Review by Big_Isaac
""Any objections, Lady?" Yes, quite a few, actually!"
Metroid Other M is a travesty from beginning to end. It pains me to say this as a long-time fan of the series, but it's true. At its core, the game is an attempt to add more character to Metroid's heroine, Samus Aran, whose personality had largely been left unexplored until now. It's a great idea in theory, but what we got in the end isn't just the worst game in the series, but a complete failure of a game in general. In fact, it isn't just bad. It is s a betrayal pretty much of everything one would consider Metroid in both Gameplay and Story. I don't wish to spoil anything, though, so let's start from the top, with the biggest offender this game has to offer - Samus' characterization.
So, what exactly is so bad about Samus' character in this game? It contradicts and clashes with nearly everything that was established by the earlier Metroid games. Despite her previous characterization as a strong, independent and competent person, Samus appears to be weak-willed, insecure, emotionally fragile and hopelessly dependent on approval from her superior. There's absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to give Samus flaws in order to make her more human, but the ones they chose to give her in Other M simply don't fit. It just isn't believable that this delicate flower is the same person who routinely charges into heavily fortified enemy bases by herself and succeeds against suicidal odds.
The corner stone of Samus' character in Other M is her former Commanding Officer, Adam Malkovich. Supposedly, Adam is Samus' father figure and generally the most important person in her life, but in reality he serves more like Samus' emotional ball-and-chain. He is the subject she talks about by far the most throughout the game; she tells us how she views Adam as her father figure, how much she trusts and respects him and many other things to that effect. The problem with all that is that nothing Samus tells us seems to mesh with Adam's actual portrayal, as he is always shown to be emotionally distant, displeased and almost condescending towards her. He clearly does not enjoy working with Samus or even being in her presence, and yet Samus keeps praising him to the skies in every single one of her monologues.
This difference between Samus' narration and Adam's visible character is quite jarring and portrays their relationship as very unhealthy, to the point of being uncomfortable to watch. The height of this comes in a scene late in the game where Adam purposely puts Samus' life in grave danger for no reason that is ever explained or even questioned. Instead of resenting Adam for it or at least trying to get an answer out of him, Samus thanks Adam for doing it. That's right, Adam nearly gets Samus killed for absolutely no reason, and Samus is grateful for it.
She is so obsessed with Adam and longs for his approval so much that she doesn't utter a single word of criticism for him throughout the whole game. According to Other M, there literally is not a holier person in the universe than Adam Malkovich a guy who spends the whole game acting like a condescending jerk. It's hard to get into any further detail without spoiling the events of the game, so I'll leave it at that. Just know that, if you liked Samus in any of her other games, you're in for massive disappointment.
With Samus' character out of the way, let's take a look at the setting of the game. Samus picks up a distress call, which promptly leads her to a research station of the Galactic Federation. Shortly after boarding, Samus runs into a group of GF troopers led by Samus' former CO, the aforementioned Adam Malcovich. They, too, had answered the distress call. Realizing that he will more than likely get his entire platoon killed on this mission without help, Adam reluctantly asks Samus for assistance. Samus agrees, so she and the troopers team up to find out what exactly went wrong on the station.
So, tell me if you've hard that one before:
Samus, under Adam's command, investigates a GF research station that is broken up into 1 main sector and several, themed sub-sectors that are designed to mimic alien environments. If you've ever played Metroid Fusion, then all of this should sound very familiar to you. The entire setting of the game is basically a 1:1 copy of Fusion's BSL station. It doesn't stop there, though. A great number of plot points and set pieces are blatantly copy-pasted from Fusion as well. What is astounding, though, is not that the writers ripped off Fusion so much, but that they somehow managed to rip Fusion off so much without realizing what made those set pieces and plot points work.
While Adam is Samus' favorite subject, he is by no means the only thing she talks about. She also loves to narrate and recall cutscenes, more often than not to an excessive degree. Her narration is almost always incredibly redundant, poorly written and drags the scenes out tremendously. Other M features a little over 2 hours of cutscenes. If you were to cut all the redundant monologues, you could slash off a good 20 minutes of it, if not more.
Another major aspect of the story is the Authorization system. Adam fears that Samus' fire power could pose a threat to the other troopers and potential survivors, so Samus agrees to not use any of her abilities until Adam allows her to. In essence, it's a good idea. So far, the only Metroid game that explained Samus' power loss at the start of the Mission effectively is Metroid Fusion, so the Authorization system could have been a great way to explain it for Other M. Unfortunately the implementation of the idea is plagued by a long list of problems. For example, the game neglects to explain why exactly it is necessary to prohibit not only Samus' weapons, but her defensive and movement abilities as well.
