Review by nintendosega

"A smaller, less impressive game than the Prime series, though it still manages to entertain."

One of the biggest surprises of E3 2009 was the reveal of Metroid: Other M. A collaboration between series creator Yoshio Sakamoto and developer Team Ninja, the project was positioned as a change from the "first person adventure" style of the Metroid Prime trilogy, with its return to the third person perspective. Metroid: Other M also promised to shed some light onto the personality of main character, Samus, attempting to "make human" a character who had almost always been a silent protagonist.

In some ways it works, and in some ways, it comes up short. Retro Studios, the Western developer who made the Metroid Prime series, set the bar incredibly high, and it's unfortunate that Metroid: Other M doesn't even seem to be trying to deliver on the same level. On the other hand, the gameplay here is surprisingly fun, and the story does wonders to help with Other M's pacing.

I've always had a love-hate relationship with the Prime series. Though I found the first two Metroid Prime games to be rather dull, Metroid Prime 3's more action-driven gameplay and its improved shooting mechanics finally offered me a Metroid experience that I could get into. Since then, thanks to the Metroid Prime Trilogy bundle pack released on Wii last year, I've re-discovered and developed a greater appreciation for the first two Metroid Prime games, so going into Metroid: Other M, I wasn't sure what I'd think of it.

The game's a strange beast in that Sakimoto and Team Ninja seem to have totally disregarded what the Metroid Prime series excelled in. It's clear almost immediately that the visual presentation has taken a giant step backward. The Metroid Prime series was known not only for its incredible visuals and polish, but for its inventive art direction that created many distinctive environments. Metroid: Other M is not all that impressive graphically. Some of the texture work is pretty bad, especially when viewed up close. The game makes use of fixed camera angles, and the view is almost always a distance away from Samus, making it feel more like you're "playing a video game" than being immersed in a world. With the exception of maybe one or two visually inventive environments, Other M sticks pretty rigidly to the "fire world, desert world, ice world, forest world" formula, which, after the Prime games' sky cities, mystical ruins, and dead wastelands, feels rather uninspired. The in-game cinematics are stylishly directed but feature pretty dated-looking facial expressions. On the positive side, once you start playing, there aren't many load times to speak of, and those that exist are well-disguised by elevator rides that add to the atmosphere rather than take away from it. For the most part the game keeps a solid framerate, and the CG cutscenes, of which there are several, are of top quality. I should stress that this is not a bad-looking game, at least, not most of the time, but its visual flaws and "nothing special" environments are simply more noticeable given how much Other M had to live up to.

The game, however, opens up with an incredible CG cinematic. At the start of Metroid: Other M, Samus, who has just emerged victoriously from her exploits in Super Metroid, decides to investigate a mysterious "bottle ship" in the middle of the galaxy which has sent out a distress signal. Upon arriving at this vessel, she finds a majority of the crew dead and monsters roaming the facility. She soon meets up with soldiers of the Galactic Federation, including commanding officer Adam Malkovich, a man with whom she has some history. This is all very strange at first. With the exception of Metroid Fusion on the GBA, Samus has always been a silent character, but now, all of a sudden, she not only has discussions with other characters, but she has lengthy monologues as well. These usually involve Samus introspectively "thinking" about the world, her current situation, Adam, and her past. Due to some rough dialogue and hit-or-miss voice acting, (again, surprising, given what's at stake here, this being a major Nintendo franchise) people will either like Metroid: Other M's emphasis on storytelling or hate it. Though I wouldn't say I found the story to be particularly original, the cutscenes are frequent and interesting enough to give the game a great sense of pace without totally ruining the feeling of isolation that the Metroid series has always been known for. The story sequences are directed with an edge that's surprising for a Nintendo title, reminding me a bit at times of something like Dead Space. Yes, it's cheesy, yes, it's heavy handed, yes, Samus occasionally will act in a way that may contradict how she acted in other Metroid games. But I found myself generally interested in where the story was going and I like the fact that Samus has finally been given a personality.

