When Nintendo announced that Team Ninja, the creators of Dead or Alive and Ninja Gaiden, would be developing the next entry in the Metroid franchise, many fans were ecstatic. I was indifferent. I’m not a fan of any of their titles and the only thing I could envision was a sadistically difficult game with a scantily clad Samus. “Get your extreme beach volleyball out of my Metroid!”Â I kept telling myself. As more and more footage of the title was released, however, I was actually pretty stoked. Metroid: Other M was poising itself to become the perfect blend of the old and the new, containing the 2D viewpoints of the classic games combined with some first-person shooting from the Prime series. Not to mention all of the backstory that would be unveiled. Does Metroid: Other M live up to all the hype, or should it morph ball its way out the door?
Metroid: Other M takes place between the events of Super Metroid and Metroid Fusion. As the game opens, you get to see the ending moments of Super Metroid in a glorious CG cutscene before you are treated to another cutscene. And another. And another. Actually, I’m not sure how many there were because there’s no clear point where one ends and another begins. And they are unskippable. That’s right, it’s 2010 and we still have games with lengthy cutscenes that we can’t skip through. At least, not on the first playthrough anyway. But what’s worse is I can’t even pause during cutscenes, and some of them get quite winded. For a second, I almost thought Hideo Kojima himself was directing this.
Despite the game’s self-indulgent cinematics that seem to interrupt the flow of the game, the plot is actually quite good. Samus receives a distress signal coming from what is referred to as the Bottle Ship and decides to check it out. When she arrives, she realizes she was beaten to the punch by Galactic Federation soldiers, led by her former commander, Adam Malkovich. If you played Metroid Fusion, you may recognize Adam as the name of the computer that helped Samus along in her mission. Well, he’s the guy the computer is named after, and much of the game’s cutscenes will revolve around his relationship with Samus.
However, the cinematics are not just all shiny models and flashbacks. The Metroid franchise has always been able to create an Aliens sort of atmosphere. And although Samus normally undertakes her missions alone, the game still successfully creates a feeling of isolation and a mistrust for your comrades, to where you are forced to solve the mystery alone. It takes awhile to pick up steam, but once it does, you will find it difficult to put down.
The biggest shock for Metroid fans is likely going to be the characterization of Samus. She actually speaks dialogue in this game, and a lot of it. Almost every significant finding causes her to have an inner monologue that eventually transitions into another cutscene. Coming fresh off of the Metroid Prime Trilogy, this is a bit jarring. What used to be a character that I had always perceived as a cold, calculated killing machine in a mechanical suit has now been reduced to a naÃƒÂ¯ve little softy that suddenly takes orders from a military force that she had apparently quit years ago. I now see why The Legend of Zelda has never had Link speak, and I respect Nintendo’s decision to stand by that philosophy.
Story/Modes Rating: Good
Since you will be watching a lot of cutscenes, it’s a good thing that they are all very well done. In fact, this game as a whole is one of the best looking games I’ve seen come from the Wii in a long time. I may even go so far as to say this is the most gorgeous title on the Wii right now. All of the characters and enemies are wonderfully rendered and move very fluidly, and each sector of the Bottle Ship has what is basically its own living, breathing eco system. Even small details such as tiny butterflies will dot the landscape here and there and every room seems to have a purpose to the overall operation of the ship. To build an entire map where all of the rooms form one cohesive experience is no easy feat, and Team Ninja seems to have pulled it off here.
The most impressive sight by far has to be the Super Metroid scene I mentioned above. If you haven’t played Super Metroid yet, I recommend you do, not only because it’s an awesome game, but because you will appreciate the opening cinematic that much more. In fact, you’ll see a number of things throughout Metroid: Other M that will send a wave a nostalgia over you if you’re a longtime fan of the franchise. You’ll have to play to find out, as I won’t spoil what they are.
I know that the Wii does not have an HDMI port, but if you have an HDTV, I recommend you get a set of component cables. You’ll notice the difference right away from the standard composite ones you are given, and you can truly appreciate just how good this game looks (and all games for that matter). And the best part is, none of this visual eye candy comes at the cost of performance, as there were no framerate drops during my playthrough and loading times are kept to a minimum. A technical feat, to be sure.
Graphics Rating: Amazing
The music in Metroid: Other M is absolutely excellent. You’re treated to tracks that include some classic tunes pulled from older Metroid titles as well as some new material that fits right in with the mood of the game. It goes from very subtle and ambient while exploring the Bottle Ship to upbeat and exciting when the enemies drop in on you. For someone who has never done music for a Metroid title before, composer Kuniaki Haishima has really outdone himself.
The same cannot be said for the voice acting. It’s far from the most horrible dub I’ve ever heard in a video game, though Samus in particular does not sound at all how I imagined her to. Not that any person chosen for the role would have ever fulfilled my expectations to begin with, but you’d think that a character with so many lines could’ve been better cast. It’s actually not her voice itself that bothers me, it’s how some of the lines she has that actually require some bit of emotion are so staged that it’s very hard to take her character seriously. Luckily, most of what she says are just her thoughts, so the majority of it ends up at least serviceable.