This leads to one of the most head-scratching sequence in Metroid history wherein Samus is required to make her way through an extremely hot environment without the aid of the Varia Suit. With the vital Suit upgrade offline, she constantly takes damage from the intense heat. Why doesn't she use it even though she has upgrade ready to go? Simply because Adam did not specifically tell her to use it. It's not until you make it through the whole area and reach the boss that Adam finally orders her to activate it. It's hard to say which of the 2 characters this reflects onto more poorly. Adam for just sitting back and watching Samus burn, or Samus for potentially letting herself burn to death just because Adam didn't order her to put on her protective clothes.
Speaking of Adam, his aforementioned squad of troopers deserves some attention, seeing as these guys certainly don't get any in the actual game. The only members of the group that have any merit are Anthony Higs, who is the single redeeming factor of the story, and Adam himself. All the other troopers are a complete waste of space. They are completely devoid of character and next to nothing would have changed had they been left out completely. Their only purpose is enabling an incredibly gratuitous traitor subplot, in which one of Adam's troopers is trying to keep whatever is going on aboard the station secret by destroying evidence and killing anyone who knows too much. A major flaw of this subplot is that it relies on you caring about the other troopers, which considering they have neither personality nor screen time is highly unlikely.
Samus even mentions that she, too, would be considered a target by the assassin. I assume this was written in an attempt to give the game a more oppressive atmosphere, trying to add tension by telling you there's a shadowy killer stalking you. The obvious flaw of this idea is that said shadow killer is a human being - An ordinary GF trooper. Samus on the other hand is a destructive demigod and therefore has no reason to feel the least big intimidated by this guy. It's like trying to intimidate an elite soldier by telling him there's a 5-year-old with a squirt gun after him.
The inclusion of this traitor subplot leads to another issue. Instead of focusing on 1 plot thread throughout the whole game, Other M decides to jump back and forth between no less than 3 different subplots. In addition to the traitor subplot and trying to find out what went wrong on the station, you also have to deal with the presence of a mysterious creature that may or may not turn out to be an old "friend." Since those 3 plots are constantly wrestling for screen time, none of them end up getting enough time to develop and resolve properly.
My final criticism of the plot is how Samus is involved in it. At all times, Samus seems to be more of a spectator than a progressive character. Throughout the whole game, you're being given mini mission after mini mission, none of which seem to affect the overall plot at all. I suppose with an over-arcing mission that is basically find out what's going on, it's more realistic to stumble unto smaller tasks and clues first, but it all feels very filler-ish and ultimately pointless. Even at the end of the game, all relevant plot points get resolved by other characters while Samus stands in the background, passively and ineffectually. It begs the question why Samus even needed to be involved to begin with.
This is the strongest part of Other M. It's still not very good, but at least functional.
Other M boldly ditches the Wii's Nunchuck in an attempt to simplify the controls, which means you have to use the Wiiremote like an NES controller. While this works well enough for the most part, it brings along a number of problems. Most importantly, without the Nunchuk's Analog Stick, you're stuck controlling Samus though the 3D environments with the D-Pad. Again, it is functional, but being able to use an Analog Stick would have made movement a lot more comfortable, smooth and precise.
The 2 major features of Other M's gameplay are the 1st person mode and the Sensemove ability. During regular gameplay, you can point the Wiimote at the screen to enter 1st Person View. Entering this mode is the only way to use Missiles, which is both a good and a bad thing. It's good because Missiles pack quite a punch in this game, so being able to use them in 3rd person would make it even easier than it already is thanks to Sensemove (more on that in a second). It's also a bad thing because it means that you have to enter 1st person mode every single time you want to fire one. This can and will get annoying rather quickly, especially if you are right-handed, in which case you are required to perform a very awkward motion to get the Wiimote situated correctly. It's hard to explain.
The game does a good job registering when you want to switch to first person, but there's still a noticeable delay because you have to physically turn the Wiimote to activate it. It doesn't take long, but long enough so you frequently miss the opportunity to hit an exposed weak point or take a hit. Outside of combat, 1st person mode also gets deployed in the gameplay's most hateful feature - the pixel hunts. Every so often, at fixed points during the story, the game forces you into 1st person mode and prevents you from progressing until you find and point at 1 specific thing in the environment. Depending on which pixel hunt you're at, this thing can be either very easy or frustratingly hard to find. Imagine standing in the middle of a jungle and being expected to find one specific, unremarkable bush among thousands without being allowed to move. That's what the harder pixel hunts are like even quite literally in 2 cases. The most head-scratching thing about this mechanic is that it's completely needless. These sections add absolutely nothing to the game, neither in gameplay nor in story. They always happen either at the start of a cutscene or in the middle of one, so nothing would have changed if they were automated.
