When I wrote how I felt about Tecmo heading up the next title in the Metroid series, I had pretty low hopes for the developer responsible for more boobs than brains when it comes to video games. The team that brought us Ninja Gaiden and the Dead or Alive series (yes, including those spectacular Beach Volleyball games [/sarcasm]) takes a new stab at Metroid in three dimensions.
Other M is a cooperative development from select members of Nintendo and Team Ninja, along with some amazing CG work by D-Rockets (also responsible for many of Team Ninja’s cinematics). The game takes a much more story-focused approach to the Metroid franchise, attempting to "clear up" many elements of the legacy of the heroine Samus Aran. Until now, the only information we’d really had about our famed galactic bounty-huntress was bits and pieces of dialog from Fusion and the Prime series. Other than that, and whatever character development gathered subliminally from actually playing the games, previous titles either failed to mention anything relevant, or left it completely to the imagination. Either way, the character that stood before you could easily be placed in the dictionary under "badass," so you’d think that this game would follow suit. Instead, Other M does a fantastic job of taking the chiseled femme fatale molded from past entries in the series and making her softer than a cake with more emotions iced on top than a teenage prom date.
Other M takes place immediately after Super Metroid, numero uno on my ‘Top Games of All Time’ list. The amazing opening cinematic gives instant familiarity to the sequence of events leading up to Samus’ recuperation; defeating Mother Brain & the remaining Metroids, and obliterating planet Zebes in her wake. It’s clear during that very cinematic that this is the most story-driven Metroid title to date. Then Samus takes a turn for the worse, continually spewing nonsense of her apparent post-mortem depression over the Metroid hatchling she’s aptly named "the Baby."
Throughout the game we witness Samus dealing with issues of her past, confronting the challenges she had with her old commander, Adam Malkovich, as well as her old squad in the Galactic Federation. Her character comes across all too feminized and littered with PTSD. The game often focuses on her mug behind her mask, usually consisting of blank stares into nothingness, while she narrates about how confused and let on she is about the whole "situation," as if it’s something out of the ordinary for her.
Samus considers taking up cross-stitching.
The visuals are really something, though, especially for a Wii game. This is one of the strongest elements I feel the game has going for it. Environments and enemies take the form of familiar baddies as well as introduce some new evils. From the visual art styles to the color palette, everything about the game simply screams Metroid...until it starts moving. The interactivity is where those same visuals start to struggle. The animations feel sped up and choppy, as if playing Street Fighter II on turbo-mode. The melee & other special attack sequences are a nice touch, though. They add some interesting and fast-paced eye-candy, but just don’t make up for the bland and uninspired bosses. Lame.
In the audio department, traditional Metroid games are full of catchy and melodic music, interesting and unique blaster sounds, enemy screeches and whatnot. Contrastingly, Other M is loaded with an unmotivated score, more closely resembling something from the Metal Gear Solid series. Most of the blaster noise is taking directly from the Prime games, and sound effects range from a boring soundtrack of stock sounds to oddly chosen animal cries (Like a seagull! No, seriously...a seagull). You can barely tell the screams of the bosses apart. As for the "cinematic experience," the script and voice acting sound like they suffer from a bad translation like an early 80s anime. "Mother. Time to go." ......really?
The gameplay is relatively smooth and straight forward. You play with just the Wii Remote, holding it sideways like a traditional NES controller; not atypical of a majority of Nintendo games these days. Based on previews alone, one might think this would be ideal for a game that appears to take place on a fixed 2D plane. The only thing is...it fucking doesn’t. The game is, in it’s entirety, a three-dimensional third-person shoot’em up with a fixed camera system. Aim is automatic so long as your victims fall within the general direction you’re facing. Just mash the fire button and dodge the occasional incoming attack with Samus’ "Sense" move, performed by a simple tap of a direction on the D-pad. It’s a novel idea, but ultimately takes no skill to pull off. I found myself breezing through serious battles without a scratch by just pounding the shit out of a direction the whole time. The controls could definitely benefit from use of the nunchuk’s analog stick.
You also have the ability to switch to a first-person view by pointing the remote at the screen. A "quick flick" into your right hand allows you to see right out of Samus’ mask. In the instances where it’s used for exploration, this feature works great for finding small details in the environment, like hidden passages, or locking-on to specific targets like door power conduits. Also, the only way to fire anything but the standard beam, e.g. missiles, grapple, etc, is to switch to first-person, where the inability to move around becomes a real nuisance. Boss battles just beg for first-person action, oftentimes requiring it, causing that "quick flick" to rapidly turn into a "quick frustration." Well, that’s cool...just dodge incoming attacks with the D-pad again, right? No. You’re locked into position. Where you goin’?! Nowhere!!
That brings me to the actual pace of the game. When one thinks of "Metroid" as a game series, one normally associates a moderately lengthy campaign, coupled with a sizable map that’s been spatter-painted with collectibles and power-ups, not to mention the encouragement to explore it all. I think I can safely say that none of this exists in Other M. Sure, the linear campaign can be upwards of 10 hours if you take your time, the map is varied across different "biospheres" of plant, ice, and lava, and there are power-ups riddled throughout the sectors like Easter Eggs, but the game doesn’t pull together like it should. The flow discourages exploration, and the whole thing feels like I’m a 4-year-old trapped in a cart being pushed through a toy store.
Doors constantly lock behind you as if you’ll never see that area again, only for it to be unlocked further into the mission revealing no real reason for it to be locked in the first place. Attempts to enter locked areas lead to Commander Malkovich raping your ear with, "What’s wrong?! Head to Sector 2!!" as if to slap your hand for trying to be exploratory. Then there are the parts where you’re supposed to explore; segments of hide & seek that induce headaches on par with locating that last word in a word-find. The game will literally force you into first-person and require you to scan nearly every pixel on the screen before you can progress. Eventually you stumble across something so blatantly obvious that you feel like a bumbling idiot for not finding it sooner.
And don’t get me started on weapon & suit upgrades. Samus, a freelance
bounty hunter badass agrees up front to following the orders of Commander Malkovich, a Galactic Federation figurehead, and in doing so she forfeits all of her upgrades as well. Throughout the game, you’ll be "authorized" to use higher power weaponry or suit upgrades via radio contact by Malkovich, seemingly opening the can during the most opportune, yet, predictable moments. How about... "I’m a bounty hunter, and you’re stuck in some imaginary hierarchy of a makeshift military. I’m gonna go ahead and use whatever the hell I want to defend myself while you sit comfortably on your ass in some command center safe from danger. kthxbye."
I cannot express my utter disappointment that Metroid: Other M unfortunately falls short of my expectations, and what I believe are the standards set by every previous Metroid game in existence. The bottom line is that this game works well in concept. All of the art for the characters, enemies, level designs, etc, look nothing short of Metroid-worthy on paper. However their translation into 3D is lackluster. Everything leading up to actually playing the game gave me more goosebumps than any other game has in years. The live-action trailer alone sharply stung every ounce of me that was devoted to Metroid (live-action trailers are actually quite traditional of the Metroid franchise btw...). We’re talking about anticipation that’s a long time comin’, here! I mean, what’s not to get excited about promo videos full of 2D-esque action-packed gameplay, kickass live action commercials, and beautifully rendered cutscenes? The game itself. That’s what.