Review by Awasai
"The "M" Stands for "Mistakes""
Metroid is a Nintendo series with an exceptional reputation. Although it contains fewer than a dozen games (dwarfed by a series like Mario as far as title count), each one has traditionally been of extremely high quality. Even the weaker ones are beloved by most fans, and you know a series is good when many people (including myself) complain about the relative quality of Prime 3, which is still by all accounts fantastic. But that era is over. Other M is a half-baked attempt by Sakamoto and Team Ninja to make a Metroid game that is neither a 2D side-scroller nor a first person adventure. Maybe their hearts were in the right place, but the result is a mess.
Normally I don't care much about the quality of story in platformers or action games, but when it feels like the developers have gone out of their way to craft a truly bad one, it needs to be noted. Other M takes place directly between Super Metroid and Metroid Fusion, effectively setting up a few of the characters and events in Fusion. As other reviews have mentioned, there are essentially two plot lines. The first involves Samus' psyche and relationship with her ex-commander Adam Malkovich. In deciding to go with this angle, the developers have taken a strong and stoic character that has had several lines of dialogue in all her other titles combined and turned her into a diary-writing emotional train-wreck. Feminist issues aside, this has no positive effect on gameplay. Samus' internal monologues (which sound to be written by a soap writer and performed by a bad soap actor- but more on that later ) are grating and take up far more time than they should, in the form of unskippable cutscenes. Even worse is that her daddy issues with Adam are taken to the extreme when Samus independently decides not to use her arsenal of offensive and defensive gear until he authorizes it. This leads to several inane situations, such as trekking through a damaging high-heat area without using the Varia suit that you have the whole time. The second plotline is far more tolerable, and simply involves a government conspiracy and experiments going on aboard the ship the player explores, and Samus' efforts to discover who the real players are. Standard fare.
Gameplay is definitely Other M's strongest point, although that's not saying much. The overwhelmingly important gimmick is the integration of first-person action with third-person combat and exploration. Oddly enough, this system receives a lot of complaints despite being fairly well implemented. The third-person action is as smooth as can be, and the controls are simple enough for, say, fans of Team Ninja's other work to be able to handle. While holding the Wiiwote sideways (no nunchuck) attacks home in on enemies if shot in their general direction and players are given nice dodging and finishing moves. Switching to first person (which is done for the purpose of: firing a missile; using the grapple beam; shooting switches; or searching rooms for obscure morph ball tunnels or breakable surfaces) is done by pointing the Wiimote at the screen, which necessitates some instantaneous calibration of the reticule if you don't want take a tentacle to the face in the middle of combat. But it's not that bad. I'm sure they realized the potential for this feature to be awkward, so there's half a second of bullet time during the switch, on top of the fact that enemies and bosses frequently give you relief from their attacks.
On the exploration side of things, the new developers once again seem to have completely ignored the fabulous precedents set by nearly every other title in the series. People can claim that they enjoy controlled linearity more than free exploration (restricted only by your current upgrades) but to say that that type of free exploration isn't what makes Metroid, Metroid is nonsense. The original title was one of the first video games to offer an enormous side-scrolling world that offered the player no direction on where to go next. Metroid II, Super Metroid, and even the Primes 1 and 2 (without the hint system turned on) followed in that tradition. Other M throws that all out the window to an even greater degree than Fusion did. Not once did I have to guess where to go next, because all extraneous routes were blocked by locked doors. As if that wasn't bad enough, exploration is actually disallowed. Throughout the game I repeatedly tried to return to a point near the start where I had seen a bombable morph ball grate, but not until a point near the very end did the doors unlock and allow that. No matter how large and conducive to exploration any given room appears from the start, nine times out of ten it will contain a single easily found upgrade item and a single exit leading to the next room. Perhaps owing to the fact that the varied environments are only simulated inside the spaceship, they all feel incredibly artificial. In that sense I suppose the art director succeeded.