The 2nd major feature is SenseMove, which is a dodging mechanic that allows you to narrowly avoid incoming attacks by pressing a directional button just before the attack lands. It even fully charges your beam every time you do it. At first glance, it's not too different from dodge mechanics you may have seen in other games, but there's one major difference: SenseMove requires no skill whatsoever. Your window of opportunity to activate a SenseMove is absurdly large, to the point that you can activate it while the incoming projectile or enemy fist is still several meters away. You can use it even if the attack would miss you altogether. It also doesn't punish you for button mashing, which means that you can just repeatedly tap a direction on the D-Pad and once an attack comes into SenseMove range, Samus will dodge it. This, combined with the fact that every dodge completely charges your beam trivializes every single battle in the game. Nothing poses a threat as you effortlessly dance around the enemy's fire and bombard them with the Charge Beam.
SenseMove also gets used outside of battle in everybody's favorite mechanic: Quick Time Events (QTEs). Every so often, a scripted enemy blind-sides you, requiring you to activate SenseMove to avoid damage - or in some cases - instant death. That's right; at one point a giant monster attacks you completely out of nowhere and gives you only a fraction of a second to react. If you fail, it's game over. Also, usually with QTEs, you'd expect some kind of prompt, like a glowing button, to appear on the screen when a QTE comes up. Other M chooses to be ambiguous and doesn't give you anything. Your only warning is the enemy's fangs/blast/fist flying at you in slow motion for half a second and you're expected to instinctively know what to do. After a few QTEs, you'll know that all you need to do is mash any direction on the D-Pad, but the first time it happens there's no way you'll know how to avoid the punishment.
Aside from SenseMove, there's one more feature to make survival easier: Whenever you take a hit that would be fatal, you inexplicably hang on with 1 point of energy left. If you take another hit after that, you die. No other Metroid game had a feature like that, so you may be wondering what the point of it is. Well, the answer is "concentration." In every other Metroid game, killing enemies will often times reward you with health and ammo pick-ups that restore your supply. Other M decided to do away with that and instead gives you the "concentration" ability. When you hold the Wiimote vertically and hold down the A button, Samus enters a special stance and starts recovering Missiles. If you're in critical condition (less than 25 energy left), you also recover health. That's why you always hang on with 1 HP before actually dying - to give you a chance to "concentrate" your health back.
At the end of the day, this whole system is a fix to a problem that never existed, and does more harm than good. Of course getting a missile pick-up from killing an alien rodent doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but I can't remember anyone ever complaining about that. What the developers neglected to realize is that "concentrating" your missiles and health back doesn't make any sense, either, since this feature was never mentioned in any of the other games. More importantly, it renders missile tanks completely useless, since you can just recover your missiles whenever you want. Restoring your whole supply like that only takes about 2 seconds no matter how big your maximum capacity is, so whether you have 1, 2 or 20 missile tanks more or less makes no difference.
Another side effect is that there's no point in fighting any of the regular enemies. They don't give you anything, so unless they're directly blocking your path, fighting them is just a waste of time.
So far, I haven't talked about the gameplay elements that you'd expect from a Metroid game, namely exploration, relative non-linearity and finding new abilities. The reason why I haven't talked about them yet is that they are completely absent from Other M. The game is prohibitively linear, as the vast majority of the areas consist of one long row of rooms with no room to explore. 95% of the rooms have exactly 1 entrance and 1 exit. No side tracks, no alternate routes, just one loooong long road from title to credits.
This is already the antithesis of what one would expect from a Metroid game, but it gets worse. Not only are the levels linear, but the game even prohibits you from backtracking to earlier areas to pick up items you missed. How does it do that? Simply by arbitrarily locking doors without reason or explanation. The game doesn't even provide some flimsy excuse for it. It just randomly shuts you out of old areas to force you into continuing the story. The game does finally open up at the end and give you free reign over the entire station, but that isn't until AFTER the game is already over. AFTER the final boss.
To top it all off, there's a game-breaking glitch linked to backtracking. If you go back to a previous area after beating a certain lava boss and save your game at a previous save station, the game permanently locks 1 specific door you need to go through later on. There's no way to open it and no alternate route around it (of course), so your only choice is to mail your disc in to Nintendo or to delete your save file and start over. This happens about two thirds of the way through the game, mind you. This truly is the perfect summation of Other M's linearity; the one time the game allows you to backtrack, a glitch renders the game unwinnable.
What about finding new abilities? As you know, you are being given abilities through the Authorization system, which means that Samus already has all of her gear from the start. This robs getting abilities of any sense of accomplishment. You're not actually finding any of the upgrades. Adam simply allows you to use them when he sees fit. In every other Metroid game, you gain a new ability either by beating a boss or by tracking it down in the levels, so whenever you find or win a new item, you get a certain feeling of accomplishment. This feeling is completely absent in Other M, since you literally have to do nothing to get your gear.
