Review by LinkIII_IsBack

"Hey, Samus? Shut up and let me play."

Samus Aran is one of the most venerated characters in all of gaming, and for good reason. The plot twist at the end of the first Metroid, the fact that the presumed cyborg that you were playing as was actually a woman (and a very good-looking one at that) all along, ranks among the biggest surprises of the era, and you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who disagrees that it was a very cool twist. Since then, though, we've learned very little about Samus's personality and history, and only in increments at that. In the monochrome Metroid II: Return of Samus for the Game Boy, we saw a bit of her compassionate side when she decided to spare the last infant Metroid's life, and in the SNES's much-lauded Super Metroid she delivered a monologue at the beginning of the game, giving context to the sparse storyline. Then, after an eight-year hiatus, the famed bounty hunter returned in two adventures for the GameCube and Game Boy Advance, Metroid Prime and Metroid Fusion. The latter has a much more direct bearing on Metroid: Other M; Samus was more talkative than ever before, soliloquizing a number of times about a former respected CO of hers, a man by the name of Adam Malkovich. Several other details about Samus's past have trickled out since then in games and other media; we know that she was orphaned at an early age by the series's antagonists, the Space Pirates, and subsequently raised by the birdlike alien race known as the Chozo. Details beyond those facts are scarce, but Metroid: Other M makes the bold decision to change all that, promising to delve deeper into the bounty hunter's past. Moreover, it also gives her a voice and more spoken lines than ever before, all entwined in the story of a conspiracy on a derelict space ship.

It sounds promising on paper, but from there it's all downhill.

Your reception may vary based on your expectations, but for most, this is probably not the Samus Aran you envisioned based on previous games. Ruminative, melancholy, and sometimes incredibly long-winded, she's a far cry from the stoic but compassionate heroine that she's been depicted as in the past. It's a different direction, but I won't overreact and say that Samus has been ruined forever like some others; that said, she's not particularly likable with this particular characterization. The most egregious offense is her constant narration; almost every cutscene in the game (and there are over an hour of them) includes Samus's often vapid and redundant commentary on the events occurring at that time, or - even worse - about her feelings. This method of explaining the plot crushes any and all subtlety those cutscenes may have had; it's a blatant violation of the "show, don't tell" rule in storytelling. Instead of bludgeoning into our skulls the fact that being called an outsider "pierced [Samus's] heart", give us a close-up of Samus's face showing her pain. In a franchise that has up until this point relied on minimalism in depicting its stories, the utter lack of finesse is a bit jarring. Perhaps the incessant narration would be tolerable if the writing itself was good, but no such luck; Miss Aran graces us with such lines as "It was obvious that there was some pervasive danger throughout the facility." Wow. Thanks a lot for those words of wisdom, Samus. In her one saving grace, Jessica Martin does an impressive job of voicing Samus; although the inflection of a few lines sounds a bit off, for the most part it's a fitting voice, although she doesn't get much of a chance to shine through the mediocre writing.

The rest of the characters are also a mixed bag. Adam Malkovich, appearing in person for the first time, is more or less as expected; gruff, somewhat cold, but still respectable. The other major character introduced, Anthony Higgs, is practically an amalgamation of every black character stereotype ever created, but he's strangely appealing because of it; perhaps his crowning moment comes when he trash talks a classic Metroid boss. The other characters introduced along with Adam and Anthony could have been completely written out of the game with barely any changes; almost all of them die within a few hours without contributing anything important. One of them only gets two lines, and both of them are "Got it!" That said, there's a subplot involving another one of them that actually requires a bit of deduction to figure out, one of the few shining moments of subtlety in the game.

The story itself is passable, but it's not particularly interesting; and to people who aren't Metroid-savvy, it'll be almost meaningless. The game throws terms like "Zebesian" and "Tourian" at you without any elaboration (which is ironic, considering how much Samus loves to explain the obvious), and Samus's relationship with the infant Metroid, a plot device with a strong presence throughout the game, is never adequately explained until the very end, creating a rift between new players and Metroid veterans. A story in a video game should be self-contained; you should never need prior knowledge of the franchise to understand what's going on. But to those Metroid fans, it will at least be legible, if extremely trite. In a decision that defies all reason, though, the story fails to deliver on its promise of revealing Samus's past: it only explains her time in the army and her relationship with Adam, completely skipping over her childhood and upbringing with the Chozo - that is, the parts of her past that would actually be interesting.

