Review: Metroid: Other M
If you’ve never played Super Metroid from the SNES days, I recommend watching the ending on YouTube, as the intro cinematic for Metroid: Other M on Wii is a current generation remake of that fight and its spectacularness is only made greater by knowing the source material.
A direct sequel to the SNES iteration, the game takes place in the shadow of the events on planet Zebes an indistinct amount of time after Samus has recovered from her wounds from that game. Team Ninja and Nintendo have done a fantastic job of bringing Samus back into the 2D plane, having the player switch between traditional Metroid gameplay with the remote turned sideways and Metroid Prime’s first-person controls (without the nunchuck), marrying the best of both worlds with only a few imperfections. Unfortunately, this does not help to disguise the fact that the game largely presents the same environments and weaponry as before.
I’m not sure why Samus was not provided with new, original weapons and abilities. Metroid: Other M takes the Legend of Zelda route of rehashing previous abilities and locations with only slight differences, except unlike the Zelda series, it doesn’t feel like a new environment. The “Bottle Ship” Samus is investigating has rooms that intentionally emulate Planet Zebes, and yet ends up looking more like Metroid Prime 3 with an added 2D platforming element and less complex puzzles, though the variety of switching between 2D side-scrolling and first-person mode spiced up the gameplay enough for me to enjoy it more than the Prime series despite not being able to move in first-person mode (the only way to fire missiles) can be a pain.
This story-heavy game takes place after Super Metroid and before Metroid: Fusion. Samus is flying through space when she hears a distress call and decides to investigate, only to find a Galactic Federation team is already on the scene, including Adam Malkovich (his first chronological appearance in the series, as he is only otherwise seen in Fusion), a commanding officer she had trained under before becoming a bounty hunter, who she respects but had a rocky relationship with. However, through the melodramatic anime-inspired heavy-hearted cut scenes, Samus decides to follow orders for no other reason than out of respect for the guy who trained her. This limits your weaponry because you must wait for your weapons to be authorized for use even though you already possess the abilities, without any real reason as to why you would not be authorized to use them from the start. I can understand not authorizing the use of the Power Bomb, a weapon that can easily destroy a wide area, but what possible reason could Adam have for not authorizing the use of the Varia Suit, which shields Samus from extraordinary heat? Or even the Grapple Beam?
Despite the nonsensical limit on Samus’ abilities and an overdramatic backstory told through narration and flashbacks, these minor weak points ultimately serve the game by giving the player a larger context of Samus’ past and letting the map guide you in a predetermined order.
But it seems the big reveal of Samus’ past is that she is an emo, self-conscious woman who just happens to be able to defeat fierce alien life forms, and the game utilizes a running narration in her soft-spoken voice to tell the story. The voice acting is passable, typical of a shooter/action game, however, the dialogue becomes repetitive; characters begin reiterating plot points we had already discovered not long before, with Samus further insulting the player by repeating it during her narration.
Within the cut scenes, Samus is sometimes forced into first-person mode, marked by a green filter over the screen when you’re not pointing at the it. This means there is something you’re supposed to look for and lock on to in order to continue the cut scene, though more often than not it’s easy to overlook the detail even if your cursor has passed right over it, leaving you searching in frustration for many long minutes.
The cinematic aspect of the game may take some adjusting for longtime series fans, but it actually works quite well. It tells a story of how Samus became the woman she is, though discounts some of her perceived silent strength in the process, as it is odd watching her take orders from others, especially knowing she already possesses all her weapon upgrades.
Other M feels made to welcome newcomers with an easiness the previous games did not have, while keeping series fans engaged with familiarity of weapons and environment. Instead of replenishing health and missiles by killing enemies, you can recharge your missiles by pointing the remote up and holding A. If your health is critical, as it may be during the many mini-boss and boss fights, this will also fully charge one power node of health (more with upgrades), but keeps you from moving during the process, actually leaving you more vulnerable to being killed. Instead, it’s more effective to use the dodge ability, in which you hit the D-Pad as you are about to be attacked to preemptively move out of harm’s way and, if holding the attack button, instantly charge your shot.
The action game experience extends to special final blows Samus can pull off, like leaping onto an enemy’s back and shooting a charged plasma beam at point blank range, or attacking full blast at a downed enemy. Unfortunately, the first-person controls take away from the action as you must stand still, lock on, and fire at a target moving closer and closer, in what’s often a few seconds or less. Some enemies can only be defeated effectively using missiles, and having to stand still and aim as they attack makes it unnecessarily difficult to fight them. This is a symptom of the controls being created for use with only the remote and no nunchuck, a design flaw that would be smart to correct in the next game, should the series continue in this direction. A better idea would have been to use the nunchuck for movement, use A to shoot instead of 1, B to jump instead of 2, and have Z or C as the first-person mode trigger so aiming does not interfere with gameplay while running around in third-person. I understand why the decision was made to have the controller held sideways - Metroid: Other M is supposed to draw back to the Super Metroid days of SNES controllers and feel like a direct sequel down to the handling of Samus while modernizing gameplay with partial Metroid: Prime controls, but this run, switch, stop, shoot method can become frustrating during some boss fights.
For example, in a mini-boss fight between the 4 and 6-hour mark, Samus came across a trilobite-like creature that burst into the room in a 2-second cut scene. It knocked her down in-game because I didn’t realize I could dodge immediately after the scene -- there was no transition between the creature’s intro and gameplay. After firing away in third-person mode and having each shot deflected off of its shell, I dodged each time it charged at me, waiting for an opening. It then stopped laying flat and stood up on two feet revealing a red spot on its belly. The regular plasma gun was barely harming it, even when charged, so I rotated the sideways Wii remote toward the screen, pointing at its belly, locking on with B, and fired a missile with A, all the while freaking out as it stumbled closer and closer, Samus unable to move while aiming. Luckily, the missile caused the creature to stumble backward and recoil before it could get any closer, and it flattened out again and dashed around the room dropping mini versions of itself who also set their sights on Samus. Now I’m timing my presses of the D-Pad so as to dodge just in time while holding 1 to gain an immediate full charge and firing off blasts at the softer mini trilobites while continuing to quickly dodge the hard-shelled larger one. After it made its rounds it stood up again, this time much closer to Samus because I had not moved her a sufficient distance away. When switching to first-person mode to aim at its belly I wasn’t quick enough and it came right up to my face and attacked Samus, knocking me out of first-person mode. I’d missed my window, and the dodge-shoot-dodge sequence repeated itself until I was able to land the right amount of missile attacks on its belly, killing the damn thing. It was a very close call, having been knocked down in the beginning of the fight, attacked by minis, and wounded by the mini-boss itself. Samus’ health was flickering between 0 and 1, flashing red and making me well-aware of the danger she was in. I had to make a choice toward the end of the fight whether to attempt to stand still and recharge her health or continue dodging and missile launching, hoping for the best; I chose the latter, and in that instance it was the right choice.
Despite the slight hindrances of the control scheme, Metroid: Other M is well put-together and enjoyable to play for any Metroid fan, though much of it will remind you of other games in the series. It is in fact a great game once you get used to the controls, but I ultimately felt like I had already experienced much of the game when I had played Metroid Prime 3: Corruption about a year ago. Samus’ backstory humanizes her, and will disillusion many players’ perception of her as a badass female bounty hunter. But the graphics are fantastic - Samus’ suit looks the best it ever has - even on an HD TV, and much of the battles feel epic, even smaller ones. This is a game anyone who loved Super Metroid or the Metroid Prime series should play, and a game anyone curious about the series should try.