What doesn't help matters is this nagging knowledge that Samus literally has her entire arsenal ready to go at all times. When you lose to a boss, die to a normal enemy or have to pass up a pickup because there's a lava pit blocking your way to it, you know that you could have easily annihilated that boss/normal enemy or Space Jumped comfortably over that lava pit if only Samus used all of her abilities. You also know that the only reason why Samus DOESN'T use all of her abilities is that Adam the unlikable jerk whom Samus inexplicably likes didn't allow her to use all of her toys yet.
This would have been the perfect place to implement a choice. Give the player the option to activate whichever upgrade he wants at any time, but include a penalty for going against Adam's orders. For example, walking around in full gear from the get-go could worsen Samus' relationship with Adam, resulting in some negative effect on gameplay or a different ending. Instead, you are entirely at the game's mercy.
One final feature of the gameplay is "Hard Mode," which gets unlocked once you beat the game with 100% item completion. The most notable change you'll see in Hard Mode is that all expansions are removed, meaning you can never increase your Missile or Health capacity. Enemies also deal more damage and you don't hang on with 1 point of Health when taking a lethal blow. On paper, this may look like a decent challenge. In reality, though, the developers forgot that none of these changes have any impact on SenseMove. It doesn't matter how much damage the enemies do or how low your maximum Health is, since SemseMove lets you effortlessly dodge everything, anyways.
Visuals and Sound:
On a pure technical level, the visuals are very impressive. Other M pushes the Wii too its limits with its high-quality models, shiny (pre-rendered) cutscenes and smooth animations. On an artistic level, however, the visuals are a disaster. All the areas, characters and enemies look extremely bland and devoid of detail. Samus' power suit, for example, may look a lot more shiny than in Metroid Prime 3, but all the detail in the design seems to have gone missing. It is meant to look slick and streamlined, I assume, but it just ends up looking out-of-place and fake. There's no gravity or physical presence to her design, just a whole lot of gloss.
The areas don't fair any better. Not only are the themes for the areas as cliche as can be (Jungle, Lava and Ice), but the designs themselves are extremely sterile and same-y. There's no creative spark or originality anywhere. The Lava and Ice sectors are especially guilty of this. Almost all the Lava/Ice rooms and the filler rooms that connect them are completely interchangeable. For the vast majority of the environments, there's nothing distinct or memorable that differentiates one room from another. Sure, the room layout is always different, but all the rooms are covered in the same, generic textures and design elements.
Going back to Samus' design, there's something very out of place about her. The majority of the areas use a very dull color pallet, so having Samus in this extremely bright yellow/orange Suit run through them looks wrong. She doesn't seem to fit into anything. This becomes especially apparent when she's in the same room with the GF troopers, who are clad mostly in dark blue and black. Their suits are rather glossy as well, but Samus still sticks out like a sore thumb. The clash between her and the scenes she is in is so severe, it almost seems like she was pasted it with photoshop.
Now, let's talk about the Sound, namely the voice acting and music. I already talked about how Samus has a bad habit of monologuing too much. Unfortunately, her voice acting only makes things worse. Directed by Mr. Sakamoto not a native English speaker her voice actress delivers a performance so empty and devoid of emotion, it's nauseating to listen to. One has to wonder what went through Mr. Sakamoto's head when he instructed her to speak like that. This game is supposed hammer hone the fact that Samus isn't an emotionless robot, but her voice acting makes her sound like exactly that. As for the other characters, their voice acting is at least passable, although Anthony Higs' actor seems to be on the verge of cracking up with every line he delivers.
Lastly, the music section should go by rather quickly. After all, the game barely has any music to begin with. The vast majority of it is only ambiance, which is a wasted effort since the areas are so generic and boring, they can't provide a gripping atmosphere. So, having next to no actual music combined with the dull level design only makes the game more boring, rather than more immersive. As for the songs that aren't just ambiance, they are all very generic and incredibly forgettable. The soundtrack does have 1 gem, though. Ridley's theme is back and as awesome as it always is.
I strongly advise anybody against playing this game. All things considered, Other M offers nothing that justifies suffering through its many, many flaws. It doesn't add anything to the Metroid series, only serves to alienate long-time fans and is simply not fun to play. Any enjoyment you may get out of the admittedly functional gameplay is bound to get swatted away by the atrocious story and offensive portrayal of Samus Aran. If you are new to the Metroid series, do yourself a favor and do not start with this one. If you are already a fan of the Metroid series, go back and play any one of the other games, instead. No matter for how cheap you can find Other M these days, there's always a better use for your cash. Save your money, save your time and avoid this game at all cost.
Reviewer's Score: 2/10 | Originally Posted: 01/14/13
Game Release: Metroid: Other M (EU, 09/03/10)
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