The rest of the characters actually sound pretty decent, though you don’t hear much from them anyway. Adam in particular sounds just like the cold commander in charge that he’s portrayed to be, and as such, reinforces my negative image of his character. A bunch of cocky marines round out the rest of the cast, and they are just what you’d expect from their role.
Sound Rating: Good
Gameplay in Metroid: Other M is a mash up between classic Metroid gameplay and that of the Prime series. Most of the game is played from a third-person perspective, though the camera is almost always fixed in a perspective that makes it look 2D, and you will spend a lot of time moving from left to right and vice versa. But you have the option of going into the background and foreground if you want to, as well as the ability to switch into a first person mode to look around.
These options do a great justice in allowing the player to have the best of both worlds in that they can run and gun or stand still and shoot if they need to. The problem with having all of these play styles available is that there are some awkward design decisions that, considering how polished the rest of the game is, really should have been addressed.
Let me start with the fixed 2D angle. It works great for the most part, until you encounter a situation where you have to move towards the camera. Instead of being able to flip the camera around 180 degrees to see what’s ahead of you, you just run blindly at the screen and hope that some random enemy or obstacle doesn’t send you to your death. These situations occur mostly when you have to backtrack through an area, but it was a glaring flaw worth mentioning.
The other big problem is the first person view. Now, switching between the 2D view and the first person view is rather simple. Since you hold the Wii remote like a NES controller, all you have to do is point the remote at the screen to switch to the other view. You can then point at whatever is on the screen that you want to shoot at and then, well, shoot at it. However, it’d have been nice to at least have the option to use a nunchuk in this case since you can’t move while you are in this view. That’s right, you’re a sitting duck while firing using this method unless you pull back the remote and move or you perform a last minute dodge (more on those later). Even if you do get out of the way of whatever was shooting at you, you are now disoriented and have to realign your shot in order to accomplish what you originally set out to do by using this mode. And if you think you can get by in the game without switching views, you are sadly mistaken. Since the only way you can fire missiles is in first-person, expect a number of boss fights relying on you being able to switch back and forth efficiently.
The controls themselves are very responsive and a short tutorial at the beginning of the game makes sure you know how to utilize them. As mentioned above, it’s very similar to playing Metroid games on the NES and SNES where you hold the remote sideways. The directional pad allows you to move, with 1 and 2 allowing you to shoot and jump respectively. As in prior games, you can roll up into a ball to traverse narrow passageways by simply hitting the A button. When in first person, the A button becomes your shoot button and you can use B to move your head around. It’s kinda awkward at first, but you grow accustomed to it quickly. Samus also has the ability to approach enemies and perform a number of hand to hand moves on them. You can spin kick your enemies in the head, grab them by the leg and throw them around, and even jump on top of them and fire a charged blast in the face. These are all awesome additions to her arsenal and after all of those years of Super Smash Bros. appearances, you had to wonder when she would finally put those martial arts to good use.
Another move that Samus is given that is heavily utilized is her ability to dodge an incoming attack by rolling out of the way. If you hit the directional pad away from the enemy right before an attack hits you, Samus will jump out of harm’s way and will be invulnerable during the duration of this maneuver. Not only is it incredibly helpful if you master it, but certain boss fights will require that you rely on it in order to succeed. It’s fairly easy to learn with a little practice, so don’t worry if you don’t get a grasp on it the first couple tries. The opening tutorial will also give you a few practice runs as well.
Much of Metroid: Other M is fairly linear, and the in-game map will point to where you need to go. There’s still a great deal of exploration to be had though, as just like its predecessors there are a number of upgrades and power ups strewn about the ship. The Bottle Ship is divided into three main sectors, one representing a rainforest area, and the other two providing the typical snow and lava levels. There are also a number of subsections that you will journey to as well, but what’s disappointing is that for most of the game, the majority of the areas that you have been to before are closed off to you until you approach the end of the game, or at least, until the story dictates you can go back there. You will still be backtracking to old areas to reach sections of the level that you couldn’t before until you obtain a specific power, however. Some sections are even completely closed off until you’ve beaten the game, so if you miss some upgrades from those sections, you have to wait until after the credits roll to get them. While it does ensure that you’re never confused as to what to do, it does hinder the exploration element slightly compared to the other games in the series.
Control/Gameplay Rating: Great
Metroid: Other M seemed rather short compared to any of the Prime games. In fact, my playthrough of it only took about 10 hours, and I collected 100% of the items and fought the secret boss at the end. It’s important to note that two hours of that was just straight cutscenes. There is an unlockable hard mode that you can play through as well, but it just seems like there is less to do overall compared to some of the previous Metroid games. Even the older ones, such as Super Metroid, encouraged speed runs in order to unlock slightly modified endings.
Some of the collectibles cannot be acquired until after you see the credits, and a secret boss can be tackled as well (hint: he’s from another Metroid game). But this doesn’t extend the experience nearly long enough, especially since all of the power ups you’re missing are marked on your map for you.
