/10)
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