Review by GerudoThief

"Another M from Another World"

Having played through the Metroid Prime series, Zero Mission, and Super Metroid, I first tried to compare Other M to those games. The first Prime blew me away when it came out. Super Metroid I never played until 2009, and didn't love right away because of my attachment to Prime and my comparison of it to the recent Castlevania (metroidvania) games, which were obviously designed with a more modern audience in mind. Still though, I appreciated it, liked it by the end, and wouldn't dare argue against its greatness. Many people will likely go into Other M thinking of those past games, but I promise it will prove difficult to compare. For better or worse, Other M is like a patch quilt of past Metroid games and a lot of ideas that seem like they belong in games that don't exist yet.

The first thing many will notice is that Other M controls strangely, and often poorly. Using the D-pad to move is typically fine and the game's environments and auto-pathing (Samus will sometimes turn for you on long paths) allows the player to push forward on the controller as the camera shows off a winding staircase or slips around a bending corridor. The problem I always have with the D-pad is that it's easy to push too hard, leaving my thumb sore. The D-pad is small and hard, and being used to pushing around a rubbery joystick for a 3d made its required use annoying. Also, as many have said, switching from 3rd to 1st person perspective by pointing the wiimote at the screen can range from awkward, to frustrating, to lethal. There is no reason as far as the buttons are configured that the nunchuk can't be used, providing all the buttons the current control scheme needs plus extra for switching viewpoints. I was disappointed that control options were non existent, and the provided scheme was so odd. Aside from that, the controls are responsive and things like quick dodging enemy fire and wall jumping are a breeze. In fact, everything is a breeze, which can become a problem.

Unlike the recent Prime games, Other M has only one difficulty setting even upon completion of the game. Considering the developers put in the effort to make combat exciting by adding flashy finishers, timed dodges that move Samus from harm while charging her gun, and some other beautiful context sensitive moves, it would have made sense to include combat difficulty options and there is no excuse to not have them. I died occasionally, mainly in scripted scenes that suddenly give the player control without warning, when I was playing lazily, or when the perspective switch acted up, but it's not unrealistic for someone to complete the game without ever dying. Even if you do die, there are automatic checkpoints as you move from room to room. Samus can also avoid death using timed dodges, which can be executed with extreme ease, even simply by spamming the d-pad in any direction during combat as projectiles fly towards her. The fact that every successful dodge fully charges Samus's gun for a powerful shot with enough splash damage to kill surrounding weak enemies makes combat a nuisance. Unfortunately, power-up (health tanks, missile upgrades, etc.) locations are revealed by a small dot on the map only when all the enemies in a room are cleared. The combat can be annoying, but it becomes a necessity for the new power-up location system, which in turn effectively eliminates the intense exploration of the past games. Of course one could also say this streamlines the experience, eliminating frustrating hours spent hunting for that last energy tank. Because the game is so easy, though, getting power-ups isn't even that important. I cleared the game collecting only 48% of the upgrades, and I would say I had a surplus of health and missiles the entire game. To put this into perspective, I recall needing almost all of the energy tanks to comfortably handle some bosses in past Metroid games.

The introduction of “concentration” adds yet another strange, out of place dynamic to combat. When Samus is low on health, tilting the wiimote vertically allows her to recharge health (the amount recharged is upgraded throughout the game) and missiles, which can be charged this way to full at any time, not that you'll be using them much aside from boss fights and opening doors. The concentration mechanic is a great crutch in between save stations or after long fights, and is sometimes necessary because enemies do not drop health or ammo. Save stations are abundant, however, so I found myself using the concentration to restore health only a few times and mainly in boss fights. It would have been nice to encourage more combat by leaving out the concentration system and having enemies drop health and ammo. It seems as though the decision to omit enemy drops was made to create a need for the concentration system. To be honest, the power-up location dots also seem to be a result of forcing an incentive for the combat. In this way, the mess of ideas that went into combat all create an awkward web of half-formed ideas that justify themselves with other half-formed ideas. Luckily for long-time Metroid fans, it isn't just about fighting, but the atmosphere of the world and the progressively super hero like abilities of our heroine Samus…Right?

From the beginning, Other M is clearly quite story based. Samus bumps into some Galactic Federation troops early on aboard the game's world, the Bottleship spaceship, and their presence remains important throughout the game. Yes, the entire game takes place on this one spaceship, and it really shows. The spaceship is mainly closed halls and corridors, with no view of the outside world and with little of interest aside from the enemies that need to be killed to reveal the one power-up that needs to be collected. Because of this, each room is like its own separate area with a small puzzle for a small reward. There are very few areas in the game that require the player to carefully observe the surroundings to move on, explore for secrets, or go through complex puzzles that utilize a variety of Samus's moves. For the Samus in Other M, however, this might be a good thing. There is a very limited variety of power-ups in the game (I won't spoil them here), so don't expect to see any of the old morph ball upgrades, new suits, visors, or etc. In fact, practically nothing new to the series is brought to Samus's arsenal, and for me that was a disappointment. Even some of what is available only becomes so very late in the game, once Samus is authorized by Adam.

The commander of the Galactic Federation on the Bottleship, Adam, is in charge of what Samus does and does not get to use, so upgrades are scripted instead of found this time around. Samus's obedience to the rules of the Federation, as well as the rest of her personality as expressed through dialogue and narration is sure to divide fans and newcomers alike. To me, Samus's personality made sense even if her voice was often over dramatic. Avoiding the fault of many games I've played, her emotions are appropriate and under control, even if they stray from the (largely made-up by fans) personality she exhibited in former games. I enjoyed knowing that Samus had a past and emotional motivation, from her connection to the infant Metroid in past games to her relationships with certain crew members of the Federation, for who she is and the actions she takes. Basic themes of betrayal, redemption, government corruption, and experiments gone wrong are all present here, and while these themes may be old, I liked seeing them in the Metroid universe. For fans of the series, there are most certainly some interesting points and suspenseful possibilities thrown into the plot, particularly when the game picks up in the second half. The story is told in numerous cut-scenes throughout the game, some of which are pre-rendered and absolutely stunning. In the second half of the game, many of the scenes really impressed me and heightened the experience to a level I've never seen before in a Metroid game. Even the in game graphics very good, though sometimes too dark (perhaps this was because of the glaringly sunny environment I was playing in). Unfortunately they are not utilized to full potential because, as I said, the spaceship is fairly drab at times, and the variety of small jungle, ice, and fire areas are tired clichés. Metroid is also well known for its music, but the soundtrack to Other M was obviously a second thought. Much of the game has no music, and the music that is present, while thankfully not just recycled old songs, leaves a lot to be desired. I think it's great when a sequel moves away from simply modernizing or rearranging an old soundtrack, but it's sad that Other M fails to deliver a memorable auditory experience. That said, the presentation is overall great and there is some very notable cinematic camerawork at times that makes Samus look powerful and stunningly cool, even if the game forces her to walk at a snail's pace at odd times and during story driven moments.

Despite its flaws, Metroid: Other M tries a lot of new ideas, delivers an enjoyable experience that at times really dazzles, and takes a favorite series in a refreshingly new direction. It's worth playing through to the end just to know what happens, whether the sudden ending inspires anger or satisfaction, and it's not a tough journey to get through. I completed the game in 8.5 hours and collected 48% of the power-ups for this review.
Oh, and don't forget to watch the credits.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 09/09/10

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

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