For one of Nintendo’s key characters, Samus Aran has been in fewer games than you would think when compared to her contemporaries like Mario and even Link. Outside of spin-offs like Smash Bros and Metroid themed pinball, the bounty hunter appearances on her own games have barely reached double digits (even skipping right pass the Nintendo 64). Part of the reason for this is just how much care and attention has been put into the Metroid games; leading several in the franchise to be regarded as one of the best games on their consoles, if not of all time.
When Nintendo announced that the Metroid series would be taken over by the then untested Retro Studios, it brought fear and uncertainly about the franchises future; yet the Metroid Prime trilogy is held in high regard by fans of Metroid and of action adventure games. This time round, Nintendo have outsourced the development to Team Ninja, the company behind Ninja Gaiden and the Dead or Alive series of fighting games, to create a game set between Super Metroid and Metroid Fusion (the later of which set up much of the story). Is the result another marvellous Metroid, or an energy sucking monster?
The story is by far the weakest aspect of Other M; whether it’s a case of being lost in translation from the original Japanese, the English script is fairly mediocre on all levels. Characters – Samus aside – are underdeveloped and get little screen time; the game more or less tells us that we’re suppose to care for these people and two of them in particular, but the little we get to know about them is not enough to really make you care about them. This is particularly problematic when it comes to the relationship between the bounty hunter and Adam Malkovich, of whom the story is trying to put up as a character that has immense respect from Samus, but comes across as crippling hero-worship that undermines Samus’ known character. The story holds tally over the gameplay, creating one of the more obviously linear games in the franchise’s history.
Samus herself is more vocal than ever before, her frequent monologues making her come across as someone trying to sound intellectual by using more complex words where simpler ones would suffice; the fact that these superfluous words are used to state the obvious doesn’t help it in this regard. The games up to this point have kept a veil of secrecy about the bounty hunter; a notion that Other M does its level best to destroy. This is not to say that Samus should not be allowed to have a mind and be human, but compared to the concise, more deliberate Samus from Fusion, the other game where she frequently monologues; this is a woeful way of trying to express the mind behind the power suit.
The story is at its best when it gets off its overly talky perch; there are plenty of decent, if borrowed ideas, and some of the plot twists are genuinely surprising.* What more of a problem is that there actually is a decent story here, it just a shame that it buried under a delivery that isn’t up to par. The game fails to heed the “show don’t tell” admonition, concentrating on needless exposition dumps over more emotive interaction, killing the momentum in the process.†
With a mostly 2.5D plane, albeit skewed more towards the 3D side than games like Street Fighter IV, Metroid: Other M is a strange compromise between the Prime series and the 2D games in the series like Super Metroid and Fusion. The entire game is controlled by the remote, for the most part used on its side like a classic NES controller with a generous auto-aim allows players in combat. Samus also has the ability to dodge incoming attacks with a quick tap on the D-Pad just before the hit, together with the auto-aiming, you’ve think that it would unbalance the game in Samus’ favour, and though against minor enemies this is sometimes the case; bigger and more potent foes will require great dexterity to overcome.
Samus also is able to recharge spent missiles and, if her energy is below a certain threshold, reclaim a potion of health. The mechanic for this is to point the remote straight up while holding the A button, leaving Samus open to attack; while this technique can be a lifesaver during bosses – provided they leave you alone long enough – it can also become a crutch to exploit by using minor enemies to get you just below the required health to recharge.
You can swap between two different viewpoints on the fly, the normal third-person view that make up the bulk of the game and a first person view which allows for surveying the environment and using Samus’ missiles (and a few other tools). The transition between the two can be fiddly; this is especially true when you are under attack from quick moving enemies and need to switch between the two; the end result in a system that while useable, is not as intuitive as those in prior games in the franchise.
There are brief sections in the game where the game will force the first person view on you. Here you are meant to locate an item to trigger a cut scene to move the game onward; it feels like trying to find Wally from the Where’s Wally books, only you trying to find something more obscure like a bit of blood. It feels arbitrary, like it’s only there to pad out the game, as it does little other than impede the actually playing of the game and is boring and frustrating in and of itself.
In prior Metroid games, the writers come up with some reason for why Samus loses her powers at the start of the game, either through malfunction or having them physically taken. Other M’s solution is much simpler. Samus is under the command of others throughout the mission, and can only use weapons when there use has been authorised by Adam. This makes sense for the majority of the game, although one segment sends you across a larva-filled cavern, taking heat damage the whole time, only to be told after reaching safety that you’re allowed to use Samus’ temperature protecting Varia Suit; which makes no categorical sense whatsoever.
As before in Metroid, items can be found scattered over the ship, often hidden and require a bit of exploration and possible a yet unavailable ability to uncover; although the collecting of these items is not mandatory, adding them to your armoury extends your chances in battles and you’re given a percentage rating when you finish the game. There still that same feeling of satisfaction from finding these items that is present in other Metroid titles, encouraging a degree of exploration (though the linear nature of the game dampers this a little).
While the game has its fair share of annoyances, blasting enemies almost always feels speedy and fun, and the use of just the remote is justifiable when the game asks for combat that plays to the its strengths of immediacy. This is especially true of the boss fights, which are plentiful, where the action is nearly as intense as you might think from the company that created the Ninja Gaiden games (only toned down somewhat in difficulty).
The main game can be completed in a little less than ten hours, with a theatre and gallery unlocked once completed. After completion, Samus is allowed to explore the facility to obtain missed items, with further pictures unlocking in the gallery the more item collected, offering some reward for locating all the items you’ve missed.
While not the greatest looking game on the system, Other M does an admiral job nonetheless, textures are strong, special effects look great and animation on friend and foe alike are fluid and able. The camera, traditionally a weak point for Team Ninja games, is great; dynamically following Samus’ every move. While the environments come across as artificial at times when compared to the Prime game, this is appropriate in context due to the subject matter. The collection of tunnels however are a bigger issue, as they tend to look alike on some degree, making progress seem more of a illusion at times.
The sound design is mixed; the voice acting itself is competent, even if what the actors are saying comes across as mediocre, sound effects and animal noises are handled with care and pack a fair punch, from high pitched shrieks to thunderous footfalls. Music is rarely present throughout the game outside of certain battles, saving and item collection, leaving you with the ambient noises of your own footsteps – and that of the regular enemies.
In the greater scheme of the Metroid series – and particularly after Prime, Other M is somewhat of a disappointment, in trying to give Samus a voice, Nintendo has likely done more harm than good and demystified the bounty hunter in a less than stellar story. However, in the bits between the awkward story and wrestling with the two viewpoints, Metroid Other M still provides plenty of excitement and action. While this may give the game the status of being the new black sheep of the family, the game is certainly worth looking into as long as you not expecting the same surprises freshness that Prime once gave the Game Cube.
*Although if you’ve played Metroid Fusion, the ultimate fate of Adam is not a complete surprise.
†Conversely, the Prime series also goes this route, with most of the back story told in log entries taken from wall carvings and computers; the main difference was that in Prime, you could read them at your leisure, or not at all.This review was original published on gamingtilldisconnected in 2010