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, I can start talking about the good stuff.

There's really no denying that this is one of the absolute prettiest games for the Wii. Character and enemy models are detailed and excellently rendered; even in close-ups, they still look excellent, with no pixelation or jagged edges. A few of the ground textures are blurry, but it's rarely noticeable at all. Enemy designs are heavily stylized, a change from the Prime games' realistic approach; it gives Other M a visual feel akin to the original 2D games, especially with regards to enemies returning from them. If there's one visual area that leaves anything to be desired, it's the environments; they look very good, no doubt, but their art direction feels slightly lackluster.

Most of the music during the gameplay is atmospheric; I'm sure you'll hear many complaints about it, but I think it adds to the tone of the game quite well. There's not much there that will stick in your head, but its minimalistic approach reinforces the sense of tension and uneasiness. The music that plays during the cutscenes, by contrast, is sweeping and orchestral; some of it is memorable, but it doesn't feel particularly "Metroid" to me. At the very least, though, I think most can agree that the few remixes of classic Metroid music that this game includes are absolutely top-notch.

One of the most controversial topics regarding Other M is its control scheme; the only option is to play with the Wii Remote sideways, using the D-Pad to control a fully 3D game. Even more baffling is the fact that it works; even with only the eight basic directions, I never once felt restricted in terms of movement. In fact, I can only think of a few times over the course of the game when I needed more than the four cardinal directions. Part of this is because of the semi-2D feel the game adopts; for example, even when a hallway is curving, you can keep holding the same direction and Samus will run along the curve. There are three other usable buttons; 1 is used to attack, 2 is used to jump, and A is used to roll up into Samus's iconic Morph Ball. Each feels quick, responsive, and fluid; a far cry from the sometimes clunky control set-ups of the GameCube Prime games. There are occasions, though, when the game adopts an over-the-shoulder camera, and Samus moves slower than molasses, unable to shoot or go into Morph Ball. I'm still not entirely sure why these were put into the game, but thankfully they don't come up too often, with the exception of one five-minute or so section. During the bulk of the game, Samus will automatically aim at the nearest enemy as long as you're facing in their general direction. Some may oppose it, but it works well, and quite frankly I don't see how else they could have had Samus aim precisely at enemies. Besides, Metroid has never particularly been about pure shooting.

But when you point the Wii Remote at the screen, you go into a first-person perspective, and the control scheme changes entirely. Here, A is used to shoot, while B is used to look around and lock onto objects. Except for the ability to dodge attacks by flicking the controller, you are immobile in first-person, adding an element of risk to it; but that risk does not come without rewards, as the first-person perspective is the only way to fire powerful missiles. There are a few seconds of bullet time whenever you enter first-person, and taking advantage of that slowdown is imperative in battle. Of course, first-person has its uses in exploration, as well; only by paying close attention to your surroundings will you be able to find some of the cleverly-hidden power-ups. There are also times during the game when the game forces you into first-person, and you'll have to search for a certain detail in your surroundings; some of these can be slightly frustrating, as the game rarely gives you an indication of what exactly you're looking for, or the room is too dark to see clearly, but you shouldn't spend more than a few minutes on them.