I'm going to be brutally honest- the graphics are nothing special. Prime came out 8 years ago, and as a gamer with, admittedly, only casual knowledge of the technicalities of graphics, I can barely see any improvement. Samus' movements during combat are smooth and effective though (I believe motion-capture was used?). The pre-rendered cutscenes, are, of course, fantastic-looking, but that hardly matters given the writing and voice-acting that one has to put up with during them.
The art style doesn't help. A large portion of the spaceship's rooms are copypasta-looking holodeck hallways with a numbingly bland design. They can throw in all the shiny computer consoles that they want, but when they serve no purpose at all (*coughnoscanningcough*), any effort the graphics artists put in is wasted as you dash through the empty rooms. For flavor, several large elemental rooms are thrown in once in a while (you have your standard lava rooms, desert rooms, jungle rooms, and icy rooms) but they hardly demand any deviation from your linear quest and lack any sort of imagination. Human character designs aren't bad, but the creatures and monsters are cringeworthy. Metroid has long prided itself on simple yet effective sci-fi creature design. Other M faithfully creates 3D versions of many of those classic enemies, but when an enemy new to the series shows up, you know it, and the contrast is nauseating. Basically, Team Ninja's new enemies are guaranteed to have one or more of the following: cartoonish googly eyes; two or more shades of neon colors; or way too many horns/tentacles/random appendages. Call me a stickler, but I say it's not a good sign when the difference between a series' original material and the third party developers' contributions is so strikingly obvious.
Sound is decent enough. All of Samus' tech makes the appropriate noises and monsters' cries are pretty much as they should be. Where the audio takes a nosedive is with music. Because there is none. Say all you want about ambient noise being a legitimate genre, but I say it's laziness. It's hard to take such a decision seriously when every game in the series until this point has had a soundtrack ranging from good to mind-blowing, and at the very least they could have remixed a few more of the old tunes (besides the two that they did- the Metroid fanfare and the escape theme). If the goal was to make the music unnoticeable to more realistically simulate being on a derelict spaceship, then mission accomplished. Again, it's not good when such a stark contrast can be observed between remixed music from past games and the non-existent music of the new developer.
I suppose voice-acting is a part of sound, but it certainly doesn't do anything to help sound's score. Maybe I wouldn't be too enthusiastic either if I was a VA given lines like Confession time to work with, but I would honestly have to rank the performances in this game among the likes of Mega Man 8 and Resident Evil. Every VA gives his or her lines the minimum amount of emotion (which in most cases is none) and not once did any of them seem like believable people (Anthony Higgs comes close though). Just plastic models acting out a crude space opera. Samus' VA consistently sounds bored out of her mind, which is actually NOT how monologues should be performed, believe it or not. It's a shame they couldn't keep Jennifer Hale (who grunted and winced as Samus in the Prime trilogy, and is generally known as a highly competent video game VA).
I remember being disappointed when Metroid Prime 3 took less than a week to play to absolute completion. Boy, Retro kind of dropped the ball with this one, I thought. So imagine my disappointment when I finished Other M less than 24 hours after purchasing it. Completing the basic storyline took 7:XX, and getting 100% items brought that time to 9:XX. The high estimate seems to be 10-12 hours, but to achieve that sort of time you'd have to be getting lost quite a lot, which is pretty hard to do given the forced linearity. Hard Mode is available after getting 100% items, but Hard Mode runs are even shorter, given that there are no collectibles (a feature that seems to replace the traditional aspect of hard mode, which is enhanced difficulty due to stronger and hardier enemies). It might be going too far to say that there's NO replay value, but I can't see myself breezing through the game one afternoon for at least a good year or two from now.
Final recommendation: If you're new to Metroid, don't use Other M as a launching point for your Metroid experience. It's just too bizarrely different and of a lower-quality than all the standout titles in the series. If you're already a fan, don't go in with high expectations, and definitely rent instead of buying. If you're lucky it might be a fun way to pass a day.
Final score: 5/10
Reviewer's Score: 5/10 | Originally Posted: 09/09/10
Game Release: Metroid: Other M (US, 08/31/10)
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