Replayability Rating: Below Average
I had assumed that with Team Ninja working on this game, that the difficulty would be at a Ninja Gaiden level of hair pulling frustration. While the game did have a few challenging moments that caused me to retry constantly, by no means is it an impossible game. For those of you worrying about having to rewatch cinematics because you died at a boss fight, worry not. Even though there are save points scattered throughout the Bottle Ship, you don’t necessarily restart at one should you fail. Checkpoints are fairly generous, usually only sending you back a few rooms, and in the case of a boss battle, they will typically start you at the beginning of the fight after any cutscenes that may have preceded it.
Mastering the new techniques that Samus is given goes a long way to ensuring your success during this game, and once you get them down, you feel very accomplished. The various upgrades and power ups that you receive during the course of the game help to reaffirm your continued journey into badassery, as enemies that would once give you trouble at the beginning of the game will come apart like putty once you acquire your new powers. Overall, Metroid: Other M manages to achieve that rare level of difficulty that ensures the game is challenging, but not frustrating or unfair.
Balance Rating: Great
Despite taking the franchise in a new direction in terms of the gameplay, I can’t help but point out that almost everything you see in Other M has been pulled from previous games in the franchise. Many of the enemies and the bosses are return appearances, and almost every single upgrade you acquire during the course of the game has been used many times before. Aside from the new close combat maneuvers, Samus does not acquire any new powers, which makes the game feel lacking in terms of innovation. The 2D and first person gameplay elements have also been used in other games, even though this is the first time they have been present in the same title. The cutscenes are a new addition to the franchise, but I doubt many fans will consider this a welcome change. Especially when the Prime series has enabled the player to unravel the story at their own pace.
Originality Rating: Mediocre
My previous complaints aside, this is one hell of a fun game. I think that’s what makes the short length all the more disappointing, since I didn’t want the adventure to stop. Every time you run across a dead body or see an unusual creature scurry away, it creates a sense of mystery and dread that drives you to find out what the hell is going on. While the answers are ultimately very satisfying in the end, it just makes you wish the road leading there was just a little bit longer, long cutscenes be damned.
Addictiveness Rating: Classic
All fans should at least try this game out to see if the blend of first and third person shooting is enough to satiate their need for another Metroid title. I feel as though Other M is going to split the fanbase in half, one group appreciating the new direction and characterization of Samus, and the other spitting on this cutscene heavy title and going back to the Prime trilogy. Others still will not accept anything more than a 2D followup to Metroid Fusion. Unfortunately, Metroid 5 this is not.
Appeal Rating: Mediocre
If there was one nagging flaw in this game that drove me up the wall, it’s when the game forces you into first person in order to find something in the room. You can’t move, you can’t get out of this view, you can’t do anything except look around. And you have to stay that way until you find what the game wants you to look for. And since you don’t know what you’re looking for, it’s hard as hell to find it. You have to not only place your cursor on the object, but you have to hold it there until the game acknowledges that you found the object. Biggest. Waste. Of time. Ever.
It’s a running tradition that in every Metroid title, Samus somehow loses all of her powers at the beginning. Well, the good news is Samus doesn’t trip over a rock and short circuit her suit or anything. She still has all of her powers and abilities that she picked up from Super Metroid. However, she cannot use them until she is “authorized”Â to. That’s right. The solo flying bounty hunter has to wait until her former commanding officer gives her the ok in order to blast someone in the face with an ice beam. I appreciate Team Ninja’s attempt at thinking of a creative way for Samus to reacquire her abilities but this, to put it bluntly, is just stupid.
When you complete the game, aside from just unlocking the hard difficulty setting, you also unlock concept art and a theater mode. The theater mode allows you to view all two hours of cutscenes back to back if you want to experience the story without all of that annoying gameplay getting in the way. Seriously though, I think this is a great feature and one I would like to see implemented in future titles. A lot of video game titles, especially the more lengthy ones, usually require a fair amount of knowledge on a previous game’s story before you can full enjoy the sequel. If Other M does have a follow up, it would be easy to catch myself up on the plot of this game before diving headfirst into the next. I would like to see more RPG’s implement this feature, personally.
Miscellaneous Rating: Mediocre
Replayability: Below Average
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
Final Score: Good Game!
Short Attention Span Summary
Despite various gameplay videos and trailers you may have seen, I want to make it absolutely clear that this is not a new 2D Metroid, even though the camera is usually fixed at an angle that would lead you to believe as such. I also want to point out that this is not a follow up to the Metroid Prime games, as the first person perspective is only one part of the total gameplay experience. That said, the two styles fit together fairly well, all quirks aside. Just remember that you will be subjected to a barrage of cutscenes during your adventure, so make sure you are mentally prepared to handle them before taking on this quest. Many of them drag on far too long, and series veterans may not take to Samus’ characterization too well. It’s also a short game, and considering most Nintendo published games stay at their MSRP for what seems like an eternity, it may be worthwhile renting it first to make sure it has staying power. While it may not be Metroid 5, it’s an enjoyable game that just has a few facepalm design decisions that hold back what could be a classic, though all Metroid fans should at least give it a try. Who knows, you may end up embracing the new direction of the franchise.