Though the increased emphasis on story is partially responsible for the upkick in Other M's pacing compared to past games in the series, the gameplay plays a big part in this as well. In what's a total departure from the Metroid Prime games, it's almost always easy to tell where you have to go or what you have to do. Once at your designated location, a powerup is usually acquired or a boss is dealt with, then it's off to the next area. The bottle ship is divided into different sectors, each with its own climate-controlled setting and its hidden items and passageways, and there is some traditional Metroid backtracking to be done. That said, this game's very corridor-driven and, dare I say it, linear, so if you're hoping for the same level of exploration as Metroid has offered in the past, prepare for disappointment. However, if you're hoping for a fun shooting system, look no further. Other M takes place mainly in a 3rd person perspective, though pointing the Wii Remote at the screen engages a 1st person mode for more exact targeting. Though you can't move your character while in this mode, first person is crucial to defeat many of the game's bosses, and once I got the hang of it, I found it to be pretty satisfying. There are some very cool boss fights here, again, not necessarily up to the Prime standard, either in difficulty or inventiveness, but still very much worthy of the Metroid name. Shooting enemies is done with a lock-on, while a cinematic dodge technique is also incorporated. Samus can jump into the backs of enemies for a cool finishing move, as well. It's all a lot of fun to pull off. Save points are frequent, as are checkpoints, so dying never carries *too severe* of a penalty, which I definitely think is a good thing in this day and age.

The gameplay's not all a home run, though, as there are a couple strange ideas that just don't seem to be very well thought out. For example, there are points where you will automatically switch to first person mode, find yourself locked in place, and then be forced to look around you and "locate" an object. These sections are not only entirely unnecessary, but they're difficult to complete because the game will often give you no clue what you're supposed to be looking for. Similarly, the way new abilities are gained is almost laughable. Though Samus has her reasons for obeying Adam, it's pretty ridiculous that he would prevent her from using her abilities until he "authorizes" them, and oftentimes I found myself wondering why he took so long to authorize certain moves that Samus would likely find pretty crucial to her survival. New abilities are still learned in the same way as is typical for the series, with you following the dot on your map to a location, either solving a puzzle or fighting a boss, and then earning an ability that you'll then use to progress through an area previously unavailable to you. What makes no sense is that sometimes when you reach your destination, Adam will simpy contact you and authorize an ability, and your next step is to backtrack to a path that is now open due to you having this ability. Which of course begs the question: why was it necessary, when Adam can authorize Samus's abilities whenever he wants, to spend 15 minutes traveling across the bottle ship, only to hit a dead end and have Adam authorize an ability to unlock a path that you passed 15 minutes ago? Why not just allow Samus to use her ability when she first reached the path she was unable to take? This comes across as very sloppy game design and, again, something that I feel could have used some more thought. To the game's credit, some of these abilities are actually very cool, once you finally get to use them.

The final flaw I have with the gameplay is the ease in difficulty. I understand that Sakamoto and Team Ninja wanted to create a more accessible Metroid game, I just wish it wasn't such a cakewalk. Though there are some tough boss fights and mini-boss fights, regular enemies will for the most part not present any sort of challenge, and they're destroyed in large numbers by your auto-lock shooting. It seems that no Nintendo series is safe from the company's "easy and accessible" agenda, and Metroid: Other M is certainly a victim of that.

Luckily, the audio experience hasn't lost much of its step. Music is subtle and ambient, adding a lot to the feeling of isolation, though, as is becoming a common theme with this review, it's certainly not up to par with the Metroid Prime soundtracks. It does a suitable job, however, and the same goes for the sound design. These work together to capture the typical Metroid atmosphere. Music in cutscenes fits them well.

Overall, I have to say, it's hard to explain where I stand on Metroid: Other M. I enjoyed the fun and addictive gameplay, I liked the sense of atmosphere, I was compelled to find out what happened next in the story, and I loved some of these bosses and powerups. That said, the game's also seriously lacking the polish that I'd expect from a 1st party Nintendo title, let-alone a Metroid title. This isn't just the uneven visual presentation I'm talking about, but the dialogue, which Nintendo usually excels in, feels like it was either written or translated on the cheap. The voice acting sounds straight out of 1999, and the way powerups are acquired simply doesn't make any sense, in this universe or any other. Rather than trying to top or build upon what Retro Studios achieved with the Metroid Prime series, it seems that Sakamoto and Team Ninja simply decided to make their own standalone game. Sadly, the game they've created is a smaller, less impressive game than Prime, and there's just no way around that. Don't let that necessarily dissuade you from playing it, though. This may not be the best in the series, but it's one of the more exciting entries, and successfully delivers as an atmospheric sci-fi action game with pretty cool cutscenes and fun gameplay. Try to avoid comparing it to the Prime series and you'll likely enjoy it much more.


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 10/12/10, Updated 10/14/10

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


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