Metroid Other M Review
I’m no stranger to Nintendo’s Metroid series. In fact, I claim to be one of its most faithful fans. Long before bounty hunting babe Samus Aran revealed her pixilated bikini in the NES original, I’d already fallen in love with the game’s addictive blend of action, adventure, exploration and atmosphere. More importantly, I’d discovered my new favorite videogame protagonist; to this day, I’m adamant that Metroid’s arm-cannon-toting heroine would make a much cooler corporate mascot than a mustachioed plumber. But my admiration for Samus and her Space Pirate-thwarting adventures never blur into blind fanboy-ism. On the contrary, my support for the series often makes me one of its harshest critics. As much as I appreciated the ambition of Retro Studios’ Prime titles, for example, they never felt entirely like Metroid to me. That doesn’t make them bad games by any stretch; they are, in fact, quite good. But by putting players behind the visor--and essentially making them, not Samus, the star--some of the magic was robbed from the Metroid experience I’d grown up with. So, it was with great hope that I entered Metroid Other M, a Nintendo and Team Ninja collaboration that puts Samus back in the spotlight.
Save for some problematic under-the-helmet moments--which I‘ll address in a bit--much of Other M is controlled from a third-person perspective, giving gamers a full-on, front row view of its space-faring star. Controlled by the Wii-mote, held sideways like an old school NES controller, this design choice not only succeeds from a technical standpoint, but also recalls Samus’ side-scrolling heyday. Action-intensive gameplay takes center stage when in third-person mode, as players fluidly control Samus through baddie-infested environments. Targeting is handled with an auto-aim feature that works surprisingly well, striking a nice balance between assisting the player and still giving them control. Additionally, melee moves are now a part of Samus’ arsenal, so plasma blasts can be interspersed with the occasional cinematic kick or choke move. Given Team Ninja’s fighting game pedigree, I feared these arguably non-Metroid moves would come off gimmicky or be overused, but they’re actually mixed successfully into Samus’ repertoire.
Other M is more focused on blasting baddies than previous entries, but the franchise’s hallmark exploration gameplay is intact. You’ll still have plenty of opportunities to search for items, backtrack, and make interesting research discoveries. Although, purists may miss the satisfaction of finding Samus’ lost powers, a staple of most Metroid games that’s abandoned in Other M in favor of an interesting, but not entirely believable narrative device; rather than losing her weapons and gear at the story’s start, Samus keeps all her toys, but their use is kept on a leash by her old Commanding Officer, who plays a large role in Other M‘s story. For the most part it’s a clever way to not repeat the old formula, but it’s occasionally a stretch to believe our headstrong hero wouldn’t just tell this guy where to shove his orders and use her powers as she sees fit.
Other M also sees Samus encountering some challenging, but never frustrating puzzles that fall right in-line with the Metroid universe. They’re generally paced pretty well, too, coming at moments where you might be craving a break from splattering the walls with alien innards. And let’s not forget Samus’ morph ball transformations; as in previous adventures, this invaluable ability sees Samus rolling through tight tunnels, laying bomb trails, and evading enemies. The simple Wii-mote-mapped controls also handle these moments with pleasing fluidity. More than once I felt like a true badass, blasting a towering boss baddie with arm cannon rounds, then effortlessly switching to planting a perimeter of morph bombs in its lair. Speaking of epic encounters with big bads, Other M is brimming with intense melees against screen-eclipsing foes. From fire-breathing and fang-baring, to tail-whipping and claw-swiping, Samus’ adversaries come in all shapes, sizes and colors, and all are determined to turn her into a splat on the floor. I’m guessing Team Ninja’s imaginative designers had something to do with these inspired encounters, as they’re as challenging as they are stylized. Don’t be surprised if a friend or spouse takes a seat on the couch next to you and anxiously cheers you on during one of these heart-racing battles.
Sadly, these awesome encounters--and some other key moments--are interrupted by the need to switch to Other M‘s clunky first-person perspective. Handled by simply pointing the Wii-mote at the TV, this mechanic feels cool, albeit unnecessary, when things are calm and you’re using it as an exploratory tool. In fact, during quieter moments, it totally recalls the Prime title’s FPS gameplay. However, it becomes a problem during the game’s more challenging moments because the switch is so jarring. The disorientation only lasts a second, if that, but that’s too long when you’ve got a scaly behemoth breathing down your neck. In addition to feeling unintuitive in tight spots, the FPS play restricts Samus’ movements to camera panning, and it’s the only mode in which she can fire missiles. Again, this all works well enough when you’re exploring, blasting through a door, or taking on low level menaces. But there’s also a handful of tense moments where you’ll be cursing its inclusion.
While this occasional frustration keeps Other M from perfection, the rest of the experience is mostly spot-on. That includes the story, the franchise’s best to date and a love letter to Samus’ biggest fans; the shapely bounty hunter finally gets a voice and the story reveals tons of interesting tid-bits on her back-story. I was afraid these aspects may siphon some of the mystery from the Metroid mythos, but they instead complement it, making Samus a more believable character and one you can connect with on a more emotional level. This is further supported by some expertly produced cut-scenes fleshing out her story. The one that opens the game, a retelling of her encounter with Mother Brain from Super Metroid, will immediately justify the game’s purchase for anyone who counts the SNES classic among their all-time favorites. Other M‘s in-game visuals impress, as well. With few exceptions, characters look great and animate believably, and varied, detailed environments evoke a decidedly Metroid aesthetic. The score, one of the series’ core tenets, doesn’t disappoint either, instilling mystery and moodiness, but ramping up appropriately when things get heated.
It’s hard to completely fault the developers for their flaws because they’ve clearly made some admirably bold decisions to evolve a franchise that’s near and dear to so many. And while it falls a bit short, Other M works as both a Metroid game and Wii title that should please old school fans, while attracting newcomers to a series that deserves a mainstream audience. It doesn’t knock Super Metroid from the top spot, but it does bring the series back to a place I felt was somewhat neglected in the previous Prime titles. It also lays a fantastic framework for an even better sequel that I hope Nintendo and Team Ninja are hard at work creating.