Combat and exploration: those are the two themes to Metroid: Other M's gameplay, but the first is where the game really shines. In addition to simply shooting enemies, Other M adds a variety of powerful melee attacks to Samus's arsenal, shifting the focus of enemy encounters from simply shooting them to death to finding ways of making them vulnerable to other attacks. At the core of this new combat system is the sense move, executed by tapping the D-Pad in any direction just before being hit with an attack; Samus will dodge out of its way, and if she's in the middle of charging her beam, it will automatically complete the charge. There's also the overblast, which can be done by jumping on an enemy's head while charging a beam; however, a number of enemies are only vulnerable to it at certain times. Thus, most battles revolve around dodging enemy attacks and slowly picking away at them with charged shots, waiting for an opening to switch to first-person and fire missiles, and figuring out when the right time to overblast them is. Then, when the enemy is stunned, Samus can run up to it and press 1 to execute a lethal strike, which is basically a cinematic finishing move that feels great to successfully pull off. And if your health falls too low during battle, you can tilt the Wii Remote vertically and hold down the A button to recharge one energy tank; this also carries an element of risk with it, since you must stand still to refill your health, and it takes about ten seconds, time you don't always have with a constant barrage of attacks headed your way. With all these techniques at your disposal, combat is varied, exciting, and most importantly, incredibly fun. Boss battles are particularly excellent, containing some of the best encounters in the series to date.

Of course, Metroid is better known for its exploration, and that is where Other M falters a bit. All Metroid games have Samus gradually collecting upgrades to her arsenal and becoming more powerful; Other M switches up the formula a bit by giving Samus all of her upgrades from the start, but not allowing her to use them until it's been authorized by Adam. While it's basically the same thing from a gameplay point of view, it does remove a sense of accomplishment from finding a new item. Instead of "Awesome, I found the Grapple Beam!", you think "Oh, Adam FINALLY let me use the Grapple Beam..." It's a minor detail, but it's still slightly disappointing. There are also some ridiculous moments that come about as a result of this system, such as when Adam doesn't authorize your Varia Suit until AFTER you've been trekking around in lava for twenty minutes, but these are the exception rather than the rule.

Exploration also takes a hit in terms of your freedom to go wherever you want; doors are locked and unlocked based on story progression, artificially blocking off certain areas until you need to go there. The game also leads you from save point to save point, essentially pointing you in the right direction at all times; Metroid Fusion and Metroid Prime 3: Corruption had similar systems, but they was never quite on this level.

However, certain elements of exploration still remain intact. Many rooms are puzzles in and of themselves, awarding an immense sense of accomplishment when you figure out what to do within them. One particular puzzle that stood out to me involves water that rises and falls every few seconds, with platforms floating in it and a wall blocking the door you're trying to reach. I won't spoil how to solve it for you, but when I finally figured it out I couldn't help thinking "Okay, that was pretty clever" to myself. Then you have the optional power-ups that increase your health, missile carrying capacity, and charge-up rate, many of which are deviously hidden; you sometimes have to search the surrounding rooms to figure out how to reach them. And after you complete the game, you have full access to roam the map at will; at this point, it starts to feel more like a traditional Metroid game. Even if there have been changes, the spirit of Metroid persists.

The player has absolutely no control over the camera, but shockingly enough, it works extremely well. You have a full view of the action at all times, and you never lose sight of Samus due to the smart choice of making objects translucent when she goes behind them. Occasionally, you may find yourself shooting at an off-screen enemy due to the auto-aim, but for the most part you can see everything you need to see.

Length-wise, the game is relatively short; you can probably clear the main quest in about 8 hours and get all of the items in about 12. There's still some extra content, though; you can unlock a movie stringing together all of the game's cutscenes (if you want to watch them again, for whatever reason), in addition to an art gallery. If you collect 100% of the items, you also unlock Hard Mode, which is the same game without any collectible power-ups; it's a challenging experience that really tests your mastery of the game's mechanics. Even after that, though, playing through the game normally is still fun; the combat really never gets old.

There's been a lot of controversy over Metroid: Other M, but quite frankly most of it has been people overreacting to changes that either are nominal in the long term or have precedent to begin with. True, the story isn't very good; but we must not forget that this is a game, not a movie or book. And when the gameplay is as fun as this game's is, I'm willing to sit through its cutscenes for the good parts.

But Samus? Please don't try to talk anymore. For everyone's sake.

Final Verdict: 8/10


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 09/10/10

Game Release: Metroid: Other M (US, 08/31/10)


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